It’s been a while, etc, etc. But I’m back, and I’ve managed to age at least thirty years since I last posted. Read on to find out more about my middle-aged life…
You may be familiar with the ‘Expectation vs reality’ memes that were everywhere a few years ago. They tend to be amusingly cynical or self-deprecating, and go something like this:
The point of the memes is generally that our positive expectations are rarely accurate. I could probably say something profound about the internet’s presentation of life as a constant string of small but crushing disappointments. I could wax lyrical about the way we persist in hoping for better, despite the world constantly proving us wrong (c.f. Trump, Brexit, the continued existence of Lipton tea). I could contemplate whether internet memes reveal fundamental truths about human existence. But instead, I’m going to talk about gardening. Don’t get too excited now.
Gardening, astonishingly, has become an area in my life in which the Expectation/Reality paradigm is weighted in my favour (and not just because I have somehow managed to acquire a garden in London). The thing is, in order for reality to be a disappointment, your expectations have to be at least Not Terrible. And when I decided to take up gardening, my expectations were some way beyond terrible. My previous track record with plants is so consistently abysmal that on trips to the supermarket, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen pots of herbs cringe away from me in fear of an early death.
For context, here are some of the ways in which previous plants unfortunate enough to be owned by me have met their demise:
- The sunflower which keeled over within a day of entering my possession when I left it on the windowsill in the blazing sun
- The cactus I overwatered until it exploded
- The mint plant which turned yellow and crunchy when I failed to notice that I had put it in a room with no natural light
- The seedlings I tended to so intensively that they withered and died
- The spider plant which put out numerous baby spider plants, so that I thought it was doing very well. It turns out they do that just before they die.
You get the idea; gardening has never been my strong suit. But recently, I’ve been offered a reprieve from the relentless awfulness of 2017, if only in the field of horticulture. It seems that, in a fluke of kindness from a broadly indifferent universe, I have been granted miraculous powers of green-fingeredness.
This revelation came to me when I bought a cheap supermarket rose plant, fully expecting it to be brown and crackly before the week was out. And yet, as I keep telling everyone who will (or won’t) listen, not only has it been alive for four full months now – it’s even growing at an alarming pace. Other achievements to date include mowing the lawn, and keeping Rodney the Runner Bean* alive for so long that he outstripped my elaborate staking system of many sellotaped chopsticks, and had to be put outside to grow up the big rose plant in the garden. Which, by the way, I dead-headed.
I could go on, but having accidentally listened to Gardeners’ Question Time once or twice, I am aware that the soul-crushing boredom of Other People’s Gardening Stories may lose me the few readers who made it through the catalogue of deaths. So I’ll get to the point, which is this: as long as you plant your seeds with extremely low expectations, every new shoot is a delightful surprise.
My secret to gardening success is nothing to do with competence, knowledge or soil quality (hello, I live in London. There are bits of glass in the flowerbed). I’ve got slightly better at watering my leafy charges, but I’m hardly Alan Titchmarsh. The reason for my disproportionate smugness is simply that I consider anything less than the grisly death of my plants a resounding success. To any budding gardeners out there, my advice is this: lower your expectations. You’ll be happier for it.
*Yes, I do name my plants. Stop judging me.