Gardening is usually seen as quite a solitary activity – all that pottering in the potting shed and drowning of slugs in beer is not something to do in company – but for me gardening has always been a social thing. That’s almost certainly because I’m too idle to tackle it on my own.
My first memories of proper gardening – as opposed to sprinkling some cress onto a tray of damp cotton wool and watching them sprout, then curl up and die – was as a student when I shared a house with about eight others. All of us completely ignored the overgrown back garden for ten months a year. The moment the sun threatened to stay out for more than an hour we began dreaming of barbecues and long Sunday afternoons lounging on the grass. Except there wasn’t any grass – it was all knee high weeds and brambles. In true student style we rounded up some beers and pizzas and set out to tackle it. It took the best part of a sunny Saturday to clear the so-called lawn and bin up the brambles but we managed it – fighting our way to the shed to find ancient trowels and shears. We found gorgeous climbing Albertine roses, a half-strangled jasmine, a wonderful squishy patch of camomile and loads of leggy woody lavender that had all survived beneath the undergrowth like something from Sleeping Beauty’s garden.
It was a magical day, and even now I struggle to remember a time that was more enjoyable or better spent – friendship, sunshine and being barely 20 probably helped but there was something special about working together to make things grow.
Perhaps that was why, a few years ago, I avoided doing anything in our own garden, and instead, spend many happy hours volunteering at our kids’ primary school where along with a handful of equally distractable mums and a magnificent multi-tasking deputy head, we set up a gardening club.
It was fabulous and the ultimate displacement activity. We spent every Friday afternoon for years setting up a vegetable garden, going on trips to allotments and spent hours and hours at budget gardening centres in the country buying gorgeous bulbs and seeds with other people’s money.
Thanks to Lisa, our super-organised deputy head, the tools gleamed, the shed looked as if Cath Kidston had kitted it out herself, with child-sized trowels and forks hanging in rows from bits of twine and seeds, in date order, stored in willow baskets. It was so much easier to plant salad and pumpkins there than tackle our own tiny garden which looked like a muddy open air bike shed tastefully edged in ivy. We had a shed, but it was so full of old rocking chairs and sandpits I couldn’t fight my way to the strimmer.
Children love gardening but if you haven’t a garden, or the patience of a saint, it can be hugely difficult to get them involved. That’s why I’m thrilled to see that the Royal Horticultural Society has got behind gardening in schools again – it provides seeds, support and endless ideas so have a browse round the website to find out more. http://apps.rhs.org.uk/schoolgardening/default.aspa
And I think they have inspired me to finally tackle my own little patch of brown mud. Spring is almost here and I am determined to have a patch of paradise to have my morning coffee in this summer. My appropriately named friend, Rose, who last year helped her school win a medal at Chelsea with her fabulous garden in a wheelbarrow, has started the ball rolling by sending me packets and packets of seeds.
I have even located the key to the shed – so watch this space.
Have you faced the great outdoors yet? Let me know @AmandaAtCandis