Happiness might actually grow on trees. Recently I have been making a garden in my new place.
I used to love being in the garden when I was little, and commandeered a small patch of my parents’ in which I grew a few tiny bits and pieces and generally forgot to water them. I can’t now remember what I grew. Possibly carrots and geraniums, maybe some sunflowers? I loved the tall thin silver birches that grew in abundance near our house, almost as much as I loved splashing through the puddles in my wellies when it rained, and looking for snails.
My best friend growing up lived in a house with the most enormous, incredible, magical fairytale garden – her dad is a landscape architect – and we used to spend whole days rampaging through the flowers and trees and hedges. My granny’s garden was another haven. I loved the warm, earthy smell of the potting shed there with its rows of seedlings, and outside the bright geraniums and busy lizzies, and the bird table we used to watch from the dining table when I stayed over, eating breakfast and watching the wrens have their breakfast too.
One of the last times I visited my granny’s house before she died, there were some late white sweet peas growing, and we went out together to cut some chives to mix into the salad we made for lunch.
I know I’m incredibly lucky in that when I look back at my childhood, it seems to have taken place entirely in gardens. I miss them all.My new garden started with mint. “My new garden” sounds grand: I actually just have a collection of pots on a little weather-worn patio. But back to the mint. It’s almost impossible to kill mint, I’ve discovered, which is a very heartening thought when most of your outdoor space is in the darkest, wettest shade known to man.
Since my initial success with potted mint from the supermarket, I’ve branched out into new mint varieties, the spoils from a recent trip to Secret Herb Garden in the Pentlands: strawberry mint, Corsican mint, and mint that smells like After Eights. Now on my tiny patio I have a whole mint grove, a forest of mint, a mint kingdom. Fancy some mint tea? COME TO MY HOUSE.
In the shadier side of my patio I now have hostas, blueberry bushes (one ‘Bluecrop’ variety and one ‘Spartan’, and they may get upgraded to the sunny side soon where they belong), lupins, foxgloves, ivy and lots of mint. In the sun there is less space, but I have two types of lavender and strongly scented sun-loving herbs like oregano, sweet marjoram and thyme. Indoors I have tomatoes and peppers. The lavender is my biggest success so far.
From time to time I have found myself leaning out of the window with a sketchbook, having opinions about compost. I listen to Gardeners’ Question Time, and I find my soul is tickled.
Lots of us find happiness through gardening. According to the Royal Horticultural Society, almost 90 per cent of 16 to 24 year olds have a garden or an allotment, or grow their own plants or flowers inside their homes. The RHS is using this statistic to claim that gardening is going through a nostalgia-cool renaissance. Basically like the Great British Bake Off, but with plants.
That seems like a huge number, especially for a country in the midst of a housing crisis. Maybe the stats include people who just buy flowers to plonk in a jug on their coffee table once in a while. I don’t know if it all counts, but it all helps: helps us feel a bit more wild, helps us respect the seasons.
Partly, my motivation for gardening over the last few years has been a need to put down roots, literally as well as metaphorically. Like most of us who are just trying to figure out our lives in our twenties, I’ve resided in a series of crappy rented flats (I had to move out of the last one when the ceiling collapsed on New Year’s Eve, joy of joys). But there’s nothing that makes you feel more at home anywhere than planting a few pots and getting some life around the place.
I’m not sure I’m convinced that hipster gardening is the new baking, though. Gardening in cheap pots on a wet rented balcony will never have quite the same instant wow factor as a fancy iced sponge. People may well be cultivating all sorts of delicious fruit and veg on their balconies, but it’s still fruit and veg – show me a way to grow cake on trees and then we’ll talk about a hipster gardening revolution.
And yet. There are pressures in baking that you don’t find in the garden. If your cake has a soggy bottom, guests will wince as they eat it and you will feel nothing but shame. But if one of your plants has a soggy bottom, sort out your drainage and nobody need be any the wiser.
Alternatively, a small bunch of daffs or some tulips only cost a few pounds at the supermarket at this time of year, and they do wonders for brightening up dismal rental accommodation, distracting you from the mysterious ooze coming up through the floorboards, or the stench of death in the electricity cupboard.
I may not have millions of pounds or rolling acres of beautifully landscaped greenery. But, like lots of us nature lovers in our twenties, what I do have is heart and motivation and a willingness to try. Plus a fondness for buying interesting-looking plants at garden centres and seeing what happens. And lots of mint.
If you’ve had successes with anything in particular that you’ve planted in containers (especially in the shade!) please let me know – I am very keen for ideas. Oh and if you plant something, tell me how you get on! Especially if it’s mint.