National Gardening Week: Is gardening like parenting?

The thought occurs that gardening is much like parenting – and that perhaps I should quit before expanding on that notion!

The similarities are easy to see: gardeners and parents want to: nurture, encourage and watch as growth occurs; create an environment where that can happen; eradicate the bad stuff; and bring the fruits of their endeavours to maturity without too many major dramas!

However, while there are many people who can profess to be experts in gardening (which I don’t, it’s just a hobby), you can merely be experienced parents. There’s no such thing as an expert parent: it’s an imperfect exercise.

It seems to be me that, for all its unpredictability, gardening with planning can offer a lot more certainty if you know a little bit about the land in which you are trying to grow flowers and plants.

If your soil is too full of clay or sand, or it drains in a particular way, then you can adjust it or your growing methods.

You can take out weeds, put in raised beds, control temperatures with cold frames, greenhouses and do your best to keep away pests such as slugs and snails and brambles.

But you can dip in and out of gardening – dare it be suggested in National Gardening Week! – once you’ve got it set up, for a short while in spring for example. And there’s limited things you can do in winter. Meanwhile, children want your attention much more frequently.

Being an impatient gardener, I’ll plant things out too early, get frustrated when seedlings don’t germinate – quickly or at all – and try to ensure that flowers or vegetables grow where I want them. 

I cheekily refer to the embryonic sweetcorn plants as “my new babies”, which is what got me thinking about the subject of this blog. You can’t plant seeds to grow the same outcomes in children every year. They are not perennials. Their needs change.

A few years ago, some zucchini courgette spread widely – and wildly. They took up far more space than was intended. Years later, they still pop through where they are not wanted, when spring starts to sprout and I’m planning where to plant this year’s desired crops in my limited vegetable patches.

Tomato seeds – they don’t die in the home composting process – and potatoes also grow randomly. Well, that’s like children: as much as you try to steer them to activities that are good for them, they will find their own paths to maturity.

Surprises are constant. 

When I showed one of my children – then at primary school – what I was doing in the garden some time ago, she replied “So we’re self sufficient, aren’t we daddy?”

Wait, what? No, sadly we’re a long way from that….and by the way where did you learn a phrase like that?  

Ah! At school. Environment, or sustainability, formed a large part of her primary school education. Secondary school? Not so much, which is why I supported the Teach the Future campaigning to put education of the climate crisis more firmly on the curriculum (that’s a whole different blog!).   

Sometimes my attitude in the garden is, if there is a vegetable popping up and determined to grow there, it might as well. It’s a bit like how children decide their exam and career paths: they take unexpected turns.

Children and gardens: All we can do is learn to enjoy them along their paths of development.