Slow Gardening by Sally Gregson

September 6, 2013

in Articles, General Interest

Do you have the patience?

Here is Sally Gregson, shooting herself in the foot: a nurserywoman encouraging us to think (and look and think some more?) before we buy…

Anne Wareham, Editor

Hydrangea flower , Veddw copyright Anne Wareham for thinkingardens

Why a hydrangea? See Sally’s nursery…

Sally Gregson:

Several years ago in Italy Carlo Petrini started the Slow Food Movement in protest against the proposed McDonald’s at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome. Since then the idea of taking time to prepare, savour, and enjoy food in the company of others has grown to encompass other aspects of our stressful lives. Perhaps it’s time for the idea of Slow Gardens to take root.

Presented with a new, often very small, garden it’s all too tempting to budget for a one-off, quick-fix visit to the garden centre and cram the space with perennials and annuals just like they once did on that renowned gardening programme. But gardens are not just about ‘exterior decorating’.

After a couple of years the perennials get too big, the bullies overwhelm the pretties – and the garden becomes an overcrowded, unsatisfactory mess. Over-planting in the first place; not allowing for the potential growth and ultimate size of those plants and needing to dig out out any that fail to live up to expectations combines to cause a deep sense of dissatisfaction. Instant gratification has its penalties in gardens as in fast-food outlets.

August 2013 Veddw copyright Anne Wareham 027 Hydrangea macrophylla 'Lanarth White' for thinkingardens

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Lanarth White’

Surely the deeper pleasures and satisfaction of gardening lie not just in creating a framework and getting the planting right, but in allowing it to evolve and mature; to drive the dynamics of the space; and to create new environments and different ecologies. Maybe, in the manner of the ‘slow’ movement, it’s time to relax our anxious need to control nature; enjoy the gentle pace of the changing seasons; and allow for the natural development of our gardens.

Sally Gregson – website (of nursery)

Sally Gregson portrait on thinkingardens Copyright Martin Mulchinock







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Lyn September 9, 2013 at 12:07 am

Pretty obvious stuff, surely, to anyone who is likely to read this article?

Patrick Regnault September 8, 2013 at 7:36 am

I agree with Sacha. Reputation is based on trust, trust on quality of plants, good advice and ethical behaviour.
The clients one wants to attract will depend on the above. Intelligent, interested customer are more likely to be the ones that will have a larger buying power or who will overtime spend sizeable amount of money with somebody they have a reliable professional relationship with.
Some well chosen plants can be used as short and middle term fillers in a well designed garden. Their purpose is to be there covering the empty space while the framework plants are growing and to disappear under the shrubs as those grow, Living mulch if you will. The choice and recommendation of those plants for that purpose has to be carefully explained to the clients. This is valid for retail nurseries but also for anyone designing a garden.

Laila/SowandSo September 7, 2013 at 2:19 pm

I agree with Sally that a garden is a project best not be rushed. Like with slow food we need to enjoy the time it takes for a small seedling to develop into a beautiful flower or plant. It is fascinating to wander around the garden and watch these different stages happening right under your nose. It is the journey of creating a garden that is the best part, learning what works and what doesn’t, making mistakes and having successes. I wouldn’t want to have it any other way!

Chris Spencer September 6, 2013 at 5:25 pm

In a world of whoooosh ! What a treat it was to read this article posted by Anne Wareham on Twitter.
Well done Sally ! a garden simply grows, slowly, let it ! Add to it, remove from it, watch and learn, why rush !
Love it Sally xx

lucy September 6, 2013 at 3:56 pm

I think of course in so many ways Sally is right. The only thing is that by cramming, over buying and making mistakes you learn a great deal. If we just watch and think, how do we get our hands dirty and our practical knowledge? Over the years I have found some plants so amazingly pretty for a spell and then so unruly and ugly for ages that I find I just can’t forgive them and have to dig them up. I could do all the thinking and planning in the world but I couldn’t know that I would be so irritated by a plant unless I had lived with it. Similarly, I have had years when a plant has been a beast of a thing and then the next it’s hardly there, so I have always found sizing and getting a border perfectly filled hard. I realise of course these are, at some level, just excuses as the reality is that I fall for buying pretty flowers in the garden centre all the time and I love it.

Sacha September 6, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Writing as the wife of a nurseryman, I can’t see this as Sally Gregson shooting herself in the foot. One of the jobs of a good nursery is to advise people on what to plant and even if this means a smaller sale, not allowing the customer to buy plants that will outgrow their space and make the whole garden top heavy. Indeed, one of the most useful sales tools a nursery can have is that customers trust them to give good and honest advice, not to sell something just for the kerching noise! In other words, to behave as a nursery, not a supermarket for plants where all that ever matters is the outcome at the till that day. Given the build up of that trust and the word of mouth effect if generates, customers return time and again and refer friends, too. The recent spate of make over programmes in gardens has indeed encouraged far too many inexperienced gardeners to go for the quick fix and we do regard it as part of our job to warn against that and try to encourage them to realise that patience and waiting is very much part of gardening.

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