Gardening - lessons for life

Keen gardener, Lynne Pearce writes about how gardening has taught her many lessons for life, including when to break the rules and when to slow down!

I’ve been tending my garden for the 18 years we’ve lived in our home. I always say we bought a garden with a house attached, although it was a blank canvas full of overgrown leylandii. We had them all removed and the garden began to come back to life.  Whilst I knew quite a lot about plants (my dad sold them for a living) it was time to put theory into practice.  One of the things I really understand now - and didn’t then - is that a garden is never finished. Plants grow and change, creating different areas of light and shade.

The cycles of nature

I love the cyclical nature of the garden and plant a lot from seed.  I’m fascinated to see life begin - from a tiny seed, to a seedling and then a full blooming flower.  But I no longer expect to see perfection in the garden and I believe gardens are for meandering around, awakening all your senses, including touch and smell.  I like gardens you can explore freely, so the big shows, where the gardens are roped off to the public, are not for me.

Whilst this might sound a bit ‘new age’ I think I can now tell a friend’s mood and state of mind when I walk with them around my garden, as I pick up on what they’re noticing.  Do they focus on the problems, such as black spot or those flowers that are going over?  Or do they appreciate what’s at its absolute beautiful best, for instance, the English roses in June?  How I see the garden on a particular day is a barometer of how I’m feeling too.

Great Dixter

My all-time favourite garden is Great Dixter, which was the family home of one of my heroes, gardening writer Christopher Lloyd. Before I read his books, I was stuck with my ‘tasteful’ pink, blue and white colour palette, but he made me see those rules are begging to be broken. In my beds, you’re more likely to find magenta, next to coral pink, with some sky blue, orange and burgundy thrown in for good measure. But Beth Chatto taught me that you can’t force a plant to grow where it’s unhappy. If it likes damp, it will never grow in my light gravelly soil, no matter how much I like it. Pick plants for places is about the only rule I follow.

I’ll be 60 next year and have a bit of arthritis, which means I can no longer garden from dawn ‘till dusk.  But I’ve learnt to garden more slowly, pacing myself and focusing on what really needs doing that day, rather than rushing around trying to do it all. It’s actually much more enjoyable - and another good lesson for life!

Advice for beginners

For novice gardeners, my biggest advice is don’t worry about making mistakes.  It’s how you learn. If something’s in the wrong spot, you can always dig it up and move it.  Monty Don always tells everyone to sit down and appreciate their garden too - it’s a great reminder. There’s a lot written about the mental health benefits of gardening. Being outside, gentle movement - stretching, lifting, digging - having time to think, and being thoughtful about what you’re doing, are all good for mind and body.  

Coping with difficult emotions

Gardening is also a great way of coping with difficult emotions. A few years ago, when my dad was dying, I’d come back from seeing him and get on with planting the spring bulbs - something he’d sold thousands of in his lifetime. I needed to know that life would continue and come the spring, there would be beautiful tulips.

Lynne's garden in full bloom