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Garden short cuts? No thanks | Gardening advice

There are all sorts of basic tenets held dear by the traditional gardening media, which have become such an inherent part of its DNA that they not only go unquestioned, but are essentially invisible. But here’s one I have always thought of as bizarrely out of step with why most gardeners actually garden: the fixation with all things low maintenance.

Whatever I work on, whether it’s TV, radio or books, the number one instruction repeatedly handed down to me is that all ideas should be incredibly easy for people who don’t want to spend too much time on them. My problem with this is that it is predicated on the idea that gardening is boring; some brain-numbing chore you want to be over and done with as soon as possible. Like the washing up or ironing, it’s the type of thing you need nifty hacks to dramatically speed up or, ideally, avoid doing altogether. This sort of approach is epitomised by the makeover show, where plants are treated as something to be hurriedly chucked down like cushions or candles before the all-important reveal.

These well-meaning assumptions are, perhaps unsurprisingly, made by people who have little to no actual interest in gardening, who also often happen to be the very gatekeepers that control the content in traditional horticultural media. I have sat in meetings with television bigwigs and been told with a straight face, “Yes, gardening on TV may be boring, but that’s what viewers want. It’s gardening, after all.” Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy. I can tell you, it was really hard to hide my reactions that day.

That’s because, to me, gardening is the best hour of my week, not the worst. It’s the one time I turn off my phone; I don’t have to worry about urgent emails and scary headlines, and can just totally lose myself by communing with the natural world. To me, gardening is unique in that it combines all the activity and therapeutic benefits of a walk in the woods with the thrill of creative expression. In fact, I actively design all my projects to be high maintenance, as – call me crazy – I actually enjoy gardening. I want to do more of it, not less.

Fortunately, in recent years social media platforms such as Instagram, where traditional media gatekeepers have been pushed aside, have made me realise that I am not alone. The number of posts with hashtags like #PlantsMakePeopleHappy and #PlantParenthood, reveal that, for millions of people like me, the greatest reward is not in the finished product, but in the actual process itself. As any gardener will tell you, gardens are art – they are perpetual works-in-progress, that are never finished.

Follow James on Twitter @Botanygeek