I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fall into the job.
There. That was an easy blog to write… After all that was my path into gardening.
However, at the age of 15 I wouldn’t have called myself a gardener. I was a little on the weedy side (pardon the pun) with no coordination – largely thanks to my slightly alarming growth spurts – and no manual skills per se.
What follows is a letter to my 15 year old self. A warning, maybe, of what is (or was) to come. But it’s also a post for you guys, to give you a taste of what being a gardener is all about.
Now your experience may not be this sheltered, but in the embryonic weeks of my gardening career, I wasn’t allowed near the lawn mower.
For good reason, as you’ll soon find out.
So this meant my job was to trim the edges of each lawn we mowed – using edging shears. Assuming you’ve wielded a pair yourself you’re probably thinking there’s nothing difficult about that…
Well… when you clip the edges of 10-20 lawns in a day, those shears don’t stay sharp. Believe me.
One of the reasons I wanted to help Dad out (other than the act of helping Dad out… and earning money to feed my gaming addiction) was to get stronger.
Little did I know, it wasn’t the hunky beach body I was journeying towards… It was the Popeye physique. Y’know, with the gigantic forearms and practically nothing else?
It wasn’t the repetitive motion of cutting edges all day – it was having to twist the handles of the shears to expose the last sharp section of blade to the grass. Looking on the bright side – I’m now far better at opening jam jars, and I’ve got this odd craving for green leafy vegetables…
Many of our tools look broken to the untrained eye. It just takes a DIY fix and an adaptable approach to discover the most effective way of using an ineffective tool. Be it a brush without bristles, a three-wheeled mower, or a van door which falls off its hinges… there’s always a way to get the job done.
After a few weeks of cutting edges and developing manly calluses on my hands, I was given the opportunity to mow my first lawn.
Now memory escapes me, but there are a number of precautions you should take before pulling the starter cord.
The first is to learn how to turn.
Sounds simple, but many lawns received scalpings under my hand. Run the wheel off a beautifully trimmed edge and you make the whole garden look terrible for the next month.
Which brings me to my other bit of advice.
However easy mowing can be… Don’t daydream. Because as soon as you stopping paying attention to what’s ahead of you, that’s when one of three terrible things can happen.
1. You run into a stone. Best case scenario, the unexpected explosion of sound makes you jittery for the remainder of the job. Maybe the mower blade gets dented… But sometimes the stone refuses to stay under the mower, deciding it’s warmer indoors.
That’s how I smashed the car window anyway (winces). Don’t worry! We sorted it out with the owner… Super embarrassing though…
2. You could be mowing a lawn with a couple of well-intended gifts on the lawn – from a delightful pet or from one of our cunning neighbourhood friends.
If there’s one thing that’ll ruin a day, it’s running over one of these “gifts” when poor Mr. Tibbles has a tummy bug.
Keep your eyes firmly on the path ahead. Seriously.
3. When it’s been raining – yes the grass clogs in the mower – but it’s important to be wary because this when wildlife decides to have a party on the unmowed turf. Sadly I’ve hit two creatures by accident mowing: a slowworm and a frog. Well… I’ve hit slugs, but my humanity doesn’t quite extend to them. Am I a terrible person?
Enough of the mowing. Let’s hit the flower beds for some good old-fashioned weeding.
To this day I still struggle determining some weeds from others, but the problem really arises when you start making assumptions. Dad often can’t hear me when I make an enquiry – not because he’s going deaf – because he forgets to take his ear defenders off.
So I tend to uproot, chop up and massacre perfectly nice plants whilst his back is turned, just to give him that much-desired heart attack when he finds out.
I personally don’t believe you’re a gardener until you’ve dug up something really expensive or something a client truly values by accident.
And speaking of clients. They were probably the thing which scared me most about gardening.
There’s nothing worse than working on your hands and knees with a spectator breathing down your neck – asking if you want a cup of tea, or if you like their roses.
It took me a couple of years to relax around our clients, but over time you do get fond of them. From the precise, to the wealthy, to the infirm, and to the out-right nutters we’ve seen them all.
After a few months gardening you feel healthy. You’ll get a glorious tan (on your neck and forearms) and you’re really starting to toughen up to match the outdoor work.
The brambles and nettles which played starring roles in your nightmares no longer phase you. They don’t get any less painful, and I don’t think you really build a resilience to them… but the more scratched up you get the more it looks like you’ve been fighting tigers with your bare hands.
Is there anything more manly than a battle wound?
Now it takes a while to realise the reality: you actually just look like you’ve been pushed into a bush. And when you do, you’ll look back at the times you refused to wear gloves in amusement, because gardening gloves are your best friend.
And after all… Winter is coming.
I’d say the final hurdle between you gardening, and becoming a gardener is working through your first winter.
No, not part-timing, just doing the Christmas holidays. I mean working from December till March when the days are cold, and… Did I mention the days are cold?
You were just starting to get the hang of things and suddenly hard mode is initiated. People refuse to take their dogs for walks = gardens become toilets. Lawns stop growing = now you’ve got to learn a whole new set of skills.
I started gardening when I was 15. I’m now 23 years old. This blog may have been filled with sarcasm and negativity, but the truth is you can’t do something you don’t enjoy for 8 years. And I’m continually grateful for the work.
Whatever I end up doing in the future, one thing’s for sure. I won’t be nearly as useless at mowing lawns, at sweeping yards, at hammering nails, at using initiative to solve life’s problems – be they practical or theoretical.
If you’re interested in gardening I can vouch for it being an interesting and varied job with perks aplenty (if you consider uneven tan a perk).
Thanks for reading 😉