Tuesday, 4 May 2010


2010 definitely appears to be the year of GYO (that's 'growing your own' to the uninitiated). It feels as though you can't turn around at the moment without a celebrity book or TV series telling you how it's never been easier to start your own veg patch. There are organisations encouraging us to commit to the challenge: Garden Organic has a one pot pledge and the RHS has a veg pledge. Magazines of all kinds are filled with inspirational stories of people filling market stalls with produce from the balcony of their high rise, or how they wore down their local council until they were granted some scabby wasteland that, 'with everyone mucking in together' became a model allotment.

The thing is, I don't necessarily always agree that growing your own fruit and vegetables is satisfying, or cheap, or can be done if you have little time available. Yes, all things want to live and judging by the weeds in my garden, the vast majority of them will seed, grow, reproduce and die without any interference from me. But once you've planted something, you start to invest in its success or failure. Every green shoot is exclaimed over and quickly becomes the source of endless anxiety - too much water, too little, too warm, too cold, too dark, too light! Yes, it is satisfying when it goes to plan and your endeavours can be celebrated in a wonderful meal with home-grown ingredients, but it can be really quite depressing when it goes wrong and all your hard work gets eaten by the local snail population. Equally, it's possible to spend an absolute fortune on 'stuff', from trowels to heated propagators, from special seed boxes to engraved stone plant labels. Some of these things you need and some you really don't. Surely at some point it just becomes another way for us to consume, whilst kidding ourselves that we're doing something 'good', for our health and for the environment? Indeed, most of the gadgets on offer in the garden centre and marketed as time-saving. No time to water your plants twice a day? Buy this handy irrigation system with timer. Too busy to grow from scratch? How about some mini-plants, or even a garden in a box?

I mentioned before the RHS veg pledge: 28,912 people have now signed-up (you can see where they all are on a map, along with the veg that they're going to be growing). And I'm one of them. Because in spite of everything I've just said, growing your own food is a great thing. It brings a sense of magic and wonder to the everyday, as well as reinforcing just how fragile life can be. You start to really understand the food chain and become much more aware of the animals and insects around you. Growing your own connects you with your food in a way that shopping really doesn't: I *know* exactly what went in to the growing of my potatoes, meaning all that guilt about food miles, pesticides, local v organic, just isn't relevant. And finally, it's been proven that gardening stimulates the mind whilst combating stress - a powerful combination that we should definitely all find time for. Even if it's just by growing a pot of herbs, or ordering that ready-made garden in a box. There isn't a 'right' or a 'wrong' way to grow fruit and veg - the challenge is in finding out what works best for you, in your garden, with the plants that you want to grow.

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