Saturday, 31 March 2012


Craft and gardening. They might seem like an odd combination of hobbies – one active and one relatively passive; one that is outside in all weathers and one that is comfortably undertaken indoors; one that ties you to a location and one that is (in most cases) portable. 

But there are actually many similarities. They both provide me with an outlet for my creative side. With crafting this is an obvious and overt thing, involving materials to be chosen and arranged and combined into a harmonious whole. But the garden too is about texture and colour and pattern, requiring both an eye for detail and for looking at the bigger picture or end result. There is very little in our garden that is not edible or of some homecraft or medicinal use, but this doesn’t mean that it is purely functional or unpleasant to look at. An underlying structure of raised beds at different heights and made from different materials, a dog-legged path and vertical features, such as our pergola, hazel wigwam or bean and pea supports, provide a three-dimensional frame for the colour and texture of our plants as they emerge, grow, bloom, fruit and die-back as the seasons change.

There is also something incredibly satisfying about taking an idea from concept to completion, whether that is in the planning, production and finishing-off of a jumper for our daughter, or sitting down to a meal made up entirely from foods we’ve grown ourselves. Perhaps this is also due to the fact that, whilst you can garner the basic skills and techniques from books, the internet or even courses or chatting to other practitioners, gardening and crafting require an element of experience and a dash of alchemy to be successful. Every single garden is different, in terms of micro climates, prevalent pests, soil type and condition; and every craft project is impacted by the exact materials used, the methods employed and even the atmosphere in which an item is created. Both require thought and dedicated time spent to ensure success; as well as genuine interest in, and enthusiasm for, the project or plant at hand. If you don’t really need another scarf, chances are you won’t finish the project, or if you do, it will be with the sense of a chore completed rather than with excitement at finally being able to wear or use your creation. If you don’t really like courgettes, then you’ve chosen a very bad plant to nurture from seed to plate, as they are easy to grow and crop prolifically, leaving you with a mountain of food to be grudgingly munched through, or, worse yet, wasted.

Both pastimes have their fair share of frustrations and setbacks too, although with gardening these are largely caused by external factors, such as pests, diseases and – particularly this year – the weather. Plants you’ve grown from seed in a propagator, carefully potted on in an unheated greenhouse and then gradually acclimatised to outdoor temperatures don’t appreciate being transplanted to their final destination just as a heat wave/cold spell/drought/days of downpour set in. For me, setbacks with my craft projects tend to be of my own making: I’ll start a new project before finishing an existing one, leading to piles of 80-90% finished items mounting up in my cupboards. Equally, there are the setbacks inherent in any skill-based task, where more experience leads to fewer mistakes. I hardly ever follow a recipe exactly as written, so often my preserves, homemade drinks and cosmetics won’t have quite the right consistency or taste the first time I make them, but I always take careful notes and jot down thoughts and ideas for how I can improve the item next time around. 

Both hobbies are useful and generally productive pastimes, but not essential to daily survival as they would have been in the past. Although we enjoy growing an ever-increasing number and quantity of fruits and vegetables, we are a long way from self-sufficiency, even within these food groups. However, we are supplementing our diet with a source of food which is better for us than meat, dairy or grains, as well as reducing our food miles and maintaining an organic system – which are all arguably good and useful things. As a modern-day housewife, I may not *need* to make and mend, but by making the choice to do so, I am exerting more control over the materials and ‘products’ entering my home. And finally, gardening and crafting allow me to ‘beat the system’ by refusing to conform to the expectations of our increasingly consumerist society – bring on the revolution!