Not Gardening

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I have always been very interested in any gardening technique that involves not doing things. One of the first things I learned as a novice gardener - from Sarah Raven - was that you don’t necessarily have to lift dahlias in the winter if you live in the South of England. My dahlias have come back year after year, and I’ve saved time and effort.

Another successful ‘Not Gardening’ technique was not mulching. I went to a talk given by garden expert Stephen Lacey, who said that if you mulch everything, you don’t get as many self-seeded plants the following year. At least, I think that’s what he said, so I have not mulched (or mulched much less). The self-seeding in our garden is fantastic.

And, of course, self-seeding means not planting. All my gaps are filled by self-seeded euphorbias, marigolds, nigella, flat-leafed parsley, hellebores and many more (self-seeded alliums and foxgloves in picture above). It makes for an abundant, low-cost, low-effort planting scheme.

I’ve flirted with not digging, although I feel confused about it. I don’t think I’ve done it properly, because my veg patch is not dug, and it’s not very productive at the moment (chillies have been my only real success).

And there’s not staking, which is sheer laziness on my part. Every expert says you must stake, but sometimes the beds are so full, they prop each other up.

But not clearing the garden up in autumn is probably the best ‘Not Gardening’ technique. I leave the brown hydrangea heads to catch the frost (pictured below). The sunset streams through the grasses and seed-heads, and the berries are left for the birds to eat. Even the leaves fall into the beds – I hope that they break down and compensate for the not mulching in a small way.

And not using chemicals is another heart-warming one. It also means not going to the garden centre and not spending money, all of which is great. Until lily-beetle strips your fritillaries and then goes onto munch the lilies. Overall, however, I liked not having chemicals around when I had small children. I see no reason to change now that they are in their mid-20s. The birds (nicely kept going through the winter with those seed-heads and berries) pick most of the aphids off, and I sometimes do wash the roses with washing-up liquid.

But…I’m looking back at 2014, at what worked and what didn’t. I think it’s time to actually do some gardening. The not mulching is taking its toll – this year’s dahlias weren’t as good as last. It may just have been a poor dahlia year – or it may be that my dahlias do finally need some dividing up and feeding. And staking! Now that the dahlias aren’t quite as abundant, they definitely do need support. I left it a bit late, so they look like prisoners who have been tied up, and who are longing to escape. The veg beds need some serious attention and possibly even new top soil.

And there is no garden in the world where ‘not weeding’ works.  Next year, I will replace ‘not gardening’ with ‘minimalist gardening.’ Because I really miss those gloriously abundant dahlias.

Thanks for reading,