What I Learned About Gardening and Life from Monty Don
I love a good gift. And I love gardening books. So when my wife gave me Down to Earth by Monty Don as a present, I was pretty pleased.
This new book is Monty Don’s latest and covers a range of his wisdom on gardening, philosophy and life. It’s not your usual gardening book of techniques, tips and a crops list.
Instead it’s a high level view of Don’s approach to gardening. Which is also his approach to life.
My Gardening Life
I was six or seven years old when I begged my Dad to let me have a corner of his garden. I’d borrowed a book on organic vegetable gardening from the public library which I’d poured over for hours.
Eventually he gave me my own triangle of dirt at the back of the garage. It was my very own plot to grow and tend.
Years later, living in Uganda, I ended up with a much larger plot – three or four acres. I had a full time gardener and turned it from a rain washed wasteland into a fertile garden of beans, corn, cabbage and peanuts in a few short months.
Four years after I left that place I heard that the mahogany and coffee trees I’d planted were doing well.
More recently I’ve picked up where I left off with my gardening. A new house and a more land has allowed me to realise my dreams of growing as much of my own food as possible.
Not so much self sufficiency as self-provision (as Monty Don calls it) – where as much of your food as possible comes from your own land.
That’s the point at which I picked up Monty’s book. And here’s what I learned.
1. Work With but Don’t Force Nature
It’s early on a spring morning and I’m looking down in dismay at my frosted potato vines. Thinking I could steal a march on my neighbours and have the first new potatoes of the season, I neglected one consideration – the Scottish weather.
Of course the plants were scorched and brown. Did they recover? Eventually – but any advantage I might have had was lost. If I’d held my patience and waited a few more weeks, I would still have had shining white potatoes – and no cold related scorching.
This is one of the themes through Don’s book – don’t find against nature. Mainly because she will always win. Instead work with nature and the seasons.
In the traditional worldview, the ‘good’ gardener is the one who triumphs over nature…This is nonsense on every level. You need nature more than she needs you. It is not an equal relationship. Serve her well and she will look after you. Abuse her and everyone loses.
Don’t plant too early (or too late) and don’t try and push natural zones for plants – they won’t thank you for it and will perform accordingly.
2. Gardening is Therapy
What is the best therapy to improve your mental health? Is it the latest drug? Counselling?
Or could it be something simpler and more accessible. Like gardening? Anecdotally, gardening can help improve your mood.
I often go out to the garden to decompress and chill. It’s amazing how being in that environment can change your mood and frame completely.
Monty Don is someone who has been outspoken about his struggles with mental health and depression. And although he doesn’t spell it out in Down to Earth, it’s clear that gardening has (and continues to) had been an essential element of his path through life.
If you struggle with stress, anxiety or any kind of mental unease or unwellness, is it time you took up gardening? Too many of us men are struggling with mental health when something as simple as a few hours in the garden each week could make all the difference.
Growing my own veg has been immensely rewarding, not least when I get to eat it.
3. Ditch Self Sufficiency for Self Provision
Ever since watching The Good Life as a boy, I thought the idea of self sufficiency was cool. Now as an adult, I’m not sure I truly grasped the meaning or comedy of that show.
But I digress.
There is a big community around the world of people who want to become self sufficient – not relying on outside help for their basic needs. And while admirable, for most of us, it’s either unattainable or impractical.
Which is why I was glad when Monty Don introduced the concept of ‘Self Provision’ in Down to Earth.
This is the idea that you self provide as much food and produce from your garden as possible without going to the extreme of animal husbandry, home butchery and root cellars.
That’s definitely where I want to aim with my own gardening ambitions. Sure, books like Grow or Die are cool and have some great ideas. But with the space and time I have at the moment, I’m more keen to grow great tasting veg that the whole family will enjoy.
Self provision allows me to do that while still playing around with food preserving and storing.
Down to Earth by Monty Don – A Book for those Passionate about Gardening
Monty’s passion for gardening and horticulture drips from the pages. To read something so beautiful and so engaging from a true master of his craft is a special privelige indeed. Even if you don’t enjoy gardening, this should be reason enough for you to read.
But if you’re like me and have a life long passion for gardening and the outdoors, you’ll be doubly enthralled by the passion, wisdom and downright good advice that Monty brings to this, one of the foremost of my gardening book collection.