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On learning to grow

How my brown fingers began to turn green

I grew this!

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To say I'm late to the whole gardening thing is something of an understatement. I’m using the word loosely here, since the garden in question is a basement courtyard (backyard, to be more brutal/accurate) which is about the size of the average bathroom. The kind of dull grey space that would make a “real” gardener snort with derision.

Until we moved into this flat, during lockdown, I would go so far as to say I’d eschewed gardening altogether. I’d dabbled with houseplants over the years, starving spider plants and drowning so many cacti that I'm surprised the garden centre didn't bar me. I just didn’t have that magic it. Equally I wasn't interested in acquiring it. Oh, like a bloke (if you’ll forgive the generalisation), I enjoyed looking at a beautifully tended garden, crucially one tended by someone else. But actually participate in the creation of it? Get my hands dirty, tend and nurture, fertilise and water? Nah.

Instead, when I did have a garden, I paved as much of it as was decent and relied on my mum – who is a demon gardener, with a Chelsea-worthy display to prove it come summer – to provide compost, plants and invariably pots, too. Not to mention the biannual elbow grease and motivation to get off my backside and do something about the weeds and the dead wood.

Thinking about this now, I put my refusal to learn to garden down to a couple of things. Firstly, from a very young age, I saw it as a girl thing, like cooking and housework; a thing girls, not boys, were taught to do, and so I dug my heels in and refused. By the time I was a student I took a perverse pride in my ability to burn spaghetti and my housemates would have staged an intervention if I’d so much as suggested buying a houseplant. That's something I regret now – the cooking, not the housework. Now I live with a man who is a fantastic cook and takes great pleasure from the hours-long production of a glorious meal, or an afternoon spent producing an enormous batch that will keep us in chilli for weeks, all while simultaneously watching the rugby. Cooking and gardening, I now see, are not necessarily means of oppression, (although, like housework, they can be). They are just as likely to provide emotional sustenance, to be a means of giving.

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