The Earthworm has landed!
Let’s get to know one another
Hello, and welcome to the official launch of The Earthworm, a new newsletter about all things green and pleasant.
From next Tuesday you’ll start to receive two missives from me each week, but we’re starting with a bang; for the rest of this week, I will worm my way into your inbox each and every day – take a look at the bottom of this post for a little teaser as to what’s coming up.
Today, by way of an introduction, I thought I’d tell you more about how gardening came into my life, and what being a gardener – or someone who gardens – means to me.
Enjoy, and thanks for reading! And if at any point you find yourself thinking, “I know someone who would love/like/tolerate this,” then please share it with them.
I didn’t decide to become a gardener. One minute, there I was, living in a second-storey flat with no outdoor space and three faltering houseplants; the next, my then-girlfriend-now-wife and I have moved into a small terraced house with an even smaller garden, into which had somehow been condensed a vast and richly populated wildflower meadow/untended weed patch. And we were to be its custodians. No training, no manual, no nothing.
In that moment, two things became immediately clear: 1) We needed more heavy duty refuse sacks. And 2) I had become a gardener.
In the six-and-a-half years since, my garden exploits have been at times farcical, at others disastrous, but little by little, wait, could it be? Yes, enjoyable. I became interested in plants, interested in the soil, interested in not just the art but also the science of growing… stuff.
Still, I had questions. And one in particular, namely: What am I doing? I mean, at first, I literally had no idea what I was doing. I was desperate for help. Initially, friends helped. Then Gardeners’ World helped. Later, a library’s worth of books helped. And eventually, studying towards some accredited gardening qualifications helped. I went from being someone who knew not a jot about plants, to someone who knew quite a lot about plants.
But while I may have levelled up my gardening knowhow, the question remains: What am I doing? Only now, it doesn’t reflect a lack of knowledge, but more a moral quandary.
OK, just indulge me for a second here. Historically, if you owned or occupied a piece of land, you used it for one purpose: to produce food. Unless, that is, you were filthy rich – a palace-dwelling monarch, say, or a minor member of the landed aristocracy – in which case you could afford for your land to become something else. A garden.
These gardens were overt displays of wealth and status. So many of the National Trust estates that we pay good money to park at today were monuments to man’s mastery over nature (and other men). At a time when the vast majority of people on the planet were only ever one good blight away from starving to death, can you imagine the chutzpah of turning hundreds of acres of arable land into rolling lawns and clipped topiary, trickling fountains and purposeless follies? Truly, it was the old-timey equivalent of launching a Tesla Roadster into space to perform countless pointless orbits of the sun.
In many parts of the world, nourishment – or otherwise making a living, through forestry or farming – is still at the heart of people’s relationship with the earth. Here in the UK, however, thanks to highly developed global supply chains, relatively cheap and widely available food, and a complex socio-economic model I won’t pretend to fully understand, a lot of people can afford to grow not for sustenance, but for pleasure. And as luck would have it, I am now one of these people.
Which brings me back to the question: What am I doing? Hey, maybe I’m overthinking it, but as will become abundantly clear to my dear subscribers, needlessly overthinking everything is what I do best.
Should I be using my garden for sustenance, at once feeding my family (now three of us) and making a bold anticapitalist statement, and maybe, while I’m at it, displaying my Tesco Clubcard on a pike as a warning to any passing heads of industry, or pigeons? Or should I in fact be treating the garden as an opportunity to rewild, and become single-handedly responsible for the reintroduction of red squirrels, pine martens – maybe a bear? – into northeast London? Or is it in fact OK to just, you know, try to make it look pretty?
And thus, in a feat of great derring-do, I attempt to do everything at once, even though on a plot this size doing so is patently idiotic. The result is the garden as it stands today. Faintly attractive borders, intensely unproductive pot-grown veg, and an unmown lawn, scorned by local wildlife and human guests in equal measure.
Yet still, I garden. For I am a gardener. Fortunately, spending time outdoors is well-known to be good for your mental health. Dirtying your hands in the soil is good for your soul. Seeing, touching, smelling, tasting, even listening to plants supposedly brings us immense pleasure – and actually, it does.
And I don’t know about you, but for me, reading about all of these things brings me immense pleasure too. There is so much more to gardens and growing and plants and nature than merely knowing when to sow your tomato seeds (as early as now, if you’ve got itchy fingers and a heated propagator) or how hard to prune your roses (hard!).
Which brings me back to The Earthworm. Listen, if all you’re after is advice on how to perfect your patch, then maybe look elsewhere. But if you want to share in a love of gardens and an appreciation for the natural world; or have your eyes opened to new ideas and offbeat horticultural endeavours; or join a community of like-minded people; or simply laugh at my own catastrophic failures in the garden, then stick around. And please, tell your friends.
If after reading this you’re still not sure who I am or, more importantly, what The Earthworm is all about, you’ll find all your questions answered here.
Did you enjoy reading today’s instalment of The Earthworm? Did any of the above chime with you? Are you a guilty flower grower? Are you an angry Elon Musk? What is gardening all about for you? Leave a comment and let me know!
Coming up this week on The Earthworm
Tomorrow: Why a modern Disney classic has a surprising amount to teach us about our approach to gardening.
Thursday: The 5 gardening mistakes I vow never to make again.
Friday: My interview with the one and only Jo Thompson – Chelsea Flower Show multiple gold medal-winner and one of the most influential (and nicest!) garden designers around.