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Reform Magazine | October 16, 2017

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Sonia Christie – Eco-Gardener: Simplicity, in life and garden

sonia_cropThe house was in utter chaos. Ollie was preparing for his band’s first ever gig; Alex was “helping” to ice his birthday cake; Bruce was practising his lines for an amateur dramatics play and Ellie was frantically revising for her A Level exams. As I bustled around helping and encouraging, I contemplated the guests that were about to arrive for dinner. I was sure I had everything under control, until the smoke alarm went off and I realised the salmon on the grill was in flames.

Looking at my garden, I often have the same feeling of suppressed panic as I contemplate all the work I need to do out there. Cue a most relevant sermon at church based on the ideas of the Simple Living Manifesto. At its core is the concept of identifying what’s most important to us and then getting rid of everything else, so that we can live an outwardly simple but inwardly rich life. That got me to thinking about how to create simplicity, and hopefully calmness, not just in my life but also in the garden, so that I could enjoy it more rather than dreading all I had to do.

I found a good place to start is the RHS Practicals “Low Maintenance Gardening” by Alan Toogood. He suggests working out what sort of site and soil you have (The RHS does soil analysis for £25 members/£30 non members) so that you can save time in the long run by putting the right plant in the right place and not risk having to replace unhappy plants. Another suggestion is to tidy less in the autumn – leave for the animals to enjoy. It will mean less clearing up in the spring as lots will have rotted into and enriched the soil over the winter months. Although time consuming to apply, a mulch of garden compost to the borders each spring will reduce the need for watering and weeding later in the year. Also, consider having a smaller lawn, a wildflower lawn, or even no lawn at all to cut mowing time down – Bruce loves that one!

It helps to choose plants that need little attention. Drought-resistant plants often have silver or grey-green leaves, their light leaf colour reflecting the sun’s rays. Some have a coating of fine hairs on their leaves or stems, helping to trap moisture around the plant tissues. Examples include Hebes and Lavenders, there are many more suggestions on the RHS website. In addition, avoid plants that need staking, pruning or deadheading – no Buddlejas or Roses, and choose varieties known for their disease and pest resistance, such as slug-resistant hostas, including the wonderfully-named Hosta “Blue Mouse Ears”, or try Lonicera nitida instead of Buxus sempervirens to beat box blight.

Finally, try making a plan of action to reduce feeling overwhelmed. www.shootgardening.co.uk is a wonderful organisational tool for gardeners, with diaries, to-do lists, forums and personalised tips emailed monthly.

As I contemplated the pandemonium, our friends arrived, and promptly set about helping to ice the cake, clear up the mess, and cook something different for dinner. And do you know what? I had a wonderful evening doing what I most love, spending time laughing with friends and family. Ah. I have found a flaw in the manifesto. What if my idea of happiness does not equate to that of my nearest and dearest – what if my friends went home miserable at all the work they had to do and will never darken my doorstep again?

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This article was published in the February 2013 edition of  Reform.

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