How (not) to be a Bad Gardener Part 1

I’m going to share some of our mistakes in a series of blog posts, partly to remind me not to make them again, and partly in the hope that others might learn from, or at least laugh at, our foolishness.

Lesson one: Do not poison the soil

Plants tend to have a short lifespan in our garden. Nothing seems to live for terribly long or grow particularly large or spread very far. Seedlings grown on the windowsill before planting out, packets of wildflower bee mix seeds scattered onto the soil, cuttings from my mum’s or a neighbour’s garden, large plants from the garden centre: most suffer the same fate. Few are still alive today, or in the spot in which I planted them. I’ve always dreamt of creating borders bursting with plants of graduating heights nicely clustered together, but bare soil has been the dominant theme over the years. Bare soil and my arch nemesis of the weed world: Green Alkanet. It may have a cool botanical name (Pentaglottis sempervirens) and pretty Germander blue flowers but it’s a bugger to pull out by the roots and its stems and leaves are horribly irritant.

My greenfingered mum has been an endless source of both optimism and greenery for the garden.

A Hebe: It’ll be trifid-like in no time; you’ll be hacking it back.

A Daphne: They’re so hardy and fast-growing; this one will establish itself in no time.

A Laurel: It adores dry shade; it’s perfect for your tricky spots

A Hydrangea: There’s lots of these growing locally; it’s bound to thrive

Lesser Celandine, Aubretia, Mind-Your-Own-Business, Creeping Thyme, Saxifrage, Periwinkle: They’ll take over the garden; you’ll be pulling handfuls up every day just to keep them in check.

Mint: Indestructible.


We blamed the poor, heavy, clay soil; the foxes; the dry, shady conditions; the northerly aspect; lack of time spent gardening; bad plant choices. Then one day it dawned on us that the main problem might be that we poisoned the soil with creosote shortly after we moved into the house. Yep, that was probably it.

In an attempt to be green and sustainable, Mr Rixon and I had made beds out of reclaimed railway sleepers during our first major gardening project. Fools that we were, we hadn’t realised that old railway sleepers have often been treated with creosote, a wood preservative that was banned for all but commercial use by the EU in 2003 following warnings that it could be carcinogenic. Horrified that we could be endangering our family’s health by keeping the sleepers in place I did a little research and have eased my mind a little. Apparently, there’s only a small potential risk with prolonged skin contact or if you eat off it. Phew!?

It’s been nearly a decade since we made this first (and biggest?) of gardening mistakes. Had we realised it sooner we may have ripped out the sleepers and started again but dare I hope that most of the creosote has leached out now? After a shaky start, some plants are doing rather well in the beds these days. The Hebe is still alive and looking well, though modest in size, and the Hydrangea is finally starting to beef up.

So far this spring, a total of six Flower Fairies have been sited in the garden: Daffodil, Dandelion, Daisy, Coltsfoot, Groundsel, Lesser Celandine and Dog Violet. The last of these is kindly, finally, providing the carpeting ground cover I have always dreamt of.


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