I am an optimist. I was blessed with optimistic parents. I was brought up with a Northern “you’ll be right” sort of approach to minor disasters. As long as you can’t see bone, a plaster will fix it.
That is the most negative thing I can say about their optimistic outlook. The positive aspect is this:
Anything is possible. You just have to try it. What’s the worst that can happen?
This sort of attitude is now known as “a growth mind-set”.
Here are a few key indicators of a growth mind-set:
1. Acknowledge and embrace imperfections
I like a wonky line. I’ve never had a good sense of direction. Life’s too short to get out a peg and line. I like kinks. The same with plant supports. Who wants a perfectly perpendicular wigwam when you can have one that tilts at a jaunty angle?
2. View challenges as opportunities
When I planned my rose garden I had no ideas of the perils which lurked beneath. I had been lulled into a false sense of security by the clay soil elsewhere in the garden. It was only when I tried to sink my spade into the lawn that I realised we had about 7cm of topsoil, some weird plastic netting beneath this, and then a metre or more of builders’ rubble, flint and chalk, set into a concrete-hard consistency. I managed to peel off a strip of about 2 metres by 10cm in an hour. I began to have misgivings. I even walked away from it. For a week. I wondered if I should let the grass grow back. But then it rained, and it got slightly softer. Crucially, I bought my ladies’ pickaxe. I have never looked back.
3. Try different learning tactics
A lot of gardening books talk about weedkiller and fertilizer, and complicated procedures. Gardener’s Question Time can be depressing. It’s all vine weevils and carrot root-fly and eradication of weeds. One question this week was whether a member of the audience who was fed up of hacking back shrubs should resort to paving, decking or concrete. This is why I turn to Monty, Carol, and Sarah Raven (See Five inspirational garden writers for International Women’s Day). I want profusion and propagation and romance and reckless abandon! I want to try it out and see what happens, rather than poring over gardening manuals. My gardening books are for inspiration, not instructions.
4. Replace the word ‘failing’ with ‘learning’.
Gardeners kill plants. All the time. Seeds don’t germinate. They go leggy because we’ve sown them too early. Sometimes we prick out too soon, sometimes too late. We over-water. We don’t water at all. We think that the instructions on the packet might not be strictly necessary. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t. This is experimentation. This is scientific discovery. It is important work. We are finding out what we can get away with. Because lots of gardening advice is wrong. It is wrong for our growing conditions, our climate, our garden or our temperament. We will only learn by failing.
5. Stop seeking approval.
I won’t like everything you do in your garden, and you won’t like everything I do. Or rather, I can really appreciate what you do, because it is not what I do. There is room for all of us. There are many types of garden. I have a bright border and a rose garden and a cutting patch. But I love courtyard gardens, coastal gardens, gravel gardens, tropical gardens, prairie plantings… I probably like them all the more because I don’t have them at home. Diversity is a good thing. Be loud and proud in your planting. Or be quiet and unassuming. It’s completely up to you.
6. Value the process over the end result
The garden will never be finished. It will never be exactly like it is today ever again. Enjoy every unique moment. Some things will grow faster than others; what flowered early last year might be late this year. Some will succumb, some will go forth and multiply. You will have new bright ideas. They will just keep on coming! This is an endless adventure in creativity! Go with it.
7. Emphasise growth over speed
Haha! I’m not very good at this one. I’m an impatient gardener. Right now I think I can make my tulips grow faster if I stare at them hard enough. But I am trying to enjoy their lovely glaucous blue foliage, their undulating twistiness, their hidden folds and depths. Somewhere in there are their embryonic flower buds, swelling each day. It is all happening even though I can’t see it, and that is kind of magical. And I wouldn’t want it to happen any faster. I like a couple of weeks of seeing the stretching flower-bud, getting pointy, green at first, and then just colouring at the tip and where the petals overlap. And the flower in all its stages, from pert perfection to the morning-after splayed limbs and clothes in disarray. And I love having to wait another 11 months to enjoy it all again.
8. Celebrate growth with others
Tick! This is what I love about blogging. I can share what is giving me joy right now. I love a walk round the garden with Stevie, or my mum, my (dutiful) children, my dogs. I have non-gardening friends I drag around to admire my offerings! We eat and drink what Stevie grows and we gaze upon and frolic amongst the flowers that I grow. Even the kids join in (see From Screen to Green and Shelter). We and breathe the garden. It is glorious.
9. Re-define ‘genius’
Love this one. Genius requires hard work, not talent alone. In fact talent is just a lot of hard work. But it’s work that you enjoy, so you do more of it, and you get better at it, and so you do more of it, and get better still. Tra la!
10. Cultivate a sense of purpose
We grow to eat. We want to make a beautiful space. We want a wildlife-rich garden. We want to attract birds and bees, and newts and toads. I want to gaze at gorgeous blooms in the garden and in a vase on the kitchen table. I want Stevie to make delicious jam to go with my delicious bread. We want our children to appreciate nature and to know how to grow. This is the bigger picture, and it feeds into all the little acts of nurturing and kindness and diligence and creativity that make a garden.
What do you think makes a growth mind-set, and how do you cultivate it?
My aim on this site is to share the sense of wonder I get from gardening and being outdoors.
If you would like to join the joy, click on the ‘Follow’ button at the end of this post. You will receive an email each time I post a little pop of wonder.