Cultivating a growth mind-set

Centaurea ‘Jordy’

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. 









29 Comments Add yours

  1. janesmudgeegarden says:

    I very much agree with the points you make. As a late starting gardener, patience is the most important thing I’ve had to learn, and now beginning a blog, I’m getting to share and learn so much from other bloggers. Your number six is the best point..enjoy it. Right now I’m looking out the window at the Autumn sun just rising, the rosemary hedge coming into flower, the roses coming into their autumn flush and thinking, how lovely it all is. Your post has made me stop and think about those things.

    1. Ali says:

      Patience is my biggest challenge too. You paint a lovely picture of your garden as it is right now, Jane. Thank you for this!

  2. bcparkison says:

    Some of the best advice I have ever heard is “Don’t pay any attention to directions on the bag of fertilizer. They are selling fertilizer.”

    1. Ali says:

      Very good point! I read recently that most fertiliser ends up in the water courses. I’m just going to add nutrients in the form of mulch from now, and see what happens. I try to choose vigorous varieties that don’t need too much cosseting, which also helps.

  3. Tiny Urban Farmer says:

    I can’t pick which one I agree with most – they are all great points! Of course, number 8 goes without saying but number ten I think the act of growing and teaching children where it all comes from is important. Sharing all I grow with friends and family is one of my favourite parts of the garden.
    I will try to uphold all ten (man, I wish I could write like this post)

    1. Ali says:

      It makes me really happy when I write something which strikes a chord, and I really appreciate your kind kind words. I love your blog; it is all part of this rich tapestry. ❤️😘

  4. All great points – very meaningful and helpful post.

  5. Omara says:

    I’m not a gardener (I don’t have a garden – I wish I did, it’s so sad) but all the points you’ve made resonate with me as I’m going through a transition in my life and I have to keep trying to accept that nothing is perfect and that I’m going to grow!

    1. Ali says:

      You can apply this to any aspect of life, Omara. The not needing to be perfect is such an important one. Nature is imperfect, and survival depends upon diversity and happy accidents. If we all strive towards the same goals then we risk the same vulnerabilities, so everyone has to find their own sources of strength. I hope you will keep popping by. Thank you for commenting.

  6. rogerandlis says:

    What a beautiful post, there is so much that strikes a chord with me ( and I’m thrilled to hear I’m not the only woman with meandering edges and wonky wigwams!) I would say nurturing a sense of humour is also important, being able to smile at yourself and all that is wonderful in the garden . . . and to keep smiling during those eek! moments, too, 🙂

    1. Ali says:

      Ah, thank you, Lis! We can start a wonky gardeners club!

  7. Rupali says:

    Very nurturing post. Sadly I don’t own a garden where I live but I compensate it with seasonal plants. Which means I have new investments (to make my season beautiful) every year. I learn little by little.

    1. Ali says:

      It sounds lovely, Rupali. I love the phrase ‘little investments’. That is exactly what a plant is.

  8. Phil Battye says:

    I like William Wordsworth’s “Come into the light of things, let nature be your teacher” The very act of gardening gives you a growth mind set. It is a creative activity which calms the mind and allows you to witness germination, fruitfulness and renewal. It also teaches us how to accept loss and disappointment as some things we plant do not survive

  9. Phil Battye says:

    Jan Battye not Phil!

    1. Ali says:

      I did wonder, mum! 😘😂

  10. Laura says:

    These words are very true. My garden has trees and flowers. It will be magic when the green leaves return.

    1. Ali says:

      The power of green is amazing, Laura.

  11. Reading this post made me so happy! 😃 I love hearing and reading about what others are doing in their garden, but also how they feel about gardening. All 10 of these points are wonderful and relevant. I especially resonated with number 10. I’m an intention and sense of purpose person, so it’s important to me to understand why we do what we do. I garden for so many reasons—peace, therapy, beauty, provide food and shelter for wildlife, creativity—but the main reason is because gardening helps me to better navigate and understand the ups and downs of living a life. You’ve provided lots to think about in this post. Have a wonderful Saturday.

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you so much, Cheryl, it really means a lot when a post resonates with a reader. It is also lovely to find likeminded people.

  12. Chloris says:

    I was Yorkshire- born too and I know what you mean. If you made a fuss when you burnt your hand you were told not to draw attention to yourself. Or if you cried, not to be mardy.
    I’m not a Titchmarsh fan either, but I disagree about Carol, why can’t she just talk normally and stop trying to be so irritatingly girly and over -enthusiastic?
    Anyway, you made very good points. Why do we garden? I suspect for most of us bloggers, it’s because we can’t not. It’s been a lifelong obsession for me. One of Kant’s Categorical Imperatives. (Actually, I can’t remember what they are, but it’s certainly my categorical imperative.)

    1. Ali says:

      I will have to look up Kant’s Categorical Imperatives, Chloris. Am intrigued!

      1. Chloris says:

        It’s nothing to do with gardening, it’s all about deontological ethics and morality. I’ve just borrowed the term and applied it to the imperative need to garden.

  13. lottydawson says:

    This post is great. Love seeing fellow Yorkshire folk spreading the lingo.

    1. Ali says:

      Thanks Lotty! Lovely to have you here too!

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