Dave Allan: The Joys of Writing About Gardening

It used to be that newspapers aimed to be the first to know the news, but now readers are inundated with instant news on the web. So newspapers need something extra – and that’s where their columnists come in to love or hate.

I am very lucky, I love to garden, I have a wonderful garden and smallholding and I relish the opportunity to share my thoughts and gardening experience. When I cover a subject, I often use my own plants and techniques as illustrations and try to give my readers a taste of life on my smallholding. I want you to appreciate the life and vibrancy of my garden and see your own garden as worth exploring and understanding.

Besides providing second-by-second information, the web is full of step-by-step instructions on what to do with plants. But every garden is unique, so instructions for a Solway Sweet Garden would be useless for the Hebrides, Orkney or East Lothian.

This diversity is often largely ignored. I remember my exasperation 40 years ago when I returned from Kent to Scotland. Every tip I read was designed for Sussex Gardens, not Edinburgh where I was living then.

Based on my experience talking to people while running community gardening and home composting projects, a demonstration garden, and visiting a lot of groups, I want people to look at their gardens with fresh eyes. I want them, you, to understand why plants behave the way they do. By observing how and why they grow well or poorly, you will understand how to solve a gardening problem no matter where you live in the country.

And there is nothing unique about us and all of our triumphs and tribulations. Gardeners have faced the same problems we have for centuries. So how did they cope? They used very different methods and I often had to admire the way they solved their problems. Whenever possible, I illustrate a point with Scottish examples. I mention writers like James Justice and John Reid rather than the endlessly quoted Englishman John Gerard. I’m talking about Orkney Gardens and Edinburgh Market, rather than Home Counties and Covent Garden.

Gardening is a very traditional hobby: what grandpa has been doing in the vegetable garden for 50 years must be right, especially if he learned it on his father’s lap. Lots of old ways are out there, but recent horticultural research that I follow can overturn some ideas and I want to explain that. Aye bin is not aye right.

Scotland has a long and proud tradition of gardening and I hope my column will help you, my readers, carry it with confidence into the 21st century.

Read Dave Allan’s advice on summer apple pruning in today’s Herald Magazine

Terri S. Tomasini