It still feels like summer here in Barcelona. Even in July, leaves were sporadically falling and browning on the streets, so at the time it felt a little like one season was leaking into another. As late September brings thirty degree days and a new appreciation of weekend siestas, so summer seeps into autumn in a very gentle way too.
All of the plants that we are used to growing in Ireland grow very happily here, but there's also a profusion of so many more varieties that are very happy on balconies and windowsills and roof terraces. A spectrum of possible plant friends has unfurled in exciting ways, as the warmth of the climate is just so much more inviting to growth as well as to certain native species that cannot help but feel exotic to us.
Which leads to the first pointer about learning to garden, in this series we have promised. It's a rather simple maxim, but maxims, by definition are succinct. The first step in learning how not to kill your plants, is to start small.
What's interesting in our case is that we inherited a lot of plants from the beautiful human who was living in our apartment before us. As such we can't take our own advice, we have nine or ten plants, at least six or seven of which we have never taken care of before.
There was a little lag time before we arrived to the apartment and this brief period of neglect made some of the plants unhappy it seems, but it's so hard with entirely new plants in a new climate to know exactly what they might be needing, and how.
So that's the first step to starting your own garden. Just get one plant and make it a chilled out one, so try a jade plant, or a spider plant perhaps, or aloe vera. Pick one plant--your much-loved guinea pig-- that's easy to take care of, and get to know it.
With your first plant newly nestled into its first spot, your gardening then becomes a mere question of time. You will need some time to learn what your plant looks like when it's been overwatered, or under-watered, or if it doesn't like the water from the tap. You'll learn how light works in your living space in a new way, and which spots of the house you need to rearrange to help the plant find its happiest spot.
Perhaps the most important piece of gardening advice we can give to would-be or new gardeners is to just check on your plant every day if you can. Say hello, tickle the soil a little and enjoy it for a second. Try to position the plant in a place that's easy to reach if you can, as plants seem to really thrive, even when the only thing you are actually giving is attention, nothing more, and it does seem to make them happier.
Saying hello to your plant every day might not be practical, so try instead to greet it (especially with those plant varieties listed above) once a week. That's pragmatically plenty quality time with these plants over the winter months when growth is minimal. So get one plant, and learn to say hello to it, and the rest takes care of itself.
Fail with Intention
Finally and most importantly, don't be afraid to fail. Losing plants, seeing beloved plants die, & feeling that you're failing them somehow, is all part and parcel of being a gardener, especially in the beginning. Almost every gardener has their "plant nemesis" that they can never seem to successfully grow. It is a fundamental part of the process, and as such, a silly reason to decide that you should give up at that point.
The best way to learn is to make mistakes. In this process you can note what the differences are, and what the plant looks like based on variables of light, air and water. Get the same variety of plant again, from the same nursery, and try again, learning from what went wrong the last time.
As you make progress and learn a little more instinctively how to identify what's working and what's not working, you can discover how to make changes. Sometimes if a plant is suffering (and this is almost always visible), just think back to how you've been caring for it for the previous week, and then if you're at a loss about how to do things differently, just do the opposite of what you've been doing and see what happens. This method has actually saved many of our plants.
For the first lesson in learning how to garden, these two humble edicts might actually take you a long way. Start with one plant. Make a habit of saying hello to it. When you fail, learn, and try again.
More on the individual and interesting characters in our new garden later, but for now, hopefully this inspires some of you to give gardening a go (even/especially if it's for the umpteenth time).
Please do feel free to leave comments and share your thoughts/experiences as we would really love to hear them!
Until the next instalment
The Wild Atlantic Garden Team