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GINGER GAIRDNER: After 30 years, I’ve learned that every day’s a school day

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I realised the other day that it’s been 30 years since I had my interview for the garden apprenticeship post at Craigtoun Park outside St Andrews.

I can still remember it well,  trying to impress the head gardener and other members of the panel that I was keen.

I explained how I used to enjoy doing my own and neighbours garden and how I’d got a free Marigold seed sowing kit and was amazed by the results.

Little did I know

I was so happy to be given one of the posts. I don’t think I knew what to expect of the job back then.

I guess I thought it would be cutting grass and keeping the flower beds tidy with maybe a ride on the train at lunchtimes as a wee perk of the job!

Not for one minute did I think I would work in an industry where I would meet probably the nicest, friendliest people in the world.

How was our Ginger Gairdner to know where gardening would take him?

That I could become so passionate for a subject that would see me work and visit some of the country’s nicest gardens.

That I would have opportunities to garden in Bhutan, one of the last unspoiled places on the planet, and make trips looking at plants in such stunning scenery as the Swiss Alps.

All that on the back of gardening, not bad!

‘Every day’s a school day’

There’s so many aspects to gardening such as glasshouse and propagation work, trees or vegetable growing to name but a few.

Plus there are so many genus of plants to specialise in it’s just absolutely impossible to get bored.

I’ll garden until the day I die and know I’ll only ever scratch the surface on this vast subject, as gardening legend Jim McColl would say, “every day’s a school day!”.

Helping a greenkeeper at a bowling club was what got Brian started in his profession as a gardener.

One of the things that got me into gardening was helping the greenkeeper during the school holidays when I went to work with mum down at the local bowling club.

The immaculate green grass cut so short and kept neat with diagonal stripes, it looked so beautiful.

There used to be a green at Craigtoun that was back then under the care of the senior gardener. It would be three years before I had proved myself a suitable lawn mower operator to earn his trust and be allowed to cut it when he was on holiday.

I was so proud getting to do this but was concentrating so hard, making sure the lines were dead straight, I remember feeling exhausted afterwards.

Unexpected benefits

Thankfully the job after wasn’t so stressful. Doing a bit of tidying up around the café gave me a good excuse for me to see the girl who would later become my wife.

One of the good things about gardening is there isn’t just the one tried and tested method for carrying out a job.

That includes there being more than the one way to care for your lawn.

I would say we could split lawn care into three groups.

Those that like an immaculate lawn, cutting two maybe even three times a week. This will also take regular feeding, application of moss killers plus seasonal scarifying and spiking to aerate.

There are three basic approaches to lawn care. We’re guessing this lawn owner falls into the first approach.

The second group where I would say the vast majority of us sit, cut our grass weekly or fortnightly depending how busy we are.

We’re content with a neat and tidy patch of green to compliment the plantings around the lawn.

Recently we’ve been encouraged to reduce cutting our lawns to every 3 weeks with the height of cut being at it’s max.

Why less is more

By doing this we are helping the biodiversity that can be found at home in the longer grass as well as saving on electricity and petrol required to operate our mowers.

As much as I admire the appearance of the first group I would say I’m in the other two groups when it comes to caring for my lawns.

I have a front and side lawn. In the front I follow the ‘no-mow’ and in my opinion doesn’t make my garden look any untidier.

I’ve been doing this for a few years now. I started it so I could spend less time grass cutting and more time with my kids.

How it works

To help ‘frame’ this patch I run my mower around the outsides of the lawn at what would be the normal height of cut, plus a wee meandering path through the longer grass too.

I actually think this makes this kind of lawn a feature in itself now.

Now is last call in the ideal time window if you’re looking to create a new lawn.

May’s the time for lawns

May is traditionally seen as an ideal month.

There is just the right amount of heat and moisture in the ground for grass seed to germinate or new turf  to get itself started before the warmer summer.

Of course in the 30 years I’ve  been gardening I’ve learnt  the Scottish weather does not read gardening books. So always be prepared to get the sprinkler out during dry spells.

Finally there is actually a fourth group, the artificial lawn owners. My old head gardener and mother would expect better of me than the words I would use if I was to comment on this.

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