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It's In The Doing with Schumacher's Lead Gardener

It's In The Doing with Schumacher's Lead Gardener, Jane Gleeson 

If any of you attended the recent talk Monty Don gave in the Great Hall at Dartington you would have heard him say - amongst many other things - that we often seek information on the correct way to garden - almost obsessively. It's true - many of us, including myself, when wanting to know how to do something seek information and guide lines and rules to follow. And there are many publishing houses and online pages keen to help us find out - by reading. Yet a central tenet of the college's way of educating is learning by doing. And whatever skill I have attempted to nurture, I have always found it's in the doing that the learning really occurs. This is not to say the theory is not important - but it feels like a launch and landing pad that allows the doing to both take off and land repeatedly.

When, in a former job, I received letters of referral - I would read information (sometimes a lot of information) about a person before meeting them. The person would be created in my mind; I drew a picture (often without really being aware that I was doing so) and then the person would walk through the door; and I would sometimes meet a jolting dissonance between what I had obviously imagined and what had manifested in the room; a dissonance that highlighted my ignorance and prejudice or that of the referrer (probably a bit of both) - but until we meet someone or something with enough receptivity, we are all ignorant and prejudging and - if we have sought information- reliant upon someone else's experience - that is how we function.

So what about gardening? Well, we have our ten new Apprentices in Sustainable Horticulture starting this week. They are here to learn - to learn by doing. They will receive information; but they will learn by doing- the richness, the joy and the knowing in depth will only come by doing and doing again. You can learn about a plant in theory and you can learn from a plant in practice - the latter way is, I believe, more useful and more rewarding. I like to think of how babies, in a good enough environment, are adept at learning and how extraordinarily quickly they do so - all before language and reading. As products of our current educational systems we seem to have lost confidence in our innate ability to learn.

Our apprentices have arrived bursting with talent and skills and a wealth of different experiences - the College gives them a unique opportunity to relate to plants (mostly edible plants) using all their senses, in an atmosphere that fosters mindful enquiry; without the pressure of commercial growing and in the company of like-minded people. Here they can do what all gardeners need to do - both experienced and novices - which is to have a go; hopefully a reasonably informed go - and see what happens and to relate to that happening - to relate to that plant - to be in ongoing conversation. Not a mere dialogue of domination and control - but a dance of intervention and response - aiming towards and, despite inevitable mistakes, still constrained by, the ideal of growing food whilst restoring the soil.

If you want to know what to do in your garden - you can consult a gardener's calendar - but it won't mean much if you don't step out into your garden and start seeing and begin doing in response. I sincerely hope the Apprentices have many moments of joy in the doing.


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