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Scott Smith: The life lessons learned from a career in horticulture

With gardening you collect ideas along the way but should you listen to other people or do your own thing? Scott Smith has his own opinions about this.

If you've ever fancied having a go at topiary, what is stopping you? Image: Shutterstock.
If you've ever fancied having a go at topiary, what is stopping you? Image: Shutterstock.

Today marks my 33rd year on this planet. Life really is a strange but wonderful gift.

We all have such different experiences garnered from moments fleeting yet memorable. OK I’ll admit I’m feeling a quite nostalgic.

Over the years I’ve learned many a valuable lesson from gardening and wider horticulture.

Some joyous, happy and fulfilling; others painful and crushing but no less important.

I’ll share a few here. Gardening related of course, I’m not going to try and teach my granny to suck eggs with life lessons from a young (ish) pup.

Grow things according to your own tastes.

Don’t be afraid to try

An ornamental stone at Kellie Castle in Fife always sticks in my mind. The first place I ever worked in gardening was the home of many firsts for me.

The aforementioned stone was emblazoned with the wise words “Fear not to sow for the birds”.

Even to this day it rings true. Fear of failure holds us back. To succeed we must try and if we fail then we learn from our mistakes.

Adapt to learn from the mistakes then succeed next time. All in all though, give that thing you’ve always wanted to grow or design a go. If you don’t you’ll never know what could have been.

Kellie Castle held many firsts for Scott.

Leave your comfort zone

Building on from above, we must push ourselves. If you play it safe and always do what you’re comfortable with then you never learn.

Maybe you’ve always wanted some lovely topiary in your garden. It’s hard to though right? So maybe just leave it.

If you do that though then nothing ventured, nothing gained. How about look up a topiary workshop to attend?

Get a book on it or an online tutorial. Grab your secateurs and shears. The first few won’t be great. So what? The next few will be better and before you know it, neighbours will envy that glorious peacock yew you’ve sculptured.

One quarter colour to three quarters green works well.

Visit places and steal ideas

Ideas tend not to come from divine inspiration nor in the middle of the night. If they do then you are truly creative.

Believe it or not, most people aren’t creative. Everyone thinks they are but they aren’t. When did you last paint a picture, compose a piece of music, or write a book?

Don’t think I’m not having a go, I’ll the first to admit I’m not a creative. I have my moments but I’m a practical person rather than a dreamer.

As such I have had to admit to myself that other people can come up with better ideas and designs than me.

Visiting other gardens provides inspiration. Seeing certain layouts, plant groupings or combinations. They help add to the creativity bank. You can learn and adapt from these pieces of inspiration.

Visit gardens to gain inspiration.

Combining these into a cocktail of your own making can itself create an original piece all taken from various sources.

If you take the time to visit other gardens, read and watch other people’s gardening stories, and look back at history then you’ll be surprised how full your ideas bank becomes.

Do things your own way

I’ve been told how to cut hedges 50 different ways. One person does it this way which is 100% definitely the right and only way to do it.

The next person, same story different technique.

Truthfully though, always listen and take advice from others.

Being humble and listening can sometimes provide a nugget of information that changes the way you think or do things. The more you know then the more you grow.

A small urban garden might be just your cup of tea. Image: Shutterstock.

All said and done though, ultimately you must do things the way that works for you. Some people lift all their weeds out, others hoe and leave them on the surface.

I can tell you what I’d do but at the end of the day it’s your garden. I can offer advice and you can listen but do what works for you overall.

Ignore that person that definitely is right about their way to cut a hedge and insist you must do it the same. Small-minded individuals tend not to go far.

There are varying opinions on how to maintain a hedge. Image: Shutterstock.

Taste is personal

Do what you want. Gardening has fads, don’t follow them. What you think looks great might be someone else’s idea of hell.

The garden is just an outside room after all. It is an extension of the house, thereby an extension of you.

If you like gnomes then heck go for it. I can’t stomach them but hey it’s your garden so who cares what I like?

Taste is personal but you can learn from a simple design rule that a garden should be 75% green and 25% other colours.

Green of course coming from the lawn, hedges, leaves on shrubs. Other colours? Well that’s up to you!

Take care and happy gardening.

Gnomes aren’t to everyone’s taste, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have one if you want one. Image: Shutterstock.