I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden

These days, I try to get as much PhD work done as I can through the week so that by the weekend I can afford to do something I enjoy.  This weekend, having almost reached my 2,000-word goal (with a little bit of help from previous work), I got stuck in with one of my favourite activities…gardening. 

We bought our current house about five years ago, and one of the reasons we chose it was its garden – a mix of old and new, a secret little den hidden down the back, and a lot of potential.  We are, however, not gardeners.  Our last garden was roughly the size of a postage stamp, and even then, we struggled to maintain it.  So, when we moved into this house, our great intentions were met with a lot of head-scratching and calls to tree surgeons.  Five years on, we’ve chopped a lot of stuff down, built a summer house, and found that the more you try to control weeds the more they grow. 

Like the PhD, getting the most out of a garden is not as straightforward as it first appears.

I work in a college which specialises in subjects such as horticulture.  This should be of great benefit to anyone trying to garden, but it turns out that knowing the scientific names for plants and knowing what to do with those plants are two different things.  I can look like I know what I’m talking about in a garden centre when I ask for plants by their fancy names, but chances are I’m going to kill the plants the minute I get them home. 

Like research methods, each plant has a purpose and a place in which it will thrive.  Sure, you can put it somewhere a little unusual, but you need to do your background research first. A sun-loving plant might do well with a bit of dappled shade but stick in amongst the trees where it gets no sunlight whatsoever, and you’re likely to find a dead stump in next to no time. 

Like writing, you’re bound to make a few mistakes along the way, but if you’re prepared to move things around and to go back to the drawing board at times, it can work in the end.  I remember my supervisor saying very early in my studies that I should never throw words away.  Take them out of the draft, but file them – I save each major draft of my work with a different file name which amounts to the same thing.  All those grass clippings and old worn branches are neatly stored in my compost bin of previous versions, just waiting for the moment I need to use them to support my new work.  Unfortunately, nobody goes in to my earlier versions to munch through the rubbish like the worms in my compost bin, so when the old work comes out it still needs a bit of work, but it’s had time to rest and the next time I see it I’m often relieved I kept it.

When you’re not a professional gardener, sometimes you can think things look fine.  Look from a different angle, however, and you’ll often notice something is missing.  Looking from an upstairs window this morning, I noticed the lack of ground cover in the flower bed I’d prepared yesterday. A quick hunt around the rest of the garden, however, turned up the perfect plant, something that will fill the gaps without taking over, almost like the sentences we use to link our paragraphs and our ideas.  Keen to complete my 2,000 words this week, I went back to some older written work and ‘borrowed’ it to fill a gap.  It’s not perfect, it needs some shrubs to give it structure and quite a lot of weeding, but all-in-all it did the trick – it let me see how the literature review chapter is beginning to take shape.  After the dark mornings and chilly days of winter, it’s starting to feel as though Spring has sprung in the garden and…dare I say it…in my literature review. 

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