I think it’s in my blood…

It almost seemed like springtime today! After weeks and weeks of cold weather, and lots of rain, today we had a pretty good day, with quite some sun coming through. We had barely set foot in our garden over the past weeks, except for dumping some organic waste on the compost pile every now and then. I’m from a family of gardeners. My grandfather spent his working life as a groundskeeper for the local church. One uncle had a plant nursery for a long time. Another has owned a garden center for as long as I can remember. I have worked in plant nurseries and as freelance gardener from the age of 13, and this ended somewhere mid-way through my time at university, during which I have mostly focused on indoor plants (and viral transmission in potato and tobacco by various aphid species). When I started my PhD, I was heavily involved in three large field experiments (for instance the ones I wrote about in Heinen et al. 2020, Ecology Letters, and Heinen et al. 2020, Arthropod-Plant Interactions). Field experiments… well, you could call it ecological gardening if you wish. The resemblance is there.

Since we live in Freising, we are lucky to have a garden of our own. An old and spectacularly unkept garden, that is. Great! I like to keep my garden jungle-like, for personal and biodiversity-related reasons. We generally only mow roughly fifty percent of our ‘lawn’, and when, then not too short. Is it really a lawn? I don’t really know, to be honest. There’s about thirty percent moss and a good thirty percent cover by forbs. Lots of forget-me-nots (Myosotis arvensis), buttercups (Ranunculus acris), endless daisies (Bellis perennis), some monster dandelions (Taraxacum officinale, see picture above), countless flowering stork’s bills (Erodium cicutarium), ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), and some huge but now senescing patches of celandine (Ficaria verna), all in all making quite a colorfol impression. The remainder forty percent cover is grass. I am horrible with identification of most grasses, but I’m pretty sure that most of them are not the typical lawn grasses. Sure, there is some Lolium perenne here and there, but also a substantial number of Alopecurus pratensis bushes (typically about 50 cm high) and by far most seems to be Arrhenatherum elatius or something similar, a grass that grows almost a meter tall. Not exactly lawn material. Does this classify as a lawn? To be honest, I don’t care. Whatever it is, it is buzzing with arthropod and other invertebrate life, and as a result, my garden is also pretty rich in bird life, insectivore or other. It is our piece of heaven.

Up until today, we have hardly spent any time in our garden this year. The soil is loamy, and the rain made it quite a mess to walk around in it. But it is now finally getting better. I have been given some tomato and chilli plants by two colleagues which had been waiting for a while to be repotted and brought outside. (The plants, not the colleagues) I have also already had plans to grow more herbs and vegetables in our garden since we moved in here, but I never took the required action.

Today, I did! I installed a couple of potting shelves on which I can work with potted plants. Given that tomatoes and chillies do not like rain, it was important to install a roof shelter as well. One part of our garden is bordered by some concrete garage boxes. I figured these could be used to used in some useful way – and it would be hard to make it uglier… I am by no means a DIY genius, and I don’t particularly enjoy walking around in the DIY market to do some shopping for materials without a proper plan. Nevertheless, I did and impulsively bought some random materials that seemed useful. As a positive side effect – these random materials were quite colorful.

A couple of hours later, guided only by random intuition, I finished my growing shelter, with shelves, roof and all. In fact, it was so successful that I might extend it and effectively double the amount of space. The design (or rather non-design) could also be extended to a closed system fairly easily, which I might still do near the end of the summer. For now, I am fairly happy that my first plants have what they need.

Fuck, I love working outside!

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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