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Gardening

Gardening is a generic term that covers all activities to do with working the land and planting and maintaining plants. A garden can be decorative (French formal garden, Japanese garden, etc.) or used to grow fruit and vegetables, in which case it's called a vegetable garden.

What's the difference between gardening and farming?

Although both activities share the growing of plants in common, gardening and farming are different in many ways.

Farming is an umbrella term for several growing activities: horticulture (growing plants), market gardening (growing fruit and vegetables), arboriculture (growing trees) and floriculture (growing flowers). All of these are commercial activities carried out for profit. The plants produced, usually on a large scale, are intended for sale. This involves the use of special techniques and tools: selecting seeds, using agricultural machinery, automated irrigation, soil fertilisation, treating crops and harvests, etc.

Meanwhile, gardeners rarely grow for commercial reasons or profit. When we talk about gardening we're usually referring to a leisure activity or at least food self-sufficiency carried out by amateur gardeners in a private family garden. The techniques and tools used also differ. Gardeners generally prefer economy of means by taking advantage of the resources around them and use simple, usually manual tools (a hoe, spade, rake, wheelbarrow, etc.).

Gardening: a popular activity

Figures unequivocally show that the French value their gardens, not just as a leisure space, with 70% considering their garden as an extra room of their home1, but also as a natural space to be worked and cultivated. Far from being restricted to the countryside, gardening is also carried out in towns and cities, in an actual garden if you're fortunate enough, or on mini balcony vegetable gardens or windowsills for everyone else. In total, it's thought that nine out of ten French people cultivate a green space, however small, around their home.

Figures from the French national institute for statistics and economic research (INSEE) show that nearly 60% of French households have a garden, with the total surface area reaching 1 million hectares. The market for plants and gardening tools and items is also flourishing, growing by an average of 2.9% every year since 1960. In 2014, garden centre sales in France totalled nearly €3 billion.

The interest in gardening, which for a long time was synonymous with retirement or low-income households, is therefore more universal than you might think. Whether it's to make the surroundings of your home look nicer, connect with nature more or relax, a garden is an undisputed pleasure, sometimes regardless of whether it's used for growing food.

Key gardening skills

Whether it's to create or maintain a garden, gardeners need a certain number of skills. Indeed, getting flowers and vegetables to grow isn't always as easy as you might think. Gardeners therefore need to know the right things to do and how to treat their vegetable garden. Even a lawn requires maintenance and it's an ongoing job to maintain a green space, however modest it might be.

The various techniques to use are closely related to what stage of growth the plants are at. There are different phases in a gardener's activity:
  • Preparation

    The first job is preparing the soil (digging, raking, depositing compost, manure, fertiliser, etc.) and the future plants (selection of the seeds, cutting, preparation of grafts, etc.).
  • Planting

    This is when the planting of seeds, replanting, repotting, etc. takes place.
  • Regular maintenance

    A garden needs to be regularly maintained to ensure the regular and prolific growth of plants. Watering is an essential stage when the ground becomes dry and there isn't enough rain to give the plants the water they need. Some species can survive a long time without water, although most flowers and vegetables need regular watering, whatever the method (by spraying, mechanical irrigation, drop irrigation or manual watering by the gardener using a hose or watering can).

    Other essential garden maintenance skills include weeding, which removes undesired vegetation from the soil, the hoeing required for certain types of plants (in a vegetable garden this includes potatoes and green beans) and mulching to prevent water evaporation and preserve soil life and nutrients.
  • Plant care

    Lastly, regular maintenance of a garden involves caring for the plants and combating parasites and diseases. Most of the time, nature gives plants what they need to protect themselves from external attacks, although it's sometimes necessary to take action to protect them. A common example that all gardeners experience is treating for pests - aphids, mealybugs and slugs, which needs to be carried out regularly to maintain healthy plants.
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Tools for gardening

Certain basic tools are required for maintaining a garden. Whether you decide to plant flowers, a simple lawn or a vegetable garden for food, you'll need to get the appropriate equipment. Basic tools include a rake, spade, shovel, secateurs, watering can and hoe, to which you might want to add tools for more periodic tasks: a sprayer, a sickle or scythe, a saw or shears for larger jobs, etc. To carry all these tools, a basket or sturdy bag may be useful, as well as a wheelbarrow for transporting earth, compost, dead leaves or cut branches.

If you have a big garden, larger mechanical tools may prove useful: a lawnmower and edge trimmer for maintaining the lawn, a motorised cultivator for turning over the soil and even a chainsaw for pruning large trees.

Gardening and environmental management

Creating and maintaining a garden isn't just about planting and harvesting vegetables, it's also about considering a whole range of environmental factors. For example, soil quality, the weather and the seasons determine the techniques and tools used, as well as the schedule of work in a garden. Gardening is also about taking a whole set of data into account.

Keeping a regular eye on the local weather forecast is essential for planning when to water plants and protecting them from frost and heavy rain. You'll often need a thermometer, wind gauge and rain gauge to manage weather conditions more effectively. You can also purchase a complete weather station, either a standard or smart version, which will give you all the information you need to care for your garden day to day.

To get the most out of your vegetable garden you'll also need to consider its overall environment: foster beneficial interactions between "friendly" plants and take advantage of the resources that nature provides - collecting rain water, composting garden waste (pruning waste, tree leaves, etc.) and kitchen waste (peelings, remnants of garden produce).

Some gardeners go even further and organise gardening tasks based on the phases of the moon: depending on whether it is waxing or waning, some days are better for seeding and harvesting certain types of plants: root vegetables and flower bulbs on "root days", flowers and vegetables/flowers on "flower days", fruit trees and vegetables/fruit on "fruit and seed days" and lastly leafy plants on "leaf days".

Therapeutic gardening

The health benefits of gardening have long been known. Physical exercise and working in the open air have many virtues. For several years, the medical authorities have been looking at gardening as a way to improve certain patients' health. This is what is known as therapeutic gardening, or horticultural therapy.

This new way of thinking about gardening is useful both for patients with motor problems or those in rehabilitation, and patients with neurological or psychological disorders. Immersion in nature is already in itself beneficial for health and mental wellbeing, while teamwork fosters social interaction and self-confidence.

Gardening can also improve cognitive capabilities, balance and memory. It maintains the muscle structure and strengthens coordination. Therapeutic gardening is therefore very effective at supporting vulnerable individuals, whether physically or psychologically, on the road to recovery.

Aside from the purely medical aspects, spending time in a garden often and regularly doing some gardening is beneficial for everyone. It's also worth remembering that eating home-grown fruit and vegetables is excellent for your long-term health.

1Ipsos-Unep 2006 survey

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