Dig in: A New Gardening Column by Jac Semmler

I kill plants. To be clear, when they die in my garden, it is never malicious or intentional. In fact, plants are my greatest love and obsession. All day, every day, I am thinking about them, gardening with them, and sharing special times with other green hearts and hunters.

How can anybody not love plants? They are endlessly fascinating, and the pleasure of the act of gardening is boundless. There is such tangible satisfaction in the ‘doing’ and ‘discovering’ – no matter where we are on our gardening journey, we are always learning. That’s part of the joy.

As gardeners, we learn skills through hands-on experience and practice. We master the basics through perseverance. We potter about (literally) and experiment with the different and the new. We increase our expertise incrementally, but we rarely reach the pinnacle of being an ‘expert’. That pinnacle moves. There is always something more to learn; conditions are always changing; what we are looking to achieve is always evolving. The old adage of ‘the more you learn, the more you have to learn’ is so true when it comes to gardening.

Jac Semmler, Ornamental Category Manager at Diggers Club and new Planthunter columnist. Image supplied by Jac.

Our society values the ‘expert’, but as gardeners, we are less about knowing and more about being together in a community of practice – learning and doing and evolving together. Gardeners ‘see’ other gardeners, delight in the practice and empathise with the trials and failures involved in working with plants. While I have some years of experience, and have made plants the centre of what I do day-to-day, in some ways I still see myself as a ‘baby gardener’. The learning journey ahead is rich, vast, and exciting.

We all learn in different ways, but like any craft, application and practice are key. We learn by doing, and by not always getting it right. There may be an unforeseen change of weather, a too-long summer or a cheeky pest. You may have misjudged your planting, given a little too much love, or maybe not enough. Too much water or not enough. Planted the plant in the wrong position. I often unintentionally kill plants by pushing their natural tolerance of a climate or position in the garden. The variables are endless.

You might have plant deaths happening all over your patch. But that’s ok. It is all part of the learning. In writing this column, the most important thing I want to encourage you to do is to have a crack. To play.    

I have the privilege and pleasure of working with plants every day at the Diggers Club, Australia’s largest gardening club. Diggers has been a big part of my gardening journey, from planting heirloom seeds as a farm kid growing up in central Victoria to now – leading the Diggers ornamental plants and gardening team, with a dedicated group of passionate, hard-working, (often obsessed) plant nerds. Diggers exists to inspire Australian gardeners like you and me. To better support and skill up gardeners to achieve their garden dreams.

We garden because it’s joyous and beautiful. But we also garden for our future. Gardening is a tangible activity that everyone can participate in to create a better environment, in a changing climate, for our community.

Getting to know what works for you and delights you in a garden and investing the time to develop your green thumbs is an important practice for us all in changing times. I know for many, gardening kept us sane and stable during the lockdowns of 2020. It’s also one of the best things we can do as individuals for the planet. When it feels like the world is closing in, we can get on and garden.   

Each month you will find me here on the Planthunter sharing a practical gardening skill to help you on your gardening journey. Don’t be shy – send in your requests. We all have something we’d like to get better at in the garden, and I’d love to help with whatever you’d like to explore.

Let’s play with plants together.

Jac’s Melbourne Garden – detail.