Six on Saturday: Gardeners can’t grow tomatoes

Today, I’m joining the propagator’s gang of garden bloggers sharing six things on Saturday, and explaining how I learned that gardeners can’t really grow things.

Let’s start with the six.

  1. Begonias: a reliable, cheap and cheerful flower, they really brighten up the view.


  2. Roses: I’ve neglected them, frankly, and yet they still produce these great beauties.
    peachy pink roses

    3. Rain: I’m appreciating the recent rain, as the garden still seems thirsty and the water butts need to be replenished, and it’s good to see the green, green grass at home. And  I’m thankful that I’d done plenty of pruning and composting yesterday before the rain really came down.

    The view on a rainy Friday in late august 

    4. Rainy afternoons are great for browsing books and planning. So I tidied up my garden bookshelf, which now contains seeds to be sown, gardening books, notebooks and books on productivity & planning.

While browsing my notes,  I spotted a quote from US General Stanley McChrystal, ….who proposes leading teams ‘like gardener.’

From his book  ‘Team of Teams,’ as  quoted at planning blog the agileist

“I began to view effective leadership in the new environment as more akin to gardening than chess. The move-by-move control that seemed natural to military operations proved less effective than nurturing the organization—its structure, processes, and culture—to enable the subordinate components to function with “smart autonomy”.…

Within our Task Force, as in a garden, the outcome was less dependent on the initial planting (i.e. planning) than on consistent maintenance. Watering, weeding, and protecting plants from rabbits and disease are essential for success.

The gardener cannot actually “grow” tomatoes, squash, or beans—she can only foster an environment in which the plants do so.

This really struck me. Previously I’d read this as a point about about leading teams effectively by developing the right conditions for growth, and providing direction and support, which I try to do at work, but re-reading this reminded me that gardener’s don’t really grow things.

Today I had pruned and composted, pulled several miles of bindweed from the roses, and watered the tomatoes, but I haven’t ‘grown’ anything.  Because gardeners cannot actually ‘grow’ tomatoes.

We’re not capable of germination, photosynthesis, flowering or producing tasty seedheads. All we can do as gardeners is provide the best chance we can for the plants to do their thing, and hope that they do it well.

6. Tomatoes : I didn’t grow these, but I’m very glad that I put the seeds in a pot of earth,  sheltered them under glass, gave them water and access to sunlight, supported the shoots as they emerged, and ate these tasty fruits once they’d ripened.

Tiny, tasty tomatoes

So, although gardeners cannot actually ‘grow’ tomatoes, we can certainly enjoy them.

For many more enjoyable garden things on Saturday, head over to the Propagator’s blog to see who’s joined the jolly green meme to share six on saturday.

And as always, I hope your plans and plants are coming along nicely.

Jen x

13 thoughts on “Six on Saturday: Gardeners can’t grow tomatoes

  1. Your garden is lovely. Thanks for the quote. It’s spot on. Especially when it’s apparent that I, as General, have not done my best to provide for my troops. My stealth enemy nemesis is squash borers.


    1. Thanks for your lovely comment Laura! I was lucky to be gifted this tall boy from a friend who was moving house, and most of the books are charity shop finds. I love picking up old gardening books and have room for a few more in the collection 🙂


    1. Thanks! I treated myself to wooden pots as a (hopefully) long term investment and alternative to plastic, and I’m chuffed with how they look.
      White flowers work well in this spot because they catch the light at dusk. I used Erigeron Karvinskianus and Bacopa cordata ‘Snowtopia White’ which are both plants I’ve found reliable and fairly hardy.


  2. I think the General’s contrast of ‘move by move’ control in the military versus nurturing the environment and creating the best conditions for people/plants to thrive outside of the military is very insightful. Gardeners do both, perhaps leaning to the former if growing lettuces for supermarkets say; to the latter in an informal rural garden. And tight control can be very apparent, as at Versailles, or artfully hidden, as in lots of places. Plants are like civilians, they don’t like taking orders.


    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment Jim! There are certainly ‘command and control’ horticultural processes used very successfully, on a mass scale in agribusiness, or for competitive vegetable growing.
      I liked what you said about the artfully hidden control – that’s the cottage garden style I prefer, of a semi-organised, self-seeded chaos with plenty to enjoy. It minimises effort, but does require a firm hand now and then.
      Without any intervention, our garden would be a thicket of bindweed, bramble and sycamore, with no tomatoes at all 🙂


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