In the 1960s and 1970s double digging was the proper way to garden. That opinion persisted for many years, and the method also known as “bastard trenching” still has its fans. (You can read more about the process, and just how unpleasant it is, here.)
As arduous as it was, gardeners persisted in doing it because their gardens grew well.
Today there is a new method gaining popularity that is the exact opposite of double digging: no dig. In this method you disturb the soil as little as possible and routinely add organic matter to the top of soil, never mixing it in. British gardener Charles Dowding is the most widely known expert on no dig gardening but there are plenty of successful gardeners singing its praises. Check out Charles’s YouTube channel to be very inspired.
So how can two gardening methods, the exact opposite of one another, both offer excellent results?
Because we’re all overthinking this gardening thing.
Plants are genetically programmed to grow. This is how forests come to be, not because someone double dug mile after mile and planted saplings.
The fact is that most plants are going to grow regardless of the treatment we give them, assuming they are planted more or less the conditions that they like. They will grow better with some treatment than others, but odds are, they will grow, produce and perform.
All the coddling we do as gardeners can help, but what is the perfect treatment for a given plant? Nobody really knows. Forty years ago the answer would have been double digging. This week it might be no dig. Maybe the answer is that the little things we do may make a difference but in the end, nature is going to take care the big picture.
But we all still try to grow the best tomatoes, the most onions, the biggest flowers. And really that’s one of the true joys of gardening. You are always learning. Always striving to do it better. Because you can’t ever know when you have it just right. After all, if you had mastered double digging in 1970 you’d probably be very fit by now, but you certainly wouldn’t have known everything there is to know about gardening, because that gardening technique probably wasn’t the best after all.
So maybe we all need to relax a little and enjoy the gardening journey a little more. The plants can handle it.