When I am in the garden or at my allotments my mind is not somewhere else. My mind is quiet and I am focused exclusively on digging up roots and worms or on planting and watering. It’s possible I might think about where I’ll be planting my next seedling but I am not listening to a myriad of anxious concerns about tomorrow, or next week or work and money. My mind is not inventing a series of ‘what if’ scenarios or telling me that world war three is about to break out in Syria. My mind is silenced. It’s a beautiful silence. The sounds of nature, perhaps a chirping robin, crow of a pheasant or distant baa of a sheep are the only layer of audio input giving a narrative to the moment.
I think for many of us this ability to live in the present without contemplating the past or future is an unappreciated childhood gift. We don’t notice it gradually slipping away as we move into adulthood with its financial responsibilities and unchanging daily regularity. For me, when I am gardening I am a child again, I am side by side with my late grandfather as he waters his lettuces and tomatoes at dusk and teaches me the meaning of ‘Red Sky at Night’. I am at home in my own childhood patch of garden, sowing Marigold seeds kept from the previous year or laying on the grass watching a bumblebee on a daisy. I am drinking orange squash as my father digs over a flower bed or plants an apple tree. I am happy.
Of course for others, experiencing this same childhood feeling of presence and contentment might come from fishing, kayaking, bird watching or some other equally slow-paced nature-based hobby. No doubt it will lack the drama and instant rewards that might make it ‘cool’ for teenagers and young adults. I confess that I had forgotten how much I enjoyed gardens and gardening until I was 30 and became a father. As a website developer I learned to code on a ZX Spectrum from around the age of 8, this didn’t seem to conflict with gardening activities until I was in my early teens and gaming became a ‘thing’. Super Mario Kart coincided with ‘girls’ and then came the Internet. How was gardening ever going to compete with gaming, girls and the Internet? It’s unrealistic to expect it to but I often wish it had.
The instant boxes aren’t working
Gardening is a shared experience to be treasured and a tool for relaxation. Not all children will have the opportunity to benefit from the forced slow-paced lesson – gardens are shrinking and there are fewer of them. Time is now much more precious, grandparents are too busy childminding and doing the school pick-up to have the time for allotments, vegetable gardens or flower shows. The world of shareholder profits forces all to abandon activities deemed ‘non-essential’. It squeezes us dry and placates us with digital box sets and delivered boxed vegetables. Anti-depressant prescriptions were up to 64.7 million in 2016, double that of 2006. An unbelievable 65,000 annual anti-depressant prescriptions are given to children. I’m not convinced that the instant boxes are working. It is ironic that after 20 years of working with computers and digital marketing I am now quite certain that it is all moving too quickly, far too quickly for our brains to cope with it all. I prefer gardening.
Gardening is a creative pastime that offers us solitude, calm and food for the mind. Gardening is a work of art, it is a 4D painting that delivers its reward slowly throughout the year. Plants bring us pleasing symmetry, colour and edible fruits and roots. Soil provides us with beneficial bacteria whilst daylight gives us vitamin D. There is nothing like the taste of a freshly picked strawberry or a new potato. Once you’ve tasted fresh home grown produce you’ll move heaven and earth (literally earth) to get more of that taste. The gleeful expression of a child who just harvested their first home-sown vegetable and ate it is a sight to behold, they’ve discovered nature’s real magic. I like to give my children a camera (or old smartphone) each when we visit a garden or horticultural venue. They both love the responsibility and it slows them down, making them look closely at nature.
It’s never too late – get gardening and make mistakes
I am very lucky that gardening has been handed down to me as an expected family past-time, I had always assumed that it was the same for everybody else but of course it is not. It’s never too late to start gardening. It’s never too late to get an allotment. Sow things, involve children, make mistakes, enjoy the mistakes. Take home 50 courgettes to your family and enjoy their surprised concern. Wheel a giant pumpkin down your street and wrestle it up your garden steps to the bewilderment of your neighbours. Enter some flowers in a local flower show, come last and try again. Gardening is all about the journey, a wonderfully slow journey which brings peace and calm to all those who undertake it. We don’t do it because it’s cool, we do it because it feels right.