Happy Beltane! Already that is us equidistant between Spring Equinox & Summer Solstice. Anticipate rapid growth from here on in!
I cant remember what I used to do with my time before being entirely seduced by gardening. Or how I saw the world without the gardener goggles of weather, season, planning, joyful anticipation and sorrowful loss (#slugthuglife). When I was younger I was always outside, up hills, in wilderness, completely immersed in landscapes where human influence felt invisible or small. A lot of tree-planting, camping, outward bound wandering. I think I have always associated freedom with feeling connected to the natural world.
As the years roll by and the responsibilities rise, I have contented myself mostly with getting that everyday nature fix/freedom fix from that most interstitial space of the garden; the betwixt and between where nature and culture meet. During this period of lockdown and enforced localisation, where all our worlds has shrunk to a few miles circumference to the house, it is an especial joy to have a garden to tend and to simply spend time in. After 10+ years of spending my days in oftentimes busy and noisy community & therapy gardens, it is a full circle back round to reclaiming silence & solitude in my own wee slice of heaven.
And during this lock-down the world need not shrink too small as long as there’s a garden to travel in; this morning, whilst waiting for the kettle to boil, through the kitchen window I watched a couple of blue tits take turns to bathe in the mini pond I set up a few days ago. The chunky wee wrens followed soon after. Sadly I also noticed a magpie stalking the area near the robin’s subterranean nest near the broken wildlife pond, and I fear that those eggs are now in it’s belly…I’ll be watching out for the robins today, but my heart is heavy for the future of that nest.
A few years ago I led a project with Asylum Seeker women in Glasgow to develop a therapeutic market garden on a vacant, derelict and contaminated site. Building a garden together whilst sharing our knowledges of plant lore was like travelling through Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, Congo, Libya, Iraq on the wings of many a seedling. So many stories, so much laughter, so many vegetables, and so much good food!
On an exceptionally rainy day maybe 5 years ago, in another secret garden in Paisley, with young people rescued from the horrors of human traffickers and slavery, we decided to keep dry inside and do some painting instead. Perhaps it was unsurprising that everyone’s paintings included their home, and also a garden? Are we not always rooted to some kind of greenspace in our collective psyche?
In all sorts of gardening projects over the years, with children, young people, with at risk adults and everyone in between, the experience has always been an adventure shared together, where everyone always has a story and skill to share. No matter how urbanised or cosmopolitan the dominant culture becomes, there is still yet a cultural memory of plants that is passed down, and no matter what people’s abilities are, there is always space in a garden to grow, thrive and shine. Not just the plants!
The diversity of gardens is so easily inclusive of human diversity of all kinds, especially for community members otherwise far too easily overlooked, bypassed and ignored within the dominant culture. In Scotland we are lucky to have Trellis. which is the umbrella support organisation for Social and Therapeutic Horticulture in Scotland which, each week, supports a wide range of projects in Scotland. As the public spaces shrink or are intermittently enclosed by commerce (George Square and Princess St Gardens are especially notorious for this at certain times of the year!), community greenspaces place provide an increasingly important role for enabling communities come together freely.
And yet, sadly nature deficit disorder and plant blindness is also however a real thing, especially growing in younger people. A few years ago there was an outcry when it was discovered that, from 2007, the Oxford Junior Dictionary had stripped out nature words and replaced with technological words; surely we need both?! Nature and culture? Without one, can we even have the other?
Robert MacFarlane wrote;
“Under pressure, Oxford University Press revealed a list of the entries it no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood. The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words taking their places in the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail.”
Gardening and Well-Being is a big old complex but ultimately simple thing: we get out what we put in. For some, that may mean spending quiet time in a tranquil, contemplative, beautiful but low-maintenance space; where anything more demanding could be detrimental to an already ragged burnt out mental health. For others a busy, high-maintenance bustling allotment style garden might be exactly what the doctor order, providing green gym exercise, chats with fellow plotties, opportunities for learning and freshly picked produce to take home. And everything in-between, beyond and through.
The best thing about gardening for well-being is that, with sensitive design and soft-touch management, we can accommodate any space to help support the shifting, changing, growing needs of plants, wild-life and people. If gardens are the cradle of civilisation, then they are surely worth investing in? Nature and culture together?