Gardening, like love, is a drug.
It’s a therapy, a remedy, a cure, a balm, a tingle, an itch that needs scratching, a rush, a thrill, a trip, a joy, an inspiration, a bolt of lightening, a jolt that starts the heart, a cornucopia of sensory delights, a phantasmagoria, a rainbow, a shimmering vision…
Blue and Green Therapy
I just think we need to be outside. If I’m feeling a bit ‘meh’ with the world, send me outside for half an hour. Whether it’s for a walk or bit of weeding, it is like the contentment barometer in my head is re-set. I can’t help feeling better. There is evidence to suggest that the effects of ‘ecotherapy’ (being outdoors) can last for 7 hours (read more here). For me it is the feeling of being under the sky. The light. The fresh air in my lungs and on my skin. The gentle breeze on my skin. The feel of the mud beneath my wellies. Bouncing off grass, or tree-roots or rocks. It is a sense of vitality and life.
Gardening for me is about sensory pleasure, and indulgence. It enlivens my senses and makes me open to all the world has to offer. There is such a range of colour and texture and pattern and form. It is like having an art gallery in your back garden. There is an orchestra of sounds that I am only just beginning to understand. I once went for an early morning bird walk at my local Sissinghurst Castle, and was amazed at the ranger’s knowledge of birdsong. He had a whole world of perception that I don’t possess; an ever changing map of what bird is where, in the trees and the undergrowth. Yesterday in the garden I could hear the buzz of bumblebees to accompany the birdsong. One sensory pleasure leads to another. It is a pleasure garden.
Aside from sight and sound, there are wonderful textures and movements, and smells and tastes. It might be the plumpness of ripe fruit, the flicker of leaf and branch, ripples of water, an imprint of an animal paw in mud, or changing shadows as clouds scud across the sky. These subtle signals bring out the wild hunter-gatherer in my soul, the ancient knowledge of weather patterns and animal behaviour. Being in touch with nature; understanding what these signals mean, is what connects us to our environment and makes us part of the world. We only need to observe it to learn it.
The best workout
We need to do heavy work. Our muscles and bones are crying out for it. We need the challenge of balancing on one leg, getting up from sitting, stretching, lifting, pushing, pulling. I get the perfectly balanced workout from my garden. I clock up thousands of steps as I go back and forth for my spade, trowel, bucket, watering can. Being forgetful helps. Sometimes in my eagerness I break into a little skip. I often run with my wheelbarrow; I like to pretend it’s a go-cart, as I lean into the bends. I leap from flowerbed to lawn, and back again. I balance in precarious positions so as not to damage my plants. I crouch until my thighs are burning, pulling out weeds (this, I was told years ago by my yoga teacher, prevents hip replacements). My heavy clay soil gives me plenty of resistance work with the spade. I build bone-mass by hacking with my pick-axe. Pruning and deadheading is my cool-down gentle stretch for the end of the day.
I have mentioned before that practicalities are not my strong point. Gardening has forced me to confront this. And now I can dig a flower-bed from scratch, remove breeze-blocks and car-parts from the mire, build a zigurat of turves without them toppling over, dig trenches to the right depth and level up a raised bed, and hammer in nails for taut wires. I have taken accurate measurements in order to draw up plans! I have ordered the right amount of muck, or wood, and the correct number of whips for a hedge. These things bring great satisfaction. Thank you Stevie for your guidance where needed.
There is nothing like plant nomenclature to test your memory. I do find, incredibly, that I can remember a wealth of not only Latin names, but the same plant’s common name, variety name, and quite possibly a few dialectal variations too. And that is only the start of it. There are planting conditions, planting combinations, when to sow, harvest, split, collect seed. The more you know, the more you want to know. The thirst for knowledge is something all gardeners talk about, but not in despair. In a ravenous, rapturous way, like they just can’t get enough. A drug, you see.
I love to see what other people can do and make. But I can’t paint, or draw, or play a musical instrument. Gardening is where I unleash my creativity. I think in plant combinations. I imagine swathes of tulips in colour-themed profusion. I see my favourite roses with exactly the right hardy geranium, or salvia or hollyhock. I love the challenge of a long season of colour. Add scent, and movement, and sculptural foliage. Add the challenge of a particular garden, with its uneven levels, poor drainage, deep shade, poor soil, and now you’re talking. This is my sort of creativity. Which breeds more creativity. I get out my pencil and pens. I look at colour wheels. I get out my art books. I write. I love it.
I have found people as obsessed by their garden as me! This is wonderful! It is like a healthy and happy AA meeting! We each confess our little special interests with pure pride. Hardy geraniums! Succulents! Dry gardens! Unusual edibles! We are all welcome in this broad church. Stevie and I are co-dependents in our addiction. We supply one another with compost and vermiculite. We compare potting mixtures and seed-sowing techniques. We inhale scents together. We harvest in the cover of darkness. We cook up potions. Stevie has become a pusher. He gave a wheelbarrow full of Jerusalem artichokes to someone in the village yesterday. He showed her how she could grow her own. We had three more expressions of interest within the hour.
I would love to know what floats your boat. Are there any other pursuits as addictive and all-encompassing as gardening? What was your gateway drug? What highs and lows have you experienced? Have you ever been in rehab? How long did it take to relapse?