Flow

In the last few months I have established a daily practice of yoga and meditation. Yoga is a moving meditation. I start with standing and grounding myself, and then I move through sun salutations, using my breath to set the pace. Standing postures lead to seated postures. Supine postures lead to a seated meditation. When I am practising yoga and meditation, I feel like I am checking in, meeting myself again. If I am lucky, I feel the flow. I feel my constant presence and my connection with the universe.

This summer was manic. I started a new full-time job in May. Through June, July and August I felt I could barely keep pace with the roses and sweet-peas. For the first time I remember, I embraced autumn. It was like a deep exhalation after the excitements of summer.

Today felt like the first day of winter. And for the first time in weeks, I did some serious gardening.

A month ago, I had a delivery of a heap of manure. Every weekend since, I have been intending to shovel it onto my roses. And every weekend it has rained.

A sharp frost this morning signalled to me that the day was clear and destined to be beautiful.

I pulled on my wellies and gardening gloves, greeting them like long-lost friends. I positively skipped (not easy in wellies) to the greenhouse. I selected my favourite spade, and tossed it into the waiting wheelbarrow.

My pile of muck had an inch-thick crust of frost on top. I used the back of my spade and gave it a sharp tap. It was as satisfying as cracking the crust on a crème brulee.

And then it was in with my spade. Into the dry, warm, crumbly, steamy, fragrant muck. Oh, I love sh*t shovelling.

This is flow.

Whilst I have to consciously check in with myself when I am practising yoga or meditating, gardening is effortless; inevitable. I slip into the natural rhythm of sinking my spade into the muck, heaping it into the wheelbarrow, doing this over and over, each spadeful as satisfying as the next. It is like building with lego, making a cake, blowing bubbles, pulling petals off a flower, singing a favourite song. One step naturally leads to the next. Flow.

Wheelbarrow full, I have to stop myself from breaking into a run. There are rose bushes aplenty in this garden, and they gratefully receive their gift. I use both hands to spread out the confection. There is instant gratification in seeing the borders transformed, wearing their dark chocolate winter coat.

Before I knew it, three hours had passed. My pile of muck had disappeared. In the process, I had tidied away dead stems and foliage of geraniums and alchemilla, euphorbia and gladioli. I stopped to listen to a robin singing nearby. I noticed the changing patterns on the lawn as the sun melted the frost. All this, connecting me to the earth, to the sky, to the life in the garden.

Yoga, meditation, gardening. They fulfil the same function. Flow, connection with myself, connection with the universe. A free flow of giving and receiving. Being alive; feeling alive in every cell of my being, being alive to nature.

If you are so inclined, now is a brilliant time to mulch your roses. Garden compost, well-rotted manure or bark chippings make a good mulch. Spread it 5-10cm thick around the base of the plant. The mulch will provide food for your roses for months to come. It will also protect the rose from drought, and suppress weeds for the next year.

In previous years, I have mulched my roses in winter, and then fed them with fish, blood and bone at then end of June. Last year, I didn’t give them any fish, blood and bone, and they didn’t seem to suffer. I am going to continue this experiment.

I have recently become vegan*, and now my roses can experiment with being vegan. Just as people tend to eat more protein than they need, gardeners tend to over-fertilise their gardens. The excess nitrogen runs into the water course and potentially causes an imbalance downstream. If the roses look like they need help in late summer, I will give them a drink of dilute liquid seaweed.

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*I switched to a plant-based diet gradually in the last year because it is the most significant change I can make to my personal carbon footprint. I found this calculator on BBC Future to be compelling. You can compare the relative water use and carbon emissions associated with various foods. I was wavering towards veganism, but this convinced me.

It is easy to consume enough protein in a plant-based diet if you eat plenty of whole grains, legumes, fruit, veg, nuts and seeds. The only nutrient you need to supplement is Vitamin B12. Interestingly, we used to get this nutrient from accidentally eating tiny amounts of soil with our food. Ultra-clean modern food production means we no longer get Vitamin B12 in this way. Farmed animals are fed Vitamin B12, and we get it second-hand from eating them. Marmite, fortified plant milk and nutritional yeast all contain added Vitamin B12, or you can take a dietary supplement.

26 Comments Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    Lovely blog as ever Ali so enjoyed reading it.

    1. Thank you Kath! It is nice to come back to it and reconnect with you.

  2. John Smith says:

    Nice to get an update on your garden – I am copying much of what you do in the garden, bit-by-bit !

    Do you have any suggestions on peony varieties ? I was thinking of asking for some as a Xmas present – it it isn’t too late to order some from Claire Austin ?

    Thank you

    1. Hi John! I love this sort of question! My favourite cerise peonies are ‘Kansas’ and ‘Karl Rosenfield’: both are blowsy with really lush, rich colour. You can see ‘Kansas’ in my post entitled ‘Full Blast’ (you can use the ‘search’ button below) and you can see ‘Karl Rosenfield’ in the post entitled ‘Soft Border’. A gorgeous rich pink, slightly lighter, is ‘Barbara’. This is really long-lasting and changes character over a two to three week period, turning itself inside out. You can see ‘Barbara’ in the post entitled ‘Pillowy Billowy’. My favourite bicoloured peony is ‘White Cap’, which has gorgeous striated white and cerise petalloids at the centre of the flower, and a cerise outer cup. I would choose ‘White Cap’ over the more popular ‘Gay Paree’ any day. I can’t think why I haven’t featured ‘White Cap’ in a post; I will remedy this in the early summer! I also love ‘Coral Charm’, which you can find in the post entitled ‘Mouth-Watering’. This changes from coral to cream as it matures. And finally ‘Duchess de Nemours’ is a delicious white with a hint of lemony-lime at the centre. It also has a nice fragrance. This is also pictured in ‘Pillowy Billowy’, though I’m not sure the photo quite does it justice.

      1. John Smith says:

        A very great help – thank you. It takes so long finding the best plants by your own trial and error – and very expensive too. I have planted the new David Austin Eustacia Vye this Autumn; I will let you know how it performs, by way of thanking you for your previous advice!
        I have been doing yoga and pilates too for the past year, but for that is for sports injuries and not the mind. Perhaps my mind needs a good mulching too, but I haven’t got around to thinking about that yet !

      2. I look forward to hearing about ‘Eustacia Vye’. The mind aspect of yoga followed on from the body aspect, as I just found such peace and flow from practising. The sense of inner space. That’s what I am exploring in meditation now, and it does bring a sense of connection with everything; the natural world and the whole universe! Which is kind of blissful!

  3. Ann Mackay says:

    A very enjoyable read – loved the image of you skipping about in your wellies! 🙂

  4. Wonderful Post, as usual! I love how you always find a way to draw connections between the vital practices in your life and the earth or plants. You sound well! Good to read your posts again!

    1. Thank you Carol; it is good to hear from you. Yes, having a demanding job has actually made me devote more time to my self-care and spiritual practices. I feel like I am undergoing a lot of personal growth right now.

      1. Good for you! That is always so satisfying! Good luck with your new routine!

  5. Emma Cownie says:

    I like the idea of vegan roses, Ali. It’s strange that gardeners have put animal material on their gardens, mature yes OK, but fishmeal?

    1. Yes; I suppose it is a good source of minerals, but excessive; in nature there are dead animals decomposing, but not in the quantities equivalent to many fertilisers. I’m generally trying not to be excessive in my use of resources, and I don’t think my roses are so greedy!

      1. Emma Cownie says:

        Oh I don’t know, souped up modern ones might be! (lol)

  6. Good to see a post from you Ali 😄 It sounds as if you were having great fun with your spade in your hand and your roses will appreciate the attention. Will be back to read over some your old rose posts over the winter.

    1. Ah, thank you for your kind words. Xxx

  7. Rupali says:

    Wonderful post Alison.
    You remind me of Thich Nhat Hanh and his lessons on living life.

    1. I will look him up, Rupali, thank you! 🙏

  8. Prue Batten says:

    Alison, what a wonderfully dimensional post about gardening. I practice taichi and meditation, and I’m a gardener and so much of what you say makes sense to me. Tai chi grounds me, meditation frees my mind and in the garden, I am blessedly mindless, although mindful of the garden. Does that make sense?
    Cheers and best…

    1. That makes complete sense, Prue. It is really heart-warming to know about others’ spiritual practices and that they bring peace and a sense of responsibility for the natural world.

  9. I love how you combine the practice of gardening in your writing with these other beautiful practices like yoga and meditation–and being vegan. Congrats to you! I have been trying to move again towards more plants and fewer animal products. I appreciated your exploration of the concept of flow and the reminder that the same flow we have in yoga can infuse the rest of our life, too. Thanks, Ali.

    1. I feel there has been a very gradual ‘spread’ from my yoga mat outwards. It has led to other changes, like feeling I want to take personal responsibility for my usage of the earth’s resources. Rather than feeling I am depriving myself, being vegan has opened up a whole new world of food experiences! I thought I was really attached to butter and cheese, but there is such abundance in the plant world that other things have stepped in. It’s quite freeing!

      1. This makes complete sense, Ali! My breathing and yoga practice have been a little disrupted lately, but I am looking forward to changes like this that regular practice bring. Thank you for doing a practice that benefits the whole world and planet, Friend. It’s a gift to everyone.

  10. Cathy says:

    Lovely to hear an update from you Ali. I know exactly what you mean about gardening being meditation and connecting with the universe. You have put it so well too. And happy to hear you have also become vegan. 🙂

    1. I feel like I am an adventurer, Cathy! My world is expanding! 😀🤸🏽‍♀️

  11. Cathy says:

    Good to have a post from you Ali – I have been wondering how you have been getting on and coping with the work-life balance. It’s interesting what you said about the discipline when you are working, which I concur with – but the other way round, as I finished work 8 years ago and now struggle to fit in the meditation I used to do daily! I relish the weekly tai chi class I go to but rarely practice the form in the garden, as I used to do. Thankfully my time spent in the garden is grounding and meditative in itself- but I would like to find the discipline again of stopping still even for 10 minutes or so 😁

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