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.