My dear old ma and pa went on holiday for three weeks and asked me to take care of their garden with all its hordes of flowers and vegetable plants. My reaction? A grudging yes and visions of hours of watering-can drudgery. My folks’ back yard is a veritable wonderland of flora and fauna, a botanical smorgasbord for which I’ve actually had to compile a schedule to help me nourish the right greenery at the right time, at the right volume, so as to avoid mass plant genocide. I was to be Cinderella of the cabbage patch and my Mum’s courgettes wouldn’t be mutating into a horse-drawn carriage any time soon.
However, despite seriously cutting into my Netflix time, I’ve really grown to love the hours I’m spending tending the foliage. I don’t have a great track record when it comes to keeping plants alive – I’m more cack-handed than green-fingered – but the gardening stars must have aligned because I’ve had no trouble keeping everything in bloom. I began to notice that the plants weren’t just ‘not dying’, they were positively thriving under my care – and it felt fantastic.
Filling watering cans with freshly collected rainwater housed in clever little water-butts, drenching luminous window boxes in the sweltering July heat, plucking swollen marrows and leafy kale from the ground and slinging them straight into a pot on the stove – I feel like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (with better shoes) and I love it. There’s something about nurturing a living thing and watching it grow that’s very satisfying and nourishing for the soul; for the first time in a long time my anxiety and depression symptoms feel almost distant.
“It’s great, I’m really enjoying myself, having this relationship with the natural world is just so…therapeutic” I gushed to a friend yesterday. Then I paused. Therapeutic. Why did that word suddenly sound so ridiculous, and why was it making me want to throw up in my own mouth a little bit?
The thing is, nature is just what it says on the tin. Natural. It should be part of our life day in and day out – nobody was born to sit at a computer all day long, under artificial light like a human battery. And yet that’s what so many of us do. The concept of gardening as a ‘mechanism for wellbeing’ annoyed me because it highlighted just how much of a back-seat the great outdoors takes in modern lifestyles. We’re so concerned with what’s happening on our LCD screens that something as simple as watering the plants becomes a means of ‘therapy’ rather than simply part of our day. And I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to choosing the movie channel over tulips, having only been spending more time in the garden under duress these last few weeks.
Before the advent of globalisation and the international import/export industry we wouldn’t have had a choice when it came to communing with nature. Our ancestors either harvested the land for all it’s worth, or lived off nuts and berries – I for one know that the prospect of life without potatoes would have pushed me into the ploughing fields. These days if we want Argentinian blueberries in February we just have to trot on down to Sainsbury’s, without so much as a sideways glance at a grain of soil. Yet we still love to extol the ‘therapeutic’ qualities of getting out and about in mother nature. Even the smallest amount of exercise can apparently boost our mood – as long as it takes place in an outdoor green space, experts have claimed that gardening not only helps us to feel better but it can ward off clinical depression and green has long been touted as one of the calmest, most soothing colours on the spectrum.
It’s no wonder I’m feeling so content and relaxed – I only wish I’d paid attention sooner to what’s right under my nose and currently brings me so much peace and joy. My own back garden.