Thankfully, we are seeing some warm, sunny weather in the UK this week, and temperatures are creeping up to the mid-twenties. The midpoint between spring and summer leaves us little confidence in storing away our warm clothing because once we have completed this annual ritual, we are often still presented with quite chilly days which we simply cannot survive without donning a jumper or two. There comes a time though, in late spring during a week such as this, when the weather forecasters assure us that summer is truly on its way. They promise rising temperatures and high pressure, and suddenly life feels good. We are so dictated to by the weather in this country, that we spend vast amounts of energy on planning and unplanning events around it.
I have recently come to find delight in gardening, an activity I have never before had much time for. I have begun to create a cottage garden in the small, urban space at the back of my house. Early on in the year I was busy helping to prepare the soil, weeding, digging, fertilizing and so on, in order to render the soil nutrient -rich, and to provide optimal growing conditions in which nature’s delights could thrive. Once spring arrived, I planted perennials and annuals along with lots of my favourite vegetables, salad leaves and herbs, and I have recently added some pretty, edible flowers too. I feel quite giddy with excitement.
It amazes me that I have never before been inclined to grow my own, especially considering my healing profession and my love of cooking, as well as my need to nurture. But the beauty of the human experience is such that we are continuously evolving and learning. We accumulate our interests, and even our skills throughout our lives, and only when the time is right. The pleasure this new interest is giving me is immense, and I seem to have acquired a certain knowledge of plant names that makes me both proud, and equally annoyed that it has taken me so long to do so. My predilection for looking after others has often left me little room to nurture myself, but now that I have my plants, I am giving them plenty of TLC, but my goodness are they reciprocating!
Each morning, as I open my door and step into the garden, I am presented with wonderful sights- a newly opened flower or two, or a lettuce plant whose leaves are ready for picking. The colours and shapes before me make me smile like a child let loose in a sweet shop, and I marvel at Nature’s brilliance. Suddenly, the seasons matter even more than ever before, and I worry about whether there has been enough rain, too much rain, too dry a spell or whether the wind has forced her way into my precious garden and damaged my beloved ones. They are all my children, these plants, and like any child, no one will love them or worry for them quite as much as their own parent. So it is I who must tend to their needs, feed and water them, and it is I alone who truly worries about their future.
There is surely some truth in the idea that we come to gardening at a certain stage of our lives. Nurturing is ingrained in the human psyche, and when we reach a certain age, whether we have had children or not, we are biologically inclined to continue to nurture. In middle age, we are somehow finally ready to accept, after years of denial, that we are part of, and not separate from, Nature. And so we lean towards her a little more, and begin to create a mutually respectful relationship.
My desire to grow my own is also linked with my horror of the unnecessary waste of food, heavy plastic packaging, and of eating produce that has travelled across the world to get here. Now I can look forward to making meals using vegetables and fruit I have grown myself only inches away from my kitchen. The spring season is a wonderful time to observe Nature in her prime. Everything is looking so perfect; the trees and other plants and flowers are abundant, and home grown food is starting to ripen and be ready for eating. Summer allows us to reap the rewards of our hard work in the garden, and I relish the thought of adding gorgeous home grown tomatoes, radishes, beetroots, leaves and herbs to my salads. However, with careful planning and planting, I should be able to grow food and flowers that will be available to admire and eat right through to the winter.
Ayurvedically, gardening allows us to reduce elevated vata dosha, which is predominant in today’s fast-paced, goal-driven and stress-filled society. It provides the positive qualities of kapha dosha- slow, calm, smooth, soft, sweet and nurturing. One is surrounded by smooth and soft textures in the garden, and the sweet quality is seen on our appreciation of its beauty. I have already described the nurturing quality that it provides. Modern medicine now agrees that gardening is good for the soul, and that it goes a long way towards alleviating depression and anxiety. So much so, in fact, that some GPs are now prescribing it for patients to improve mind health.
The lovely thing about growing your own is that it is available to everyone. With limited space or only a windowsill, and with minimal cost, one can still successfully grow a few herbs, maybe some tomatoes, and gorgeous green lettuce leaves.
Self-sufficiency need not be confined to growing our own food, but it should apply to all aspects of our lives, where possible. Why are we so conditioned to rely on others to tend to our needs?
Some years ago, I watched an amazing, uplifting television programme presented by the gardener Monty Don, about urban gardening in Havana, Cuba. There, people have begun to grow their own food where there was once wasteland. It came about as a consequence of desperation and poverty, but the positive effect on both individuals and society has been tremendous. The programme has stayed with me because it illustrates how urban gardening should, and could, be part of society for many reasons- better health, economics, protection of the environment, spiritual nourishment and a sense of purpose. It would be great if we could encourage our privileged society to adopt this wonderful concept in the UK.