Why do I garden? Let me count the reasons … By Steve Carter
Check out the original post on the Mental Health Foundation site here.
By Steve Carter, Mental Health Promoter, Mental Health Foundation
We love gardening at the Mental Health Foundation. Even those without green thumbs can comprehend the value in a hands-on connection with our own little piece of nature.
Last year we sold Go Potty seedlings as a fundraiser and we also supported the TV show Get Growing with NZ Gardener. We support community gardening, gardens in schools, vege growing and all the associated spin-offs including farmers’ markets and food barter systems. Gardening is fun, healthy and, let’s face it, pretty zeitgeisty in these transition times.
Well, I’ll tell you what it means for me and I’ll use the Five Ways to Wellbeing framework (more info here) to describe it.
Let me put my cards on the table (or onto the garden furniture): I love my garden. In fact, outside of music, gardening is possibly the single thing I would rather be doing above all else. I work on organic and no-dig principles, so it’s barely an effort, it costs very little and the returns are many-fold.
Stuff just grows. Abundantly. Indeed, you might say my garden is flourishing.
So, five ways to a flourishing garden?
It might be true that I spend a lot of my time alone in my own garden, but gardening implies community. Exchanges of ideas and advice, working bees, harvest parties and other nature-cycle celebrations – I might have only two green thumbs myself, but I am surrounded by a community of people who love to get their hands dirty and reap the rewards of a relationship with nature, with themselves and, most importantly, with others.
All this before you even think to venture out to the local community garden, or the farmers’ market, or the edible gardening group (yes, we have such a thing in Brighton).
Guerrilla gardeners, urban foragers – there’s a whole network out there if you choose to connect to it. And, hey, gardeners here in Otautahi have even been ‘Greening the Rubble’, bringing colour and life to otherwise crumbling earthquake-stricken gaps in the community.
Refining your skills as a gardener is a constant and ongoing process. New techniques, new ideas, different perspectives all contribute to better and better seasons. For example, have you ever wondered why you seem to spend so much time weeding? It’s almost as if the weeds want to be there, again and again drawing you into a battle for supremacy.
But grab a book on organic gardening and you might find that they offer more benefit than harm. Taproots draw nutrients from deep within the ground, so leave the dock; nettles make a fine tonic used as tea and contain more iron than spinach; chickweed is one of the best compost activators your garden will grow for you.
There are so many things to learn, it’s a lifetime’s journey. What is mulch and how should I use it? How do I make compost? Could I maximise my water usage from house to garden or even from the sky? How can I give nature a helping hand?
Now this one is something of a no-brainer, even for a lazy, no-dig gardener like me. Sure, I don’t spend heaps of time breaking my back breaking ground any more – and to a lot of people that’s the essence of gardening: mammoth, boring effort and drudgery. It needn’t be.
But I’m always moving stuff around. I can walk miles just ambling around my garden (see TAKE NOTICE below), shifting mulch and compost, building raised beds, erecting a new chicken run. And, rather than hosepipe fresh Canterbury artesian water on the garden, I have a complex rainwater collection system, an outside bath and a watering can and buckets. Lord knows how far I walk and how much weight the train of buckets and watering cans add up to, but I can tell you an hour watering the garden is as good a workout as you can get. Not to mention heading to the beach to collect driftwood and seaweed to bolster the resources of my patch.
It’s an active, outdoor lifestyle with a healthy eating payoff at the end of it. The bath under the stars is a pretty cool wind-down too.
Like I say, stuff just grows in my garden. Right now, lemons are literally throwing themselves off the tree faster than I can make marmalade, cordial or preserve them in salt and spices. Last year I had so much parsley I thought I might suffocate under the onslaught, and this year the patch has doubled in size. My broccolini and spinach have become triffid-like to the point where I get tired of eating them. But “waste not, want not” right?
The answer? Give it away. Who doesn’t love free, fresh, organic veges and fruit?
Not just that. I now save seeds from my best crops and they are yours if you want them. You want some advice on how to plan for a thriving garden? I’m happy to give you as many tips as you need. It feels so good to share.
It has been pointed out to me that I can spend hours in my garden doing nothing, but in truth I’m rarely doing nothing. What I enjoy most is a very conscious presence in the natural environment I have helped to flourish around me.
I am fascinated by the life teeming just beneath the surface of my soil. I love to watch the bees buzzing around my flowers, doing their pollinating work for me. Is that a new patch of silverbeet that has established itself in a hitherto bare patch of ground? Is that little family of coriander emerging from the ground once more, ready to burst into tasty life? Is it time to feed my berries and fruit trees so that the tiny buds can explode into flower for a new season’s yield?
The birds are singing, winter is cycling into spring and what seemed lifeless and still is flushing into the hope of life and colour. Nature is a dynamic, endless process of change and it is a wonderful thing to engage fully with a very mindful appreciation of its diversity and energy.
So, that’s why I garden. What other activity can you think of that offers such an array of benefits to mind, body and spirit? You get to work at it, develop new skills and refine the ones you have. You get to share it with others and build a community of like-minded people around you. You even get to appreciate the days when the rain comes. And best of all, you will relish all the many returns for your (not very hard) labours.
You don’t have to hug any trees or talk to the flowers (but you can if you want to).
Be good to your garden and it will be good to you.