The Gentle Art of Gardening.
Watering a garden has the most profoundly therapeutic effect! Why?
What is gardening? Why is it so satisfying?
Water, sunlight and soil – the very basic components of life. The very essence of life on earth. Without any one of these elements there would be no life on our planet. But we take this very basic fact so much for granted. And why not. Do we have to have an academic answer for all things? Can we not just go with our instincts for once in a while?
Take the watering…….
Your mood may be evil; murderous even. The sun may be too hot; the wind too cold; the rain too hard. The world may be really shitty. Work may be the pits. The neighbours may be a pain. Your dogs may be irritating. Your spouse may be totally beyond redemption and your kids should belong to someone else. But take that hosepipe or watering can in your hand and hey presto! you’re transported to another world far, far away from all the irritations and where you can be at peace with yourself. Within five minutes all the angst of your world will be forgotten and as far away as the outer ring of Saturn.
Is it the sheer act of standing still in a wild and chaotic world? Or is it that the surge of water actually carries away all of your perceived problems? Who knows? All I know is that it works, not just for me, but for the millions of people that garden across the world. The effect is miraculous and for many like me it comes at just the right time in life. At a time when every worry in the world seems to pile in upon the soul - marriage, children, money (or lack of it), health, work, education, relationships, age, home, renovations, bills – the list is endless and the depths of despair too deep to cope with, gardening arrives unbidden into your life to give you the courage and peace to carry on.
Don’t Teach Your Children to Garden.
I’m a dyed-in-the-wool gardener, or so most people would believe. They have no idea of how I came to that happy state though. When I throw my hands up in despair at ever encouraging my children or grand-children to have some enthusiasm for gardening and nature, I have just to remember myself at their age and hold my tongue. I look at them with great affection, knowing with certainty that their time will come; not soon or suddenly, but it will come and they will enjoy it as much as I do now.
I say this from experience and with conviction. Very few young people are interested in gardening and I certainly was no exception. The world revolves around fashion, clothing, feeding oneself, music, having a good time, finding the ‘right’ person to fall in love with, and finding out who exactly ‘I’ am. There is so much going on and definitely no time for things like gardening or housework, cooking or thinking too much about other people. An ‘I’ with attitude? Selfish? Yes of course!
Time Teaches Many Things……..
As I travelled into my twenties, having found the ‘love of my life’ and produced a wonderful brood of children; and having traveled the world a bit, I was channeled into a smooth and serene waterway with a wonderful Mother-in-law, Queenie, to be my guide for many years. Her lasting legacy was to instill in me a tranquility; a sense of self worth and love of all things natural. She was my mentor in the tribulations of a difficult world and my unknowing gardening guru. Without any pressure she taught me to love nature, to take seeds and cuttings and make them grow into something wonderful. She built on the matrix of a well established but unknown inheritance from my Grand-parents, that people can be self sufficient and produce all the food they’ll ever need – with a bit of hard work, common sense and a lot of patience.
The very essence of our being flows through our intimacy with the soil and its ability to produce for our every need. What amazing satisfaction comes from the excitement engendered when that tiny seed you pressed into the soil a few weeks ago, produces its first leaves! And not just the first time, or the second, but every time we sow. Today, at the grand age of 66 , I’m witnessing the birth of eight Kaffir lime seeds. Today they’ve produced their first round green leaves. Today I’m so thrilled I want to tell the world of my discovery! That’s the kind of enthusiasm gardening engenders! The simplicity of producing new life. The urge to nurture new life is as old as time itself.
Our English Garden
My Gardening Guru.
Queenie it was who could take a twig or seed, pop it into a slip of soil and with ease and little conscious effort could bring it to flower or fruit in time. And she was not the world’s most conscientious waterer.
“Ah! I must remember to water those poor plants ,” she’d say, then promptly go off to do something else and forget the ‘poor plants’ til the next day. But they always thrived and produced myriads of flowers or fruits! Her ‘studied neglect’ never harmed the plants she nurtured. Over the years, I’ve surmised that her working methods followed closely those of Mother Nature. Nature never produces weather or seasons to precise order and neither did her infallible gardening methods.
So the love of gardening really ‘just happened’. It was not a conscious effort on my part; I was like a dry sponge and absorbed all that Queenie had to impart. Her love of gardening was as infectious as the measles!
The intervening years from that comfortable introduction saw me produce no great gardens; indeed we were too busy having children and moving around with HM's Royal Navy and so had no time to grow our own roots, yet alone plants. But the day came when the military life came to an end and our home was established in a small village just two miles from where I was born, Kings Worthy, near the ancient capital of Wessex, Winchester.
A Garden of My Own! At last.
A new house and a rubble filled plot of a garden soon had me dredging the back-waters of my mind in a clear search for something more pleasing to fill the back yard. That garden was hard work and apart from growing tired and weary, I produced just a few straggly plants. None of which were up to Queenies standards and I searched my mind for where it was all going wrong. Why didn’t my cabbages and beetroot flourish? Flourish? They didn’t even get to the germination stage. Why were the wallflowers and pansies so pale and straggly? What was going on with the hanging baskets?
Not having a structured understanding of the needs of my poor plants I struggled on with no great success. But Queenie came to the rescue of course.
‘Manure dear,’ she said; ‘….fertilizer, water, fresh soil….’ Pretty obvious really, but at a gauche 27 years my gardening mind wasn’t yet fully formed. I knew what I wanted to achieve but not the method. And of course, I’d not taken into consideration things like sunlight, trees, buildings and children. The love of gardening nearly died an early death. Thank heaven the indoor plants thrived or I might not be writing this now. Eventually, Queenie’s kindness and patience and a lot of trail and error saw the beginnings of a pretty garden. I had to admit defeat with many of the vegetables, but discovered the joys of gardening in containers and grow-bags. So simple and you could move them around to where they looked and liked best. And you could always have ‘something on the go’ for when certain plants died back. It really was turning into a fun filled adventure and there was so much pleasure in watching flowers bloom and vegetables and fruit develop. I really began to feel that gardening was becoming part of my nature. Days of gloom and despair were quickly alleviated with a few hours of digging, re-potting or garden centre shopping. Every friends' garden was fair game for taking cuttings or seeds. The sheer joy of sharing plants too, and discovering new ones, couldn’t be overstated. The reading and research began at this time too; it wasn’t enough just to know about plants, I wanted to find out their workings and the ‘why’s, how’s, where’s, and when’s of horticulture. But at this busy stage I could only ‘dip’ into the subject, though I did take an ‘A’ level botany course and passed with distinction. A ‘pass’ I’m more than proud of looking back.
By this time I was nearly 40 and heavily engrossed with so much of family and work life that my life needed more than the regulation 24 hours. I was conscious at times that my life was far from perfect. ‘Manic’ may be the most appropriate word to sum it up. But gardening always focused my mind and centred my being. It really was therapy of the first magnitude, though unrecognised as such by me. I had no idea what therapy was or why on earth I should need it. Only in hindsight can that dimension of ones life be recognised. Looking back, I can truly say gardening probably saved my sanity.
Our Thai Garden
A New Life Dawns!
And so the years passed with the gardens of my life fulfilling much of my spiritual needs. Then at the grand age of 55 I was forced into early retirement suffering from a recurrent back problem. Not unusual with a nursing career, but a turning point in my life. Suddenly I was free of the need to work – what luxury! And so thoughts turned to my passion – gardening, and what way to fulfill it. With some timidity I turned to our local College at Sparsholt and enrolled on the first year of the Degree in Horticulture. What a marvelous and life changing move! Here I learned all that I’d ever wanted to know about everything concerning gardening. From soil science, though pests and diseases, to irrigation and plant identification. Everything and more! Each minute was filled with the sheer joy of discovery. And here I found kindred spirits. People with like minds. Lovely people, wonderful companions! My life was happy and complete.
The biggest question to myself had to be ‘why didn’t I do this years ago?’ But of course, with all the commitments of mortgages, children, work and home building, the need was financial and I would never have survived on horticultural wages. You cannot turn back the clock no matter how hard you may try. What is done is done. Look to the future and enjoy the here and now.
Another fact that came out of Sparsholt College and confounded my theory of young people not getting into gardening, was just that – I’ve found many young and enthusiastic people that do indeed love gardening.
…. and now to Tropical Gardening!
Today I’m in my forth year of tropical gardening. No, not at any place of academia, but in my new home some 12 degrees north of the Equator!. And what a learning curve that has been! You’d seriously think that a more senior person would be content to retire to Devon or maybe even rural France. But no, we took the decision to make Thailand our retirement pad. So far it’s proved fascinating and a step to be recommended.
Did all that knowledge gained from the hallowed halls of Sparsholt College serve me well? The fact is, it enabled me to do a lot of research, but basically it took me back to square one and getting back to the basic science of horticulture. Tropical heat and monsoons aside, the soil conditions, pests and diseases are off the scale. The monsters that munch their way through my orchids need more than insecticides to destroy them. The fungi that cover my lovely plants with black, sticky soot need serious treatment. The ants that have taken up residence in my bougainvillea need a lesson in good manners; and our neighbours cows are not the best at pruning my young trees. But in all this, the one thing I’ve learned is ‘Don’t Panic’, these trails have a wonderful way of righting themselves if you’re like Queenie, - patient!
Which brings me full circle – watering. For several months of the year Thailand is blessed with more water than is strictly necessary, but the remaining months are a hell-on-earth for distressed plants if you’re careless enough to forget their daily needs. My long suffering husband and severe anti-gardening advocate, has made me a wonderful watering system. But you must remember to turn it on! Then there are the plants on the upstairs balcony and the ones on the verandah…………. You get the picture? There is no escape from the watering of my precious plants. But the rewards are fantastic. We have mangoes and papayas in abundance. The new seeds are producing young trees that will supply all of our needs in the future. Lychees, cashews, longans, rambutans, santol, Chinese pears, rose apples, bananas, dragon fruit, and mangosteen the list is endless and exciting.
Life really is a wonderful garden. Just remember the watering!!
Amazon: Tropical Fruit. Desmond Tate.
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Sparsholt College, Winchester, UK
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