Have we been selling the idea of gardening all wrong?
I published my last article back in May when we were beginning to come out of our first COVID-19 lock-in, a surreal time for many. Back then we were hoping the global pandemic would be over in a few months. Our own youngsters were wistfully dreaming about the festivals and concerts due to take place during the autumn. A winter lock-in seemed inconceivable if we continued to be ‘good’ and mindful of one another.
Instead, as we stand on the threshold of a New Year, we’re heading into our third ‘wave’ and another full Level 5 lock-in as cases continue to rise at alarming rates. Even with the promise of vaccines in sight, we’ve still a long way to go before life returns to anything resembling our old ‘normal’. For some, that might never happen given the trauma this pandemic has caused due to loss.
As we take a minute to reflect back over the past months before thinking of the future, one thing has become clear. Gardening and nature proved to be far more important to our health and well being than many had ever considered.
When the pressures of long commutes were eased due to workplaces closing or relocating to home offices, we were able to spend more time outside during the glorious few weeks of an early summer. For those of us lucky enough to have garden spaces, or somewhere outdoors to stretch our legs within our allowed kilometre range, we were able to appreciate the positive benefits that nature provides. Our hearts went out to those unable to share these simple outdoor pleasures and some thought seriously about moving out of their urban apartments to seek greener pastures.
We no longer felt that gardening was a chore that had to be undertaken in the few, precious hours of our time off during evenings or weekends. We were able to enjoy the simple pleasures of working with our hands outdoors, or simply sit in the soft summer breeze, noticing dew drops on the grass or the way the sun lit up the leaves on silvery branches.
We were afforded the time to embrace the biophilia effect and it helped us all
According to biologist Edward O. Wilson’s hypothesis, ‘we are innately and emotionally attracted to other living organisms’ and when we love, or are attracted to others, our oxytocin hormone is released, filling us with a sense of well being, relaxation and happiness.
Cooking and eating can have a similar effect, releasing endorphins that make us feel good. This has got me wondering over the years, have we been talking about gardening in the entirely wrong way when discussing our green fingered pleasures? Has the way we explain the needs of a garden been putting people off experiencing this magical healing for themselves? Are we self sabotaging our trade?
Perhaps we should be placing more emphasis on the outcomes of gardening rather than how we get there…
Rather than saying “let’s go out and plant a wildflower meadow because it’s good for biodiversity lets try rephrasing to “Sometimes it’s good just to be seduced by the particular wildflowers spread out in front of you on a lawn.” Once it’s there the wildlife will follow.
It’s just a thought…
Thankfully, when Ireland began to open up again in June, gardening projects were recognised for their usefulness along with feelings of well being and healing, allowing those of us working in the industry to get back outside and share it’s pleasures. Hopefully over the coming months, more will be tempted to feel the softness of cool compost as they sow their first seeds and experience the pleasure of watching their young seedlings stretch out and grow as they nurture them.
A full gardening diary
It’s been a roller coaster year of emotions for us all. As I mentioned in the last blog post, I went from a full diary to an empty one overnight. This unexpectedly turned back to a full calendar of events as social, therapeutic and community gardening projects returned with more vigour than ever before.
Foróige were one of my first clients to encourage members to get their hands dirty with their Just Grow project in County Waterford. Working with children under the new social distancing guidelines, summer camps were held where 11 and 12 year old’s were allowed to see one another again for the first time since March. This was followed by older teen camps in Ferrybank then a new community garden project in a direct provision centre in Tramore. Another community garden was created within Portlaw allotments, where several mum’s and grannies have been able to bring their autistic spectrum children along to join the fun and learning.
When community education opened up with the Kilkenny & Carlow Education Training Boards, adult coordinators were keen to get members back into gardens, with some of my old and new projects opening up at the Irish Wheelchair Association, Merchants Quay Ireland, SOS Kilkenny and Respond Housing.
Disability groups were one of the last to return to their day centres, giving their carers a break and introducing a social element back into the lives of this often neglected community. Adapting to the new ‘normal’, I worked with Carlow County Development Partnership (CCDP) to provide online classes to two local centres. Interactive, online craft and growing sessions were provided, with up to four pods of people joining each zoom session again, giving people the opportunity to see friends they hadn’t connected with for some time during these practical, nature based sessions. It’s only right to acknowledge that these classes wouldn’t have been possible without the support and help provided by the local care assistants within the centres.
Finally, I’ve been able to put my new QQI Level 7 Landscape Design Certificate into practice for a really enjoyable community design project thanks to CCPD support. I was on the verge of quitting the Waterford IT course in April, feeling incredibly stressed by the sudden switch to online learning that none of us had quite mastered. Thankfully I didn’t and apart from everything else, now have a much greater empathy for students and educators having experienced both sides through these strange times.
Who knows what will happen next, how long this virus will stick around or how it will further affect our lives and livelihoods. If anything I’m learning about resilience. We’re immensely looking forward to seeing our UK based parents once more and hoping that everyone will stay healthy in the meantime. We’re treasuring the bonus time we’ve had with our three young adults at home this year.
Moving forward I’ll be giving some thought about how I mention the jobs we need to do in our gardens, and instead of making them all about work, will be thinking more about the vision and how we get there. If you can help with any of those phrases, I’d love to hear your suggestions.
For now, I’d like to finish up 2020 by wishing wishing each and every one of you a very Happy and safe New Year and thank you for your continued support as I head into my twelfth year with Greenside Up.
By it’s very nature, let’s look forward to 2021 with hearts full of hope, it’s what keeps most up us gardeners growing.