Experiments in Happiness: Gardening

I’ve had a garden for a long time, but it has been sadly neglected. It’s not that I don’t want to be there, but with hayfever, small children and an endless list of tasks that needed to be done every day it just really wasn’t a priority.

Images of the garden shortly after moving

Now my children are teenagers, my task list is still long but has become less immediate and urgent, and I finally have some hayfever medication, I feel able to tackle the garden.

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I’ve had this for years now. He’s called Cranberry

The first thing I notice is that a garden is a long-term commitment. I haven’t been able to make a commitment to anything other than my immediate family for quite a while; there has been something about the events in my past that has made it difficult for me to do that. But today I bought a tree to plant in the garden and, along with the recent decision to adopt my foster dog Jasper, it felt like a step forward for me.  I know that it will take some time for it to look beautiful, to look like anything more than a stick with some interestingly shaped leaves, but I feel I shall be here, in this place, long enough to see it grow and change, and so I decided to buy it for my partner as it’s a variety he particularly likes.

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Acer I bought today. It’s not looking great, but it was on sale and I am sure it will recover!

For me, gardening, especially growing fruit and veg, has a tie-in with my grandfather Alfred. I look around at all of the weeds in my garden and I admit that I feel a slight sense of despair.

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These, brambles, wisteria and hazel are everywhere

I wish that Alf was still alive and that he could help me with it all because I know he would enjoy the challenge. He used to spend every spare second outside in his garden, and when he retired it seemed that from sunrise to sunset he was outside, always busy with something. And we got to enjoy the fruits of his labour in the endless tomatoes, runner beans and other various fruit and veg he used to grow, along with the flowers and lawn that were always kept perfectly. My garden isn’t like that! But I associate gardening with him, and I loved him very much and still miss him terribly. When I was a small child I lived with him and my grandmother, Marie. Alf and I would spend time in the garden together, often doing odd jobs like deadheading plants – I recall one particular day deadheading daffodils. It is strange to think that the time was probably just an ordinary day to him, but those moments stick very clearly in my memory – possibly because we had something to do together and because I had his attention to myself. Marie had a swinging seat in the garden and we would sit in it together reading books and magazines, or cuddling up and drinking shandy. Marie grew a lot of plants for the house, and her focus was the front garden which had bright, jewel-like plants that felt quite exotic.

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Attempts to add some colour for the autumn

But coming back to the present, does gardening make me happy? Well, it’s probably a bit too early to tell but it has a lot of positives on a personal level.

  • Health: I like the fact that I am outside and I feel that the combination of garden and dog probably means I can cancel my gym membership now.
  • Taking control in uncertain times: I can grow some fruit and vegetables and so with the current uncertainty around food supplies into the UK following Brexit, I hope I will have something from the garden to supplement whatever is in the larder. Even if my plants fail, at least in making an effort I feel like I have some control over an aspect of this collective madness, I am doing something.
  • Environment: If I can plant some trees, grow some food, and spend more time enjoying my home and not feeling I always have to be away from it to relax then I will make a positive difference to the environment. A small one, but it’s a step in the right direction.
  • Creativity: there are several creative elements to gardening. Not just in planning designs and colour schemes, but also to working out how to overcome certain problems and how to use the materials and resources I have – thrift I suppose, which inspires creative problem solving, which I personally enjoy. That’s not to say that I haven’t succumbed to spending some money.
  • Beauty: At the moment, my garden taken as a whole is not beautiful. But parts of it are – individual flowers, colours, the light, the smells, the sounds, nature.
  • Planning ahead: The garden requires planning, especially when growing food. I have to have a plan in place or it’s just not going to work. It’s a personal thing, but I feel I need more structure and planning and so thinking about the garden and putting those plans in place makes me feel more settled.
  • Learning new things: For me, finally getting to the garden means that I need to learn, and fast. There’s a lot of evidence that learning new things increases happiness.
  • Nurturing: The plants need caring for, but so do the animals and insects that visit the garden. I’m trying to tread a line between it being a garden for the family, and being a garden for the visiting wildlife. Overall, I will always come down on the side of the wildlife, I always have. There is a lot of clearing that needs to be done – a lot of rubbish to be tipped, pulling up weeds, and cutting back plants that have outgrown their space. But every day I am trying to balance that more destructive aspect with  new planting, sowing seeds and nurturing the plants and animals I want to keep.
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On the left, a small pond created in a large planter several years ago. I used to have water plants in it and it ended up being a very small refuge for frogs, so I’m going to add new water plants soon. The next pot contains some supermarket herbs (basil, thyme and mint) planted today, hence the droopiness. I think they’ll recover in a few days.
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Ocean’s Rose. My Golden Retriever, Ocean, died at the end of 2009. When I was finally brave enough to bury her ashes in the garden I planted this rose for her. It’s been cut down by every single gardener who has ever come in to the garden, so this is another reason I’ve decided to do the garden myself.

 

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I actually planted nettles on purpose several years ago so I could use them for medicinal purposes. I’m not planning on removing these, they are too useful.
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I planted the seeds for this ash tree shortly after we arrived in the house. I saw it in the garden of a local stately home, collected the seeds, soaked them, pushed them under the soil and forgot about them.

The unfortunate wide-angle views. The studio shown here needs renovating. My plan is to dig a very large pond directly in front of it that will have several steps under the water line for wildlife. On the right I want to plant bamboo to provide a shield from neighbours and add some hidden compost bins. Behind the fence at the back of the garden is my parking space which has a wide bed that I’m going to plant some trees in – I haven’t decided exactly what yet, but probably fruit. I need to add somewhere to store wood and bikes, and maybe somewhere for chickens if I feel I can trust Jasper to leave them alone. I’m planting potatoes in some cleared but rough ground at the moment. They’re cheap, they break up the soil, and I can leave the crop in the soil until very late in the year.

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