If the last post was about keeping calm and carrying on with gardening, this one is about keeping calm and actually doing very little at all. To absorb maximum benefits from the garden, you need to cultivate the art of doing absolutely nothing at all. Let me explain.
The activity of gardening is one of the best things you can do for your mental and physical health (provided always that you don’t bend the wrong way too much, leaving you with a dodgy back – trust me, you don’t want to go there). Planting, tying in, watering – all of the nurturing things you do when you’re taking care of your plants have a relaxing, even soothing effect on the mind – as well as offering the benefits of gentle movement. The more vigorous tasks offer a change to take frustrations out where they won’t do any harm – much as you might punch a pillow, for instance, instead of a person that might be annoying you. Digging – which I never do myself – and weeding – which I do occasionally – would fall into this category.
But it’s a mistake to think you must always be doing. I firmly believe that your garden should work for you, and not the other way round – it’s one of the reasons I design gardens, to be honest. If you have too much work to do in the garden, you need better garden design. Think about it – which one of you is calling the shots here?
A space laid out to best advantage – inviting, comfortable, accessible – should be somewhere you can relax. Read a book, hang out with friends and family, or take forty winks. Better still, close your eyes and listen to the birdsong, the hum of bees, the rustle of leaves. Open them again and take in the colour, the shapes, the shadows. Feel the different textures – smooth stone, soft turf, velvet petals.
The larger of the two books in the photo above is ‘Cuttings’ by the late, great Christopher Lloyd, one of the best – if not the best – garden writers of the twentieth century. The very best garden books are a pleasure to read in and for themselves, I find. They don’t make you feel inadequate,
Well-designed planting allows you to enjoy the changing seasons without constantly tending to the needs of poorly chosen or badly placed plants. Irritations like this only annoy you, so you need to start digging and weeding, which is fine when you need to work off some frustration, but as a full time activity, it’s not really the way forward, is it? To really recharge the batteries and restore the spirits, you need to let go in the garden, to stop doing, and just be. To keep calm, and keep still.
By the way, the larger of the two books in the photo above is ‘Cuttings’ by the late, great Christopher Lloyd, one of the best – if not the best – garden writers of the twentieth century. He could be delightfully grumpy, as only an absolute master of his craft – in his case both of them, writing and gardening – can be. The grumpy bits, needless to say, are some of my favourites. The very best garden books are a pleasure to read in and for themselves, I find. They don’t make you feel inadequate, as though your humble space is never going to amount to anything half decent, and they don’t talk down to you. They just invite you in, allow you to look around at your own pace, and make you feel comfortable.
Rather like a well-designed garden….
A version of this article was first published in The Galway Advertiser.