Almost the end of the year, and a time to look both backwards and forwards.
I am not a great one for New Year’s Resolutions. Like the great majority of people, I suspect, any resolutions I do make tend to fizzle out by the end of February (if not before). Perhaps I should make a resolution to show more resolve?
I was, however, inspired by an article by Bunny Guinness in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph, extolling the virtues of gardening as exercise. A lot of what she wrote was familiar, if uncontestable, stuff about the benefits of gardening for both physical and mental health. But it’s worth being reminded, especially at this time of year when getting outdoors comes at more and more of a premium amidst the gales and floods, that what I do for a living is actually good for me. Not something that could be said of some of my past periods of my career, when long commutes involved sitting – and often eating, or at least snacking – for far too long in a day.
One excellent point Bunny G did make was the importance of ‘swapping sides’ when working in the garden. I am right-handed, and spend most of the day using my right hand to dig, pull, cut, chop and the rest. Even sowing and planting are predominantly right-sided activities. And then I wonder why I end up with regular episodes of intense pain in my right shoulder and neck muscles, often leading to migraine headaches and a couple of days of feeling lousy (if not stuck in bed with the curtains drawn). So, the answer is to consciously change hands every few minutes, bring the ‘lazy’ hand and arm into action, and spread the strain. Maybe I’ll need to train myself to do this more regularly, but I hope it will help. As too will varying tasks, and consequently the muscles I use, rather than keeping going at one thing all morning. Not always easy, when there’s a heap of compost to shift, or dozens of roses to prune, but I will try.
In terms of happiness and mental well-being, the enormous value of gardening cannot be overstated. It is about being physically active, being outdoors in all weathers and being in touch with the natural world, about nurturing and growing, about an annual cycle. For me it is also about an element of solitude, time to think, and time not to think, when the pace and rhythm of an activity allows the mind to drift into a quiet and peaceful place, away from the everyday world. In this respect work becomes a form of meditation, with only birdsong and the elements to distract me.
As regards other resolutions… One is to keep on top of the allotment, and use it much better this year (as I have been saying for weeks now). Another is to devote more time to my own garden. To that end, I might enter both in the Allotments and Open Gardens competitions, as the thought of some external scrutiny will provide some incentive not to settle for second-best. My third is to buy no more seeds (again, something I have said often before): I have enough seeds to see me through the season easily, and need no more, however tempting they may look. I’ll not turn down offers of seeds from other gardeners, but I will only exchange not buy.
For the year just gone, I am looking back and feeling quietly satisfied. It was a strange year for weather, especially the peculiarly cold spring, but the long warm summer was a delight. Some good work done, some nice things grown and planted, some gardens ending the year looking better than they began it, and some lovely people met – both in person and in the virtual world of Twitter.
Happy New Year to you all.