CULTIVATING A LASTING GREEN LEGACY FOR BODY AND MIND - HELEN CROSS
In March 2020 our fast paced lives came to a complete standstill. In a flash over night, cars vanished from roads, aeroplanes were erased from the skies and people retreated into their homes. Our life as we had come to know it changed in a heart beat.
We were forced to stay at home and our gardens for those who had them became our havens. The green spaces which surrounded our homes were put on a pedal-stool. The sounds of engines were replaced with bird song, which had always been there, but had been drowned out by the way we lived our lives. We became more aware of our natural surroundings. As the seasons changed, these changes became more magnified and there was beauty in everyday things, like the first tulips waking from their winter hibernation, the robin which would appear at the kitchen window every morning and the aroma of wild garlic, which spreads like wild fire across our local woodland, was more pronounced than ever.
This picture of words I’ve painted sounds idyllic, except it was taking place as a global pandemic was also sweeping through the country and we were separated from friends and family. Anxiety and fear was mounting because of the unknown. For those who like to be in control, this would become a difficult period.
From March until July 2020 was one of the toughest times I have endured and yet on the face of it I had everything I needed. Food on the table, a roof over my head, my health, an income and a garden. Yet I could feel myself gradually falling into a dark hole. A familiar one. I was at home alone with three children under 6 and my husband who is a doctor, was at work. Exhaustion, the monotony of looking after small children with little human interaction was painful.
However rather than dwell on the lows that so many have endured over the last year, I wanted to share the love and passion I found growing and cultivating our garden with my three boys, something I never thought could bring so much happiness.
I’ve suffered from post natal depression and anxiety on and off since the birth of my first child and I like to be in control. So when things seem to be unravelling out of our control in the wider world my anxiety reached new heights.
The garden however became a space I could control, to some extent. I could control what I planted and where. I could decide which vegetable seeds to plant and with each seed and bulb I planted a little bit of hope and something which we could all focus on as a family, looking ahead to the future. A distraction.
Gardening is one of the most simple and basic activities you can do to switch off, whether you’re weeding or turning compost. Nature is in our DNA but the way we live our lives has meant we have become disconnected from nature. The consequences are dire for both our mental and physical well being and the path we choose to create for our children to follow if they wish.
I watched our garden evolve from a blank canvas into a glorious sanctuary for bees and butterflies and revelled in growing potatoes, pumpkins, onions, leeks, potatoes and much much more with my boys. We will never be self sufficient but that was never my intention. Our garden is a place to grow not only plants and flowers but to grow as people too.
I am not out of the woods but I recognise my triggers and I know that when things overwhelm my mind, I know the garden will offer a solution.
Although I have become increasingly aware of the fragility of life, I have also become more engaged things that grow and the changing seasons. Slowing down and noticing the foods we can grow, cook and enjoy seasonally is so satisfying. And although we can only enjoy them for a short time, I think this makes them even more magical and enticing to grow and eat. You can’t beat the unique taste of wild garlic, or the first tomatoes picked off the vine or the first new potatoes dug out the ground, boiled and slathered in butter within minutes from stepping into the kitchen from the garden. You really won’t mind waiting a while for that time to come round again. The taste will be etched in your memory.
If we can also encourage children into the garden from an early age, the seed will be planted with a realisation that gardening can offer so much more than just flowers and carrots, but provide a place for minds to rest, recharge and be nurtured.
Helen is the mother of three boys, and is a Scottish food writer passionate about encouraging more children into the garden and kitchen. She hosts the podcast Grow, Cook, Inspire.
Find Helen on Instagram @mrshelencross