The last year has been epic, and not in a good way. The pandemic came out of the blue, suddenly turning our lives upside down and bringing with it tragedy on every scale. We have faced fears and dangers that, previously, were the preserve of history books and disaster movies.
But we are resilient: the seismic shakeup has prompted a grand re-evaluation of what is important. Our mental and physical health and the people we cherish are suddenly more significant and precious. And, as climate change becomes more evident and wildlife continues to decline, we are wondering, quite literally, what we can do to save the world.
Stuck at home, legions turned to gardening. With chaos and crisis comes opportunity and, as gardeners, our green-fingered efforts can make a difference. Gardening can heal society, mitigate our impacts on the natural world and make the future a better place to be. Gardens are, and will remain, important.
I live in hope that these new ‘lockdown gardeners’ stay with us, bring in new ideas, energy and enthusiasm, creating a new and invigorated gardening generation, people who are prepared to experiment, collaborate and come up with solutions. It’s happening already: in tune with nature and inclined to patience, post-pandemic gardeners are likely to embrace healthier attitudes to self-care and the environment, while the stress of the experience makes us all less inclined to tolerate things that are utilitarian or merely adequate.
Together we could create new garden cities – a world where bare concrete is unthinkable and reliance on plastics and peat outmoded. Each backyard, balcony or window box could be a short hop from another, just as lovely, while tree-lined streets and flower-filled verges lead to verdant parks – a fresh air factory where we can unwind.
Currently out of our comfort zone, we must take a good look around, embrace what we need to soothe ourselves and care for others. We must discover sources of strength, courage and motivation. Despite pandemics and politicians, there’s a green-fingered solution just outside the door: our gardens are there for us, and, eventually, all will be well.
With health in the spotlight, gardens have become the ultimate safe and familiar space to support our mental and physical needs. They are a place to cherish life, retain a sense of control, somewhere to develop new skills and grow delicious food and beautiful flowers. And, while we tend the soil and plants, we also nourish ourselves, finding solace and peace.
There are opportunities for physical exercise, too. You can set up a garden gym in the shed, roll out the yoga mat on the lawn or use the terrace for an online PE session.
For a workout with a purpose, you can’t do better than gardening out in the fresh air. Half an hour spent trimming the hedge or pruning a large fruit tree shows your upper body who’s boss – you’re lifting weights and exercising your core muscles with the bonus of a good job well done. Half an hour spent mowing the lawn can burn nearly 200 calories while digging shifts a further 250. Even squatting down to do the weeding tones your gluteal muscles and thighs. (With the firmest bottoms in town, it’s not surprising that gardeners featured in films and fiction are often portrayed as objects of lust!) Best of all, you don’t even realise you’re working out.
At its most functional, a garden should reflect the needs of its owner. There might be places to sit and relax, and beautiful, fragrant planting to soothe the senses, while trickling water is restful too. You could create a zen-zone in which to meditate and develop a new sort of connection with the environment.
The key thing, whatever you use your garden for, is not to treat it like another job. Gardening is not outdoor housework and imperfections are par for the course. So what if the leaves are nibbled and the grass has grown? It’s a personal retreat from turmoil, to watch the flowers bloom, see nature go about its course and take an opportunity to recalibrate, heal and adjust to our changing world – whatever 2021 might have in store.