One of the best moments of my adult life was when I had my first thing poking up.
Possibly that needs context.
Let’s start at the beginning. About 18 months ago, I turned up at the doctor’s and went “ALL MY TEETH ARE GOING TO FALL OUT!” (Spoiler alert – no they weren’t.) Then I started crying a bit.
My doctor, instead of calling me a “toothless div” like I would have done, came up with the idea that maybe I was a bit highly strung. He gave me a prescription and suggested I do something relaxing.
Relaxing you say? What could be more relaxing than staring at the wall and worrying about everything that could possibly happen in any possible universe? Turns out this wasn’t the best hobby for someone with anxiety.
I had a think about what I could do that might be relaxing. The answer came when my mother in law asked me if I’d mind helping her to do some gardening.
There were a few snags, the main one being that I’d never done any gardening before.
“Will you weed that bed?”
“Which ones are the weeds?”
(Half an hour TED Talk, complete with slideshow, about which ones are the weeds)
(Pulls all the flowers out and leaves the weeds)
Luckily my mother in law is nice, and she didn’t mind too much. She let me loose on the rest of the garden, and I’m proud to say it didn’t end up going on fire or exploding.
There’s something engrossing about working outdoors, even if you’re doing great hulking manual labour (lifting a spade). I found that I’d lost myself in my work for an entire afternoon; I only stopped because my mother in law suggested that it might be nice to go inside now that it was dark.
There’s so much going on in a garden, you can’t really help forgetting your problems for a bit. For example, in my mother in law’s garden, you start off digging up a shrub, then you notice some weeds (once you get to the stage of being able to identify any weeds), then you do some mild sweeping. Then – and this is the best bit – you have a cup of tea, stopping to sit and look at all the things you’ve accomplished. You could have a wander round checking all the flowers are still there, or look at the shed and go “that needs some paint” then tut, or maybe your attention will be taken by a sparrow that’s landed near you.
“That’s all very well” I hear you say. “But we don’t have massive huge gardens to knob around in.” Well, neither do I really. Helping the mother in law is only an occasional thing, made even more infrequent by her recent decision to have her garden redone to be as low maintenance as possible. I do, however, have a tiny balcony stuck to my flat. Mostly the balcony had been used for smoking on and not much else, but last spring, having been bitten by the gardening bug, I bought a packet of random flower seeds, and I planted them in a pot. Ignore the fact that I tipped half the entire packet into the pot because I had no idea what I was doing, and that I also had to Google “does soil go off”.
Weeks went by, calendar pages were ripped off by unseen hands, and I kept watering my pot, certain that nothing would grow, and that I’d killed any chance these flowers ever had at life because I was a terrible person.
Then one morning, I checked my pot and saw this:
I woke my other half up by shouting “I’VE GROWN A THING! I’VE GOT A THING!” He was possibly less enthusiastic than I was.
Let me tell you – when you’ve grown a thing, you are proud of your thing, and nothing can take that away from you, not even your own stupid party-pooping brain. I found I had something to focus on other than my worries and perceived failures. I was, after all, responsible for a thing now.
To my amazement, more things kept popping up until I had to move some of them into tin cans and old Quality Street tubs. These flowers were, despite having me as their guardian, determined to grow. And I eagerly studied every millimetre. I was like a woman possessed. I scoured books and gardening websites, learning terms like ‘pricking out’ and ‘loamy soil’. And I forgot to wake up each day feeling like hell, because now I had something new to think about.
It’s only now, looking back, that I realise how much good my little balcony garden did me. At some point over that summer, I discovered a coping technique I didn’t know I’d been missing. Gardening didn’t solve any of my problems, but it did give my mind a much needed holiday. Ask any gardener, and they’ll agree that working with nature has that effect, whether it’s a huge garden or one single plant pot overlooking a main road. Gardening reminds you that there is other stuff out there, that you’re not the centre of the universe, and that, most of the time, the world finds a way to manage. I’ll always be grateful to my thing for helping me to remember that (my thing grew up to be a zinnia, in case you were wondering).
Of course, I always have to take things too far, and now I’ve applied for an allotment, because I am apparently cosplaying as Arthur Fowler. In my mind, I will have rows and rows of fruit and veg. In reality, I will have one growbag with five peas in it. But that’s not the point. I’ll have space where I can grow stuff, where I can dig soil just for the hell of it, and most importantly, somewhere to just go and relax when I need to. Maybe I’ll get a shed so I can sit in it and tut and say things like “I must start chitting my potatoes soon”. And I can’t think of anything more relaxing than that.
If you’re stressed, get a pot and put some seeds in it, even if the pot just lives on your windowsill. You never know where it will lead. Who knows, we might even end up becoming allotment buddies. If we do, I promise to save some tea in my flask for you.