First published in Elephant Journal, March 2021
Gardening has become trendy again, to a large extent because of lockdown boredom, but it has always been a good idea. There are so many benefits to gardening – fresh air, exercise, helping the environment and biodiversity by planting stuff, helping the bees by planting flowering plants, providing healthy food for yourself (and others), plus it’s often a good community or social activity that people can enjoy together.
The most obvious benefit is to health and also to the wallet. With inflation looming on the horizon, food is going to become increasingly expensive and good, clean food more so, especially organic food. By growing food yourself you help to reduce your food bills and of course you know exactly what went into producing it. You have the choice to avoid using Roundup and other chemicals, use organic fertilizer etc, to produce an entirely natural supply of fruit and vegetables if you want to.
Apart from the benefits of non-GMO, non-sprayed food, food that is really fresh is better for you because of higher nutrient retention and it tastes better too, as well as you having the pleasing sense of pride from knowing that it is the fruit of your own labour (excuse the pun). There are multiple benefits, as I mentioned – one being the sense of activity from spending time on this instead of loafing about or watching Netflix caused by a lockdown excess of free time.
Another way of looking at this is the opportunity to reclaim your sovereignty in controlling your own life to some extent, from the corporate hordes that we buy our stuff from. Throughout most of human history, people have had to grow their own food if they were not rich. Until the 20th century, most people in the world had to grow their own food, barter for other products or sell produce in order to buy essentials such as salt, candles, medicines, shoes etc. Subsistence farming and/or hunting has been the predominant way of life for most people around the world for milllennia – we tend to forget that this was the case and that it is still the case for billions of people today.
Gardening on your own patch (owned or rented) gives you agency over your own life – if you don’t have to give most of it away to a feudal landlord! In history there were only two types of gardening – agriculture for food (which the rich did not participate in) and gardening for pleasure, which was the sole reserve of the wealthy. Even in ancient Sumer and Egypt the wealthy had gardens or sacred temples had gardens dedicated to the gods. As time progressed, the garden has been a symbol of wealth and power, perhaps most powerfully expressed by the royal gardens at the Palace of Versailles in France or the semi-mythical Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Up until the mid twentieth century, only the wealthy could garden for pleasure. Most people had practical gardens full of fruit, vegetables and herbs, with only a few ornamental plants that had no culinary function. Now, most of us in the ‘West’ at least, do not have to grow our own food at all. Peasant plots have disappeared pretty much, but colonial gardening has left its mark on the world with opulent gardens still here, both private and public. However, at least now many of us ordinary people have the option of creating gardens for pleasure instead of out of necessity.
Even so, times are getting harder and more uncertain. Like the ‘victory gardens’ of World War II, we may see a comeback of the practical garden. This is great for our own food security and all the other benefits I mentioned at the beginning of this article, but it is also great for the planet too. Biodiversity loss is a serious problem and monoculture farming has had a terrible effect on bees, our primary pollinator and wildlife in general. So, by getting out into the garden and planting a large variety of plants (even if it is selfishly feeding your belly), it will be of benefit to bees and a whole host of other creatures.
Attitudes to the garden, and nature in general are beginning to change, thank goodness. It was part of speeding up this sea-change that I wrote “The Druid Garden”, intended as a practical guide to a more enlightened approach to the garden and how best to make it work for us and the Earth too. Whether you’re interested in that or not, getting into your garden is a good idea – we all need fresh air, exercise, sunlight (in moderation) and it is also a good place to socialize, weather permitting. So why not get away from the couch, the laptop, phone or whatever and go out into glorious nature? Grow your own free food, which is also an chance to stick it to the corporate food vendors, you’ll be helping both yourself and the environment!