Sunday, 12 July 2015

Labour of Love

Labour of Love


So, anyway, again I hear that gardening tops the poll of happiest jobs. Work-related misery and high suicide rates still appear to attach themselves to GP's and dentists. Strange one that.... and one I've never quite understood myself. But, being neither, what would I know? Although I must confess, my mouth houses more lead than the local church roof and looking at the state of our nation's teeth - well, it's enough to depress anyone I would've thought!

So why is gardening constantly uppermost in that list of top jobs? Well, I guess that could do with some of the following observations... my observations that is. What I've seen from 'doing' gardening, teaching gardening, and watching gardeners garden. Here are just a few of my thoughts on the subject... A'hem!

1 - You can't rush the seasons. Unlike most areas of modern business, you simply can't hurry gardening. There are quite definite seasonal tasks, and these come round as the months form a natural annual cycle: giving Wisteria its winter trim; mulching borders in January; sowing half hardies in the Spring; planting out your tender perennials in May... and so on. Even if you wanted to be getting on with these things, you simply can't. You have to be both patient, and a little wise too!

2 - It's an older person's occupation. Well, generally speaking, it is! I had an interesting conversation with an editor of a popular gardening magazine recently. Best not mention any names. She was talking (i'm sure the gender doesn't reveal too much) about how in her first few years working on the magazine, she was charged with the responsibility of attracting a younger purchasing audience. I guess being new-in-position, and eager to please her bosses, she did just that and focussed much energy on trying to attract a younger reader. Anyway, safe to say that, a few years later she had pretty much given up on the idea, realising it as a somewhat impossible dream. Generally speaking,  'the young are simply not interested in gardening' she declared to me. Of course, that's not entirely true - there are always exceptions. Yet go to a garden centre this weekend and see for yourself the ratio between young and old. So, in terms of the happy pursuit of gardening, this would also link into the research that regularly shows the over-50's as the happiest group of people. Go and type into Google something like 'the happiest periods of life' and you'll be returned with many headlines such as: 'Happiness decreases with age but peaks past 50 - and 85 is our happiest year'... and loads more like it! So, maybe it's not just the gardening attributing to later-life bliss.... Perhaps it simply coincides with our happiest stage of life.

3 - Together alone. Having been involved (qualified and practiced) in both horticulture and counselling, I have witnessed the therapeutic benefits of gardening, many times. Therapeutic horticulture is a vast subject, yet the reasons why gardening is so happiness-inducing are kind of obvious really. Firstly, the moment you start sowing 'n' growing, you also have to start caring for, and nurturing the plant. Whether it be a plant, a pet, or a child, the moment something living becomes your responsibility to look after you have to think long and hard about how best to go about it, and how also to achieve the best results. Of course, you could simply just give the plant its requirements, in a quite a cold, perfunctory way: that might work in a laboratory or in this case, a greenhouse. But that won't create something of beauty... that won't create great borders: a lovely garden! No, you need to summon up and serve that secret ingredient, LOVE! And usually, if you can find some of that for your plants, then hopefully, you can also find a little spare for yourself as well.

4 - It's physically demanding.... and that's a good thing! I don't know if you've noticed, but in recent years, medical advice for most aches and pains has moved away from an R&R approach (rest and respite) to a more active stance. These days, your GP is more likely to advise you and your arthritis to just keep going: don't rest up; keep calm and carry on! I think they're right. Some of the healthiest, happiest and fittest people I see are those over 70's who are up with the larks, working their gardens and allotments as soon as the sun's up. It really is true that what doesn't kill you, can only make you stronger!

5 - I don't really have a #5. Although, i'm sure there are dozens more reasons for horticultural heaven. However, to summarise, it's probably enough to say that the healthy physical demands of gardening, together with the structure, responsibility and care needed for success, probably go a long way in making us happier people. Secondly, and on a more psychological level, I believe that our increased exposure to daylight hours, the summoning up of our nurturing instincts, followed by witnessing the beauty of our creations, these are the main reasons why gardening is so good, for so many people.

As an experienced person-centred counsellor, I do believe in the various talking therapies. For many, counselling offers a person (often for the very first time!) the appropriate environment to talk about what's troubling them. Of course, having troubles, can make you feel like a troubled person, and talking about it with a trained and skilled listener can be extremely therapeutic... or at least it should be! However, i'm also a horticulturist and a gardener and I have seen - many, many times - how past scars and the subsequent inter-relationship problems people can carry with them can be greatly remedied by developing new, healthier relationships with the living - say, that of plants and flowers.

Anyway, that's enough of my horticultural wisdom for this month. I hope all you readers are well and (relatively!) happy... and if not, take my advice, get out there and do some gardening today. I guarantee you'll feel better for it afterwards.

Take care.


Le Jardinier.

* Again, all pictures taken (and manipulated) by my very own Mrs O!

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