“The rhythm we adopt when tending to plants is the perfect antidote to the instant gratification and high-speed consumerism rife within our pre-pandemic society.”
– Jo Hooper and Nicole Thomas reflect on the recent surge in gardening and what this might mean for our wellbeing.
We’ve living in a ‘Crop-Growing Revolution’, according to The Guardian. Anyone who has tried to buy compost or plants since the nation entered confinement, or witnessed the astonishing queues when garden centres recently reopened, will not be surprised to hear this coinage. Research by The Wildlife Trusts (in collaboration with Jordans Cereals) found a 50% increase in time spent weeding during lockdown, along with 30% of people mowing the lawn more frequently. They even launched a campaign asking garden owners to leave wild patches where creatures might thrive (join them with #LeaveItWild), such was the threat to habitat. Meanwhile, the RHS cites a sharp increase in people viewing its website’s advice pages, as newly green-fingered folk get to grips with a new pastime.
Whether filling up furlough time, entertaining the kids, or just for exercise, whatever the motives, lockdown has seen people from all walks of life getting their hands into the soil. The welcome renewal in community spirit has also embraced this, with street plant-swaps abounding and sunflower doorstep gifts for isolated elderly residents in Milton Keynes. But perhaps one of the most important benefits / motivations for this surge in plant appreciation, is the benefits for our mental wellbeing. Down at my allotments, so many will say their plot has been a ‘lifesaver’; there’s a welcome sense of purpose and control on the plot amidst the turbulence and uncertainty of the pandemic. During a new paradigm of fear, rapid change, adaptation and stress, nature provides an anchor. Whatever happens in the man-made chaos we call society, weeds will grow. Whatever pent-up stress explodes today in the household, the sight of a new blossom helps bring perspective.
But what has encouraged non-gardeners to get planting? I like to think it’s more than just boredom! Does our slower pace has something to do with it? It’s true that many people are juggling new responsibilities, like home-schooling, shopping for relatives or potential unemployment; but unless you are a key worker, without being able to rush about between work or school and [gym or yoga classes] (replace with your chosen pastimes or your kids’), life feels slower. Queuing to buy food undeniably makes life slower. In many senses we’ve gone ‘back to basics’ by being limited to essential activities for a while: procuring food, exercising in its simplest forms, attending to work / school and staying connected to loved ones.
So returning to the ‘Growing Revolution’, I wonder if this stripped back, decelerated version of life has enabled people to appreciate the slower rhythms of botanical life?
The patience required in waiting to see the first green shoots appear from a germinating seed, or the first blossom on a newly-planted apple tree, is very much rewarded by the pleasure it brings. Knowing you collaborated with that plant, helped it along its way and nurtured it over time to reap fruit, veg or beautiful blooms; that’s a sense of connection to nature that is as old as humanity. Whatever you’re growing, the rhythm we adopt when tending to plants is the perfect antidote to the instant gratification and high-speed consumerism rife within our pre-pandemic society.
One of my lockdown highlights, was witnessing a man with his two kids nestled high in the branches of a tree. Giggling and grinning, they seemed rightly smug about their unique perspective over the inner city playing fields below. – Such simple joy! It struck me that no screens, gym equipment or planning were required for this form of entertainment and exercise, – just a simple appreciation for and trust in the strength of the tree. And of course, it’s only by living slower and being present that we notice which trees will host human climbers. But will this fresh appreciation for nature last? Will those kids still be climbing trees when schools reopen?
If I let my imagination stretch… could the Clap for Carers one day become an applause for the producers and growers who feed us all year?!
Here at The Orchard Project, we are hopeful that the nation’s newly-converted gardeners will continue to delve into top soil and seek that connection to nature, even when the pubs and offices reopen. But gardening can be solitary. And our need for social interaction is currently high. That’s where community orchards can tick all the wellbeing boxes: Many of the volunteers we support find a sense of belonging, reduced social isolation and even new friendships through their local orchard group. Helping at a community orchard has all the benefits of gardening, – physical exercise, a chance to slow down and ground yourself in nature, – while also being collaborative, social and satisfying (not to mention the likelihood of producing and drinking cider with your new orchard friends!).
The benefits of spending time in nature are becoming increasingly more tangible and ‘proven’, in terms of scientific studies, and – hopefully – will soon manifest into policies that influence our lives for the better. In the meantime, we’ve spent the last year creating opportunities to improve community wellbeing through orchards. We’ve hosted events like Orchard Bathing (adapted from the Japanese Forest Bathing tradition), blossom picnics, orchard art workshops and orchard mindfulness sessions, – all designed to bring more people into contact with these wonderful spaces and the injection of wellbeing they provide.
But orchards are more than relaxing natural places to do mindful pruning; historically they were community venues. So a large part of our work focuses on bringing neighbours together around fruit growing. We’ve seen orchard groups form from diverse groups – church congregations, refugees and school children, – and the ‘orchardists’ we support find the physical, social and mental benefits are worth much more than buying a bag of apples.
So if you’re a newly-converted gardener or veg grower reading this, who wants to keep your green-fingered-flame alive, why not find your nearest community orchard on our map and get involved?
Let’s hope this new appreciation for nature and botany will be nurtured post-lockdown and lead to smarter, kinder ways of using its resources and co-existing with it.