When gardening feels too much
The mantra at the South Bank garden developed by the Eden Project and maintained by Ecotherapy

The mantra at the South Bank garden developed by the Eden Project and maintained by Ecotherapy

Long live the South Bank!

Long live the South Bank!

I garden out of instinct. I've talked before, like many others, about gardening's therapeutic power. It is after all one of the inspirations for this blog. The sense of achievement and skill it fosters is evident across London. From schemes at the heart of the city like Thrive in Battersea Park and the joyfully maintained roof top garden on the South Bank (which is my favourite place to go in all of London, beating the view of Sky Garden's City swank, with Thames, Waterloo Bridge and parliament views, not to mention actual weather) run by Grounded Ecotherapy; to the private allotments and public nature reserves that soften the hardened edges of Greater London and the volunteers who sustain them.

But to say the garden is never a burden is a lie. It is obviously outweighed immeasurably by what we gain: nothing worth doing is nothing without effort, etc. blah blah blah. But I'm going to say it, it is sometimes difficult to garden and not just because of the obvious effort required to sustain and develop a living space, but in the emotional world it reflects. 

Ah London's iconic skyline....for a renter anyway! Overlooked, overbuilt and under greened

Ah London's iconic skyline....for a renter anyway! Overlooked, overbuilt and under greened

I am currently in the midst of a depressive dip. Depression and anxiety have been a regular feature of my life and while I am emotionally savvy enough to be mindful of the life I live and the foundations required to prevent and cope with such dips, illness is illness, I can not will myself out of it, I have to go with it, go through it. So currently self-esteem has been trampled by anxiety. Instead of multitasking, I hear all the thoughts, all the plans, all at once. Perspective is difficult when the washing up feels as overwhelming as writing Shakespeare from heart; it is having to listen to a thought-process to open my eyes.

Most of this week I have been stuck in bed. I make breakfast. I always make breakfast. I try to let light flood our gloomy ground floor bedroom and open the curtains. I can see the pipettes of green that are just high enough to reach my view from bed. The dogwood on its wobbly pedestal, the lime column of chocolate vine and the pots of herbs wrapped around the drainpipe, now slowly sinking under the weight of one another. We can also see the high-vis lime of workmen, working on the new builds opposite that went up last year, sold for a million and now have roof problems. "Can they see us?" my husband asks. "Of course not" I lie, desperate for the glum light to remain. We finish breakfast, I kiss him goodbye tell him I love him, always tell him I love him. 

I walk over to the window look at the sky, so glib, the workmen on the roof and our islands of green in their concrete desert. I go back to bed, exhausted.

Between dreaming, writing and not writing, and staring at a screen or a wall, I will try for the next 5 hours to get back up, sometimes making it as far as the garden door.  

But outside, the yard is dusty with London soot, aphids and black-fly taunt me. Everything looks limp for lack of water despite 3 days of solid rain. "I hate pots" I think to myself. I'd water them, but despite my husband having cooked and washed up all week, after breakfast the sink is now filled with leftovers, it'll make that gritty scratchy noise that sets my teeth on edge, like clanging iron in my head. It will need at least 5 watering cans more like 6. Each one a separate trip, without an outdoor tap or a water-butt, each time a journey that involves clambering over the washing, we've yet to put away and the DIY kit left out from the weekend and then the can will slop water on the dirty floor anyway and make new mud to trample between the backroom and the bedroom. I can't, I just can't.

My in laws garden at twilight in my favourite spot to disappear in like a tiger hidden in the grasses

My in laws garden at twilight in my favourite spot to disappear in like a tiger hidden in the grasses

High summer in my parents garden: all slate, grass, water, music men and plants 

High summer in my parents garden: all slate, grass, water, music men and plants 

I walk out bare foot. In bed I lie so still my feet turn to ice and go the colour of dead skin. I shouldn't let them, I know the implications, but I do it, I think it's why I do it. If this was my parents' or the home of my in-laws I would step out onto clean paving and grass, my feet would instantly bristle with a cool pumice and the damp earth beneath me, toes would wiggle at me and then stand on point giddy for yoga. But this is my yard. I step on a piece of God knows what, left over by a gnawing squirrel that's stolen our strawberries. I was going to pick that strawberry you beast! We shared our only one the day before. It was so sweet, so red, so perfect.

Sometimes gardening is likened to being a little god: you create something from nothing, somewhere from nowhere. But for me the joy of gardening lies in being guided by the plants, seeing them thrive without you. To see my yard reflecting how I feel, makes me angry with myself, "I should be more caring, I should tend to it more I should I should I should." But if plants look how I feel, why are they only looking sad and vulnerable? Why aren't they looking angry too? Maybe because they are the guide not the guided. It's ok to be guided.

 

 

Historian by trade. Gardener by passion.