The solace of the garden

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Gardenia jasminoides Florida provides welcome scent

It will probably come as no surprise that I have been spending a lot of time in the garden lately. We gardeners must surely be amongst the luckiest people in the world, to be able to escape for a little while to potter outside with our plants to escape the horrors of what is going on at the moment. Whilst we do have to stay informed, I believe that for our own sanity we can't spend every waking moment following news reports. Gardening offers us a way to take time out and be distracted, even if just for a little while, with something positive.

Just being in a garden, and thus feeling a connection with nature, makes us a bit happier. The so-called 'biophilia hypothesis' was popularised by EO Wilson in a book published in 1984. He suggested that human beings have an inbuilt deep affiliation with nature (including plants, weather and animals) that is the product of biological evolution. Additionally, the garden offers us an opportunity to be 'mindful' in so many ways: to be conscious just of what is going on in the present moment in our own current experience, using all our senses to focus on what is happening in our gardens. This practice, originally part of the Buddhist tradition for thousands of years, is a key feature of modern approaches to dealing with anxiety, and I think most of us are feeling deeply worried right now.

Laughing Kookaburra; photo: Mick Roderick, BirdLife Australia

A walk in the garden, no matter how large or small it is, observing what is happening, reminds us instantly that in the natural world, things are going on as they always have. Bees are still industriously gathering nectar and pollen; skinks (and in some favoured gardens, water dragons) still sun themselves on the paving, scuttling away to hide as we approach; birds are still singing in the trees, looking for bugs, and soaring across the sky; frogs still chorus every night. Plants are still growing; spring bulbs are starting to peep up from underground.

Tibouchina multiflora is in full bloom

Flowers are still blooming - in fact this is the most beautiful time of year in the Sydney garden, when we have the confluence of summer plants still going on (such as Pentas, Dahlia, Begonia, various Justicia species, Canna, perennial Cleome and many Salvia), joined by the brilliant autumn blooms of the numerous Plectranthus, Japanese windflowers, Camellia sasanqua, Tibouchina species and lots of others. There is so much to drink in with our eyes. There are lots of lovely fragrances to inhale as well - the sasanquas have a pleasant earthy scent, the sweet vanilla perfume of Heliotrope is in the air, the strange corkscrew flowers of the snail vine (Vigna Caracalla) have a delicious fragrance, and Gardenia still have some lingering blooms.

Tillandsia usneoides in the former garden of my sister Holly in Sydney

We can also indulge our sense of touch mindfully in the garden - so many velvety leaves call out to be fondled; and the strange wiry stems of Spanish moss in Tillandsia usneoides that form an ethereal curtain in my sasanqua trees tickle me each time I walk beneath them. Just touching (and smelling!) compost in my heap induces a strange sense of calm, especially when I can feel in it the warmth of the composting process in action. The perception of a gentle breeze ruffling my hair and the sun warming my skin are also delightful sensations to focus on. The many birds in my garden provide a soundtrack to listen to mindfully as I wander around, as do the insects, if I pay enough attention. Even the sense of taste can be engaged if I nibble on some herbs or other edible plant from the garden! Incidentally, it is fascinating to learn that lately many people have suddenly embraced growing vegetables with great fervour!

Lettuces grow in tubs and can be harvested leaf by leaf

Gardening also provides us with the precious opportunity for exercise and being in the fresh air and sunshine at this time. Working in the garden gives a sense of purpose and a stake in a better future. Taking cuttings of favourite plants to give to my gardening friends seems to give a meaning to that interval of time before I can see any of them again. Sowing seeds keeps me in touch with the inviolable rhythms of the natural world. I found some very old packets of vegetable seeds in a drawer - all way past their use-by dates - but I planted some of them anyway, given veggie seeds are so hard to come by at the moment. Some of them have already come up, giving me that same old thrill that a germinating seed has always done. Nurturing my plants well (much better than I usually do!) gives the reward of seeing them respond gratefully. Even pulling out a bunch of weeds in a garden bed can offer a sense of achievement in a day that is often otherwise pretty unproductive. We can also spend time planning changes to our gardens to make them even better in the future! From now on is the perfect time to move plants around, dig new garden beds, and plant new specimens.

So, please make the very most of your gardens in these difficult times. Here are some other positive things you might consider:

The Huge Plant Fair in aid of the National Breast Cancer Foundation that would have been held at Lane Cove North on 19 April cannot obviously go ahead in its normal format, but Keith and Maureene have decided to sell their wonderful plants from their back garden by appointment only, restricting the number of customers at any one time in order for them to maintain a safe distance from each other. Appointments are available in 30-minute blocks from 9 am to 1 pm every day from 4 April, until they have no more plants to sell - or until increased government restrictions stop them from operating this way. To make an appointment, call (02) 9427 3550.

We gardeners love birds, and hate to see their natural habitat destroyed. Birdlife Australia is currently running a campaign to encourage people to make submissions to the NSW Government to halt a development at Fernhill Estate, Mulgoa, where some critically endangered Regent Honeyeaters have been found. It is very easy to make a submission, with a template provided to 'cut and paste'! Here is the link to the relevant page on Birdlife's website. Submissions can be made up until 5 pm on 3 April.

The 2020 Collectors' Plant Fair, which had to be postponed, is running an online market place for all the plants that had been grown for the fair. This will run from 2 to 14 April, then delivery/collection of the plants will happen from 20 April. The online sales will be launched at 10 am on 2 April. The real-life fair will still be held, once possible. This is a great chance to support all those hard-working nursery people.


Plant of the week
Flowers in February, March, April.
See everything that's out this month »

My previous blogs at this time of year:
2011
27 Mar
2012
25 Mar
2016
27 Mar
2017
26 Mar

Reader Comments

  • By Janice - 2069 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 March 2020

    Thankyou so much Deirdre, my garden is thriving with your help and guidance! Janice 2069 I hope your garden continues to provide joy. Deirdre

  • By Keith - 2049 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 March 2020

    How true that so many of us have reconnected with our gardens.I have another 4 days of self isolation so can"t go out to buy any veggie seedlings to plant but have done heaps of tidying up bushes and will be out in the rain today doing some weeding.The wet ground makes it easy to pull them out and is quite therapeutic. You will be pleased when those days are up. I think weeding is quite satisfying! The rain we have had makes everything easier and the plants have flourished! Deirdre

  • By Kerrie - 2104 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 March 2020

    Beautifully written article Dierdre & so true. My annual charity plant sale was a bit of a fizzer last weekend so I did an Honesty Box sale outside the front fence. No plants stolen & only about 6 remain! Love the rain but if we could get a week of sunny weather I could happily get into those garden jobs I"d like to do. That is so nice about your charity plant sale, Kerrie. Keep enjoying your garden. Deirdre

  • By Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 March 2020

    Thank you, Deirdre, for your sensitive, encouraging and positive message to this current problem Being in a garden does make a person happy; activity with birds, bees, butterflies, and unseen animal is still occurring; flowers are still blooming with abandon; the rain and sun is still evident; we can still garden and plant. This period will end, and in the meantime, we must look after ourselves and others. Yes it is so important to keep in touch with family and friends, including our gardening friends! Group emails, video conference calls and phone apps are all making this easier for us. Deirdre

  • By Paula - 4209 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 30 March 2020

    You hit the nail on the head with today"s blog Dierdre. I am sure every passionate gardener can relate to your words. I am just about to make myself some paper pots to plant seeds that have been sitting in the cupboard for too long. While this COVID-19 is probably the worst virus we have seen in our lifetime it"s an ill wind that doesn"t blow someone some good and my garden is benefiting. Our gardens are going to be pristine after all this attention! Deirdre

  • By Janna - UK Tuesday, 31 March 2020

    Lovely words, Deirdre. Stay well. Thank you, Janna. Hope all OK. Deirdre

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