• Helen

Have I been watering a weed?

I grew up in a family of gardeners. Horticultural conversations and knowledge and curiosity and skills were part of the air I breathed in. I just didn’t breathe very deeply! In my teens and 20's, my priority was always being with people. I really didn’t know what I was doing in the garden. As a working mother, I was far too busy growing children and a community – plants came a very poor second – or tenth in my list of priorities.

But in 2002 – not long after both my children left home, something changed. I began to develop an appetite for all things horticultural. I know it was 2002 because I’ve written the date in my now well-thumbed copy of the fat green pocket book - the RHS Good Plant Guide. I bought it in Coleton Fishacre, the wonderful National Trust house and garden near Dartmouth in Devon. I carried the book around and made notes in it. I have a dreadful memory for names but somehow, I began to learn and remember the names of flowers and shrubs I loved. I grew some plants and vegetables. This year we've had beautiful begonias and tiny beetroot, prolific roses and runner beans!

I love garden pottering but I’m still a long way from knowing what I’m doing. I’m not yet a ‘plantswoman’ - that sort of naturally artistic gardener who knows how to group plants together fittingly. And I’d still give up an afternoon of gardening for a social event! But one of my chief lockdown delights has been gardening – or rather learning gardening. My teachers have been the thousands of people in two or three Facebook groups.

Since there are so many of them, someone is always available. I can be weeding and come across a plant that I don’t recognise. In a few minutes I can pull out my phone, post a picture and get an answer as to what it is and what to do with it. Magic! What I love about these groups is that there is such an appetite for growth – both horticultural and personal. No gardening question – absolutely none – is too elementary. I have seen no personal abuse of members who don’t know what, even to me, are fairly elementary matters! There’s so much generosity with hints and tips. There’s honesty and humour – ‘I’ve been watering this all summer, please don’t tell me it’s a weed?’ – and there are humorous responses and smileys and lots of fellow feeling.

This week there was a slightly different post. Someone posted about taking up gardening for their mental health. Now that the outdoor gardening season was coming to an end, they didn’t know what to do. What suggestions did people have? Once again, the gardeners were at the keyboard. 113 comments and suggestions – many of them creative activities for would-be gardeners with no garden of their own.

So as World Mental Health Day comes around tomorrow, here’s my message: – if Covid is getting to you – seek and be part of developing communities of people with a genuine appetite for growth and with no perfectionism. Look for an aspiring and inspiring place where you can grow. Look for a community where you can honestly share your questions and thoughts, your successes and failures, your anxieties and mistakes – a community where there is support and fellow-feeling and no judgement. As a Christian, I believe that, sometimes, families and groups like this can be found in the church...I do hope so!

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