My attempts to ‘garden’…

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Very not much my garden, sadly but that of the garden of the stationhouse at the disused Highgate train station. One of my recent trips outdoors… And many thanks to Hidden London and the London Transport Museum for the opportunity to see it.

I’ve had the idea of ‘nature’ in my head for a while as the subject of a blog post, and it’s take all that while for me to sit down and start typing. It was triggered by my walk to my local train station as part of the commute as one morning a few weeks ago the council began pruning the trees on one of the streets. It’s a street I’ve walked up and down almost daily since I moved to where I now live nearly two years ago, and one of its great pleasures is the care and attention some of the residents pay to their front gardens, and that the street is lined with trees. A particular favourite is on a corner with amazing purple/red leaves (someone did identify it, I think my mum as she knows stuff like this, and if she doesn’t she has a very good guess which I’m inclined to believe as correct not least because she’s my mum), and this was the first tree that the council hacked at. As it had been blossom season barely a few days before this, a beautiful sight and one that always makes me feel a little more joyful, it seemed an even greater shame for this destruction to be taking place just as everything was coming into full leaf. (if that’s the right phrase, I’ll hold my hands up now and say I’m not a writer about nature…)

The consequence of this was that I genuinely changed my walking route to and from the station. Walking up the street where the tree branches were disappearing daily, along with their leaves made me want to cry. It was a reaction I wasn’t really expecting, and given everything else happening in this world, one that may seem like an overreaction. But it was most clearly linked to the joy I had felt watching these trees move from their winter undress, to glorious blossom that sheds to look like snow on the road, to be replaced by their summer dress. Spring brings a lift to my mood, and I’m even more conscious of that since acknowledging my depression. To have someone remove that joy was heartbreaking. Blossom is forever associated with cherry tree blossom that decorated my local park where I grew up – we walked through it and back every day as part of the trip to school. That image of glorious marshmallow pink trees have stayed with me ever since I was little.

The street running parallel to that one which I now walk up and down has some beautiful trees, mainly in gardens and I can only assume that the latter fact is why they haven’t been pruned to within an inch of their wooden lives. It has brightened the commute again.

The emotions that have been attached to this connection to the environment have prompted me to start filling my house – balcony first – with plants. I am remarkably lucky to have outdoor space, and though it is small, it is sunny and there’s enough room for a few pots of colour. I have not managed to keep plants alive during my adult life, for reasons I don’t know really know as I was excellent at keeping several plants alive when I was a child. Possibly the lack of any other responsibility at the time… I managed to keep herbs alive last year on a windowsill and then they died while I was on holiday. I’d left them in water but they gave up much to my disappointment. And for the past few years, I lived in such a small space that plants would have found it hard to survive as they’d have probably been killed by books falling on them or yarn getting wrapped round their stalks preventing valuable nutrients from travelling upwards. When I was 8 or 9 my class spent a week staying at Paignton Zoo (goodness knows if such things still take place – a week with a bunch of 9 year olds in a B&B, our poor teachers) and one of the memories I still have is the plants we grew from seed and were able to take home at the end of the week. I would imagine one reason for the memory staying with me is that the plants survived because I cared for them, until I left home around 18. Aside from the tomatoes – they had reached the point where they could be planted out in our garden and duly were, and then my parents decided to move house and we couldn’t take the tomato plants with us. I don’t know why, the injustice, as you can tell, remains with me to this day. The pay off, it should be said, was my own room for the first time in my life, and to be fair, I think the tomatoes were a sacrifice well-made… The survival of those other seedlings should now provide me with inspiration that I can achieve the same miracle during adulthood. I may even try to keep some tomatoes alive.

Where this culminates is that every article you read on maintaining good mental health tells you to be outside, to do exercise, to leave the house for a walk, go to a park, be surrounded by nature. I spent my childhood being outside a lot – we would regularly visit local woods, the beach, parks, playgrounds, and the ultimate: Dartmoor. You can tell me of mountain ranges, of valleys, of lakes, of rolling hills, and I will likely love them all, but Dartmoor remains the place I love most. I think it is in part related to its centrality to my childhood and time spent there with my family, associated with the colours of so many browns, greens, greys and purples, and the lack of people and buildings, with landscape stretching as far as the eye could see. If you get the chance, go there. And back to that being outside for your mental health – London has plenty of outside space. It also has journeys to that space, filled with people, and I cannot, often, summon up the energy to deal with that. Which is ridiculous because when I do make the effort, and find a spot to sit, or walk, I feel better and happier and tell myself to remember that feeling the next time I feel as if I cannot be arsed to get off the sofa. Of course I do remember that feeling the next time I cannot be arsed to get off the sofa but it still doesn’t make me get up and leave the house. With flowers out on the balcony, herbs on my windowsills, and (if it ever happens) hanging baskets outside my front door, I can bring some of the outside in.

If you’re finding it hard to get out, don’t beat yourself up. You will, and until you do, get some flowers (cut if planting is not an option) every now and then as that’s guaranteed to make you smile when you walk in a room. And if you have a park nearby, know that there is the possibility of green, and when you get the opportunity to be in it, remember that. Even the memory might lift a bad day when you can’t be outside.

Keep looking after yourselves, and if you need some help, links are in About.

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