Watch a film about time travel and you will see the huge ramifications that even our tiniest decisions make. The world can feel like chaos, a vast impermeable machinery that we can’t hope to impact and we are at the mercy of. It can feel like we have less predictability and certainty than ever before, and because of this we are less in control than ever. We never had control. We are part of nature and subject to systems so wildly complex that we can’t always understand why something is happening, or predict when it will happen. Feeling out of control can lead to us thinking that our choices don’t make an impact, which isn’t true.
The wild uncertainty that whirls around us was always there, now is the time to embrace the chaos and grow some flowers. It is a tiny action, a small choice but you have no idea what the repercussions of it will be, what you do know is that they are likely to benefit you and the world around you, even if only in a small way
If it raises your mood for a minute, if a single bee rests there, if you pick it and give it to a friend and it makes their day it will all have been worth it. A lot of choices that I make I KNOW have a huge myriad of negative consequences that I’m not even aware of, but with growing I don’t have that feeling of guilt by ignorance. Even if I just grow the smallest thing, one seed, one flower, then I know I’ve put something back into my environment. When I grow more, it’s even better.
Across cultures and continents humans have broken up our time around the sun into different holidays and feasts for millenia. Some of them have survived and evolved into huge global holidays celebrated in ways our ancestors couldn’t dream of, and some of them have only the barest thread extending into the 21st century,
Imbolc is a Gaelic traditional festival that marks the beginning of spring, in Ireland it is also the feast day of St Brigid. Taking place between winter solstice and spring solstice, which would be between 31st January and 2nd February, the festival was a celebration of the quickening of springtime and the lengthening of days. Fire and candles were often an important part of the rituals associated with it because they represented the return of the sun.
It is easy to see the importance that this festival would have had to agriculture based communities, but just because we are removed from those working realities ourselves doesn’t mean that we won’t benefit from pausing to acknowledge what the day represents. January can be a long hard month for people, especially during lockdown, with cold grey skies and bitter mornings. Imbolc is a day that invites us to look for the signs of new life pushing through the darkness and prepare our earth and our lives for the year ahead. One ritual that does this has persisted into the present day, we call it ‘spring cleaning’.
There is so much we can learn from the cultures we have become disconnected from. Cultures connected to the land understood that human beings are part of nature, not separate from it, and as such our lives go through cycles of change that are impacted by the natural environment. I’m acknowledging this festival and time of the year in simple ways
Looking for snowdrops
Changing my bedsheets
Lighting a candle
Burning some incense
Sowing sweet peas
Taking those simple things and doing them consciously, helping them to become ritual, has already mentally helped me to process that the bleakness of January is behind me. Instead of expecting my work to be at summer levels of abundance, I’m reminding myself that now is a time for planning and preparation.
This year I’m focussing on sharing seeds and so for the first time I had a nigella Christmas. I saved nigella seeds from some flowers that my mum grew for me back in May, origami-ed some brown paper envelopes and sent them out to the women in my family.
My family live across the UK in Manchester, Cornwall, London, Yorkshire and Isle of Wight so I find something lovely in the idea of us all growing flowers from the same plant. Some of the women that I’m related to (by blood and marriage) don’t know each other, and one of them I have a difficult relationship with, so me sending these seeds out into the world is a little bit of hope. I hope that they’ll plant them and grow them, and even better if they themselves saved the seed and shared it on, but if not then I’ve made my peace with the fact some of them will stay in a dark drawer somewhere.
Nigella, or Love in a Mist is a self seeding flower that is related to the black cumin Nigella flower, but is poisonous. It’s very good at self seeding so you don’t normally need to save the seed for next year. In the language of flowers it means openness to love. you puzzle me and perplexity. This felt like a good place to begin actively sharing more seeds, and the flower is so easy to grow that I’m hoping even the people receiving them who aren’t normally green thumbed will have some success.
This isn’t something I’ve done before, but little things fell in place that made me want to give this gift. I think about the fact that when my grandma was pregnant with my mum, the foetus that was her contained the ovary that became me. This plant my mum has given me, it’s seeds are being sent off across the country and maybe my cousin’s little girl (that I haven’t met yet because of Covid) will touch the blue flowers of the sister plant that my daughter will point at. My grandparents that I can’t see because they are vulnerable people, will be able to look at the flowers and know that we have some, exactly the same, growing in our garden.
Hopefully we can grow them and be reminded of our connection to each other.
Since I was a child I’ve been drawn to Pagan traditions and ways of viewing the world. The Wheel of the Year introduces ideas of cyclic change, with space for new life, growth, harvest and death. Samhain on the 1st November is considered by a lot of Pagans to be the start of a new year.
New Years for me is a time for reflection and goal setting for a new start. As I’ve said before, one of the brilliant things about gardening is having time and space to reflect and learn from the previous years’ growing.
November feels like a perfect time for this.
This November I began a new year for my garden. I cleared out all of the plants that weren’t producing, tidied up the beds and have started creating a blank canvas for myself. Drawing a line under and moving on feels freeing.
I love New Year’s resolutions, I know they’re not everyone’s cup of tea but they really appeal to me. My Samhain gardening resolutions are:
Grow in new spaces
These three goals are going to guide my gardening efforts.
Sometimes I find it hard to engage with the garden in winter, even when I still have lots of vegetables growing. The ground is messy and sludgy from leaves and I just don’t feel as motivated to be in there. Having a long period of resting and planning means that I feel a lot less pressure with the space which has weirdly meant I’m in there more.
Before light there is darkness, I’m making the most of this embryonic state to reflect on what I learnt last year and to plan
What I learn from my garden is that you can always begin again, and when you do you’ll have learnt from the last time. As summer has turned into autumn there is a natural break and space to rest. There is relief in the inevitability of winter.
One of my best germs of advice is to never be afraid of the end of the party. I work in events, so this gets dished out a lot. I’m realising now that this applies to many situations. We’re often frightened of endings. As a species we use stories to make sense of the world, we build narratives and have developed archetypes. For us the end of a story is a drop into the unknown. The anticipation of the end of a relationship, a job or a living situation can cause huge amount of anxieties in a person. Often the anticipation is far worse than the experience itself. Maybe this is a deep feeling stretching back from our fear of our own ending, the biggest unknown.
The weather has turned here in Manchester, there is a bite in the air. Outside the sunlight lights up my bricks brightly, but I know that I will need my coat. The leaves that rise behind my brick wall, from a tree in the park across the road, are a pale golden colour, mixed with weak olive and a smattering of very light brown. In the sunlight they look like they are meant to be that way, just as healthy as when they were a deep rich green. Their time is coming to an end and soon they will fall across the road and be swept along the park. Sinking into the ground below and becoming part of the earth there.
My garden has grown and become something outside of what I had planned. I didn’t care for it as much as I should and now the cold air stinging my face and my breath rising as I talk is gently letting me know that it is time to wind it down for this year. This season is over but that’s okay. I’m going to harvest the last of my fruits and then gently plan next year. Consolidate what I have learnt and maybe even start thinking about some sowings I can get in before Christmas.
It has been a bad week. Normally I love sharing pictures of my garden but I’ve been struggling with other areas of my life and I didn’t feel like I had the time to go outside and look after my plants. When I did go outside, I found that a lot of the containers I had used for potting had flooded and the plants inside were struggling. The pots came with the house and I had been in such a rush to get stuff in that I hadn’t taken the time to make sure they had good drainage. Gardening is an aid for my mental health, but this week it felt like another pressure on it.
My tomatoes which had been doing so well now looked awful and so instead of being somewhere that rejuvenated me and made me feel better, my garden now was another area of life that was struggling. I didn’t want to be outside and I didn’t feel like I had the energy to sort it out.
Sometimes you put something out there and it doesn’t work out. Sometimes through your own carelessness, something you hadn’t even been aware of circles round and sets you back. Or you weren’t as good as you thought you were and you have to deal with the realities of your own incompetence. It can’t be summer all of the time. Life is always teaching you, and if you don’t pick the lessons up fast enough there can be consequences. Some people are shielded from these more than others, I personally have a lot of privillege compared to most people in the world and I’m trying to remember that right now while I’m finding things a bit harder to deal with than usual.
I’ve been working on a community gardening project with some neighbours that formed out of a neighbourhood whatsapp group. We’ve been putting raised beds into a church. The person who has been leading on this asked yesterday if any of us could come with him to meet the group that tends the church grounds. I knew this would be a bit tense because we had accidentally used their compost that they had been working on for years, so I decided to go with him so he wouldn’t have to bear the brunt of this by himself. It was the best thing I could have done. We spoke with the group who come in once a month to tend the grounds, and one of them was very angry at us, but we managed to resolve a lot of the tension. I met a lady called Yvonne who is a member of the church and also has her own allotment nearby. She was lovely and really into what we had done so far. She showed us pictures of her allotment and all of the things she liked to grow. In particular sprawling pumpkins and pots of bamboo, because they reminded her of Jamaica. I left the church feeling more fortified, even though we were laid into a bit, and much more able to get back on with my own garden. I am always learning from my garden and the people that this interest connects me to. People from all over the world, a lot of them with a much deeper understanding than myself of the land and of how things work. There are so many patterns you see played out in a garden setting that play out in a larger form on life.
Guess I need to get off my laptop, give myself a nudge and get my hands back in the ground again.
The world is a huge place with complex problems we often feel powerless to solve. Sometimes it feels like the planet is being asset stripped by maniacs with no long term thinking about the harm this will cause to all life. I don’t need to list the reasons why it is easy to have eco anxiety, because if you care about the environment they are obvious. Anxiety around any issue can have a massive impact on people’s lives and with scientists and the media reporting on climate catastrophe it is very easy to understand why eco anxiety is becoming more common.
When mine flares up I do the following things:
Go for a walk
Do it, as soon as you can. Ideally try and get in near some trees. Changing your environment and moving your body is good for any type of anxiety. We are not all blessed to live among rolling fields and idyllic scenes, but even as someone who lives in Manchester city centre there are always things of beauty to find. Living in Ancoats I walk along the canal. Just making the effort to find a bit of nature is really rewarding, at the moment there are little goslings in the canal and I love spotting them while I’m out.
Part of the reason I personally find the environmental crisis so anxiety-inducing is the sheer size and scale of the problem, and the feelings of helplessness this brings up in me. It feels like there is nothing I can do to help. The thing is, that isn’t true. When I start to feel this way I try and go back to basics and do small manageable tasks that are quick to complete that I know have a good effect on the environment. Whether this is sowing seeds to grow my own vegetables, swapping plants with neighbours or helping out in a community garden. If you can’t get outside or have mobility issues you can help by finding local community gardening groups and supporting them on social media with likes and shares. If you don’t have a garden you can try some guerilla gardening, you can start as small as scattering wildflower seeds in unused areas.
There are a lot of people who feel this way, and by reaching out and being open about your uncomfortable feelings you can find support. A lot of the time with anxieties it comes in waves. I have days where I feel incredibly positive and strong, and at those points I can be there for people who aren’t doing as well. I also have days where I feel like the planet is doomed and I worry about my baby but on those days I try to speak to others. Often just the act of framing language around my anxiety makes it go away and if that doesn’t work just knowing I am surrounded by like minded people really helps.
If your head is proving a dangerous place to be, try and get out of it! There are books around climate change that are hopeful, I enjoyed Scatter, Adapt and Remember by Annalee Newitz. One of the big issues with climate change is that it is an existential threat on a gigantic scale, the likes the world has never seen. Although we don’t have a solution to this level of threat, we do have a tonic to existentialism which is absurdism. I find reading The Stranger by Camus to realign me. In general just getting away from a screen and from social media, and giving your brain something else to focus on and engage with is very calming.
These are things that help my mental health around eco anxiety. Gardening has always been a massive boost to my overall mental health, so it is particularly good for this problem. People are innovative and feel a deep connection to the earth, with enough of us on the same page there is a lot we can do to help nature.
We spent just over a year living with my parents in Cornwall. Their house is on the Lizard and has the most idyllic views. The whole experience was absolutely gorgeous, if you have a look at my Instagram from then you’ll see what I mean. We moved in with my mum and dad while I was pregnant with our daughter. I’ve always loved Cornwall and living here was an amazing opportunity to share a really special time in our life with my family. There was a huge orchard and a large vegetable patch. I hear it is a common dream to escape the dredge of the city and move out to the countryside. I feel very lucky to have had the option to experience it, even though we made the decision to settle elsewhere. As well as missing my family, the thing I’ll miss the most was being in nature and growing fruits and vegetables.
I’ve enjoyed gardening since I was 17. Even when I was a student I had pots on my patio with courgettes peeking out, I’d move them with me from rental to rental in a shopping trolley. Having the chance to grow on such a scale was brilliant and now that we no longer live there I feel happy in the knowledge that I really made the most of it. As well as eating from the veg patch in one way or another almost everyday between April and October, I also made preserves, elderflower champagne, chilli sauce and cider all containing ingredients from our land.
We have moved back to Manchester and into a city centre flat with no garden or even a balcony. This wasn’t too bad in winter when we moved, but as spring has come and I see new life shooting up outside the urge to grow and feel connected to nature is almost overwhelming.
Originally I wanted to do some guerilla planting in areas around me, but I soon realised that without any space at all to bring seeds on, pot up or store materials this would be a really difficult undertaking. Until I had at least a bit of space myself I couldn’t give plants to the outside. I realised that as with many creative projects, I need to have a sturdy base to work from myself before I can release the fruits of my labour out into the community.
We’re moving house from the city centre to Whalley Range and I’ll be able to start growing again. I’m excited about reshaping what I know and understand about gardening to fit into this new environment and the different challenges it will bring. There is a world of difference between gardening on acres of green in the middle of Cornwall and a small yard in an urban environment. I want to at the very least make my tiny piece of Manchester that bit greener for me being there!