There are a few ideas popular amongst gardeners that help to make gardening so beneficial for my mental health. These valuable concepts are experienced by engaging directly with the natural world, so instead of just reading something and holding it in abstract in your mind – you witness and experience it. The activities you perform in your garden are not just connecting you to nature, they are teaching you mentally beneficial ideas with repeated practical demonstrations. Embracing change and it’s cyclical nature, and viewing failures as lessons. Learning more from what goes wrong than what goes right.
Since we moved to Manchester, I’ve been unable to grow a cucumber. For a while I felt discouraged, and a bit rubbish about not being able to do something that I can see from social media many other people do well.
When I was living in Cornwall I grew BEAUTIFUL cucumbers, of course I did. I had a massive greenhouse on a large vegetable plot. I lived with my family (mum, dad and siblings) in an isolated place where gardening was my main activity outside of caring for my newborn daughter. We grew so many cucumbers I couldn’t give them away fast enough, strong and healthy plants that were astonishingly productive.
When I moved back to Manchester our flat didn’t even have a balcony. I loved being back in the city around the different creative communities here but I missed having a garden, a personal creative outlet. I tried but – despite viewing many gorgeous Instagram accounts of indoor growing – it didn’t work for me. When we moved into our house in Whalley Range I was so excited for the yard out the back. The entire space is probably the size of one of my old greenhouses, but just having space to grow after being in a flat felt amazing. I sowed many seeds, including cucumbers. After my success in Cornwall with them, over productive if anything, I was really confident about it.
My lifestyle here is very different. Working full time, enjoying an active social life and running around after my daughter. The seeds germinated fine and I had some great looking plants, but I left them outside overnight in April after taking them out to start hardening them off. A few glasses of wine and I forgot they were out there, they died slowly over the next week. That felt like writing a confession out, so I also want to add that I felt guilty about it – if you couldn’t tell by the fact I’ve mentioned it. I then bought a cucumber plant from Unicorn Grocery in Chorlton and put it in the greenhouse but I didn’t get a single fruit from it.
Change and learning. The seasons predictably move through each other, after every autumn we all get a fresh start. A chance to put into practice what we’ve learnt from our mistakes, with no hang ups or judgements – because nature is change. This year, I thought about it more. I read up on different varieties and tried to be more considerate of the environment that I am in now, not the one I had last time I was trying to do this.
I decided on a variety with much smaller fruit, which means not only are the plants themselves smaller – which is important in my limited space but they will take less time to grow and ripen. Which is important when you have no guarantee of sunshine and a relatively sheltered space. As I knew they needed less time to grow and ripen the fruit I could wait later to sow them, so there wasn’t the same urgency to get them outside. When hardening them off I guarded them like a mother hen.
This year, we are in June and we’re eating from the plants. Homegrown cucumbers, from the small yard of a terrace in Manchester. They are not perfect. They are beautifully imperfect. Very helpfully for myself next year, I’ve made a lot of mistakes I can learn from. My plants with their damaged leaves and thin stems would probably make most allotmenteers blush, but for me adapting to this environment it is a massive improvement. Rather than compare my plants to other people’s I’m just buzzing with my own progress. The challenges of growing fresh vegetables and fruits in this particular environment, especially varieties that love the sun is really exciting to me. So for today, I want to celebrate this success.
The benefits of going through this process for my mental health are massive. Removing shame from failure, seeing a change in circumstance or environment as a challenge to be adapted to instead of a personal shortcoming and actively learning or upskilling to learn from things that haven’t gone well, are all things that can help me. The thrill of improving compared to myself, rather than comparing myself to others through the lens of social media – is something that I can never learn enough times.