Slow Gardening

When your body signals that it needs some rest and relaxation we consider a slow adventure of a different kind

By Tor McIntosh

Wildflowers at NT Tyntesfield | July 2010

Wildflowers at NT Tyntesfield | July 2010

Give me a sunny Sunday in May and I’ll raise you a long bike ride in Exmoor or day hike along the South West Coast Path. But sometimes such default weekend activities can be forced on hold. For me, another frustrating bout of illness has had me under strict doctor’s orders: no cycling and no hiking.

Determined not to wallow in despair and frustration at what activities I could be doing outside, I turned to another hobby that also requires a large dose of the outdoors: gardening. A gentler option than a bike ride or coastal walk, but one that can be equally satisfying to both mind and body.

Tea time for gardeners | April 2016

Tea time for gardeners | April 2016

Like the essence of the activity itself, gardening grows on you as you mature. From mere childhood curiosity inspired by my Mum’s own green fingers to a deeper rooted interest in my late 20s, which resulted in gaining a horticultural qualification and a period dabbling in a career as a gardener – while lovingly nurturing a rather sad window box in a top floor city flat (oh, the irony!) – gardening has started to bring me the same sense of joy and contentment that cycling and hiking have done for many years.

But does gardening fit the remit of a slow adventure? I think so, especially if you agree with Monty Don’s take on why gardening is just, well… necessary:

“[Gardening] is slow and thoughtful and yet involves physical exercise in a repetitive, meditative way. It makes us slow down and make a connection with the great issues outside ourselves… Our lives are so stressful and busy that I think we need gardening more and more. It’s very therapeutic. You have to go at the pace of your garden. You can’t make things grow faster than they do. You can’t force the pace, so you have to change your own pace.” (Times, 21/05/2016)

Simply read Monty’s quote again and replace the word gardening with ‘cycle touring’ or ‘hiking’ and you can start to appreciate the similarities between getting your hands dirty in the garden and slow adventures on two wheels or on foot. Focused activity. Physical exercise. Meditative. Therapeutic. Slow-paced.

Echinacea purpurea | July 2010

Echinacea purpurea | July 2010

But back to my day of gardening on Sunday. For hours I was lost in my own thoughts as I potted, planted and propagated. I felt myself relax as I focused on different tasks: mixing compost, sowing seeds, cutting back shrubs, weeding overgrown beds, killing slugs (destructive slimy buggers). Every so often I’d stop for a glug of water, a cup of Earl Grey, or a quiet moment of observation and reflection. By the end of the day I felt a satisfying tiredness and my body quietly ached from the day's exertions.

Apart from the dirt under my nails, these physical and mental experiences aren’t far removed from those brought on by a long bike ride or coastal hike.

It was a slow adventure of a different kind. And one that I highly recommend.