“Have you ever noticed a tree standing naked against the sky,
How beautiful it is?
All its branches are outlined, and in its nakedness
There is a poem, there is a song.
Every leaf is gone and it is waiting for the spring.
When the spring comes, it again fills the tree with
The music of many leaves,
Which in due season fall and are blown away.
I came upon gardening as a hobby and a passion and now my main source of income almost by accident. I grew up in a tower block in London to Irish parents, without any access to a garden of any kind, unless you counted the dark greasy strip of land between the flats and railway sidings.
In the early nineties, scraping a living in London as a record company office minion by day and a DJ by night, I found myself for a time ‘between accommodations’ without a deposit or salary for a flat on my own. Eventually, I ended up in a hostel room in deepest Hammersmith. Spectacularly awful are the words I would use to describe it, but I made the best of it. One Sunday afternoon in the hot city on a walk, I came across a garden centre – and popped in for a look. Immediately hit by the scent of geraniums and wet earth, I was taken back to a time in my childhood, when my grandfather and I would sit in deck chairs outside his shed, picking tomatoes and potting on geraniums. I promptly decided I was going to take some of this feeling of green joy home with me to brighten my miserable room, and bought a window box, a six-pack of pansies and a bit of compost, and lugged it back home.
A couple of weeks in, and I was hooked. Every morning I opened up my window to be greeted by at least twenty smiling little flowery faces and the scent of some Alyssum atop the diesel fumes. Alyssum,, I had learned from my new favourite TV programme, Gardeners World, was reliable, undemanding and good in poor soils. I was so proud of my window box – it allowed me some creativity, and it restored in me some faith, and most importantly hope at a time when I needed it most.
Gardening, or horticulture as its known professionally, is a wonderfully flexible medium that can literally transform lives. When practiced as a therapy, it has resonance on so many levels – helping with physical and mental disabilities, addictions, compulsive disorders and depression. Gardening can help individuals accomplish many things. It can help rebuild a person’s strength after an accident or illness, and can provide a purposeful activity for someone coping with a difficult period in their life. It can lift moods and help people to connect with others, reducing isolation by forming friendships and improve communications skills.
People can learn new things, gain qualifications in horticulture and improve skills such as initiative, co-operation, patience, and concentration as well as numeracy and literacy skills.
Gardens provide restorative environments and getting outside promotes recovery from stress and helps restore the ability to focus attention. We often organise workshops with Headway the brain injury charity, making flower arrangements and Christmas decorations.
It can also provide a means of employment and income, at all levels – get yourself a lawnmower and a few basic tools and a will to work whatever the weather, and you have the beginnings of a small business. As Ron Finley, the US Gangsta Gardener says, ‘growing your own food is like printing your own money’. Ron rose to fame in the last few years after bringing about a food revolution in his hometown city of South LA – one of the many places on earth that now officially qualifies as a ‘Food Desert’, meaning most people cannot buy fresh fruit or vegetables within a 20km radius of home. “The drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys” is one of his startling statements.
His film Can You Dig It? Was shown last year at the BloomFringe weekend in Dublin, a documentary of a couple of summer’s hard work by himself and his community to change the environment around them that they were being served and was an emotional journey – showing how plants don’t just soften the environment around us, they often soften the hardest of people too.
Speaking to Kevin Wallace of New Leaf Urban Farmers at Limerick Milk Market, he feels that “For me horticulture is not like work. I love being outdoors and close to nature. I have learned so much about gardening on a larger scale in the last year. We also get to meet and work with some great and like-minded people that are involved in horticulture and the markets. I am very grateful for the experience. I also get to eat from the garden and I know that the fruit and vegetables are top quality, pesticide, herbicide, fungicide and GMO free.
If you love horticulture and are prepared to put in long hours with little or no pay for the first couple of years then go for it. I would recommend studying at The Organic College, An tIonad Glas and getting qualified. Get some work experience in. We take work experience on our farm. Do market research and plan your garden well.”
Article by: Tara Maloney
And this is the way of life.”