By Daithí Turner

As a gardener with a never diminishing to-do list, I have to admit the lockdown last year was immediately seized upon to finally get to the list of jobs I was eyeing for years. A chance to do the non-essentials; the redesigning, the experimenting. 

In normal times, one thing that keeps me from my own unending horticultural tasks is lending a hand to a few others with their gardens. Some of whom liked their gardens a certain way but had no experience, and others who just didn’t have the time. The pandemic last spring meant I was away from “my” other gardens at a crucial juncture in the horticultural calendar.  

Initially, I talked people through the absolutely necessary jobs, but I soon realised their gardens became a joy to them, and they were visiting gardening centres when they could. It was confusing to see everyone’s inner gardener emerge, and their questions were coming thick and fast. But, it soon became apparent that this was happening all across the globe and wasn’t only just to satiate the need for retail therapy; we were discovering our green fingers. 

Getting Back To Nature

If we pause and consider this, it is not strange at all. Most of us have an innate love of nature, as the advertising and art worlds constantly mine to engage us. Perhaps we were moving away from the actual natural world and only seeing it through these mediums, but the lockdown changed all of that. We started to see nature all around us. 

People thought lockdown brought foxes to urban centres, but the reality is that they were there all along; the change was that we now had the clarity and time to see them. After a time, the environment did react to the lockdown, but the reality was most of it was around us all the while, but we have been too preoccupied to see it. 

We often read and hear of our diminishing attention span, but gardening is one sure way to reverse the cult of immediacy social media and time spent online has us slipping into. There is an immediate reward in cutting the grass, but the list of quick hits from the garden is short. The garden’s broad unit of time is a year, not a week. A seed sown is an investment. This long-term focus allows the brain to recover from the hectic dynamic multitasking being asked of us more and more. 

Garden Therapy

Some people tackled their yards themselves out of necessity because due to movement controls and lockdowns, their gardeners could not do it for them. Some were delighted to have fewer obligations that kept them from the joy of growing and tending to their plants. While, for others, it was merely a ploy to alleviate the boredom. All of these people relished the activity. Some enjoyed the exercise, some needed something to focus on. 

Still, there are other, not so visible advantages to getting out hands in the soil. It is said there are microbes in the dirt that alleviate anxiety and depression. There is the rekindling of the connection between our food and its origins, which is again purported to be one of the contributing factors to the feel-good nature of horticulture. With over half of the world’s population living in urban centres, this disconnect was set to grow.  

Humans like to work; the working week may have muddied this elemental drive, but we, mostly, enjoy keeping busy and doing things, making things, and nurturing things. The endorphins created by ‘doing’ are very powerful, and with our COVID-impacted decreased workload and social outlets, the benefits of gardening have become ever more important.  

Growing Asia

Asia is a big player in food-based horticulture. It’s on an industrial level as the continent produces the most vegetables globally. This huge level of industry has been echoed by a renewed upsurge in domestic gardening, beginning before the pandemicbut blossoming even more during times of COVID.

The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2018, Bjorn Low, is the founder of Edible Garden City, whose mission statement is: “We believe that growing your own food will reconnect one with nature, conserve natural resources, and cultivate a sense of community.” This mindset is central to the future of sustainable food production, which is predicted to be of an increasingly local nature. If this proposed revolution in food production is to be helped along by the Instagram generation, then we shouldn’t overlook the potential of apparent fads like stylishly designed indoor growing kits.   

Let us hope the many lessons learnt during these trying times are not forgotten when we revert to the undoubtedly large to-do lists outside the garden that the pandemic has created. But for now, I have the asparagus beds to weed!