The Goodness Of Gardening
I’ve been very grumpy lately for a raft of reasons, not least because I’ve been living with a minor but uncomfortable and annoying health condition. The worst of such situations is that it’s very hard to forget about them and at this point in my life, this one constantly reminds me that my body is aging. Of course there’s also a wonderful side to aging; the sense of becoming an elder, a loving grandmother, perhaps even the matriarch of an extended family. It’s pleasant to realize that you’ve actually accumulated a little wisdom along with all that sometimes costly life experience. Age brings more perspective and blunts the fierce edge of fear and anxiety over the small stuff. I’m not at the place where I think it’s all small stuff (it isn’t), but my life is certainly more peaceful than it has been for quite a while, annoying condition or no.
There are really two reasons for this; I am once again observing a media fast, greatly restricting daily news exposure, and I’m gardening at least 15 minutes a day, every day, rain or shine. If it’s cold and rainy and I feel like staying indoors just this once, I make the decision to at least walk around the garden. Small as the garden is, that brief visit offers a full body experience; there is the feeling of wind or breeze, scents of moist earth and late blooming flowers, sounds of busy birds seeking snacks, sights of squirrels storing up food for winter (and planting dozens of peanuts in every bed). I see falling leaves in gorgeous sunset tints and sheaves of coral River Lilies (formerly Schizostylis, now Hesperantha) against masses of dusky purple kale. Soon I’m pulling a random weed or two, snipping a few flowers for a vase, picking Italian dandelion greens and ruddy radicchio for dinner. Almost without realizing it, I enter the garden as a gardener, a participant, not an observer.
Gardening With Others
No wonder we gardeners get addicted! A recent study reported that people who engage in nature-based activities outside experience improved moods, less anxiety, and more positive emotions. Being scientists, they measured all sorts of factors and decided that the most positive results are experienced by people who spend between 20 and 90 minutes a week for a period of 8 to 12 weeks. For most participants, gardening was the activity of choice, and it turns out that gardening is especially rewarding in terms of emotional and mental health when we do it together. Spending time working on conservation activities and walking in natural settings is also beneficial, so hopefully the current trend for forest bathing will remain popular, as will eco-activism of all kinds.
I’m not surprised that gardening with others has proven to be especially healthy. Lead author of the study, Dr Peter Coventry, said: “While doing these activities on your own is effective, among the studies we reviewed it seems that doing them in groups led to greater gains in mental health.” Last week, several of us were cutting down tall thalictrum stalks and digging out overgrown clumps of Euphorbia Dixter Flame. Now and then, another Friday Tidy volunteer would appear and we’d break to decide where a row of roses should be moved, or discuss the fact that that week contains both a birthday and the anniversary of the death of a beloved husband. We nearly always talk as we work, sometimes ranting about climate change or politics, or celebrating some lovely family event, or call out an especially good book. A long-timer volunteer stopped in the middle of a somewhat painful story to tell a newcomer, “This is part of it for us; we work hard and we talk about things that matter to us.” The newcomer said, “This is why I’m coming back. I think it will get me through the winter.”
I think she’s right.
Leek and Corn and Kale Chowder
The last of summer’s corn, a small hill of potatoes, and a few fat leeks combine in this hearty autumn soup that’s also rich with leafy greens. My family loves chowders made in the New England way, with thin if milky broth that amplifies the flavors of each vegetable. No thickener is used, but some people like to mash some of the potatoes to make a thicker soup (and that’s traditional too). We call it green corn chowder not because the corn is unrip (or fermented into moonshine), but because the shredded greens make the broth deep green. This is another very simple recipe that depends heavily on using the freshest local ingredients.
Green Corn Chowder
1 tablespoon avocado or vegetable oil
3 large leeks, thinly sliced (white and pale green parts only)
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
6 medium potatoes, cut in 1-inch pieces
4 cups shredded kale
2 cups shredded arugula
kernels of corn from 2-3 ear s
2-4 cups whole milk
1-2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste
In a soup pot, combine oil, leeks and 1/2 tsp salt over medium high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly soft. Add potatoes, kale, arugula, and corn, cover pan, reduce heat to medium low and sweat vegetables until they soften a bit (8-10 minutes). Add water to cover by an inch or so, bring to a simmer and cook, covered, until potatoes are just fork tender (15-20 minutes). Add milk and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with a bit of butter in each bowl. Serves 4.