How Can You Be A Gardener?
The emphasis is often on the ‘you’ when this question is asked. It seems being disabled and a gardener confuses certain people. I became disabled after an accident in my late twenties and I was advised by consultant take up gardening but not to dig or lift. Digging and lifting had put me off gardening as a child. Back in the 1980s, I was an unwilling helper on my Dad’s allotment and gardening seemed to be all about weeding, spades, and heavy sacks of stuff that smelt funny. Gardening taught me patience during a dark period of my life where I had to come to terms with not being able to walk, run or even move without some sort of assistance. Being disabled felt like being back in school because I was learning a new way of life that I didn’t want. I felt helpless.
So, I sowed a pot of beans cursing my consultant in a series of four-letter words. The four-letter rant lasted as I read the seed packet instructions. I overflowed four-letter words from the tips of my fingers as I jammed them into pots brimming with compost. I dropped the four-letter bean seeds in the four-letter holes and covered them over with four-letter compost. I cringe now to think of how angry I was and how much my disability has brought to me. As the seed leaves broke the surface of the soil and spiralled up, I felt pride and for the first time in a long time, faith in my own ability to win. The seven pots I sowed in my rage all germinated. If I could grow beans then anyone could. If anyone could build a garden, so could I.
I built a garden that embraced all of me, my disability, my health and my well-being. If I couldn’t lift then I would start small, if I couldn’t dig then I would grow plants that kept care of themselves like rhubarb, geraniums and aquilegias; I would find joy in the self-seeding plant. This was how the cottage garden was born from seeds, cuttings and division. Small plants that swelled and covered the soil. Geoff’s Garden, the potager named after my late Dad took me two years to build. The garden comprises of six raised wooden beds surrounded by gravel paths. This is my sit down on a stool and think vegetable garden.
This year I start to build a teaching garden to show people who ask, ‘How can you be a gardener?’ that we all can be gardeners. It just takes patience and time.