Going for growth 

by Lynda Relph-Knight

They come regardless, spades in hand, to dig for sanity and for beauty. A variegated bunch, the community gardeners toil all year round, in all weathers, tending the plots in many an Islington square.  Saturday is their day. As summer filters through and the fruits of earlier labours flaunt their colours their ranks are swelled by dogs and children. Locals bring picnics, turning the task in hand into a social affair we can all enjoy. Numbers recede as light begins to fade with the flowers and autumn chill creeps in, but still the hardy perennials dig on. They come regardless. 

Town meets country as gardening takes root    

Nature got louder in lockdown. Or so everyone claimed as the shock of enforced isolation hit us in spring 2020. People spoke of birdsong, blue skies and blossom that hadn’t had the same intensity before. 

Scientists report that birdsong did change for us city dwellers as our feathered friends no longer had to contend with noise pollution generated by traffic. They weren’t louder, the scientists say, but their songs were sweeter and they carried further across quiet neighbourhoods as we hunkered down in our homes. 

The skies were not as sullied by traffic fumes and fewer aircraft belched out vapour trails. As for the blossom, by all accounts we were just fortunate to experience a particularly spectacular British spring. 

A big difference though is that we noticed these things. Previously too busy going about our business, we weren’t used to looking to the skies or to hearing anything but urban clamour. But as we milked every second out of our prescribed hour of exercise last year we drank in all we saw and nature was our preferred backdrop.  

We began to appreciate nature more – and were keen to cultivate our own plots if we were lucky enough to have them. Digging and planting became fervent national pastimes as we sought to boost our physical fitness and mental wellbeing. 

Gardening has long been popular. Consider the multitude of TV shows and magazines devoted to it. Community gardeners in north London boroughs like Islington and Camden who cultivate local public spaces were already a burgeoning force and allotments almost as sought after as outdoor pub seats.   

Gardening is though traditionally associated more with retired folk, short of something to do when they are no longer constrained by 9am-5pm working weekdays. Lockdown certainly changed that.  

Community gardening in particular now has a rich following, across ages and backgrounds. It enables acceptable social hubs that burst family bubbles and bring neighbours together. It has brought routine to lives suddenly deprived of their shape and a sense of purpose. It offers exercise beyond the dog-walking and all pervasive running many of us resorted to as we enjoyed our daily outdoor hour. 

It has added calming greens and splashes of colour to all our lives. Local spaces have become vital as we take the air.  And as re-wilding gains momentum and town and country boundaries blur, it is bringing simple meadow flowers back into urban streetscapes.  

One thought on “Gardens

  1. So well observed Linda – I love the repeated phrase, “They come regardless” because we all saw that. Garden centres bear testament to the fact that gardening became an absolute lifeline during the first pandemic spring – even if we only shoved a few bulbs into pots outside our front doors. Your centena really captures the positive benefits of taking time to appreciate nature and how taking an interest in it can bring communities together. I think this is such a hopeful centena and essay.

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