Retroladytyping …

Starting over … in slippers

space clearing

I recently had a  conversation with a creative friend when we talked about writing being a form of therapy.  Yes, it certainly is, but, depending on my mood and how much nervous energy I need to expend, sometimes I need to be more active.

When that happens, gardening is the only activity which does the job enough for me to rest easily.

I used to think it was because of the exhaustion and sore muscles (aka being completely knackered) which follow a long session outside:   there was one occasion when, feeling annoyed because The One Who Likes Hitting Small Balls With a Strange Shaped Bat (aka playing golf), decided it was more important to do that than to remove the ivy which was slowly strangling our brickwork, I decided to do the job myself.   I tugged, ripped (several fingernails in the process), sweated, strained and eventually succeeded in denuding the wall by the garage.  I felt so much better, having used up all my anger.   Job done.  A blank  wall and a feeling of happy exhaustion and (not so) quiet satisfaction at leaving The One Who etc … a huge pile of debris to clear up.

As well as  using up nervous energy, I think it’s about starting again.  That blank garage wall became an, as yet untouched,   canvas for further creation.  There is something very therapeutic and renewing about digging, raking, cutting and clearing  a untidy area of the garden and planting anew.  There is then hope that whatever has gone awry can be corrected;  even after repeated attempts, there is hope that this time it will succeed and look perfect come June and July.  It won’t; I know that; it never does, as is proved by the many times I take my coffee outside for a sunshine sit-down, or while putting washing on the line,  and spot something which needs sorting immediately. Several hours later and without bothering to change into ‘gardening’ clothes,  I feel satisfied that there is again hope for the future.  There is mud under my nails,  I have scratches up my arms and I need a good hose down,  but I already feel refreshed and renewed.

Returning to the original idea of writing as therapy – maybe a blank sheet of paper, or computer screen, fulfils the same need to start over with  no dress code.

old man I found this picture on google.  The title is ‘Old Man Writing by Candlelight in Pyjamas’.  It reminded me of the friend in the first sentence, who is a midnight writer, as I am a dawn gardener.  He is definitely not old, but I think he would  like to be this man one day.  Whereas I would like to be, and probably already am,  ‘Middle-aged (and a bit)  Woman Gardening at Dawn in  Slippers,’ the point being that we each feel a need to do what we do, whenever we do it and however we do it,  without regard for convention.  It’s our therapy.    At least it is for me.  I know I would be (even more) stressed and miserable without that therapy.  So really, it’s a way of protecting my family and friends from the fall-out,  my motives are, therefore,  entirely selfless … naturally.

Since thinking of gardening as therapy,   I’ve discovered that there are a wealth of scholarly articles on the benefits for mental health of gardening.  I’m not at all surprised.  I was going to read one or two, but I’ve just spotted a huge dandelion in the middle of my petunia bed – how dare it?  It is going to die.  Where are my slippers?

gardening in slippers






The Legacy

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Near our back door we have a broken pot which contains various gardening implements.  These are proper implements, some dating back to the 1950s, as their cracked handles and rust illustrate.  They have been used, neglected, abandoned in the rain, buried in mud and rescued, but never replaced.  Some may be  vintage; some are just plain old; all are useful and are used – frequently.

We acquired them from our parents, now sadly no longer with us.  (Sad, but not tragic – they all lived into their 80s and 90s).  They were all keen gardeners and we were lucky enough to be given free run of their garages and garden sheds.  We toyed with the idea of a car boot sale but these, and other,  old, damaged, but still useful tools now stored in the garage, had much more than monetary value for us, and still do.  I’m not sure where old ends and vintage begins, but these items are more valuable than they look.

Young and old hands have grasped those handles over many years, dug, tugged, raked and hoed to produce gardens which, we think, were worthy of more than a Chelsea medal.  Those gardens  fed us, entertained us while we ‘helped’ as children, kept us busy and out of mischief and gave our parents a hobby well into their old age, as well as providing a sanctuary  when indoor life became too much to deal with.

Now they are used by us and our siblings in an attempt to create a similar place, with varying degrees of success.  It can safely be said that I am an enthusiastic gardener, but will never have the skills demonstrated by my parents, or in-laws.  However each time I grasp one of those muddy damaged handles and use that rusty trowel, I remember them and their gardens; each time I use that extra large, and very strong, yard broom, I bless them; each time my husband uses his work bench, customised with old lino,  and vice  – old and very, very heavy – which he inherited from his father, he remembers his dad.  I’m not quite sure why he needs a vice; I’ve never seen him use it, but he loves it and insisted on transporting it and the workbench from his dad’s garage to ours, enlisting the help of a neighbour to heave it into position.

There is a rusty sweet tin in our garage,  which used to belong in the Aladdin’s cave of my father-in-law’s garage.  It contains all manner of nails, screws, tacks and even the occasional rusty coin.  I have briefly considered going through it, sorting out what is useful, and replacing the rusty tin, but I can’t; I just can’t, any more than I could replace the several trowels, rakes and forks which we have by the back door.


forget me not