Dig deep to reap the ben­e­fits of plant­ing

Gar­den­ing is a refuge, re­lax­ation, a cre­ative en­deav­our, and good for the body as well as the mind, writes Mar­garet Jen­nings

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Ageing With Attitude -

WHEN Cork-based Ali­son Flack was a child she had a patch in her fa­ther’s gar­den where she grew seeds. Although now in her late 60s the ex­pe­ri­ence of watch­ing those seedlings sprout in her un­heated glasshouse still holds the orig­i­nal magic.

“There’s some­thing ter­ri­bly sat­is­fy­ing in the depths of win­ter putting a packet of seeds into soil and watch­ing things com­ing up; you’d won­der some­times what is go­ing to ap­pear. It keeps me busy in the win­ter too,” she says.

With “the guts of an acre”, in the town­land of Cur­ragh­binny, where she and hus­band Roger have lived for the past 18 years, Ali­son now passes on plants to her three chil­dren, Jonathan, Caro­line and Jennifer for their gar­dens lo­cally, and her wis­dom about na­ture, to their chil­dren.

“I have nine grand­chil­dren — all un­der the age of eight — who come to help and they just love weed­ing and I try to teach them what’s a weed and what’s one of my nice flow­ers, but they’ll wa­ter any­thing.” says Ali­son. “They’re learn­ing about bugs and about com­post­ing. I’m say­ing to them ‘oh no, you can’t throw away that’ and we will put the ba­nana skins and po­tato peel­ings down at the com­post and I show them the bugs that are there.”

In turn they teach Ali­son to stay calm: “I’ve had to learn pa­tience with balls go­ing into my best flow­ers,” she laughs. “You know — the usual things that go on with chil­dren, but it’s lovely to see them out in the gar­den in­stead of be­ing in front of a screen. They go off ex­plor­ing and we hide things in the gar­den for them to find.”

Gar­den­ing is a refuge for her also: “To me if ev­ery­thing gets down on top of you, you can go and pull weeds if noth­ing else, and talk to the plants. You never come in from the gar­den feel­ing down — well I don’t any­way. And if you knock the head off some­thing by mis­take and you’re apol­o­gis­ing to the plant, the poor old plant pro­duces another flower. They’re very for­giv­ing — which we all should be I sup­pose.”

When her kids were small she would dis­ap­pear to the gar­den but decades later, it holds that time­less con­stancy. “Sea­sons go around but there is no bad time in gar­den­ing; you slow down but can still do it. You can gar­den at any age level. I had a knee re­place­ment and back surgery but you just learn to move on”.

Mean­while, a cam­paign to give us all use­ful ad­vice on how to make the best of our gar­dens is be­ing run by GroMór, which is an ini­tia­tive by Re­tail Ex­cel­lence Gar­den Cen­tres and grow­ers across Ire­land, in as­so­ci­a­tion with Bord Bia (and spon­sored by Bord Na Mona and West­land Hor­ti­cul­ture).

Its am­bas­sador, award-win­ning de­signer Diar­muid Gavin, tells Feel­good there is an in­creas­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion of gar­dens as we age. “Peo­ple have been ‘nest­ing’ for a while and of­ten have con­sid­ered what styles of gar­den and plants they like and are emo­tion­ally in­vested in the suc­cess of their plots,” he says. “They may have many years of lov­ing roses, hat­ing slugs and have em­braced each an­nual start of the gar­den­ing sea­son as a new change to get it right.”

As many re­tirees surely know, it’s the “per­fect hobby” he points out.

“It’s close to home and can be ex­tremely cheap, as it re­quires mainly the skills that they have de­vel­oped over the years and they can do it at their own pace. Also it’s ex­tremely re­ward­ing to see bor­ders bloom af­ter a sea­son of tend­ing flow­er­ing plants, or hav­ing co­pi­ous amounts of home grown fruit and veg to share at har­vest time.”

As a 50-some­thing him­self, have the ben­e­fits changed? “For me they are the same as al­ways — get­ting lost in the beauty of the gar­den, ap­pre­ci­at­ing the won­der of all that grows and look­ing to the fu­ture through dream­ing about what to do next.”

Gar­den­ing is good for the body, and the mind, he says. “It means that you walk, lift, stretch and ex­er­cise while dig­ging, plant­ing, wheel­ing a bar­row, mow­ing lawns, weed­ing and wa­ter­ing. You’re also mak­ing, cre­at­ing, nur­tur­ing, plan­ning and dream­ing, all pos­i­tive en­deav­ours which take you away from everyday is­sues with fam­ily or friends or around the house.”

Out in the gar­den ex­er­cise is easy, be­cause you have a task in hand, he says, and time seems to dis­ap­pear as you pre­pare, dig, plant, mow and har­vest. “Be­fore you know it, you have a full body work­out done. If you do it prop­erly and take some time or guid­ance to un­der­stand how your body works, and warm up with some sim­ple ex­er­cise be­fore un­der­tak­ing gar­den­ing tasks, then you can avoid repet­i­tive gym ses­sions by stretch­ing, bend­ing prop­erly us­ing your knees, build­ing your core and achiev­ing steady re­sults for your health in the process.”

The GroMór 2017 cam­paign en­cour­ages peo­ple to visit their lo­cal gar­den cen­tre for ex­pert ad­vice. Visit gro­mor.ie to get easy to fol­low guides and videos on how to grow flow­ers, plants, herbs, trees and veg­eta­bles.

“You

can of­ten change your cir­cum­stances by chang­ing your at­ti­tude — Eleanor Roo­sevelt

BLOOM­ING LOVELY: Gar­den de­signer Diar­muid Gavin at the launch of GroMór 2017. In­set: Ali­son Flack en­joys the time­less con­stancy of the gar­den.

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