Gar­den­ing keeps us healthy

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - NICK ROST VAN TON­NIN­GEN Life in the 80s ros­t­

“Ur­ban farm­ing” is a wave of the fu­ture. Not long ago, I saw a pic­ture of a 12-storey build­ing in The Hague, my birth city. On its roof is a com­bi­na­tion green­house and fish farm, with the fish farm waste wa­ter re­cy­cled through the green­house, where the plants thrive on it, be­fore be­ing fil­tered and go­ing back into the aquar­ium.

A cou­ple of years ago, a hy­dro­ponic veg­etable grow­ing op­er­a­tion was launched in down­town Lon­don, un­der­ground in an old air raid shel­ter from the Sec­ond World War. Its cus­tomers were about 20 me­tres above in the restau­rants on nearby streets.

And the Nether­lands, small as it is in pop­u­la­tion and land area, is the world’s sec­ond-largest agri­cul­tural ex­porter, ahead of Canada and Brazil.

In 1835, at age 26, Al­fred, Lord Ten­nyson, wrote Lock­sley Hall, a poem on un­re­quited love, declar­ing early on: “In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” I have ex­panded on that by adding

“... and an old man’s to gar­den­ing.” (re­mem­ber how in The God­fa­ther the once-fear­some old man keeled over, dead, in his tomato patch?)

Ten years later, in 1845,

May 25 started be­ing cel­e­brated in Canada as Queen Vic­to­ria’s birth­day. But in 1952, Par­lia­ment ar­bi­trar­ily changed this to the last Mon­day be­fore May 25 to give Cana­di­ans a long week­end in May. And now it has be­come tra­di­tion in much of Canada for the Vic­to­ria Day week­end be­ing the time to “put in” one’s gar­den.

I have long be­lieved this is a dumb idea and like to do so much sooner.

True, this risks plant dam­age from a late frost (as we had re­cently, al­beit not a “killing” one). But on the other hand, when the long­est day comes on June 21, the plants are of a size ro­bust enough to ben­e­fit to the max from the long hours of sun­shine to turn CO2 into sugar (which is what grow­ing plants is all about).

So I have been busy seed­ing and plant­ing. I al­ways like to have sev­eral gar­dens on the go. Of­ten in the back­yards of old ladies “who them­selves can­not do it any­more” but who love it when I pro­vide them with ac­cess to fresh pro­duce from their gar­den and who, when I come to tend their gar­den, of­ten come out be­fore long to putz around in it.

So far this year, I have three gar­dens on the go. One is a small plot in a com­mu­nity gar­den that I seeded weeks ago. The sec­ond is a hith­erto un­der­uti­lized patch of grass on the south side of the build­ing I live in. Last sum­mer they cut down a nice shade tree in it that has opened it up to the sun. So I have started plant­ing it to grow flow­er­ing plants res­i­dents can en­joy while there, and grow tomato, rhubarb and other plants they can help them­selves to as the sea­son pro­gresses. The third is that of a friend of mine. And I have my eye on a fourth one in front of a restau­rant down the street.

Ag­ing can be an in­ter­est­ing process, but only if one makes it so. All our lives we have been told by oth­ers what to do. First by our par­ents, then by our teach­ers and fi­nally by our bosses (and spouses?).

I was told 15 years ago that

St. Fran­cis of As­sisi once told his dis­ci­ples “the lucky ones among us spend the sec­ond half of our lives liv­ing by our­selves.” And while the way I live in my old age proves (to me) he was right, I see so many other old peo­ple, of­ten much younger than I, un­able or un­will­ing to put in the ef­fort or have the in­ter­nal dis­ci­pline to proac­tively en­joy their “sun­set years.”

I must ad­mit I was lucky in my choice of par­ents. I was di­ag­nosed with mul­ti­ple myeloma 18 years ago last March at a time when the me­dian life ex­pectancy af­ter di­ag­no­sis was two-and-ahalf years (to­day it’s about twice that). But along the way doc­tors dis­cov­ered some­thing in my ge­netic makeup that let my body cope bet­ter with it than most.

And while the care I re­ceived over the years at Ed­mon­ton’s Cross Can­cer In­sti­tute has been awe­some, I at­tribute much of my un­usual longevity to main­tain­ing a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude. When one is di­ag­nosed with can­cer, it feels like the roof cav­ing in. But in my case it was only a mat­ter of days be­fore I de­cided “if I am not go­ing to make Christ­mas (what my chil­dren ap­par­ently had been told), I’d bet­ter make the most of the time I have left!”

And I have never looked back. I don’t fuss about things I can­not change (like the weather). I eat very lit­tle pre­pared Franken­food re­plete with of­ten harm­ful chem­i­cals and in­stead use a slow cooker to pre­pare eight home-cooked din­ners at a time from scratch to freeze or store (in old-fash­ioned glass seal­ers). I walk a bit, bike a lot ( just got an­other one af­ter my last one was stolen), do a lot of read­ing and writ­ing to keep my brain fit, swim a bit (and am an­noyed the pools are closed) and have started do­ing hands and feet and sit-up ex­er­cises on public trans­porta­tion when the ve­hi­cle halts at a stop (get­ting some strange looks do­ing so).

And I firmly be­lieve that too many peo­ple live too cleanly to re­tain their im­mune sys­tem as their first line of de­fence against what­ever bug comes along, and that an­tibac­te­rial prod­ucts are the work of the devil since they are more ef­fec­tive against “good bugs” that are an in­te­gral and use­ful part of our sys­tem than against those that are try­ing to kill us.

And I hope to “keep on truck­ing” for a while yet!


Whether for flow­ers or pro­duce, a gar­den can help keep you healthy. Nick Rost van Ton­nin­gen has three on the go.

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