Gardening keeps us healthy
“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.