Gardening – it lifts your spirits and keeps us Fit After 50

There is every reason to feel challenged just now. I’m sure you have plenty of wound up key-in-the-back moments too. Here’s a few of mine.

The postman still drops rubber bands on my drive and forgets to shut the gate

My football team lose 3 – 0 to a team 68 places below us.

The media tells me to stay indoors when I and other emergency services have to put our uniforms on and go to work. Most police do this without a vaccine injection.

My left hip has fallen apart and, right now, there’s more chance of Trump getting back into the White House than me getting an operation on the NHS.

But every cloud…

Whilst listening to R4’s You and Yours on the way to work to start my late shift recently I heard a statistic. In the first week of the UK lockdown in March 2020, the Royal Horticultural Society website registered over two million hits. Gardening is fashionable again.

In the world of growing stuff, their flagship event is the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and there WILL be one this year, albeit with a caveat. For the first time in its long history this venerable event will be postponed and now happen between 21st and 26th September.

As in 2020, there’ll still be a virtual event in May but until they invent Smellovision, it won’t be a patch on the real thing.  

Sue Biggs is their DG. “We will do our utmost to deliver a beautiful, uplifting and different RHS Chelsea safely in September 2021.” What a challenge.

A couple of years ago I put on a flat cap and sneaked into their AGM at Harlow Carr Gardens in Harrogate to investigate this 216 year old charity. Yes, it’s run by a bunch of toffs but their heart is in the right place. Their core message is gardening is for everyone.  

We sat in a large marquee and Bettys did the catering. I stood at the back shoving free Fat Rascals in my pockets whilst listening to them spout forth. For the uninitiated, a Yorkshire Fat Rascal is a cross between a scone and a bun but bigger than both. Decorated with glace cherries and almonds they’re best enjoyed warm and buttered.

Then C19 happened. The great leveller. Those lucky enough to have gardens they’d previously neglected suddenly decided they wanted to know more. Unfortunately, like all organisations dependent on public support the bottom fell out of their flowerpot. But Nature carried on. She does that.

Plants, trees, insects, slugs who hate me, seagulls who prefer pinching chips from tourists and strange creatures that only survive by the side of deep undersea vents, all had a party. Why? Because we couldn’t.

All the polluting stopped. Fewer planes in the skies and vehicles on the roads. Manufacturing halted. Silence in the cities. Nothing.

A few days before Christmas I walked through Leeds. It was empty. A major UK city deserted. A taxi driver I hired said he was going home after my fare as there was no work for him.  The sparrows were chattering over the fat-balls hanging from my plum tree. “Where are all the bipeds?”

But this non activity has had a most beneficial effect.

Coral reefs are blooming again. New species of plants have been discovered. Stars can be seen clearer in the night sky – and there are beavers building dams again in Britain.

For the first time in four centuries The National Trust’s Holnicote Estate in Exmoor National Park is home to a family of these remarkable creatures. They’re not alone.

The Isle of Wight became known for being one of the few Tier 1 havens before becoming Tier 4 on NY Eve. For the White Tailed Eagle it is now their new home.

A project to introduce this endangered species has taken flight. A single chick is now collected under licence from nests in Western Scotland and transferred from a brood of two or three to where it can grow, fly and hunt again as it used to do in Tudor times – thanks to humans staying indoors.

The RHS has also started to fly again. Since their gardens began to carefully reopen last year a whole new breed of visitors started coming through the gates. They remain open for exercise – but only to locals.  

Harrogate has been their most northerly outpost. But not for much longer. The pandemic has given the new RHS Bridgewater an extra year to come together. On May 11th this stunning new 154 acre created in Salford near Manchester is due to be unveiled. God and a certain bug willing.

The pause button caused by the virus has meant it will be even better for the extra year it has had to prepare. Forty thousand extra plants thriving. Nature has been busy.

Worsley New Hall is the setting and a bunch of very talented horticulturalists, staff and volunteers are beavering away to help her make this part of North West England special.

Of course it would’ve been better to have this opened when it was supposed to. But it’ll be a place where, in the spring of 2021, a new dawn could be celebrated.

Marcus Chilton-Jones is the Curator of Bridgewater.

“You’re planting for your grandchildren and great grandchildren. They’re the people who will really see the benefit. The end feeling created will be 100 years from now.”

In my garden I feel lucky to be the guy passing my particular patch of Heaven on Earth. The old lady who used to live in my house was proud of her garden. Her spirit is always with me when I tend her pride and joy.

Much like Christmas started before it should in 2020, I suspect Spring might come around a little earlier this year thanks to us not polluting the world as we normally do. 

When Nature comes with her promise of new hope, we will begin planning and planting for the future. Thanks to the hard work of scientists it appears we may have one. I wonder what we will do with it.

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