A garden for healthy living | Daily News

A garden for healthy living

“My house is in the hills above Trujillo. A very simple place. Pinkstones that warm in the sun. A kitchen garden that smells of herbs in the day, jasmine in the evening. Through the gate is a giant poplar. Figs, apples, pears. The soil, Marcus-black. Black like my wife’s hair. Grapes on the south slopes, olives on the north.” This is how General Maximus of the Gladiator, played by Russle Crowe, explains his house to his frail emperor.

My first brush with the wonderful world of gardening happened in the early 1990s when I saw my mother sprinkling tiny seeds in our kitchen garden. Tender spinach, brown spuds, red tomatoes, lady’s finger, pristine radish, king brinjal, all danced to my mother’s tune. The harvest was aplenty too. The produce from the garden was adequate to cook three meals a day. In fact, she would share the excess with neighbours.

The joy of cooking a meal with freshly grown herbs was boundless. Ask any gardener, happiness for them is synonymous with gardening. It puts them into “present moment”, breaking the mundane and mindless continuum of everyday existence. It is a journey of attaining that sublime state that distances one from the cacophony of the deadly world. Gardening, thus, proves right what the Buddha said in the first verse of the Dhammapada, “Mindfulness is the way to the immortal, unmindfulness the way to death.”

Mother-child equation

Nurturing a garden is purely a labour of love. It’s a feeling that a mother experiences while fostering the most cherished part of her being — her child. Much like the supreme joy of watching children grow inch by inch, in all abundance, spreading the bountiful colours of their innocence all over.

“The act of spotting tiny buds from seeds you had sown is like holding a newborn in your arms for the very first time. The excitement and joy is limitless. Almost surreal,” says homemaker Krishna Chauhan, an amateur gardener since childhood. Mere saplings that sprout into full-fledged trees endow inner joy, besides blowing the siren of peace, she adds.

Just as in life, hits and misses are common in a garden too. Hardships like insects, disease, inadequate water, excess light, poor nutrition and soil quality often spoil periods of labour in one’s garden. More so, the resulting negativity, like weeds, slows down growth and sucks fun out of life. Unwanted. Undesired! Nevertheless, life is not meant to be deterred by failures, as often it is followed by success.

Gardening, therefore, is an apt metaphor for patience. An activity that demands tremendous toil and endurance; most importantly, an implicit faith that there’ll be tomorrow. It encapsulates life in miniature as well as in abundance. Gertrude Jekyll summed the love for gardening thus: “A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.”

You reap what you sow, goes the idiom. For Bengaluru-born gardener Kavita Reddy, “It is nothing less than magic which transforms tiny teeny seeds into fruits of life. The eternal lesson of man’s journey into this world is illustrated right before you in your garden. What seeds you sow in the garden of your mind determine the quality of life you shall have. Weeds or flowers are your choice.” It is a meditation on time that life has to flow. Nothing is static. Everything in this world has to grow, bear fruits and shed leaves and die, a fact she swears by.

Like any creative act, inspiration comes to a gardener as music to Mozart. Tender touch with coarse yet moist soil flushes off worries of the world. Mind transcends and cohabits in unison with the marvels of nature studded on a serene island. Sunshine, the water droplet resting on a leaf, that sudden gush of air, paint a thrilling picture under the azure sky. Thereby, indulgence with Mother Nature stimulates a creative canopy of ideas. Solutions to problems which gave one a tough spot for months are found to be glaring right at one’s face.

A spiritual quest

Communion with nature tunes a gardener to a higher self, towards stillness and silence, absorbing the rhythms of nature. Being “in the moment” also breaks the mindless chatter — that incomplete and incessant conversation of the past with the future. Moreover, the divine dialogue with nature heals mental agony and accumulated pain, much like a friend’s reassuring words that ‘all is well’.

It is readily believed that to bury seeds is to bury worry. After all, good thoughts, a gentle prayer, soft words and some water work wonders on a plant. Maintaining one’s garden with meditation is said to spurt crop yields too. Therefore, to say that gardening is an act of higher calling would not be wrong.

Spiritual group Brahma Kumaris carried out research in Gujarat where one thousand farmers combined farming with meditation and produced remarkable results in crop production. Farmers were able to achieve improved seed quality, crop yields, low cost and reduced pressure on environment, the research claimed. The farmers’ emotional well-being and community resilience were other improved factors, the study concluded.

Greener areas for better living

Researchers from Harvard University have found that living amid rich vegetation improves physical and mental health. The study followed nearly 1, 00,000 people. Of the group, 8,604 members died. After taking into account external factors such as age, race,socioeconomic status and smoking habits, the researchers concluded that people who lived in greener areas had a 12% lower mortality rate than those with the least vegetation surrounding their homes.

“Policies to increase vegetation may provide opportunities for physical activity, reduce harmful exposure, increase social engagement, and improve mental health,” the Harvard team suggested. Truly, the benefits of gardening are aplenty. Exposure to sunlight results in adequate intake of Vitamin D; soil-rich microorganisms are good for the skin too. A simple glance at one’s garden uplifts the mood and removes stress, which in turn lowers blood pressure. Moving about in a garden is a workout in itself. Tryst with the green world is elixir for even peculiar health disorders. It is a therapy with the potential to heal even grave illness. A renowned Garden Writer of an international newspaper, claims to have healed himself from mental illness by following this pursuit religiously.

First step, the hardest

Taking the first step is always challenging. But once it is taken, the road ahead is fruitful. Manikandan Pattabiraman, a 35-year-old gardener from Bengaluru, is one example. His interest in plants began when he was in Class 3 in Chennai. With 100-odd pots of growing veggies and ornamental plants, he started gardening as a hobby, and today has a huge estate. He vouches for gardening despite shrinking spaces as it is eco-friendly.

“It is absolutely possible to start a garden in an apartment. A small balcony that gets four to six hours of sunlight is good enough to start a mini-garden. People with their own terrace can try a wider variety. Moreover, when you grow your own, you decide when to harvest and this prevents you from eating under-ripe vegetables and reduces wastage too.”

The Hindu

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