Time Out

I heard someone once say a very profound comment about modern day living that struck a chord with me very strongly.

"Modern living is like living with a low level anxiety all the time that you don't notice but it builds up"

And they are right. Modern life is hard, and I don't mean hard as in its harder than the turn of the last century, clearly thats not what I mean. I'm referring to the mental impact of everything that modern life can throw at you these days. Bills, decisions about mortgage rates, are you on the right energy tariff? Who's got classes after school, the car broke down, TV shows shouting at you, adverts suggesting that your life is too busy so you better book a holiday to relax. Taking that holiday and the holiday firm goes bust. You get my drift?

Then there is the draw of social media. More people sharing their amazing lives, the bling! The celebrities, the perfect bodies, leaving some of us with a voice in the back of our head that our life isn't quite good enough compared to others. A modern day 'keeping up with the jones's'. Now I like social media these days, I think with families living apart or with busy lives its actually nice to share lifes' little moments, and to share the lows and get support from a wider network. It can be used for good, and can be a fantastic resource of information if you're learning something new. However some people can't put the phone down and 'switch off'. Frankly I think some people don't know what switching off is anymore. We are becoming accustomed to being busy all the time.

How many of you reading this actually sit in a quiet room reading a book? or sit outside and just enjoy the moment? How many have a hobby that can occupy you and allow you to have that time alone or switch off mentally?

Having moved here in 2016 I can honestly say I need a bit of that quiet time. Everyday here there can be, and certainly has been a list of things to get done and things that were in the process of being built. So I had an endless shopping list of screws, tools or building materials. Some I sourced to recycle or up-cycle rather than buy new, which was brilliant for the budget but needed a lot of brain time to get sorted. There was planning ahead, making decisions about animals, gates, houses to be built, (the court case - explained in another blog) then I had to think about what was for dinner. All seemed a bit much sometimes, so I'd settle down to a nice boiled egg. Again. Because it was easy.

This was me finishing off the roof on what was the dog kennel.... 18 months later Storm Emma landed and tore it to pieces during winds of 80mph and gusts which topped out at 104mph. I would like to point out that it was the wind direction and a very unfortunate event where the storm directly lined up with the valley which intensified the winds. It had been predicted we'd have winds of 40mph. Something else for me to figure out how to fix.... I have been physically exhausted and on occasion mentally shattered.

We didn't do too bad a job I think... A bar for entertaining guests, our soap kitchen where all the goats milk is turned into cheese or soap, plus a deck. My tropical borders outside which are still very much under construction. Whilst being difficult and challenging, the creative process is healthy for the mind, and it gives me another amazing structure to build a garden around.

What I have come to understand even more profoundly is that I need gardening, sorry let me re-phrase that, I REALLY NEED GARDENING!!! I must have the time to go and see things growing. I must have the time to go and bury myself mentally in that endless task of weeding. I find that weeding is not a job that must be done, it is a task that I want to do as it quietens the mind. It allows me to switch off from the lists of things to do and focus on the pulling of weeds. I have to really see what I am touching so I don't pull up what I am growing. I have to focus on that job alone and nothing else, and after a period of time the garden or area I am working on looks better. Its' a job well done that gives me a very simple feeling of satisfaction. Planning, growing and thinking ahead for planting is an exciting process, as is seeing those plants come back each year and enjoying the garden day in day out.

How could I not love pottering about in this garden?

The Blue Cottage Plant Nursery border design
The front garden of The Blue Cottage

How many people can create, make something just for them? Gardening not only makes a new room, a new space to be in but it also gives you enjoyable tasks that forces the mind to focus on one job at a time. It can provide you with that time alone, that time out of daily life and the jobs that it throws your way.

This is why the phrase 'low level anxiety' struck a cord with me. I have felt the pressure of life very strongly working here, alone sometimes and the pressure to get it all done and finished. I have not been able to 'garden' as such. Time spent in the front garden was very short and I always felt very guilty about time spent doing a bit of weeding rather than building so I hardly did any. I have noticed I crave this activity now, and I understand why I crave it.

I have always enjoyed gardening and the garden at our last home was my sanctuary and I loved every minute in it.

This is why I am so keen to support others wanting to dive into gardening or growing their own veg. No matter how big or small the plot that you have, I truly believe that this type of activity is healthy and needs to be done by more people. If you choose to grow your own veg and fruit not only does it challenge the mind in that task, it gets you outside and moving and think of all the extra nutrients you consume when you harvest and eat from right outside your own back door? Recent studies stated that vitamin C degrades rapidly after harvest, as much as 80% in Spinach and 60% in Broccoli when kept in cold storage*. No one will ever be able to convince me that shop bought fruit and veg, harvested before it ripens, shipped or flown halfway around the world in some cases, sprayed or grown with manufactured fertilisers are better or even on par with what you can grow yourself.

Doctors are already prescribing gardening as therapy both for physical and mental issues.

You don't need to be amazing at it, or grow prize winning cabbages, just start with some salad leaves. Did you know that buying a packet of seed of mixed salad can cost as little at 99p and that you can have 1000's of seeds in that one packet? The maths for saving money and not buying plastic wrapped salad leaves from the supermarket is done right there.

Which leads me on to my other point. Saving the world!! Well we are not going to save the world by growing salad at home, but honestly what food mileage can you save by growing a selection of veg or fruit in the back garden? I don't care if you are a meat eater, veggie or vegan. We can all grow ourselves something seasonal and healthy in the back garden (or front) whatever your design, and you will be healthier for it.

Home grown vegetables also taste very different. I ate my first vegetable (well first one since I was old enough to refuse anyway) 11 years ago. I was newly married, already loving gardening but yet to be bitten by the vegetable gardening bug. I had Calabrese. Wow. Since then I've enjoyed everything I have grown. The flavour of fresh salad leaves is nothing on the washy, watery bag of stuff you can buy. I think this is why if people don't like to eat veg I think its because they have become used to unripe, genetically bland varieties grown for size and speed not for taste.

Home grown vegetables at The Blue Cottage
Our very new vegetable garden at the beginning of the season in 2019

I think we are due a revolution, to turn everyone outside, into the fresh air. Growing their own vegetables and enjoying only seasonal produce. Our vegetable garden is new, so I can show you how I have turned horrid soil, grassy and weedy infested paddock into a productive vegetable garden. The soil will need many more years to become ideal but I can show you how to grow your own in whatever you have already. We won't be running courses until 2021, but you can follow me here via the blog and on the various social media platforms to find out what's next. Just remember to pop your phone down once a day and enjoy your outside space.

The Blue Cottage Plant Nursery Emma Bennett resting on a gate

*Source Gardeners World Magazine page 32.

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