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December 24, 2017


Swiss chard in the afternoon sunlight
Swiss chard in the afternoon sunlight

A garden should always be bursting, brimful with that wonderful and impossible-to-capture-in-words emotion called joy. It should radiate joy from every single square-millimetre of its being; singing, at full volume, of the living, growing beauty of all and everything it contains.

This is not to say that a garden should be overflowing with colourful blooms, fruitful trees and ready to harvest vegetables in order for it to exude joy: ‘garden joy’ is all of this, none of this and something else altogether. It is purely a magical feeling.

It has long been recognised, even scientifically, that walking, sitting, working, relaxing or actively working in a garden brings with it a peace of mind and spirit that nourishes, rejuvenates and heals maladies such as stress, depression and other related ills of ‘modern’ life with certain plants and focal points emitting more healing power than others.

Gardening is back-breaking work but brings sheer joy when the garden is in bloom

Take, for example, that patch of brilliantly-hued, crisp and crunchy, organically grown Swiss chard/leaf beat — the patch over there, lightly sheltered by the young mango tree planted a couple of years ago and thriving. The Swiss chard, filtering early afternoon sunlight, glows pink and pinker, shot through with gold, flaunting rainbows and nourishment for all to see and wonder at. Inside its luscious stems and light-filled leaves is, along with other health-boosting nutrients, all the magnesium a brain needs to shrug off depression, if watching plants sway, enticingly, in the soft breeze hasn’t already banished depression and replaced it with awed joy.

Oh look! The nargis (Narcissus poeticus) have burst into perfumed bloom overnight and are performing a lilting dance of utter delight amongst the spreading, dappled shade of an Amaltas tree and the brilliant mass of ranunculous, planted and forgotten two years ago now, are pushing through the ground to burst back into the light.

Then there are sunflowers — just thinking of them brings a smile to my face! Simple to grow and available in a whole host of colours from creamy whites and lemony yellows right through to rich chocolate and deep, velvety reds, these fast growers radiate unbridled joy to anyone who sees them. From dwarf to medium and gigantic in height, sunflowers are, quite literally, smiles on stems. Their nutritious, crunchy-munchy seeds are high in the amino acid phenylalanine which magically turns into norepinephrine — a recognised antidepressant.

Cherry tomatoes are another cheerful sight indeed, especially when absolutely dripping with fruit: much more weather- and disease-tolerant than larger tomatoes. Tomato skin contains the phytonutrient lycopene known to battle depression. How wonderful to be able to pop deliciously sweet cherry tomatoes instead of chemically formulated pills. A word of warning here: if on prescription medication for depression, please do not swap your pills for cherry tomatoes without first taking qualified medical advice.

Oregano, an enticingly aromatic and versatile culinary herb, is another beat-the-blues plant, containing caddeic acid, quercitin and rosmarinic acid, each known to banish depression and associated fatigue as do a number of other herbs and their extracts.

There are countless species of flowers, vegetables, herbs and fruits containing the vitamins, minerals, nutrients et al which are essential for mental well-being but, even if each and every single one of them was to be found growing side by side in a garden, this would not automatically mean that the vital element of joy was present for all comers to bliss out in — a joyful garden is so much more than this.

There is joy — imaginative and exciting — in gazing, for example, around a barren piece of ground or an abandoned garden which you, as a gardener, have taken over responsibility for. The challenge, the dreams, the pictures and result of what can be achieved race and tumble through your mind in a whirl of colour and creativity with fantasy that cannot be contained. This is simply a joy in itself.

There will, of course, be back-breaking work too and many hard lessons to learn, but as you tend your growing creation, do things to invite in birds, bees, butterflies and other creatures. Plan what to sow where, which fruit trees to grow and which vegetables are most, in your opinion, desirable for a kitchen garden. The sheer overall joy of it all will encompass you and carry you through.

Joyful gardening to all!

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Published in Dawn, EOS, December 24th, 2017