When I was asked to write a blog for Gardening for Disabled Trust, I admit that so many ideas were going through my head. I could write about the current season, my favourite thing to grow or what I suffer with and my struggles with gardening. However, after talking to a few friends about where to start, I decided that it’s not really about what I grow, but why.
My abilities can vary from day to day. It’s a lottery. So why would I continue to carry on lifestyle and hobby that’s so physically exhausting? It’s a question that I am asked a lot and it’s pretty frustrating because it’s always said by non-gardeners in a derogatory manner.
There are other sides to gardening than plonking seeds in a pot and waiting for them to grow. You’d think that gardening would lead to a solitary lifestyle and some tree hugging here and there but it’s deeper than that. It becomes part of your values in life. You realise your plants are important because life is important. It gives you purpose, meaning and a sense of achievement.
I have an allotment in Hertfordshire and the best piece of advice I was ever given was to listen and respect those who had been there a long time. Yes, we all have our own way of doing things but there I was with a new born baby, one gardening fork and one spade which were both donated, and a huge pile of weeds which had been unattended for around three years. I needed help. It’s overwhelming at first but the first thing you learn about any kind of gardening is that patience is your friend. A skill that is easily transferred into your day to day life, and one that has helped me immensely.
My family, friends and plot neighbours helped me get set up and for that I am forever thankful as I wouldn’t be where I am and who I am today. I have no importance on this Earth whatsoever but I now provide for my family in a way I felt like I failed to by becoming unwell. It’s not always about constantly digging all the time. I’d never even used a power tool but there I was last week using my plot neighbour’s circular saw to cut timber.
I grow because I love to provide my friends and family something they couldn’t buy in the supermarket. Most of the people I know have never heard of a cucamelon or borage and when I can whack that in a G&T when they come to mine, they’re forever fascinated I grew it and I knew what to do with it and it always strikes conversation. I am completely self-taught at this point however my absolute love for it has made me want to pursue this further and see where it goes. I have no plans or specialties; I just know that when someone asks me how to grow something or asks for my advice, it fills my heart with more joy and love for this world than ever before as someone else wants to start putting seeds into the rapidly deteriorating earth that needs us more than ever before to restore it.
I have communicated and met with a large number of amateur and professional gardeners through socialising. Whether that be social media or through the allotment itself but gardening has no bias. It doesn’t judge you; it doesn’t expect anything from you. You do what you can within your own abilities. Disability or not – we all have our physical limits. Age, gender, sexuality, race, ability – whatever it is – there’s absolutely no bias.
Over just a few years, I am becoming greener, more environmentally aware, I’ve reduced my waste and make sure I avoid products that are non-recyclable, I’ve met friends who are all different and are the best and most welcoming people I know. I like to think that I now provide a little more for wildlife whether it’s planting edible flowers I know a myriad of insects and bees will enjoy but are also edible for me too if I decide. You get to watch beautiful wildlife and also battle with it. The birds eat my currants every year and somehow, they find a way.
It’s not just about growing food. It’s a social life or the sanity to you need. It’s fresh air, nature, unbiased friends and a community. You make gardening what you want it to be. If you want to grow show onions or giant pumpkins then do it! Do what you can within your own abilities which is very easy to say and hard to put into practice. It won’t come overnight but I can guarantee you that it will be with you forever and be life changing. From planting cress in an eggshell to planting your first tomatoes; they’re not too dissimilar. It’s not just about growing my own food anymore. It’s not really about providing. It’s about producing food I can’t buy, meeting other human beings without judgement, the community you create because of it, the wildlife and the robin that always visits you when you’re digging, the sense of purpose and self-achievement, and finally, you just being you. And that is the part that matters most.