My Life During Lockdown

By South Norwood Helen

Colours and shapes in the garden

I am one of those lucky people who has a garden but despite this, I have to say that it was something I overlooked and neglected. To me it was just a space to have a barbecue, to sunbathe, to hang the clothes, to look out on or for the kids to have fun, and as for the local menagerie of animals, well, it was their favourite toilet.

Although, my garden had become a perfunctory entity, there have been over the years some half hearted attempts by me at purposefully growing things to eat, from strawberries to thyme, as opposed to just clipping the various bushes inherited from the previous occupants who too it would seem never saw much more to than garden. Even though it had become more of a means to an end, I was no garden luddite. I had grown up helping my dad with his allotment and with our front and back gardens. However, that was then and this was now and the carefree pace of life childhood had given way to the hard relentlessness of adulthood.

Increasingly over these three lockdowns, especially back in March when the weather was so good, I began to reconsider my garden and what my connection to it should be. Working with and seeing so many people, especially families trapped in flats or shared accommodation with no easy access to outside space made me reflect and evaluate how much I had taken this for granted. However, I was also conscious that I didn’t want to start gardening for gardening sake, in some misplaced ‘Good Life’ attempt to cultivate some pseudo sustainable lifestyle. 

I took a long hard look at the ragbag assortment of planters, plant pots and borders began to humanely put an end to the interlopers, better known as weeds, that had infiltrated every square inch of spare space. Soon, I knew exactly how Carter felt when he unearthed Tutankhamun, as my evacuation finally paid off revealing the shoots of long forgotten plants that I had once planted in my last doomed adventure into gardening.

New growth

The feeling that came over me after my work was done was in welcome contrast to the malaise that filled my body and ebbed and flowed, often in a matter of hours, leaving me in a state of flux not knowing whether I was happy, sad or in between. I had not thought that by immersing myself in gardening that it would have such an affect on my mood.  My two main passions- cooking and fitness had never come close to relieving my anxiety and stress in this way. Yet, although it was a full on day of hard work, my gardening efforts created a long lost sense of safety and I was able to channel my negativity through my toil with the result that I was able to see the pandemic in a new context. 

What gardening has taught me during these lockdowns is that it has a restorative effect on the trauma, stress and dissociation that manifests as powerlessness due to our perceived  lack of freedom. However, once we reconnect with nature its positivity fills the void that emerges from our anxieties about the pandemic and takes away any sense of isolation, disengagement and frustration that we feel. 

This is why projects such as Ross Road are vital, as shared community gardening and support has a massive beneficial effect in particular as a socio-economic bridging mechanism that can break down the inequalities around our access to green spaces, gardening and nature.