Gardening is good for you. Whether inside or out, spring, summer, autumn or winter, it is not difficult to see why. Being in contact with earth, plants, air and water feeds the soul, tones muscles, lifts spirits and aligns us acutely with the cycles of nature. As research about biophilia, horticultural therapy, woodland bathing and related topics mounts, I wanted to share a few thoughts about the importance of gardening in the city.
Some of my earliest memories are of gardens – growing lupins and marrows, following snail families, the smell of radishes, cut grass and just pulled potatoes, cress heads, apples, maggots and bee stings, blackberries, sweet blackberries, weeding, muddy nails, stone scratched skin, daisies and rose petal perfume. I think that I have been a gardener since birth. And I think that you have too.
People speak about gardeners having green fingers (or thumbs), about knowing what to do with plants, about experience, having a feel for it and so on. Experience amongst gardeners is most certainly wide ranging but I am sure that we all have green spirit within us and that spending time in nature helps it to grow. I love to see that spirit grow within those around me. It can manifest as a quiet self confidence, improved physical coordination, lightness of touch, imagination, appreciation of others, interest in life, a desire to learn more and a need to be to nature – often. When green spirit reaches the level needed, I see people literally blossom. It radiates from them, they appear bigger, bolder and more connected to nature. It then touches those around them and invariably causing the creation of more beautiful green places and a deeper respect for nature. Green spirit is a wonderful thing!
Due to my somewhat selfish desire to fill the world with green spirit, I began a project in 2012 called River of Herbs. The aim was to help more people, plants and wildlife to flourish in the city. Over the years, I have run free courses for individuals, schools and groups, in the name of the project and I have trained and built up experience in Horticultural therapy. The aspect of the project which I have loved most is the herbal orchards of Park Frankendael. I adopted them from the city council in 2014; four fertile patches of land, occasionally mowed, care homes for old fruit trees, shady retreat for dog owners. They are behind the grand old Huize Frankendael. Beneath the trees were about 20 sorts of wild plants, some edible, some not, all ‘weeds’. The aim was to create a garden base for River of Herbs, to teach people about wild herbs – how to grow them and use them. From the start the orchards have been blessed by incredible volunteers. Some come and go. Some come, connect and stay for a long time.
All of the volunteers amaze me. We have welcomed research students, chefs, job seekers, couch surfers, retired people, dog owners, cat lovers, busy people, tourists, translators, writers, teachers, herb people, psychic people, IT people, number people, tired-out people, life/law/loved – struggling people, new people, local people, energetic people, artists, actors, jewelers, designers, whirlwind people, tranquil people, mature people, young people… so many people have volunteered and made their mark on the orchards. Together, we have laid paths, grown herbs and good friendships.
Lots more edible and medicinal herbs have been added to the orchard ‘borders’. Saffron, Sweet cicely, Japanese wineberry, Valerian, Motherwort and Sweet violets are probably my favourites. We have planted cherry trees, made Elder cuttings, nurtured seedlings and re-homed poisonous plants. We have built benches, a willow hut, a barefoot path, stung our arms and legs on nettles more times than I like to remember and drunk a lot of herb tea. We have worked together in the green, we have made a community garden and green spirit radiates from each of the volunteers. And how many of these volunteers arrived calling themselves a gardener? None. Well actually one, a wonderful chap who helped us to lay woodchip paths in 2014. But that’s not many is it?
The measure of a good gardener is not how well they clean their tools, how long their runner beans grow or how weed-free their flower borders are. To me, the measure of a good gardener is how far green spirit radiates from their being and strives to improve the world.
River of Herbs orchards are open to the public 24/7 all year round.
We generally meet there every Wednesday morning, 10.30 – 12.00 unless the weather is stormy.
Address – Behind Huize Frankendael (Middenweg 72, 1098 BS Amsterdam).
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com