Graham Bell in his book, ‘The Permaculture Garden’ says: “Foolishly, we talk about ‘being outside’, as if the house were our ‘real’ place in the world, rather that the open air”. As Graham explains, it is only as a result of massive changes in agriculture, industry and technology in the last three or four hundred years that people became increasingly disconnected and had less interest in the world around us.
Nowadays that disconnect has increased to the point where we can leave our houses in the morning, drive to work, spend eight hours in a building, drive home and spend the rest of the night at home. If we have little or no interest in the natural world, we might spend our lives walking on concrete, rarely feeling the earth beneath our feet. Having a garden, no matter how small, may be the only opportunity for us to connect to, and feel part of the world around us. In a world where stress can have such a destructive impact on our lives, I cannot help but wonder to what extent this disconnection to the world around us contributes to the stress experienced by so many.
I know that I have always felt happiest and most relaxed outside. As a child, my parents took us out of the city whenever possible. Whenever we could, we headed for the hills or the coast to spend time ‘outside’. We loved it and still talk about those shared experiences at family gatherings. As an adult, I continued to find ways of being outside but I never actually thought much about the experience of being outside and the connection with nature. That changed when I read a book which pointed out that we humans have put ourselves outside of nature in the way we now live our lives; yet we are part of nature, we are not divorced from it.
Looking at our place in the natural world led me to think more about how I lived my life and how much it meant to me to be outside. I realised that I am happier being outside, in the natural world and that I wanted to be outside more. At the time of this realisation, I was living in a flat, with no garden. I did find lots of ways to be outside but it still did not feel that it was enough.
In the end I decided that I wanted to make a change to my life that would allow me to be where I wanted to be and a big part of that would have to involve having a garden. So for the past five months I have been moving around, volunteering on other people’s gardens in order to learn how to garden sustainably, and spending a large part of my working day outside.
I had a good life before making this decision. I had a lovely flat in a beautiful part of Scotland and was doing a job that I enjoyed. However, I feel like a different person now; lighter, with a greater sense of freedom. I am healthier because I am doing manual labour, in the fresh air and have a sense of achievement at the end of each day. In the past I struggled with the amount of rain that we have in Scotland and would look out on it from ‘inside’ with despair at times. Now I put on waterproof clothes and carry on working irrespective of how heavy it is. If it carries on too long, there have still been jobs to do in the green house but somehow it has not weighed me down as it did before.
I hope in time, once I have learned more and had time to look around and find the right place, to put down some roots. This will involve first and foremost finding the right piece of land to grow on. It will have to be big enough to provide a substantial yield to contribute significantly to my food and heating requirements. A house will be important, but only in that it will be a shelter, to provide other basic needs and will require to be an integral part of the garden. The bulk of my time will be spent in the garden.
So, all I need to do is make it happen. I am on my way with still a long way to go, but in the meantime, I am getting to be where it feels natural to be; outside.