I’m lucky to have a small garden where I live. For years I mainly filled it with easy to grow flowering things like daisies, geraniums and lavender - the sort of plants you can admire in someone else’s garden and then take a cutting and get them started in your own. As I got a bit more confident in my ability to keep things alive, I branched out into herbs I could use in cooking and a few of my favourite bulbs. Then I had the life-changing experience of seeing a “what food plants you can grow if you have one square metre of soil” display at a wonderful nursery. My goodness! Surely I could feed the entire neighbourhood with the five or six square metres of soil I had at my disposal! Almost instantly I adopted the challenge of aiming to eat something every day that I grew for myself.
Over time, my garden has evolved. I don’t find it easy to put in the effort required to maintain an amazing garden – even a small amazing garden needs constant care – but I do try to keep it going. These days there’s a compost bin and a worm farm. The bulbs and easy grow flowering things are still there. But now I have a couple of seed trays (think the free plastic things you can get from any nursery that used to hold several punnets of seedlings) and a constant supply of self-propagating edible plants - silver beet, spinach, rocket, kale and parsley are essentially impossible to kill!
I start most days with a short, dressing-gown clad walk into my little back courtyard to survey my “kingdom”. I often gather a handful of spinach leaves to go in my breakfast smoothie while I’m there. In summer time I might pull some ripe tomatoes from a vine or harvest a zucchini. Even now, with Melbourne having just finished the coldest Winter in decades, there are little pea plants heading bravely up the fence, my first ever crop of radishes pushing red noses through the soil, and hundreds of self-sown green leafy vegetables competing for sunlight. Who knew so much produce could thrive in so little space? When you live just a few kilometres from the centre of a huge city, there is something almost life-affirming about having real food growing in your own tiny garden. I highly recommend it!
What has all this got to do with living with MS? There are at least three aspects of gardening that I look on as part of my approach to living well with MS. Firstly, to me, growing things is simply part of living. I’ve noticed that many people with MS have found ways to keep growing things, despite whatever disability has also become part of their life. Every year when the winners of Go For Gold scholarships are announced, I smile to read about those who have been awarded funds for a raised garden bed they can manage while seated. That’s a dream I’ll fundraise to support! One of my Twitter friends recently wrote a blog on pursuing her gardening passion in spite of MS – including some great ideas on how those who live in apartments (or similar) can grow things indoors.
The second thing relates to my decision to grow as many edible plants as possible. I’ve written before that I try to maintain a healthy lifestyle and diet is part of that. What could be better for me than worm-tea fertilised produce from my own garden?
Finally, my garden plays a real role in fostering and strengthening the support network I have built up around me. The strawberries growing around the base of my mini nectarine tree were from a lady up the road who was separating out the strawberry runners in her own front garden as I walked past one day. The parsley and kale growing next door came from my seeds. My rosemary bush has sent cuttings to grow in half the gardens in the neighbourhood – and almost everything that flowers at my home came from a friend or neighbour when I admired the parent plant at their place. If you really want to meet others who love gardening, grow vegetables in your front garden and make a point of saying hello to those who walk past as you weed or water. Some of my nicest “neighbour conversations” have been sign-language facilitated lessons on how best to propagate next year’s crop from elderly Mediterranean folk who stopped to admire the squash growing along my fence! I have no doubt that a strong support network is beneficial to my mental health, and never more so than since I found out I have MS. Sharing produce and seeds and gardening tips is a wonderful way of strengthening those networks and building a community.
The Unaffected One