My garden is bursting with life.  The broad beans that I planted in the autumn now tower over the newly emerged cilantro leaf, their fragrant black and white flowers a magnet for bees.  This week I will pinch out their growing tips before the blackfly find them and steam them for dinner, a fleeting  annual treat that marks the seasons as surely as Christmas turkey and Easter chocolate.

In every corner there are flowers, from the brash gold of dandelions and Welsh poppies that seed in wild abandon, to the delicate blush of quince flowers and modest green clusters of redcurrant and gooseberry blossoms.  Sitting on the patio with a mug of coffee, I watch the stamens of rosemary flowers as they bend to caress the backs of the visiting bumble bees. The world seems to be trying to compensate for the fears and restrictions of Lockdown with an early offering of beauty and a promise of bounty to come.  

The solace that I find in my garden is not simply a response to its beauty. It is also a living demonstration of my own resilience, both in the past and in the challenging days to come. During the last few years of family upheavals and personal illness it often received less attention than I would have liked, but I weathered the storm and so did my garden. Despite my neglect, the work of past years continued to bear fruit, literally, in the form of apples, soft fruit and perennial salads.  I learned to slow down and appreciate my weeds; I saw the balance of nature shift as predators moved in to feast on the excess of pests left by this tired gardener. Despite my weakness I continued to do what little I could for my garden and in return it sustained me, emotionally and physically.  

Now I am stronger, if not fully recovered, but the challenges of coronavirus at times threaten to overwhelm that new-found strength.  I worry about my family. I try to limit my exposure to the horror stories in the media as my mind is drawn back to the deeply traumatic experiences of my nursing days.  I wish I didn’t have an imagination as I think of my former colleagues now and, while I know I am neither fit nor qualified to return, the guilt on a Thursday evening as I clap them is gut-wrenching.  There is guilt too that I am secure in this haven where I can lose my fears in the mindfulness of caring for my garden or walking to the nearby bluebell wood.  

Rumbling on behind all of these present concerns is the worry about our longer-term food security.  My work as a volunteer coordinator often focused on the emotional and community-building benefits of gardening, but we also worked with food banks and hostels, people living in food swamps and food deserts, for whom the skills we shared offered a real practical life-line.  Now, overnight, the fragility of our supermarket-dominated food chain, with its anchor in distant Spanish market gardens, has been laid bare, leading to an explosion of interest in food growing, cooking and preserving. The irony of this sudden mass revelation, coming at the end of March as the final week of funding for my old volunteer project came into view, was acute. Our army of food growing mentors, funded by a seriously under-resourced county Public Health department, were stood down just as the world began to realise the importance of their skills and knowledge.

Against this background of uncertainty, my garden reassures me with the knowledge that my family can stay healthy and resilient, supplementing our stocks of flour and rice, beans, pulses and nuts, with the freshest possible green salads and herbs.  My children are beginning to grasp the value of Mum’s hobbies now and are more interested in learning basic food skills too.  Over the coming months, we will continue to ferment our excess of cabbage from the weekly veg box into sauerkraut, tol freeze and bottle our soft fruit and tomatoes, to dry our herbs and seeds, storing them away against the unknown days of winter ahead.  

The resilience that my garden offers goes a step further beyond the emotional and physical, supporting my quest for a sense of purpose and direction.  It offers me a laboratory and the materials I need to fulfil a lifelong thirst for knowledge.  I come from a family of engineers who need to know how things work, to take them back to their bare essentials and rebuild them.  For my father and brother this need expressed itself in mechanical and structural fascinations.  For me, the need is to see the raw ingredients emerge from the earth and to understand how a seed can become a loaf of bread, a croissant, a jar of pasta sauce. Running alongside this curiosity is an equally deep need to share what I learn with others, particularly those for whom knowledge and skill can be transformative and not simply an entertaining hobby.  I hope that I am achieving this in my writing for this website.

Now the threat of coronavirus is offering challenges and opportunities to explore that pathway further.  In the first week of lockdown, a conversation with friends around the absence of yeast in the shops led to the experiment of an online sourdough class.  A rash offer required the rapid acquisition of IT skills, managing a Zoom call and making short films.  Having navigated this new territory in fairly safe waters (and set up a personal YouTube channel to share films too big to email) I can now push myself a little further and see how I can share my wonderful garden and all the joy and comfort it brings me through this new medium.  As they say, watch this space!  

Has Lockdown  prompted you to learn any new skills that make you feel a little more emotionally or physically secure? What new things could you try?  YouTube is a wonderful resource for finding out how to do things that you have never needed to do before.