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Spade Leaning and It's Role Today 

Have you noticed how some people seem to happily potter for hours in their garden oblivious of the cares of the world, or others who can unwind the minute they are outside, smelling the roses, pulling up a weed, snipping here and there. Maybe they love digging up the spuds and picking the home-grown peas, or just stepping out and breathing in the natural air and energy of the plants around them.

It seems to me that a lot of people head out into the garden as a tonic and respite from the hustle and bustle of hectic city life. So what is it about gardening or just being in the garden that has such a calming influence?

Well, for those whose idea of a tonic is one with a gin in it and whose respite from stress involves a brick wall and lots of head butting, then here is an alternative view according to the "Gardener's Philosophy".

We'll take it as given that gardening as an activity is generally good for fitness and health - lots of fresh air and some physical activity, so it's already in the category of "good for well-being". However, it may just seem like a lot more work to you - digging, pulling up weeds, mowing lawns, watering, planting, feeding - oh my, I'm getting tired just thinking about it now!

But, "Gardeners" know how to work smart and they have a different "Way".

Sure, you can do it the hard way and work, work, work until it is picture perfect, spotless, not a leaf out of place and you are too worn out to enjoy it's beauty. Or, you can observe, watch nature, go with the flow of the natural order and let nature do a lot of the hard work for you. And this is the major difference between the approach of the "gardener" and the "Gardener".

One views the garden as an extension of the household and as something that has to be cleaned, manicured and tidied regularly (ie just more chores). The other believes in the "Garden" as an entity, a community, a creation to be enjoyed, visited, played with, nurtured. Some may describe it as a canvas on which they leave their own creative marks, but it is never static, it is always changing, shaping and reforming from one moment to the next.

The "gardener" generally has a picture of exactly how their garden should be and tries to freeze it into their perfect moment. This ultimately involves a lot of effort on their part because what they are trying to do is stop time and halt the natural living flow.

The "Gardener" on the other hand recognises that they are dealing with a living, breathing creation that they can participate in, modify, shift, explore, harvest. They generally get more out of the garden than the energy they expend in it. They are happy to moderate, shift and flow with the creation. They are god in their own universe in that they can choose and select, nurture or cull, encourage, train or deter.

That is why "spade leaning" is an important activity of the "Gardening" devotee. How can you know what is best for your own little plot of creation if you ignore it's community and just start reshaping it without any idea of what you are working with or what will be accepted? If you stop and observe for a while, think about what you are trying to achieve and let it mull while leaning on that handy device "the spade", you will see more, learn more, understand more and find your "Way" with much less effort.

On a practical level, you've probably read of some of the obvious labour/resource saving ways of gardening such as mulching to keep weeds down and reduce watering, but every garden is different and what works in one situation isn't always right for another. So time spent looking at your own little plot, seeing what nature does without any interference will pay off later when you are not trying to fix the problem you caused, while fixing a different problem, as a result of changing things before knowing what you know now!

(Responsibility also comes with being god - such as fixing up the mess you made is one of them! )

And, even if there is nothing for it but to do some digging (sometimes it just can't be avoided), then don't just approach it as a big chore that has to be done, head down and dig, dig, dig! Pace yourself (it will hurt less later) and every now and then perform a bit more "spade leaning". Not only will it benefit your back, but it will give you an opportunity to admire just how much you have dug - but, never, ever look back at what is left to do! It will also allow you time for more observing in case you are visited by more inspiration and a better idea than digging and it will keep the birds away because they will probably think you are a scarecrow.

There is always more than one way to approach life. There's an easy way, a hard way and many variations in between.

If you think that perfection can only come as a result of hard work, or if you think that you are being lazy if it is too easy, or that it can't be real if it doesn't hurt, or that life is meant to be stressful - you really, really, really, need to do some "spade leaning"!

(J Hargreaves - 26th February 2003)

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