The seed of my naturalistic interests was planted while living in New York of all places. The realities of living there were harsh. The city pushes you so far out of your comfort zone that you have no choice but to seek comfort and quiet if you want to keep sane. I found myself craving green. I had to see it once a day or I felt I might drown in concrete or be swallowed by a skyscraper. I ended up moving into an apartment one and half blocks from Central Park. It was the northern end where everyone got raped but I didn’t care. It was green. That park became the grounding force of my entire time in the New York. My most vivid memories of living there are in that amazing park. I could do an entire blog just on that park but I won’t bore you with that (now).
My need for green has not disappeared since I left New York. The parks in London are amazing but they never felt mine. Too crowded and too immaculate. The English don’t really mess around when it comes to gardening. The perfection of it all is somewhat intimidating. Then we found our house. I was ecstatic. It is forty miles north of London and has a big garden (yard) full of not so perfect green things and it backs up to farmers fields. Right now the fields are brilliant yellow from the rape seed the farmer is growing this year. It’s quite a sight. The best views are from the annex room above the garage. My “room of one’s own”, where I write, nap, read, do yoga (I’ve started again) and drink tea. My husband, the English one, is the gardener. He makes sure everything looks pretty and he grows our vegetables. This time of year we never have to buy vegetables from the shop. My favorite this season is the Red Russian Kale. As much as I love growing our own food, I have to admit, my favorite type of food is the kind someone else prepares for me. I’m always intensely grateful, even if it doesn’t taste great.
My husband has often encouraged me to get involved with the garden and I do but it’s obvious my heart isn’t really in. This might seem strange coming from someone who professes to love nature so much but my interest in the garden, up until recently anyway, did not go far beyond sitting in it with a glass of wine.
Just when I was about to force myself to knuckle down and get more involved, I was given a gift. A book that seems to be shaping a new chapter of my life: James Wong ‘Grow Your Own Drugs’. It’s not what you think but the title is quite catchy. All of a sudden the garden opened up to me in a whole new way. All of these plants have uses! Some ease heartburn, some are antiseptic, some moisturize and some sooth. The list goes on and on and on. This appeals to my hypochondriac nature and also my intense distrust at cosmetic companies. Over the years I’ve become more and more resentful of expensive products. Why is it so pricey? The answer: no reason. They are taking the piss because they can. How’s that for hippy? A few of the things I’ve made so far have included, an amazing hand oil, green tea mouthwash, ear drops with mullein, a body lotion for eczema made with viola flowers (the colour was amazing) , nettle hair rinse, a eucalyptus vapor rub and an oatmeal lotion. And I’m only just getting started. I have made a list of things for my husband to grow and most of them are doing really well. As a result, I’m more involved with the vegetables because I’m starting to see it as all the same thing. A fact that I’m sure pleases my husband but he dare not say anything in case he jinxes it.
My new hobby makes me think back to my youth, growing up in Atlanta, Ga. There was an area close to downtown called Little Five Points. Many of you know it well. It’s undergone some commercialization and other changes since I was a young club-goer but the history remains. It was hippy central and a perfect spot for those with similar herbalist interests. There are some big differences though. Among them being, I do not, nor will I ever, have dread locks, on purpose anyway. I will always shave my legs and armpits and I do not consider patchouli oil to be a good perfume choice.
I wonder if my new hobby might feel a bit fringe if I still lived in the states or if I would have ever stumbled upon it in the first place. I see things are changing but America has some catching up with Europe as far as the environment is concerned. Normal life in the UK made it almost inevitable I would cotton on to something like this. Everyday life in the UK is greener. Everyone recycles, many people compost there waste, and our neighbors keep chickens. There is a huge movement of people growing their own vegetables. If people don’t have room in their own gardens there are community allotments of which there are now waiting lists to get into. We trade off our extra plants and excess crops with friends. It’s all very hippy dippy commune sort of stuff. But I love it. It creates community. And there isn’t one bell bottom in sight.