Holly Farrell’s beautiful Gardening for Mindfulness inspires and guides the reader with an invitation to explore a garden as part of stillness and mindfulness practice. Referring to the 1914 poem Adlestrop, the author reminds that so many of us are living a life like being on a train- but looking not out of the window at the beauty of nature all around us, but at our laptops. Again, a call to return to mindfulness.
“We are so busy planning for the future and dwelling on the past,” Farrell writes in her first chapter, “that we are forgetting to live in the present. Life is passing us by…”
“Mindfulness is the solution to this problem,” Farrell offers. “Through exercising the brain, we can teach ourselves to pay attention. It is not by chanting or meditation; it is not a religion, theory or belief; it is simply learning to focus, and such a beneficial practice is supported by many neuroscientists. Mindfulness is a simple concept and easy to learn…”
Sitting quietly in or taking a leisurely stroll through a garden is one of the most restorative things a person can do. The sights- verdure, colorful blooms, garden installations, glistening fountains, enchanting ponds, and the like- can soothe the mind through the eyes and the overall wonder of being in nature. Fully utilizing the five senses, and taking in the scents and sounds, too, can re-program our thinking at the moment, too, to the point at which we might forget the cares of the world and stay in that moment, becoming still to it. As Psalm 46 invites, “Be still and know…” and the concept of “mindfulness” teaches us, we might bring that practice of being still into a garden setting in order to fully potentiate that mindfulness.
Farrell further invites us to “turn off autopilot,” too.
“It may seem counter intuitive to take time out to contemplate life,” Farrell writes, “but if we do not we are more liable to waste it…Chopping logs with a blunt axe, and thinking there is no time to stop and sharpen it, is a slow and painful business… Adopting autopilot can help us get through the day, but we lose so many opportunities to enjoy life that way…”
Farrell’s work is one of visual wonder that is also wonderfully simple: five chapters, illustrated with gorgeous matte photographs, opening with a bird’s-eye view of purple crocus popping from the ground in quiet, yet attention-getting prominence.
The author then offers readers instructions as to how to make best use of the book. First a definition: What is Mindfulness? The author offers that this practice, or state of being, helps us “to study a flower in all its beauty.” Second, a “How-to”: Farrell shares that there are two ways to achieve mindfulness. One way is by sitting in silence and focusing on breath; the other is to “tether” one’s attention to a particular sense while performing a task.
Farrell then shares how Mindfulness and Gardening work so perfectly together, suggesting that these activities are not only highly compatible, but that the creation of a garden can be an exercise in mindfulness, in itself, that then creates opportunities for future mindfulness upon visiting that space created. We’re also invited to understand the merits of taking a mindful walk through that space or, as time permits, to stay there and become stilled, even practice meditation there.
Farrell helps with guidance in creating, sharing that a “mindful garden” has “design tricks and plants to enhance the possibilities for mindfulness. This considers, again, the way of the “study of a flower in all its beauty” aspect of gardening and the formation of a garden that provides for the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch, even taste. The author provides suggestions for various plants. Now, it would be easy to imagine choices for “sight” and “scent,” but what of “sound”? The author offers suggestions even here: tress, climbers, shrubs, perennials, grasses and bulbs, annuals and biennials, and even kitchen garden suggestions (peas and sweetcorn, by the way…). She also expertly offers a guide for creating gardens for wildlife, birds, butterflies, and bees, as well as instructions for incorporating water, devising mindful balcony and outdoor potted gardens, and also mindfully choosing indoor potted plants.
Then, we are invited to the practice of mindful gardening throughout the four seasons. We’re invited to SEE the seeds or plants going into the ground as we create the garden, to HEAR the gardening tools as they interact with the earth, to SMELL the earth, compost, leaves, and flowers, and to FEEL everything, from the spongy release of pressure during digging to the soft caress of leaves and plants across our skin. We’re welcomed to become attuned to the expansion of the senses even during seemingly mundane tasks such as mowing, watering, tilling, even weeding in summer and the necessary pruning in winter.
This thoughtfully-organized book also includes suggested projects for the novice gardener, as well a “shed reminder sheet” summarizing what’s in Farrell’s lovely book and, as she invites, is to be “stuck up somewhere you will see it before heading out into the garden…”.
Farrell’s admonitions are more-than perfect for what our world is experiencing right now: pandemic, fear, anxiety, doubt, due to everything seemingly upside-down. She helps us to focus on the resiliency of Nature.
“All too often,” Farrell writes, “it takes a near-miss accident, terminal diagnosis or other horrible life event to prompt us to realize that we want to live our lives differently… Some proponents of mindfulness suggest that as a race we are careering toward mental disaster. Whether or not you believe that to be true, there is no time like the present.”
Perhaps best of all, as Farrell writes in reference to the beginning of any mindfulness practice- or even the very attempt at same: “Do not think that you will start living once you get to the end of your to-do list; instead start incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine now and notice the difference it makes.”
Gardening for Mindfulness contains oodles of insights to satisfy any expert or novice gardener. The book is both prettily designed as well as sturdily made (saddle stitched and in a very handy trim size) so that it can be equally appreciated while on display or while carried into the garden for reference, splayed open, without losing its integrity. Farrell’s work- the proceeds of which go to charity- does not disappoint in any way, and the book is a wonderful gift to self or to others interested in gardening, plants, mindfulness, or simply any lovers of Beauty and Nature.
Text ©2020 Michele Caprario/Images used with permission of Octopus Publishing
Gardening for Mindfulness
By Holly Farrell
Royal Horticultural Society
RHS Enterprises Limited, Octopus Books
Beautiful Hard Cover Gift Book: $16.99
Includes a video taken from the Royal Horticultural Society, “How to Plant a Bulb Lasagne” with Arit Anderson.