Country Gardener

Widely regarded as the authority on gardening in the south west

Gardening with mindlessness

Grenville Sheringham believes there are many garden tasks which lend themselves to a spot of daydreaming …

There seems to be a fashion these days for doing everything with mindfulness, gardening included.

This is a cause of some concern for me because I have always thought of my gardening as a mindless activity.

Let me explain what I mean.

In my younger days I worked in various large public and private gardens as part of a team, and a lot of the work was, frankly, boring.

This was mainly due to the fact that a task like tidying an overgrown border, that would perhaps take you a morning in your own garden, could take two or three of us a week.

I remember spending an entire winter raking up leaves in an arboretum, and most of a summer edging and hoeing beds and borders.

Now when we are young, time seems to pass much more slowly, and an eight hour day can sometimes feel like forever.

"...one of the pleasures of gardening - to be engaged in a satisfying activity while remaining free of the need to focus on the task in hand."

At first I would find myself clockwatching.

The incessant swish-swish of the long wooden lawn rake among the leaves, like waves lapping on the sea shore.  Or the clip-clip-clip of the edging shears pecking away at the grass edge.   

I found listening to these sounds and feeling the rhythm of the work was soothing and calming and totally absorbing.

And so over the years I have found that whenever I am engaged in a repetitive task, I unconsciously slip into that same mindless state.

Having done most gardening tasks so often now that I think I can consider myself a bit of an ‘expert’, it is very satisfying to almost feel the tool doing the job for you.

I am sure it is the same for any professional who regularly uses their tools efficiently and effectively, and takes pleasure in the results of their labour.  But nowadays a lot of gardening tasks we used to do by hand are done mechanically.

This has to be a blessing with jobs like hedge trimming or sawing large branches of course, but there can of course be no question of mindlessly hedge trimming or chainsawing, as I found out the hard way (luckily with no long term consequences)!

So to return to the question of mindfulness versus mindlessness.

My understanding is that if you wish to do a task mindfully, then you must give it your full attention and be aware of each movement, eliminating any passing thoughts while you focus on the task.

Like many people of my age I have done a bit of yoga and meditation in my time so yes, I get the idea, and I think it is great to just focus on breathing or whatever, but when it comes to gardening I must admit my thoughts are rambling all over the place from why chickens lay eggs and which came first to what’s for dinner tonight.

But that for me is one of the pleasures of gardening - to be engaged in a satisfying activity while remaining free of the need to focus on the task in hand.

Of course there are lots of gardening tasks that need full concentration - seed sowing, pruning, planting, to name but a few, but many gardening activities are repetitive and undemanding, so take the opportunity to relax and enjoy the fact that you are engaged in an activity that leaves space for daydreaming.

As one of the old gardeners I worked with years ago would say as we made our way out to work in the morning – mind in neutral, feet in first!

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