Hartley Magazine

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Sow with the flow

In an increasingly chaotic, frenetic world, we need to find a still centre – and for greenhouse gardeners, there’s one safe zone where we can be sure of feeling grounded.

It’s all a bit too much, isn’t it? Too volatile, too costly, too unpredictable, too unsettling, and without a doubt, at times, too downright nasty. Our world spins as it always does, but human civilisation, day to day life itself, often feels like it’s whirling out of control, becoming more wobbly, fake and uncertain with each passing day.

We need somewhere to escape to – if only for a short time – to shut out the deafening, incessant white noise around us. A place to draw breath, to slump – somewhere to hit the off switch on modern, brain-gnawing, overcomplicated, over-the-top ‘life’. A space that brings us not just escape, quietude, calm and comfort, but one that recharges us with hope, determination, even defiance. One that heals, while re-rooting us firmly in reality. We need to be soothed by and bathed in replenishing green noise.

Seeds are hope-givers extraordinaire.

Heading for the hills might work – if they’re not an hour’s drive away. ‘Green space’ might be in short supply, less than local, or absent altogether. So where can we find a sanity-preserving refuge just footsteps away?

How about your greenhouse?

In our greenhouses, we quietly call the shots, wind down, slow up, recharge. It’s our patch, come rain, shine, hail, sleet, snow, frost, tempest… we can elude them all, bar sub-zero temperatures (and there’s always the option of another warm layer). If we’re lucky enough to actually fit (and be able to sit) inside our greenhouse, this is our comfort zone, where we dream, sow, pot, plant, water, pick flowers and food, and harvest hope against a green, plant-powered backdrop of determination.

As a writer, there’s a special place you can get to when the words are flowing out of you, sometimes as a dribble (like now), sometimes like a noisy waterfall. In this ‘flow state’, other stuff peels away as focus and concentration take charge; you become immersed in the moment. I know another way to get to a similar, even more intense, freeing place, and so do you: by sowing seeds. To prune away worries and shed stress, we need to sow for the flow.

When seedlings come up, worries fade away.

Hope spills out of every seed packet we open. Seeds themselves are iconic hope-givers; they unfailingly teach us that beautiful things – flowers and food – can come from simple, humble beginnings. In a world of insidious fakery, we can rely on plants not to cheat on us; what we sow is what we get. The moment we take a single seed between our fingers, or trickle a pinch of them from our palms, and they hit damp compost, we begin a journey of nurture and care. This is when the flow starts, magic sparkles and anticipation grows.

That moment when the first seed leaves push through never fails to lift my spirits, no matter what else is swirling around me; a fizz of excitement flows through me. It’s a feeling as fresh now as it was when the first seeds I ever sowed came up (I’d be fibbing if I said I knew exactly when, and which seedlings they were, but it was definitely a clay pot…).

It never fails and it never will, no matter how wound up my day is. Obsessively checking to see if more seedlings are showing is all part of getting into the flow, as is frequently abandoning my keyboard for just another ‘quick check’…

I’m back!

Next comes the most absorbing, stilling essence of the flow: moving the seedlings on. Now I’m all gentle, delicate moves, carefully loosening junior roots, teasing them from the compost, softly gripping tiny, fledgling leaves, breath held, deep in concentration, as I settle them in. I’m in thrall to this step in my little plants’ journey; everything else can wait its turn, can tune out – even loud, attention-seeking hail somehow becomes muted.

Plants don’t cheat on us. We get what we sow.

Whether it’s just six pots, or six trays each comprising dozens of small cells, moving each seedling and gently bedding it in is my peak flow moment, where time seems to stop, and nothing else matters. I could happily be there for uncounted hours, lost in the cadence of green noise. I often am.

Words germinate in a similar way, not in trays or pots of compost, but on an often-too-bright computer screen. Their seeds are shed by my imagination, and get sown when I tilt into the flow of writing; I watch them come up, one by one, as a story takes shape, sending out its own roots, stems, leaves and buds until it eventually – hopefully – blooms on the page or screen. Like all seedlings, a few never make it (you don’t get to see the rogues I weed out with the delete key).

A cool, fine spray heralds the finale of the deep flow: watering my seedlings in. Watering is the final, settling act, the end of what is sometimes a whole afternoon of quiet, rapt focus. Modern living has all but stolen that from many of us, but it will never steal it from a gardener safe in their greenhouse sanctum: dreaming, resting, reviving, sowing hope, lost in the flow.

It might feel all too much sometimes – but spring’s up, and you know where to go.

Text and images © John Walker

Find John on X @earthFgardener