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Tales from the Farm – Spud-We-Like

“TV’s favourite gardener”, Monty Don, inspires Jez Rose, a frustrated behaviourist and amateur gardener, to grow a new life, as detailed in Tales from the Farm. Monty Don’s book inspired Jez to buy a farm in the countryside, create his own garden and write about the joy, obsession and mud.

Lavender plants waiting patiently in the greenhouse before all 78 of them line the driveway.

Having already filled two of the raised vegetable beds with lush, organic compost and loamy soil from the garden, today I planted the very first vegetables in them.

I opted for King Edward potatoes, which I filled one of the beds with (one of the few vegetables that wasn’t organically sourced) and Longor shallots and organic garlic for the other bed. I would have taken a photograph but a soil-filled vegetable bed isn’t the most photogenic or interesting or things to look at. With handset, I perhaps should have taken some arty shots mid-plating but I was selfishly enjoying the moment and didn’t think of you, dear reader. Sorry. I’ll keep you posted on the progress and maybe ask Hugh if he wouldn’t mind sharing a recipe or two for my newly grown veg.

Then I got carried away because I did have work to do in my office but ended up turning the compost heap, disturbing a little mouse who was enjoying his dinner, in the process before potting up some herbs. In The Complete Gardener, Monty Don does caution at the addictiveness of gardening and how one loses all concept of time while having a good time. We’ve started the kitchen herb garden, some of which I’ve potted outside in a sheltered spot by the kitchen window where even parsley is thriving, despite the relative windy and cold conditions.

I like growing a wide variety of herbs, not necessarily because we use lots of them regularly but because they have many benefits: they not only look good but smell great to, which is why we’ve located the kitchen herb garden right by the back door: practical and fragrant! I tend to reserve larger its for herbs we use lots of, which is of course entirely personal preference. For us it’s parsley, coriander (which I could eat by the handful and in the summer regularly do), chives, basil and mint. I have a bit of an obsession with mint – we’ve got 13 different varieties but I don’t really know why; I’ve just collected them over the years. Adding mint leaves, a couple of basil leaves, some lemon and cucumber skin to water with ice cubes is as refreshing as it is moorish and creates an interesting talking point when used as the centre piece for a dinner party.

I did keep a young flat leaf parsley plant and a basil in the greenhouse until the weather is a little warmer but the rosemary, sage, chives, peppermint and thyme I brought out to brighten the kitchen herb garden, which until recently had very little herbs in it. I don’t think we could actually have called it a garden, let alone referenced herbs. I was absolutely in my element today, enjoying every soily, earthy, lush green moment.

What I’m about to say might sound a little ethereal but bear with me; I’ve not reached for the whale music and a kaftan, I’m just being honest. And I know it’s something you’d expect me to say, leading a research project into the impact of nature in the workplace and education but I feel such a deep sense of complete satisfaction when I’m in the garden, working with nature. The sense of serenity is almost overwhelming and troubles, concerns and any stresses just softly fade away. Perhaps my knowledge of previous research and our own studies with The Good Life Project into how nature positively impacts wellbeing and behaviour has created a confirmation bias. Maybe my own experience is almost like a placebo: I feel great because as a result of spending time with nature, I know that I should. Irrespective of why I feel so positive and a complete happiness, nothing can deny that feeling and the outcome for me, which is a constant smile on my face. I’ve also taken to singing and having lengthy conversations with my dogs while working in the greenhouse – but I think that’s just my age.

A selection of British and Italian herbs ready for potting

Kate Humble has said the same thing about her move to the city and back to the countryside; that there’s a certain magic about the countryside – an alluring quality, which is missing in the city. That’s not to say that city life is bad in any way and this isn’t just about lifestyles or personal preference but about the quantity and quality of contact with nature one is exposed to in the countryside. However, it’s as much about spending quality time with nature: either tending to a herb garden, or growing vegetables or flowers – or simply walking in it (the countryside, not the flowers). The more tactile you can make that experience, the greater the impact it has. I encourage all of those taking part in The Good Life Project research to not only water their table top herb gardens but to use them: pick the herbs and at the very least ruffle your hands through the leaves to release the natural oils and scent.

It’s a tactile, satisfying behaviour and helps to release those all-important positive neurochemicals, without having to relocate to the countryside.

Jez Rose is a behaviourist, broadcaster and Faculty Lead for The Good Life Project; a research project evidencing the impact of nature on health, behaviour and wellbeing in the workplace and in education. Broadcaster Kate Humble and the Soil Association are ambassadors for The Good Life Project. For free brain tricks and behaviour fixes, visit: www.thebehaviourexpert.com

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