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mental health Nature Psychology

Seeds of Hope

By Carmen Sheridan

I, like many others, began planting seeds at the start of lockdown. Very fortunately, just a week before, I had been given a small bed on the community allotment I attend. I began by sowing beetroot seeds straight into the bed. Following the rules on the packet scrupulously, the inner narrative was strong and incessant: “you’re doing it wrong”; “they’ll never grow”; “the spacing isn’t right”. I was careful with my seeds, a pack of one hundred; I only sowed about 15. My mind so convinced they would go wrong, I didn’t want to waste them.

I knew that gardening was supposed to be a calming and grounding activity, but here on the allotment my worries and insecurities were transposed onto the plot, taking root and hold. They felt so loud. I was worried about getting it exactly right. All the many things that could go wrong I ran through as though they had already happened: the soil is too dry, too wet, the birds will eat them – that’s if the mice don’t get to them first, etc. I built an elaborate cage to keep out these unwanted guests. 

And still, I left the allotment that day not with a sense of satisfaction, but with a heavy sense of dread. Planting seeds is an act of hope, many gardeners say, but I felt none of that. Any seeds planted at my hands would surely die, I strongly believed. I returned to the allotment every couple of days to water the seeds. On one of these days I was so surprised to see the early signs of seed leaves. So tiny, but I felt a glimmer of this elusive hope. Soon, these were larger and leafier, the vibrant pink stems hinting at the promise of beetroot beneath.

I reflected on this, the belief that felt so real and true, that these seeds would not grow for me. If I dug down (wahey… gardening pun! Let’s see how many I can slip in) I got to the root of this. It was the core belief that I wasn’t “good enough” – good enough for these seeds, for the allotment, for gardening. Much like the pervasive bind-weed that we have at the allotment, this is a thought that crops up through much of my life. It shows up in relationships, at work, when I’m starting new things and, perhaps most painfully, when I’m doing things I love. It’s been with me for as long as I can remember – a thought with roots so deep and far-reaching, with vines that strangle the delicate flowers of hope – holding me back, feeling inescapable.

Here at the allotment, there was space to hear these thoughts. Away from the noise, chatter and distractions of modern life, they were loud and hard to ignore. As the beetroot leaves grew, the strength of the “not good enough gardener” belief diminished. I planted more seeds, lovingly tending to each of them. I repeated the mantra about seeds and hope in my mind. As I looked after and nurtured them, I reminded myself to share a bit of this kindness with myself. The critical, self-sabotaging thoughts still come back, the choking anxiety that I’m doing it wrong or will fuck it up in some way; but now, mostly, I’m able to see them for what they are – just thoughts.

A few weeks ago I pulled up the beetroot, rubbing off the dirt to reveal the deep purple globes. My heart filled with gratitude, for the earth, for the seeds, for the soil – and for the learning gardening can offer us. 

At the allotment, I can learn that making mistakes isn’t the end of the world, that it’s all part of the process of growing. Gardening can be a safe space for listening to these critical thoughts and core beliefs, and digging through them slowly – and with kindness.

Carmen on her allotment.

Carmen captures beautiful photographs @_carmengardens, where she shares her horticultural insights and reflections on nature/wellbeing.

She is currently studying for her RHS Level 2 and lives in Brighton.