By Shane Pinnegar

Our latest harvest of freshly grown leaves

When the sky fell in on us all a year ago, in March (well – it FEELS like a year), I had grand hopes not only that our society would see some lasting, positive change, but also that I would finally have oodles of free time and manage to finish my novel which sits awaiting a final draft, complete my next one, pen blog posts and short stories and newsletters and opinion pieces and music and movie reviews and even tackle a couple of non-fiction books I have had on my wish list for a long time.

As idyllic a dream as this was, I have to admit that I must have been wearing rose coloured glasses.

Most people are clamouring to return their lives to EXACTLY the way it was, having learnt exactly nothing from all this. We’ve adapted so quickly to the crisis, and our ways of life changed for good as well as bad, but nope, most people seem to want to throw the baby out with the bathwater and reboot back to where they were in February, sadly.

As much as I can see improvements in the way I do things, I must regrettably admit that I did not capitalise on the time I had. I moved a lot of big projects forward… just a little. There was no closure or completion, there was no leap forwards in my works in progress. I do not have a completed manuscript to send to printers, nor launch dates to announce.

I don’t want to make excuses, but I think the heightened sense of anxiety stifled my creativity, in all honesty. I found myself procrastinating a lot more, reading the news a LOT more, agonising over the lives lost, the appalling leadership shown, the ignorance of many. I tried to debate the issues to start with, but quickly realised that was a fool’s errand. The nature of a pandemic is such that if the restrictions work, we have nothing tangible to show for it, so the conspiracy theorists allege that it was a fiction all along. I am sad for this world. That sadness doesn’t help creativity either, just sayin’.

Plus there is always, ALWAYS the elephant in the room. My lost daughter. Not knowing how she was coping, being unable to help her emotionally through this, not even knowing if she was frightened or anxious or (gawd forbid) brainwashed into thinking it was a 5G Bill ‘Wuhan’ Gates conspiracy… it has weighed heavy on me. Another creativity killer.

A friend mentioned a couple of weeks ago that she thought everyone at her work would look back with a tinge of regret at how they handled this crisis. That everyone has let the anxiety get to them, let tensions get out of hand, let themselves get into a stoush that could have been avoidable.

I’ve certainly seen both sides of that. I had days – weeks, even – where it was easier to have a drink at lunchtime almost every day than it was to exercise. I’ve dropped friends off social media due to their ranting and (what I consider) obnoxious proselytising. I started being as positive as I could, trying to spread a bit of joy in the hope it would mitigate against my anxiety and the anxiety of others, but it all-too-quickly felt like I was trying to hold a stop sign up to a tsunami of obnoxious stupid, so I took several steps back.

It all sounds incredibly negative, doesn’t it? “And anyway,” the voices in my head tell me you are probably asking, “what’s all this got to do with the title of this here article?”

Well it’s not all negative. I’ve been productive in bursts. I sorted out a lot of issues at home, for example. Consolidated and planned out several new projects. Written a little here and there about this and that. I published several short stories for the first time ever, right here on my website. I got my business bookkeeping up to date, filed a bunch of stuff.

And I planted a garden.

Technically, I planted four gardens.

Firstly, I bought some hanging pots and planted a few herbs. Being a chef, it’s great to have fresh herbs on hand for when inspiration hits – and with a bunch of herbs $3 or $4 at the shops, this has even saved us money! I’m pretty proud that for the first time ever I have successfully grown coriander – and we LOVE coriander. There’s also been loads of sage, thyme, chives, parsley, marjoram, basil, purple basil and more recently, tarragon and dill for miles.

Herb garden 16 June, 2020

Then I converted a dirt patch next to the back patio into a garden and planted a bunch of seedlings. Cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, mini cauliflower, several varieties of chillies. And leaves – so many leaves! Cos lettuce, buttercrunch lettuce, roquette, kale, red chard and a mixed bag of Asian greens. We are struggling to eat them all, such is their bounty.

Side back garden 1, 16 June 2020
Side back garden 2, 16 June 2020
Side back garden 3, 16 June 2020

Then Lady Boomboom bought a couple of sunflowers and I needed to find room for them. Well, there’s a strip of dry dirt down the side of the car parking spot, so I mixed in some cow poop, mushroom compost and soil improver and viola. Sunflowers, cherry tomato, more herbs (lemon thyme, oregano, more basil), radish, golden beetroot, golden chard, globe artichoke, spring onions, dynamite garlic (!!), leeks, bok choi, Japanese red spinach are all established and coming along sensationally.

Front garden day one – 24 April, 2020

I even had a ramekin of chilli seeds which I’d been drying out for… wow… a couple of years I think! I soaked them all in water overnight then scattered them around this new garden patch and now, a month or so later, little clumps of them (some were still attached to the stalk) are starting to sprout. I’m supremely excited about having a myriad of chillli plants grown from seed!

Old chilli seeds ready for planting, 24 April, 2020
Front garden, 16 June, 2020
Front garden, 16 June, 2020 – look closely and you can see the little clumps of chilli seedlings just coming through

And finally, I prepared another section on some dead clay-like soil by the side of the house. The area wasn’t used for anything, it was baked solid from the sun, so I dug it over with the aforementioned additions, and have more basil and coriander, tomatoes, red onions, lambs leaf lettuce, more roquette.

Front side garden, 16 June, 2020

If nothing else, coronavirus got me digging in the garden, getting my hands dirty, and several friends have shared articles with me explaining how gardening is very good for anxiety and depression. Microbes in the dirt, apparently. I’ll go with that – seems legit. I’m certainly extremely proud of my garden(s) and the produce we’re enjoying already, and looking forward to harvesting more in time.

As for lasting change, I’m exploring ways of selling my writing so that I can continue semi-isolated at home, writing and tending to my garden. I just have to stop procrastinating and be a bit more productive with the work!

I’ll tell you what, though… it really does feel good getting out there and digging away in the garden, enjoying the fresh air and the winter sunshine, hearing the dogs play happily in the yard. Give it a try – it really is extraordinarily rewarding.

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