We are of the opinion that you can learn just about everything you need to know about life from time spent gardening. Among those of us that proudly call ourselves gardeners, whether amateur or expert, there are different ways to go about it all. This is just as pertinent to, more specifically, the vegetable garden. Some of us prefer them wild, lush and spontaneous, some prefer to stay inside the lines, with something more clipped and cropped. Some of us like a bit of both. But the lessons are the same. Here are eight that we have gleened so far…
Our garden at Royal Chundu belongs not to one person, but to the lodge as a whole. As a community rather than a private endeavour, there are different laws. The law of sharing, for instance, but also trust. Trust in our head gardener, Obvious, in his abilities and dedication; trust in our chefs who make use of the garden’s produce – trust that they will only take as much as they need, trust that they know which plants are ready to harvest and which ones need more time; and trust in the simple but significant things, for instance, that visitors will close the gate behind them, when entering or leaving, so to keep our labour of love safe from the vervet monkeys and other wild animals.
2. Sometimes, you may fail
And that’s alright, even though the sight of your prized spinach taken hostage by bugs or broccoli gone to seed, can crush even the hardest of hearts. Humility is the best path. In the words of Alfred Austin, “There is no gardening without humility. Nature is constantly sending even its oldest scholars to the bottom of the class for some egregious blunder.”
3. Growth takes time and planning
Gardening is the perfect lesson in delayed gratification. It takes time. That’s the beauty of it – being able to watch things grow, to watch nature in progress. While we’re always excited to see what will come of it all, we try to practice patience and the same reverence that we have while watching our children (or kittens and puppies) grow – watching for each and every change. Because growth takes time, you have to think ahead. Consider the Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
4. The art of creation over consumption
Being far from any big supermarkets or even small local stores at Royal Chundu, we rely largely on the earth and the people around us. We use produce sourced from our environment – local fishermen sell us fresh fish from the river – as much as produce created by our vegetable garden and that of our neighbouring villages. This act of creation is manifold – it involves the creation of food, life, jobs and a greater sense of community between us all.
5. How to pay attention
To bring to life each new vegetable and herb, you have to hand over your full attention to its needs. It’s our opinion that multi-tasking is not always a blessing – it makes us miss out on so much. Gardening consumes our attention and lets us catch all the nuances of the process before they escape our senses.
6. Success = dreams + dedication + hard work
Procrastination has many benefits. But if we want our rows of brightly coloured heirloom aubergines, tomatoes and carrots to flourish and to feed our guests and greater Royal Chundu family, we have to work at the garden daily, diligently. Obvious, our head gardener, has a seemingly natural aptitude for the task, perhaps because of the amount of time he has dedicated to it over the years and because he works incredibly hard, with the help of our team. Some days, new fences need to be erected, other days only a light watering is needed, but the work is constant.
7. An understanding and love of nature
Working with the earth first-hand teaches us about the planet as well as our relationship to it. By watching life grow from something as tiny as a single seed, witnessing the circle of life in motion and being able to play a hand in that circle, we learn not only the basics, like a plant’s needs and wants, but also about our interconnectedness with it all.
Along with understanding comes appreciation. You cannot spend so much personal time and energy immersed in soil and not see how perfect it all is, not be amazed at how everything manages to have a place and a purpose, and not be stunned by the beauty of the astounding variation of plant life – never mind the blossoms that arrive when the plants come into flower.
8. Doing good
There is something so altruistic about the act of growing a community vegetable garden – about the concept of spending time and energy, instead of money, to better the world. As the American novelist, farmer and environmental activist, Wendell Berry, said, “Odd as I am sure it will appear to some, I can think of no better form of personal involvement in the cure of the environment than that of gardening. A person who is growing a garden, if he is growing it organically, is improving a piece of the world. He is producing something to eat, which makes him somewhat independent of the grocery business, but he is also enlarging, for himself, the meaning of food and the pleasure of eating.”