10 ways to help you connect with nature
1. Get physical
Don’t be shy about touching your plants: give a furry leaf a good feel; run your fingertips along a knobbly bit of bark; shake a tree (‘s hand) by one of its nice leafy branches. Even scientists do this sort of thing when they are pretending to be important… ‘measure tree circumference at chest height’… of course we all know they are up to.
2. Get physics-al
Nature isn’t just about furry feathery leafy creatures and plants, it is about other amazing things like rainbows, transformations and stars. Sunlight, water, air and the magic that comes with their interactions are all there if you stop to notice.
Try this: next time the sun is out and there’s some dew on your grass, go for a wonder around the garden. If you stop for a bit there’ll be a beautiful colourful light shining from each raindrop, some red, some blue, some green… Who needs fairy lights, this is the real deal. If you get really close like in this picture, you could get your world turned upside down – literally.
3. Wonderful windows
Some of us poor humans (myself included) spend a lot of time locked up behind glass. Be grateful! Windows are fantastic places to connect with nature, they also have the added bonus that they act like hides, you can get a bird to come right up to a window with a bit of patience and perseverance. And plants, well, they stay where you put them, so put some by your window!
Put a bird feeder near a window (making sure that the birds can see a stalking cat before it can get too close). Put it where you sit most, by the kitchen window, the desk, or bedroom window in summer, so that on lazy Sunday mornings you can start your day watching and wonder how they can be so beautiful.
Or this: Cars also make great hides. If you are a bit early, don’t reach for the phone, take a minute to stop and really look at things when you are out and about. If you are lucky enough to have a bit of nature where you normally park, pause for a minute before you start up, or when you get back and notice the silence when the engine stops.
4. Get a cat bell
Or don’t have cats! I love cats and they are a wonderful way to connect with nature in themselves but you don’t really want your nature connection to be a series of dead birds and rodents under your bare feet in the morning. A bell attached to the collar helps, ideally get one while your cat is a kitten, so it becomes the norm, rather than a hideous form of noise torture. Also you can give your feathery friends the advantage by placing their food and water with a good radius of visibility around it so the birds have the advantage i.e. no bushes nearby for the furry friends to hide in.
5. Do some gardening
This is a wonderful thing for connection. However, it’s hard to get into the flow when you don’t know what to do, or where to start. Most problems are not caused by you being ‘useless at gardening’ but by lack of confidence and experience. Once you stop worrying about ‘the right and wrong’ way to do it, it becomes easier. Perhaps with vegetables the rules are more important, since we are aiming for high production, but with ornamentals, it all relies on what it ends up looking like, and that is personal. It is surprisingly hard to ‘kill everything’ in your garden. Have a go at cutting back things so they look better, make a cut, step back look, make another cut. Pretty much the worst that can happen is that it doesn’t flower this year because you cut off the flower buds which were forming (the wrong time of year to prune that plant). But c’est la vie and you’ll learn something, the plant might even flower better the following year! Is that radical? Ideally do some gardening with a more experienced friend…..
All in all you learn stuff about life from gardening:
A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust. Gertrude Jekyll
Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace. May Sarton
The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul. Alfred Austin.
6. Love your lack of knowledge
It is nice to be able to say to your friends: “oh yes, that’s Lesser Spotted Poodle-Finch” or point knowingly to a poor unsuspecting plant and declare: “that is a Cyloramotsica mosticaposer of the Cultivar ‘Sticky Mud’” but don’t worry if you don’t have a clue. People like me who are horribly
exposed to plant name calling are trying to forget it all and go back to the pure connection we had when we were children. Of course we need to know names, I am being extreme, but we can save that for practical purposes. For the business of pure connection, just noticing it and really seeing what’s in front of you – that is where it’s at: the iridescent feathers, the beady little eye looking back at you….
You might not like to hear this you stick-in-the muds (you know who you are), but a label, a name, and all its associated past blerbings written or said about it, puts up a barrier between us and nature, between us and direct experience.
It is a very proper and right to see things with beginner’s eyes, so don’t let anyone belittle your lack of knowledge.
7. Hang out with people who appreciate nature
Frolicking through the fields bare legged with one of my more beautiful and lovely friends, I thought I heard her exclaim: “Ohh! You make me feel so alive!”
A surge of pride and excitement went through me until I realised she was actually saying “Ohh! THEY make me feel so alive”. She is one of the few people I know who is actually thrilled by a nettle sting as she feels its a direct connection with nature! Although slightly disappointed, I was interested in her reaction.
When you see things through the eyes of others, a wider world opens. And the wider world of a nature lover isn’t going to be like listening to the News at Ten, it is going to be LOVELY (even if it’s to open your eyes to something you have always given a wide berth).
Nettles are fierce and troublesome blighters, but they deserve respect for hundreds of reasons. I have a plan to write more about nettles later…
Compost…. Don’t get me started! I will try to be brief. There is a process we are quite familiar with in our lives: the process of living things being born/hatching/germinating and then growing, (often) reproducing, going past their best, dying, rotting, then kind of disappearing…. If you witness this, then you are engaged with the process of life.
If you make your own compost from the kitchen and /or the garden you will witness the next bit in the adventure: Yucky, rotten going a bit smelly – put it in the compost heap outside then forget about it – months later you are having a poke about – sometimes the heap is warm, it’s certainly not dead – lift a bit up, red worms, beetles, creepy crawlies…. Some of the things you chucked in might have started sprouting. I remember on one of my more exuberant mornings when first experiencing this beauty, I exclaimed to the birds who were eyeing me for worms “look folks, we’ve got an incubation chamber here!”
A couple more months down the line this stuff transformed into the crumbliest flakiest chocolate…..COMPOST. Spread it on you veg garden and way hey! – the process becomes a cycle, the cycle of life. I know nothing better than a compost heap for bringing you in touch with that.
9. Cut a flower
Bring a freshly cut flower indoors to a vase or glass somewhere you can see it close up. On your desk or bedside is a great place, or on your bathroom shelf or coffee table.
A truly fresh cut flower (not one that’s been in a cold room for a few weeks, then another week at the petrol station), is a thing of true beauty. Seeing it close up brings you a microcosm of the sheer gorgeousness of life. Flowers are designed to attract, that is their job and they are very good at it – I suppose they should be since they’ve had 125 million years to work on themselves!
The colours and form strike you first, maybe the scent too, but the secret flowery vibes that radiate positivity are there for you to simply give attention to. And perhaps the flower also loves to be gazed at by you…
And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. Khalil Gibran
…and yes, as if we needed proof, there is scientific evidence that verifies the positive effect the presence of flowers has on a person’s mood, productivity, stress levels and may I add – general personal lovliness.
If you pick wild flowers you are considered bad, in fact it is illegal, so you are considered a criminal. This is to protect nature of course, so we nature lovers dutifully abide by the law, mostly. And if you should catch someone picking your hard earned flowers from the border, this can be worthy of a sharp stone fired by a catapult.
On the other hand, cutting flowers, darling, is entirely different. We don’t use our grubby fingers but a special tool which elevates the whole process to something very civilised and proper. In short, it’s farming rather that foraging, but surely the daintiest of all farming practices.
These charming bunches pictured here are grown by my rather dear and very dainty friend Ben of Higgledy Garden who has become a bit of an authority on the subject. Check out his website if you fancy growing some flowers from seed, or if you just fancy a good read. Ben manages to make growing flowers funny as well as beautiful – quite a talent!
Alternatively (to a cutting patch), we may simply buy our flowers or sacrifice a few blooms from the garden or roadside (i didn’t say roadside, bad! naughty!). And those of you who could never buy themselves a bunch of flowers – I challenge you to do it and see.
Sacrifice is an interesting word for bringing flowers inside. You pick them in their heyday, just when all the conditions are right for them, you know they will be gorgeous for only a fleeting time. If you allow yourself, you may find your bottom lip trembling a little as you see your flower wilt and die, but the plant doesn’t die without its
flower, and the flower, with all those millions of years becoming so gorgeous, is evolved to be picked.
I ceremoniously chuck my flowers in the compost when they loose their vibey presence. And you really can do this ceremony quite genuinely – if you see the dark side of the life cycle as all fine and dandy, then the toss on the heap of death/life isn’t something to be sad about. These light lessons nature shows us prepares us for the more difficult things we encounter in our lives. All you need to do is notice.
10. Grow something from Seed….. and perhaps eat it too
How better a way to connect with nature than to watch something grow from a mere speck into a fully fledged plant? Perhaps an even better way is to grow a vegetable, swallow it down and have it nourish you from inside too.
Where did all those leaves come from? The seed was so small – magiced out of thin air? More or less, yes (bit of air and water and sun, ABRACADABRA!). And if you start explaining it all with science, then it gets even better….there are these crazy little spirals inside the speck (DNA), so small you can’t see them, but they are there, and they contain The Code, the code for what makes them turn into what they are… keep explaining…
…You don’t need magic beans, surely!
It’s Equinox time as I write, a great time for sowing seeds. Put one one your windowsill and watch it sprout, runner beans are fun, since you can watch them run for the door and out into the garden. I just sowed some of Ben Higgledy’s seeds he kindly sent me then got all Pagan and had a big bonfire to celebrate the beginning of spring.
And here is a great time lapse film of a sunflower from seed to flower. Time is a relative concept, a little speeding up and we see something we relate to much more. When I played the time lapse to my 7 year old daughter, she exclaimed with amazement, “It’s alive!”
WILDLIFE GARDENING IN MY BUSINESS
I never push wildlife gardens on my clients, because simply investing in your garden is a positive move in itself. But wildlife is my true love so I will definitely encourage and actively support any interest you have.
My job is to allow for unseen access and hiding places in the design (with your permission). Also to choose plants that are known to be good for wildlife, nettles not required I assure you!
You can do your part by simply being a little lazy. Most gardeners start out being very tidy, as they are in the house, this has its pleasure, but it is often when a gardener has been too busy elsewhere that new joys arrive – in the shape of goldfinches on a frosty January morning feeding on those flower heads (now tasty seeds) you never got round to cutting back.
Of course you must brush the leaves off your nice new paving but leave them in between your plants where they will do their work in the ecosystem of your garden.
If you must use chemicals, as I sometimes do, use them with stealth, in the right place at the right time.
Yes this picture is a creature you can see in your own garden around Cambridge! Not a humming bird, but a hummingbird hawk moth. I’ve seen it on my honeysuckle, and here it is sucking nectar with its long tongue from some buddleia.