Gardeners’ thoughts

Monarch butterfly on Montanoa bipinnatifida.

I have often said that because I garden a lot, I have a lot of solitary thinking time. “What do you think about?” a fellow gardener asked us here this week. I hadn’t actually thought about that side of things.

We are told that gardening is soothing, good for the spirit and the soul, a welcome antidote to a world that has often felt as if it is spinning beyond our control in the past year. I have no doubt that being surrounded by plants and the cycle of the seasons, by birdsong and the beauty of endless small scenes whether it be a butterfly landing on a flower, the buzzing of bees, the unfurling of a flower bud or the discovery of a plant that I had forgotten about – all these are immediate delights in a chaotic world. Gardens anchor us to a small place in time and space.

But if you take the end product and the goals along the way out of the equation, what about all those hours spent alone in our own headspaces? Our panel of three (Mark, our gardening friend Susan and me) is hardly a conclusive study but we all came up with responses that were remarkably mundane. Mark said he largely focuses on the task at hand. He used to like listening to the radio but since Radio NZ has taken its programming off the local AM band, that is no longer an option. The FM band is too unstable when he is constantly moving. I notice Lloyd mostly listens to music. I used to do that when I was trying to block out the omnipresent noise of the petrochemical industry surrounding us back around 2011 to 2014 and listening to music certainly puts one into a very contained headspace without many external influences. But I prefer listening to the sounds of nature if I can.

My thoughts range far and wide with a constant inner monologue (and sometimes an audible monologue when I talk to myself) but I admit, it is not a particularly profound discussion with myself. At its best, I may come up with the words that had been eluding me in a piece of writing or some clarity of insight into something that had seemed murky and confused. At its worst, I replay grievances in my head – whoever said that gardening is ‘soothing’ and ‘healing’? But in the main, it can be a pretty mundane conversation with myself and I was somewhat surprised to find that, considering I spend large parts of my day in this solitary state. I think that is what Susan was angling at too, when she asked the question.

Magnolia Felix Jury

Of late, in fact since Wednesday December 9 to be precise, that inner monologue has been underpinned by constant low-grade anxiety nagging away at my inner peace. That was the day that our *friendly* petrochemical company, Todd Energy, unveiled its plans at a community meeting in Tikorangi to apply to extend the already large Mangahewa C gas well site from the existing eight wells to twenty wells, making it the largest site in the country, as far as I know. That site is close to us. It is literally on the farm across the road on our bottom boundary.

Oh look. Mangahewa C site on the farm across our bottom road
Previous drilling as seen from our garden

While some of the Todd Energy staff might be so naïve that they didn’t realise the devastating impact of that news on many local residents, at least some of them knew exactly what they were doing. “Let’s really give the Tikorangi residents a Christmas present this year. Ho ho ho! Hahahahaha!” my inner monologue has some unnamed Todd staff saying to themselves and even to each other.

Flaring, as seen from our place. Climate change, anyone? Pfft!

I spent a few weeks in the garden toying with the Todd Energy Twelve Days of Christmas but I couldn’t get the words to scan to my satisfaction.

“On the twelfth day Of Christmas Todd Energy gave to us

Twelve more gas wells

Eleven more frack jobs (more like eleventy hundred more frack jobs over the next decade) ….

Five Christmas hampers (utility ones from Pak’n’Save)….

And a drilling rig they call Big Ben.”

We fought hard for better process of the gas industry in our community over a number of years – all documented under the petrochem tab you can find at the top at this page. We failed on most fronts and that battle from 2011 to 2014 almost broke me. The activities of the petrochemical companies were devastating on a daily front – it was the main reason we closed the garden in 2013 – as well as  draining mentally and emotionally. When activity eased off with falling international prices and the general understanding of the impact of climate change grew, we were lulled into a false sense of relief, thinking that maybe we had seen off the worst of it. It seems not.

In my lowest moments, I imagine myself asking the young person who is the ‘Community Relations Manager’: “Do you have children? What are you going to tell them when they ask you what you did to try and counter the impacts of climate change? Are you going to be proud to say ‘Oh, I did spin and soft-soaped local residents for a fossil fuel company in the dying days of the fossil fuel industry’?”

So there we are. My inner monologue now is trying to focus on how to maintain some equanimity and peace in the face of the ravages of an unwelcome industry. I managed it in 2014 when I realised how close I was to breaking point. I can do it again. I hope. It may be time to get out the iPod and recharge it, to block out the world. Are those Bluetooth earpieces worth getting so I can dispense with the awkward cords? Do they fall out of ears readily in which case I am sure I will lose one in the garden?

What do you think about when gardening? Can you empty your mind sufficiently to turn it into a meditative exercise? Do you mentally plan great works of note? Or do most of us really just plan what we will eat, edit our mental ‘to-do list’, ponder what we have heard or seen and focus on the detail of what we are doing? All that time to think – I feel at least some of us must be mentally coming up with next great scientific theory or planning a work of literature. Or maybe not.


For the easier to read version of ‘It’s very personal’ – a piece I wrote for the 2017 Frack Off Exhibition, click here.

Our Labour government only stopped NEW permits for oil and gas offshore and in areas other than Taranaki. It is still allowed – encouraged, even, by some here.

All the optimistic talk of ‘clean hydrogen’ being pushed successfully by the fossil fuel industry is unproven technology predicated on the use of gas as a *transition* energy.

Gas is only *clean* (or clean-ish) if the emissions are measured only at the end-point user. There is nothing clean or sustainable about getting that gas out of the ground, keeping it flowing and getting it to the end-point user.

What makes the Mangahewa gas field economically viable is frequent and ongoing fracking (hydraulic fracturing). The ground beneath here has been fracked repeatedly since 2007.

23 thoughts on “Gardeners’ thoughts

  1. William

    I expect you to be constantly thinking about what to write about for your next blog post, and the one after that, and the one after that…ad infinitum.
    At least that would be what would constantly be occupying my thoughts if I were to have a blog.
    As I don’t have a blog, I think about life, the universe and everything in an endless loop. My wife doesn’t understand me.

  2. Paddy Tobin

    We had a bridge build beside us – ten years ago now. The construction lasted five years. Our little country road, thankfully, was not used for transport. Everything was brought in along the newly build road leading to the bridge. It was five years of constant worry and noise, of our water supply being regularly cut off – one one day, the pipe was cut five times! Those working on site, particularly the site foreman, a Spaniard, did everything possible to make life as good as possible for us. However, it was always a time of stress and we considered moving but didn’t find anywhere we thought would be nicer than where we were. Now, that the bridge is there, it is not too big a nuisance to us. It is not in our line of sight from all but one window, a spare bedroom, and the noise of traffic is not a big issue. We have come to live with it and I am even beginning to include it in photographs of the garden occasionally, something I avoided for years. Nonetheless, it is a blot on an otherwise rural setting and life would be better without it. I can understand your upset over developments near you; that wish that they would simply go away; leave us alone; stop their destruction; stop being so blindly greedy for profit at the expense of people and environment.

    What do I think about in the garden? There have been years when I have tried to think as little as possible while in the garden and I think it is that aspect of gardening, that getting away from it all, which is credited with being so helpful to those with mental health issues. Now, I’m a little surprised that I have gone so far as to say this for nothing vexes me as much as reading those who pontificate on the benefit of gardening for those with mental health issues. I genuinely believe that those who write in this style are most unlikely to have had any great experience of mental ill-health for those with such issues are least likely to speak out on the topic. I read such a blog recently which bore all the hallmarks of someone writing an essay for their online gardening course and thought long and hard and viciously and with the choicest of foul language and cursed that twit for his lack of any understanding of the topic while he so willingly dispensed his advice. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! That other person who is so often the centre of my thoughts is the self-appointed garden expert, the television guru expert – you know the kind! No, let’s stop there: I think that I am a very angry gardener at times, a mind full of angry thoughts directed at people I consider false etc etc.

    Then, at other times I am all pleasance and good humour!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Oh Paddy! There are times when I can work myself into righteous indignation when gardening. It is not always soothing, is it?

      At least your bridge, once constructed, is just there. Sitting on the landscape. With the petrochemical industry, it is ongoing. Every single day and often night (though they restrict the traffic at night). From memory, it took a thousand truckloads of road metal to build the base for the 12 well site further up the road. That is a thousand truck and trailers units going up the road and a thousand coming back down. And that is just the base and over a period of a couple of months. With the planned extensions to the site nearest us, every truck has to brake outside our place to make a hard left hand turn and then returning, they must brake at our corner to stop and then work their way through their gears to start again and to climb the small hill immediately beside us. It is unrelenting. We had hoped we were over the worst of it but it seems the worst has yet to come. Company profits above all else.

      1. Abbie Jury Post author

        In earlier days, when another company was doing a seismic survey here, there was a lot of sabotage done each night (not by me! I am too scared of consequences. But I had a pretty good idea who was doing it) – chopping the listening lines that were laid across roads and disabling the small explosive charges in all the holes across the district. It got to the point where the company employed night time security and we had the surreal experience of driving past lurking security men clad all in black, looking like a militia, if we went out at night. Because I was vocal in my opposition, the seismic company decided it was pay-back time and took to flying their helicopters at low altitude, immediately over the roof of our house and all day long, starting soon after 5am. It was like living through Apocalypse Now.

      2. Abbie Jury Post author

        Well, times have changed and I have learned a thing or two since then. These days I would be out there videoing it and sending it to Civil Aviation. Back then, it don’t even occur to us that flying low over our house with loads suspended below the helicopter was illegal!

  3. dinahmow

    Sometimes, clouds of thoughts, like butterflies, not settling long on one stem before flitting to another. And sometimes, deep philosophical perambulations that sometimes take me beyond the current task.

  4. Marion

    I was often angry in 2011 following the Christchurch earthquakes. Gardening was a way of regaining a feeling of agency and control in our lives. We couldn’t stop the ground shaking or government officials being absolute destructive bstards but we could clean up the liquefaction and the damaged concrete, redesign and rebuild raised beds and replant a productive garden. It definitely helped recovery. Just being among the trees and birds of the garden helped too.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I can understand. It is sometimes about being able to control one small space in our lives and the continued cycle of the seasons is deeply reassuring.

  5. Cath

    Hi Abbie, I find the AirPods work very well, and if one falls out the sound stops, so you would know and pick it up – sometimes the string on my hat knocks it out. I recommend the ones which are water resistant. You can choose to listen to the sounds of the birds behind what you are listening to or block out background noise. I listen to books mostly, podcasts and radio nz sometimes via phone or watch.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      That is helpful advice, thank you. I lack any young people around me to give me on the spot advice and sort out my tech issues. I recall a tweet I saw a few years ago which went along the lines of:”And lo, it was decreed that all young people should return home for Christmas for to solve their parents’ tech problems.” It struck a chord.

  6. Pat Webster

    Like Mark, I almost always focus on the task at hand, accompanied by whatever song is playing in my head on that particular day. So even though that focus may be mundane, I find that concentrating on the present and getting done what needs to be done is a great way of getting outside myself, my worries and preoccupations. So yes, soothing.

  7. Glenys

    Wednesday December 9. That was quite an eventful day in the USA as well. So, yes, I have been out in the garden trying hard to focus on the tasks at hand. I discovered the first tulips breaking ground, freesias and Dutch iris are already up. It’s time to prune the roses as there are warm temperatures forecast and spring is on its way. When my mental newsfeed intrudes, I think how idyllic it would be to live in New Zealand. Abbie, your post is a dose of reality. Is it possible there is no perfect place! Fossil fuels should be diminishing not growing. So sorry to hear that those old fossils are intruding on your tranquillity again. Courage.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Oh Glenys, I am always mindful of how tough life is at this stage for so many around the world. But you are right – we may be Covid-free, unencumbered by restrictions except at the border, in summer, with a very stable government but nowhere is perfect.

  8. Pingback: Meanwhile, in a New Zealand summer | Tikorangi The Jury Garden

  9. Tom

    It’s taken a while to learn, but gardening tends to neutralise my thoughts. At about the time my mind is ready to start the next political revolution I force myself outside to do some more of the jobs that never end. Usually there are the resident birds and animals to see to with watering or worm snacks, and of course the constant mental juggling of future plant positions and thinking about how best to schedule the “next part of the plan”, which has since left Plan B far far behind and is now somewhere nearer to Plan Q. The freekin climate here went from stable to swinging extremes about four years ago, as if someone had flipped a switch. I don’t listen to music while doing work anymore. For me, it means something is wrong – like I should be doing something else or be asleep. If I were living next to a petrochemical site I probably would, though.
    Gardening for mental health issues? No way I’d recommend it unless I could assure immediate and total success. The last four years of exhausting stressful gardening challenges have been the worst of my life. I started the garden six years ago because I was unhappy and recovering from mental issues. I could have just smoked a joint on day one and been immediately happy. Sure, gardening provides a format for a person to figure out ways to cope, but so does anything if you’re paying attention. If you already can’t cope, and don’t know how to find new ways to cope on your own, there’s no therapeutic value to deliberately increasing the inability to cope. People who think gardening is a safe, timid and serene silver bullet to all problems probably think those with depression can be cured by forcing them to run a marathon. How did I get onto this? Anyway, good luck with yours.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I am laughing, Tom. You are so right. I can rark myself up into righteous anger and resentment when gardening. Though I think, over time, it has taught me to take the long view on life and I have learned patience. I suspect that the much talked about therapeutic qualities of gardening may be for novices who will plant a Sweet 100 tomato and a punnet of mixed brassicas or lettuces, in a raised bed probably, and achieve a quick result. Or maybe some marigolds. I am not so sure that they are talking of major garden development.

      1. Pat Webster

        The exchange between you and Tom has me thinking again about the mental effects of gardening. My sister springs to mind. She is a serious gardener, now in her 80s, and she lives close to Washington D.C. Whenever political issues become hot (and when recently has that not been the case?), she heads outside, possibly to potter around in the garden or simply to be out of the house, breathing normally. So perhaps the therapeutic effects that people attribute to gardening come primarily from being outside.

      2. Abbie Jury Post author

        I shall have to think more on this – maybe it is being outside with some experience of nature? A walk along the beach may be just as therapeutic? This is probably more relevant to those who live in highly urbanised environments and in climates that keep people indoors for a large part of the year? I notice my Sydney daughter and partner often head out to walk in bushland away from the city. We are lucky here to have such a benign climate that even in the depths of winter, it is generally only days of heavy rain that force us indoors but that is not the experience of people in climates that are either fiercely hot in summer or bitterly cold and snowy in winter. Though I could not claim that outdoor lifestyle necessarily elevates us to a higher plane of inner serenity!

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