This week’s guest blog is written by Gary Waterall, who is a Volunteer at Midlothian Community Hospital Gardens
One evening eighteen years ago, I was at home previewing an animal behaviour video, in preparation for a lecture to my animal care students at College the next day. I clearly remember that at one point, the video showed two sows walking together down a ramp – and that they both suddenly stopped moving and stared ahead into the holding pen of a slaughter house. As a vet student, I had worked on farms with appalling standards of animal welfare and I had seen the violent deaths of many animals in slaughterhouses; yet I had never made a firm connection between animal distress and my eating meat – until seeing the sows in that video. I decided never to eat meat again.
I’ve been in love with gardening ever since sowing my first packet of seeds (on my allotted and jealously guarded square of soil) in my early childhood – from which, as I remember, just one straggly cornflower plant managed to produce a sickly-looking pale blue flower. In later years, I came to realise that I’m actually passionate about plants; shrubs, evergreens, climbers, perennials, container plants and house plants.
I genuinely care for their welfare; watching them grow, propagating them, pruning them and arranging them. I now worry, though, about keeping plants alone in containers; as there is so much evidence that plants benefit from being able to connect with each other underground.
I’m sure that people in a hundred years’ time will consider us barbaric for keeping rabbits alone in hutches and fish alone in bowls – I wonder whether they will find it hard to believe that we kept plants alone in containers.
So my diet is (loosely) macrobiotic-based, with lots of whole grains, fruit, vegetables and pulses.
I’m very aware that a varied diet is good for the gut microbiome – and that a healthy gut may improve our overall body health in many ways. I especially enjoy a mixed salad each day with a variety of foods, such as spinach, tomatoes, olives, onions, raisins, nuts and seeds; presented in a variety of ways, like fresh, pickled, brined and dried. I’ve never been over-worried about things being totally ‘natural’, though; I buy my spinach in a plastic bag (washed and ready to eat) and I generally take vegetables for the likes of curries and soups out of the freezer. I do enjoy the process of buying fresh vegetables in the supermarket and preparing them at home, but I don’t usually make the time for it.
I started volunteering at Cyrenians Midlothian Community Hospital Garden earlier this year: looking forward to making connections with different people; supporting others and feeling supported – and gardening in the way that is so familiar to me. On the first day, though, I learned how to plant cabbage seeds – and I have since learned how to tie up tomatoes, plant out lettuce, harvest beans, marrows and chard, prune grapes, thin apples and feed blackcurrants.
For many years, I have been a keen gardener; yet I had never made a firm connection between growing and harvesting fruit and vegetables and my eating a plant-based diet – until I started writing this blog. The Community Garden will mean even more to me now.
We’re really looking forward to welcoming everybody to our wonderful Open Day, from 2pm to 4pm on Saturday 18 August, so they can see around our beautiful garden for themselves. There’ll be plants, garden produce and cakes for sale, plus hot drinks, children’s activities and live music!
Gary Waterall, 2 August 2018