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Let nature be your refuge

At a time when COVID-19 has forced us into self-imposed seclusion, gardening offers us a way to reconcile our dystopic relationship with nature while providing mental well being

Let nature be your refuge
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COVID-19 pandemic has engulfed the world. To contain the spread of COVID-19, a lockdown was imposed and that compelled us to retreat into our homes and forgo physical social contact. We are still not sure when we will be back to the 'old normal'.

During the lockdown, I was in great difficulty going out to operate the rural science centre established in my village (about 200 km from Kolkata) for the benefit of the students. In addition to this, activities related to the production of vermicompost, experimentation on organic farming, fish cultivation and manufacturing of handicraft utilising water hyacinth have been jeopardised.

In this piquant situation, I was practically demoralised and stressed in the initial phase of lockdown. Stress is a worldwide 21st-century problem that can cause physical problems such as higher blood pressure, muscle tension and digestive problems, while long-term stress can lead to serious health issues including depression and anxiety. I was also

suffering from digestive problems during this period. Keeping fit and healthy is important at any time, but during the coronavirus pandemic, it was critical. All of a sudden, one message of Confucius — "When it is obvious that goals can't be reached, don't adjust the goals, but adjust the action steps" — helped change my action plan.

In times like these, I realised the crucial bond between humans and the environment particularly the flora and fauna. Now the best action is to grow and nurture plants in my home. Having something to nurture brings a sense of unpressured purpose to our lives. Gardening may provide the health benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables, promote physical activity, and support emotional well-being (EWB), which can reinforce healthy behaviour.

Household gardens may be key to providing food security in urban areas and making cities more sustainable and livable. Though I maintain a roof garden but space and resources (like soil and water) available was not optimally utilised. During the complete lockdown, many garden centres and retailers were closed, but I utilised this time to prepare the garden. For this purpose, I began to collect kitchen waste, aquatic weeds (water hyacinth and pistia) from the ponds close to my house. Cow dung available was mixed with these for vermicomposting. Vermicomposting using earthworms is being done in my house at a small scale as a source of organic fertiliser for my roof garden. Within 30 days, about 75 sq ft of land and more than 100 pots were ready for sowing seeds and planting vegetables, fruits and flowers.

Different varieties of plants and flowers which are found in our local environment are grown in my garden. By spending time throughout the day connecting with nature, I could reduce stressful feelings and increase my wellness with sound sleep at night at the age of 65 years. Sowing seeds is really a relaxing activity for me as I think about the beautiful plants that would be growing for me very soon from tiny seeds. Spending active time gardening can also burn up to 1200 KJ which can encourage weight loss, improve fitness and overall health and wellbeing. Gardening actually gives us quite a diverse workout. From squatting to stretching, lifting pots, pushing wheelbarrows, digging and walking, our body is enjoying the benefits of movement.

Every morning, I wake up excited to observe minutely the buds and flowers of plants and the growth of vegetables for harvesting. I go to the roof and the adjacent land for watering the plants, removal of weeds, checking of pests and application of organic pesticides, loosening of soil as necessary, removal of infected plants, checking the moisture content of vermicomposting bags and collection of vermi-wash as much as possible and many other activities.

Gardening also gives great energy back to us in the form of chemical-free and nutritious foods. This will also reduce our ecological footprint and also help us save money. Of course, at this stage, I cannot depend fully on my house garden to fulfil the daily requirement of vegetables and fruits but it offers the hope of some fresh vegetables and the chance to improve and beautify the small pockets of greenery around us. In addition, many plants attract different insects for pollination. The water-stations built in this garden help the birds. Gardening has become a family hobby with everyone taking care of some plants. This has reduced our dependency on using a smartphone or watching the TV in order to spend time.

Moreover, in this way, we can monetise the waste generated in the house, particularly the biodegradable kind as this waste produces valuable compost that is an important requirement for building any type of garden. Also, we can upgrade waste-management skills and stop throwing away wet waste which ends up in an overflowing landfill and comes back to us in ugly ways. Hence, we can establish the cyclical process of resource-to-resource and learn that nothing in nature goes to waste.

In view of the above, it can be mentioned that gardening might be a big part of improving the quality-of-life, particularly in cities. Ever since the industrial revolution, the boundaries of human establishments have been expanding continuously. They keep penetrating deeper into several ecosystems which were initially inhabited by different plant and animal species. Gardens provide a place for experiencing nature and maintain varieties of plants, insects and birds.

Gardening is a practical, cost-effective and sustainable solution for multiple issues that we are facing. A pandemic like COVID-19 can help us realise the vital components of human life and work for a more sustainable future. Looking at nature and appreciating its beauty reminds us of the wonderful things that we have around us. Another way of connecting with nature is 'being' in nature and not 'doing'. We all become good at 'well-doing' but not so good at 'well-being'.

The writer is a former Senior Scientist, Central Pollution Control Board. Views expressed are personal

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