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Solteriology: In the Name of the Sun, the Earth, and the Water, I Bless thee with Clarity of Mind

It disappoints me as always to go to some of these volunteer-run garden community projects and seeing its leaders without any horticultural qualifications. It begs the question how some of these projects become fantastically diverse fruit and flower havens. Relying on contributions and a lot of hard graft the mentality teeters between lots of initial energy in the beginning and dwindling enthusiasm towards the end. For 2 years running now, my grafted fruit trees were just neglected; dried up or bounded in weed despite the promise of sharing the spoils. It happened at Evelyn Community Gardens in Deptford and was repeated at Grow Mayow in Sydenham.. What made it worse is that I had previously donated 10 fruit trees from my own stock at a considerably reduced price through the One Tree scheme and discovered that none of them had been put in, save the first one which a fox apparently dug up. Strange? The pile of parched twigs in the corner may explain this. Likewise at Evelyn the 8 fruit trees we planted on the Pepys Estate has been slowly reduced to chew sticks and football posts. I think 3 remain. These were expensive trees we bought from Deacons nursery. The lack of appreciation by the residents who live opposite them is mirrored by the bureaucratic fudging that stifles more than encourages volunteers to self-organise: an essential permaculture principle. The exception has been Oasis Nature Garden in Stockwell funded years in advance with workers who are well supported and organised. Even they refused my trees because they knew their limitations: another good permaculture principle. Meanwhile, as I check over another project at the top of Devonshire Road in Forest Hill I see again that unmistakable sign of diversity and vigour.

Can I put a finger on why some projects work better than others? For instance, is it to do with the ethnic background of the areasí residents? Is it more to do with the nature of the volunteers themselves, their charisma? Is it to do with potential and creativity? Of course, these are factors but I think, retrospectively, that what makes a successful project is parent-child participation. They need to keep coming back because for them it is a celebration of nature. I donít think it is about trying to teach them new tricks, but socially they must feel like a club, that they belong. With the exception of maybe Evelyn Community garden, and I stand to be contested here, the rest develop social protocol whether by design (Oasis) or accident (Grow Mayow due to its unique position near the entrance of the park where there is now a cafeteria). A trip to 121 Peckham Park Road shows much the same formula. The church run entertainment functions alongside service with many outreach groups utilizing its computer facilities, herb garden and social welfare programs.

Itís Christmas again and I prepare for a return trip to Spain to check over my volunteer project there. A nice alternative wouldnít you say to the wet money-quenching weather of Britain? Itís quite hard being a gardener here, but I would never let the business go because what keeps me going are my gardens. I own them in a strange way because I can see myself growing through them. Even in December I am still eating apples out of them. I sit down with my retired Polish doctor and have a chinwag whilst I drink tea to my heartís content and learn something about the war. Not least do I get fed especially by my Turkish clients who occasionally allow me to sample their oil. The son of the Indians opposite chats with me about Football as I try to convey to him my understanding of the meaning of spiritual patronage. Their West Indian neighbours leaves me to get on with it whilst the Iraqis on the other side engage me in deep discussion about the continuous bombing of Iraq between the two gulf wars. We mention the role of the press and how news is filtered to suit government objectives. The couple opposite with their new babe learning about growing again but have no time for the garden. Meanwhile I keep one eye on the 85+-year old Austrian, slowly getting shorter, who lives in a massive house all by herself. Next door an ex-athlete lives in a palace as his financial business blossoms like a repeating rose. The other gardener who takes away my rubbish happily puffs away on his joints and probably earns much more than me. Even the unemployed who sign on get more than me: thatís a fact. But with diversity comes vigour, knowledge, and life. Solteriology. It is the sun that brings the colour out of persons, the soil that provides a good footing, and the rain that washes their feet of all its hidden sins. Thatís what the Chinese say donít they? That the feet are the waste pit of the human body including unwanted thoughts. No wonder we wear shoes.

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