The glorious thing about Brighton is its contrasts. Most of it is seaside urban with pebble beaches, vastly complicated parking for the avalanche of cars and buses that roar through every day, and miles of concrete spotted about with the occasional municipal flower.
But if you take a brisk half hour walk up some steep hills you find yourself smack dab in the beautiful Sussex countryside, all rolling hills, horses, cows, sheep and magnificent sea views.
For an urban avant gardener it can be a happy culture shock.
Let's rewind for some much-needed background.I started this journey into semi self-sufficiency back in February, partly as an exercise in supplementing our low wage household with fresh vegetables and herbs and partly as a way to de-stress and overcome a year of setbacks and anti-depressants.
Along the way I joined Grow Your Neighbour's Own, a scheme set up by Brighton Transition Town to connect would-be gardeners with no space with garden-owners with no desire or ability to garden. The number of would-be gardeners outweighing the number of garden-owners, I was paired with a community project called The Green Centre, who have a good size plot of land crying out for volunteers.
Mel Rees runs The Green Centre as a not for profit education centre available to the local community of Whitehawk and surrounding areas to supply information, classes and workshops on all aspects of green living, from recycling through sustainability and on to growing your own food in whatever space you have.
This is where I come in.
In addition to my balcony, where I'm now growing:
- salad leaves
- spinach beet
I also now have 143 square feet of vegetable plot where I'll be growing:
- runner beans
- butternut squash
- puy lentils
It's a wee bit mind-blowing and terribly exciting all at the same time. Along the way I'll be helping other urbanites do interesting things with oil cans and plastic buckets and tea kettles: showing people that growing your own produce really is as simple as seeds, soil, sun and heaps of passion.
I simply don't get stressed anymore. I go sit out on the balcony or by the side of Dave (named after my late Uncle who was, as we Brits like to say "a proper salt of the earth kind of bloke") and the tension just disappears. I'm also slowing down my lifestyle. Credit crunch or not, I'm just not that interested in rushing around, buying and selling, wheeling and dealing. I make things out of other things, trade and barter, or just simply wait.
Even the digging over of Dave has been an exercise in slowing down. For starters, digging is one of the hardest things I've ever done: after the first day I couldn't walk properly and I've now identified some muscles I didn't even know I had. Initially I went at it like a bull at a gate, setting myself "targets" and "deadlines". But that was my old life: this new life is about doing what you can and letting things unfold of their own accord. And, more importantly, being happy about that way of doing things.
All the plants that will go up to Dave in the next few weeks have been happily germinating away in my flat and getting used to the idea that they're going to live outside soon.
I'm getting used to the idea that I live outside a lot more these days: and that's the best part of all.