From Tower Block to Four Acres: Spring 2014

Originally published in UK Handmade magazine Spring 2014 issue.

Every time I see the tiny heart-shaped leaves of seedlings pushing their way out of the soil to say “Hai”, I smile. Spring is the busiest time of year for a market gardener. It’s also an exciting one. After a long winter of planning for the coming year, the wheel turns, the seasons change and nature gives you another go around.

All pricked out and ready to grow! How I love their tiny little heart-shaped seed leaves. Love, love, love.

We are constantly learning in our daily lives, our work and our creative practices. And as we learn, we adapt. The very nature of a designer is to take what is existing and then tweak it, reimagine it, put a new twist on it, an individual identifying mark that only you, as the creator with your unique experiences, can do. It’s this reimagining that innovates our practices and makes our work individual.

But sometimes we can feel stuck. How can we innovate in a world where so much has been accomplished? The world is already so full of amorphous “stuff”, and in the handmade scene it often feels that everything has already been done to death.

In Zen Buddhism there is a concept I love called “beginner’s mind”. The idea is that for a beginner there are many possibilities, but for an expert there are only a few. You can apply this idea whether you have a lot of experience in something or none at all.

For example, if you’re feeling tired and jaded with what you’re doing pretend that you’re coming to it for the first time. Recall the enthusiasm you had at the start, remember what you did when you didn’t know the “rules”. Give yourself the room to play and experiment.

Finding alternative uses for my sewing and quilting rulers while planting up.

Sometimes you’re literally a beginner. As adults we find it hard to be beginners as we’re so used to being competent in our lives and work. But use this beginners mind to its best advantage – dive in and smile at your blank canvas. You don’t know the rules so follow your instincts. If you like, find out how something is done and do it that way first but then think “What if…?”

I took over the running of the market garden with very little experience in gardening and none at all at a commercial level. This could seem daunting but I’ve found that by viewing life as a series of experiments and asking “what if…?” rather than feeling like I have to plan everything to the nth degree allows me more freedom in my life.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t plan – I *love* a good plan! This spring I’m armed with a crop plan that I made in January, vegetable beds that I mulched over winter ready for the spring crops and my list of “lessons learnt” from last season. But I also know I need to be flexible, to allow for change and not to get too hung up if things don’t go quite as I’d thought.

Baby leaf salad leaves.

Nature is, of course, the greatest of innovators. Pave over the soil and she’ll still find a way to push up some grass and a few dandelions or send up a tree root to buckle up the concrete pavement. It may take her hundreds of years but suddenly she’ll be like “Ta-daaa!” and you’ll see a beautiful flower growing out of a crack in the concrete.

That juxtaposition of nature and urban might be just what you need to see to spark off the creative process that allows you to design your latest project, write that story, paint that picture.

Embrace the hope that spring brings. Say “Hai!” back to the emergent seedlings.

Oh hai smiley faced yellow zucchini seedling!

Lisa Margreet | designer | writer | teacher | farmer | image