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Getting your hands dirty

Les Delices.

Les Delices.

The final words of hope in Voltaire's most famous short story, Candide - about an innocent optimist who travels the world only to be left crushed and disillusioned by its' cruelty are "we must cultivate our garden".

Millions of pages have been written about the philosophical and symbolic meaning behind this sentence but it's also fair to say Voltaire meant the sentiment to stand on its own.

A passionate and dedicated gardener, Voltaire was one of the greatest minds and most prolific writers to have ever lived. It is not hyperbole when historian Will Durant states: "Italy had a Renaissance, and Germany had a Reformation, but France had Voltaire."

He was a man who was world famous for most of his life, as well as extremely wealthy, so Voltaire tasted most of the vices and diversions this sort of renown and means can provide.

However, as Voltaire reached his dotage, writes Durant, "he bought an old estate called Les Delices, settled down to cultivate his garden and regain his health; and when his life seemed to be ebbing away into senility, entered upon the period of his noblest and greatest work".

When a visitor to Les Delices praised Voltaire's garden, he is supposed to have replied: ''Yes, I have planted 4000 trees," which strikes me as a pretty enthusiastic recommendation for tilling the soil.

The love of gardening and its effect on our well-being is a common thread in history and certainly gets a plug in the Bible in Genesis: "God Almighty first planted a garden", and from the likes of the brilliant Francis Bacon, who declared horticulture "the purest of human pleasures ... the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man".

I include these dudes' thoughts because they were no idiots, but also men of the world who tasted politics and power and - in the case of Voltaire - pretty much every other sensuality you care to name. Yet they returned time and again to the "patient bounty of the soil".

Hundreds of years before they belted out the Bible, another big brain well-acquainted with indulgence, Epicurus, "bought a fair garden, which he tilled himself. There it was he set up his school, and there he lived a gentle and agreeable life with his disciples, whom he taught as he walked and worked".

To the committed gardener, these sentiments would simply confirm what they've always intuitively known, but it's interesting to note modern science has now backed up all those grinning, dirty, root-pullers who can potter away for hours in the soil.

About a decade ago, a doctor named Mary O'Brien stumbled onto the benefits of Mycobacterium vaccae, a bacterium in soil, which "has since been found to trigger the release of serotonin, which in turn improves mood and possibly even brain function".

According to research presented at the American Society for Microbiology in 2010, simply breathing the bacteria while gardening or walking outdoors, may increase learning behaviour and decrease anxiety.

Pair this with the fact some of our greatest thinkers have been fervent gardeners, and did their greatest work while gardening, and it makes a compelling case for getting your hands dirty this weekend.

You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.

Please don't take it personally if I do not reply to your email as they come in thick and fast depending on the topic. Please know, I appreciate you taking the time to write and comment and would offer mummy hugs to all.

61 comments

  • Best piece of graffiti I've ever read, on the back of a pub toilet door.

    "To do is to be" -Descartes
    "To be is to do" -Voltaire
    "Do be do be do' -Frank Sinatra

    Commenter
    K
    Location
    Perth
    Date and time
    August 16, 2013, 6:30PM
    • Well, I think all of Sam's poblems would be solved if he could find a 22 year old to have sex with.

      Oh, right, sorry, wrong blog entry.

      But we also need to learn to leave it alone.

      Every square inch of the planet has been "cultivatated", dug up, felled, and polluted, at a terrible cost to bio diversity.

      Back in Voltaires day, they didn't know industrialisation would wipe out every habitat and wilderness on Earth, if he'd known, he would have said:

      "for F*^$ sake, leave it alone".

      Commenter
      sarajane
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      August 17, 2013, 7:32AM
    • Scooby scooby do

      Commenter
      Sccoby Doo
      Date and time
      August 17, 2013, 7:37AM
    • Right on, sarajane. The same thoughts went through my mind. The happy medium, which many gardeners find is to plant for the food and habitat that you and the local wildlife need.

      Commenter
      Endemic gardener
      Date and time
      August 17, 2013, 8:51AM
    • hey, yeah, maybe all Sam needed to do was stop talking about sex. Genius.

      But no, no, gardening is good. Here's your gardening plan:

      Go outside, and rip out everything that isn't established. Anything that has lived there for ten or more years without watering or help, leave it there. Then go to your local nursery, and ask them for shrubs and trees native to where you live, take them home and plant them, and just mulch the rest.

      Done.

      Ok, I'll bite because you're obviously pushing some other barrow, which are always fun to sit in while some idiot exerts themselves. Take a look at this blog's index page, all the different topics, the thousands of words written, yet only one post is about sex. However, because you are no doubt nursing some kind of throbbing neurosis about your age, attractiveness and, for all I know, your smelly feet and the birth mark on your neck that looks like a Jesus fish, you pick a single sentence from a recent post and misrepresent, anonymously, all that work done by a person you've never met. Having to, albeit briefly, read the comments of people like you is the only thing I dislike about my job. - Sam  

      Commenter
      sarajane
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      August 17, 2013, 9:21AM
    • @sarahjane WTF That's a pretty negative spin on gardening. I removed about 1000 agapanthus and have planted indigenous plants instead. I have vegetable plots and fruit trees which reduce our carbon footprint. We have gum trees with nesting boxes installed, and yes, lots of beautiful roses which do not receive a single drop of insecticide, only poo from our chooks. All created through my own toil. I have a post grad degree and used to live in the city, which I miss until I put my gumboots on and remind myself that this is what life is really about!

      Commenter
      madgardener
      Date and time
      August 17, 2013, 10:09AM
    • @sarajane, have you done any gardening?

      Commenter
      PerthCat
      Date and time
      August 17, 2013, 3:54PM
    • Fascists come in many forms and blogs give them a hopefully "healthy" outlet so they don't impose their obsessive ideas in the real world. Really, though, spare me the rantings of fundamentalist greenies or fundamentalist anything! The downside of blogs is that it gives a voice to a lot of head cases who would previously have written letters to the Editor in purple ink and on both sides of the paper with possibly some graphics. Anyway, back on topic, I love a good garden and live in the best of all possible worlds.

      Commenter
      GizGirl
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      August 17, 2013, 10:33PM
    • Good gracious sarajane you are coming across as being a very angry person. It is not very nice to judge someone on the people they are attracted to or how they choose to live their lives as long as they aren't hurting anyone without their consent.
      May I recommend tending to your own garden and clearing out whatever psychological weeds that seem to be taking over? You may feel all the better for it.
      This here blog is one way of doing that and the approach you are taking is by being mean and not very nice.

      Commenter
      M
      Date and time
      August 18, 2013, 8:59AM
    • Your comment has been deleted. - Sam

      Commenter
      sarajane
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      August 18, 2013, 10:26AM

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