I have been to the OxGrow garden in the snow. I have been to the OxGrow garden with flu, and I have been to the OxGrow garden slap bang in the middle of an essay crisis. But last week I couldn’t go.
May is upon us, and that means that the exams are looming and many of the student contingent of the OxGrow troops are busy trying to memorise – say, post-Restoration picaresque Bakhtinian satirical ballad quotes, for example.* Finalists have to sit in enclosed spaces for long periods of time and the only gardening that takes place is the firm establishment of roots into the swivel office-chair that they have at their desk. The less-than-paper-friendly weather makes studying outside impossible, and so most of us find that we rarely get much of a slurp of sunshine during any particular day. But to miss the session last week came as something of a revelation, because it was only then that it occurred to me just how vital it is to get out, do hiking, digging, planting, even turf-lifting in the driving hail, just to get your body moving and feel like a person and not a nocturnal burrowing mammal.
But it doesn’t have to be a huge effort to get outdoors, and a half-hour walk a day is all you need to keep yourself physically and mentally healthy. So what are we waiting for, revision hermits? Let’s get out there!! Take a 15-minute wander around the nearest green patch you have in between lunch and your next stint of work to banish the post-food sleeps – walk the longest way possible to the supermarket to get your milk (bonus points if you do get genuinely lost) – even have a go at foraging to collect ingredients for your next dinner! Nettles, dock leaves, wild garlic, and all kinds of other things are in season and probably in your nearest weedy patch right now, just check online for the best things to pick when and be sure to check that the things you have picked are what you think they are before you eat huge poisonous handfuls of them. Some great foraging sites are:
– foragable UK plants arranged by month
– fantastic printable guide from Countrylovers
– BBC’s guide to foraging for absolute beginners
Don’t forget never, ever ever to eat anything that you are not absolutely sure is safe – and it might be a good idea to steer clear of mushrooms in general because they can be so deceptive – but if you can figure out what a nettle looks like, a thick nettle soup with a splash of cream and a big grind of nutmeg in it is one of spring’s most surprising and delicious luxuries.
Not to mention, having plants in your living space is a good way to keep your mind on an even keel (whether or not they oxygenate the room like in Hot Fuzz), so why not start a few mini-projects to keep things green until the summer? At the pound store you can buy little grow-your-own herb pots for a pound a pop, so you can watch your own little parsley seedlings getting big and leafy on your windowsill; this is particularly exciting during revision time when they are right in your line of vision, as you can pop out to the library for an afternoon and come back to find to your astonishment that they have grown an entire inch in the brief time you were out. You can grow avocados straight from a left-over avocado seed (you won’t get fruit but it will make a handsome house plant), grow a pineapple by sticking a pineapple top straight into a pot filled with soil, or fill a cut-off repurposed 2-litre plastic bottle with a bit of compost and grow your own salad mix like the ones you pay a fortune for at an unnamed popular supermarket of your choice. You can even regrow celery once you’ve used it all as a hummous vehicle!
Finally, of course, there is one last thing that plants do for us finalists and the rest of us who might still be feeling a bit over-chocolated from Easter. Veg. Glorious, crunchy, juicy veg. Any period of intense work is the perfect time to have a go at some creative cooking, because while you’re chopping, sautéing and braising you can’t possibly do any work, making it a great hobby to take your mind off things in your free time. I like to try to get as many vegetables into any one dish as possible and, more importantly, to make sure there are as many different colours as possible. As Carole King once said, ‘Every stew should be a rainbow in a bowl.’ It is so easy to forget your five-a-day when you’re stressed and busy, but here are some fabulous high-veg recipes to try:
-squash and chickpea moroccan stew
-mixed vegetables with yoghurt and green chili oil
-ultra-delicious courgette-ribbon veggie lasagna
-curry-spiced vegetable fritters (by the by – this recipe is so tasty you may find yourself making it every week. And having them in sandwiches. Or for breakfast.)
It’s these small things that keep me going and stop me dissolving into a pale and malnourished Gollem-type creature; hopefully you’ll find something here that you also feel like giving a try! Of course, the easiest way to get your fix of outdoorsy organic bliss is to come to OxGrow every Sunday at 1pm, and make sure to come to the Asparagus Spring Festival on the 13th of May. Digging is cathartic, the crops are springing up already and you might just find you end up forgetting all about those things that rhyme with “leg-jams”.
* This is most definitely not a thing.