Inspirational Uncle Wang

unclewangIt hasn't been the easiest week in the garden, and I'm feeling weary. Actually, let me re-phrase that: it's been a downright difficult, utterly demanding week (in fact it's felt two) and I'm bone tired. And I've got an aching back.

First, the weather decided to be more fickle than usual. Suddenly, the heavens opened and hail the size of marbles began to fall on my delicate centimetre-high spinach seedlings. I ran outside and dragged sheets of plastic over the little plants only to find, half an hour later (when sky cleared and the sun came out) they were cooking! This rigmarole went on for two days!

In between times, I barrowed I don't know how many loads of compost and sheep manure onto several other beds (hence the back ache), harvested leeks to make space for silver beet seedlings that were rapidly out-growing their pots, transplanted brassica seedlings that were rapidly out-growing their seed trays, and then had the joy of discovering that my Savoy cabbages (they're about the only thing left in the garden at this time of the year) had decided to run to seed!

It's at times like this that we all need a little inspiration and encouragement and, fortunately for me, it arrived in the form of Uncle Wang. I re-discovered him while I was scrolling through my photo files in search of something completely unrelated. I met Uncle Wang (and snapped his photo) when I was in Chiangmai, in the north of Thailand in 2012. I'd gone there to visit a leprosy hospital with which we had been involved for a number of years and about which I wanted to write an article in order to draw attention to the excellent work that is carried out there.

After being shown through the facilities, Heather, the hospital's manager, took us to visit the centre's gardens. As the facility aims to be as self-sufficient as possible, these are quite extensive, and are run on organic principals. It was while I was admiring huge piles of compost, the main ingredient of which was leaves, that Heather suggested we meet one of the resident's keenest gardeners – in fact the 'power house' behind the compost-making.

We wove our way along a little path beneath shady trees, and stopped when we came to an elderly gentleman who was busy sweeping the ground. I had never met anyone affected by leprosy before. Without any fingers, Uncle Wang was 'holding' his gardening tool (a straw broom) between his two fingerless stumps. With one leg amputated just below the knee and the other in a boot and brace, he was sitting on the ground smiling up at us, with a huge pile of leaves (the result of his morning's work) piled up behind him. He greeted us, chatted with Heather for a few minutes, and then turned back to his work.

"He doesn't have to do this, you know," Heather explained. "He's retired now, and receives a government pension. But he enjoys gardening so much, and gathering leaves for the compost is something he does every morning. He spends two or three hours a day at it." We were flabbergasted!

Now, whenever I think back to my meeting with Uncle Wang, to the heat he worked in, his shuffling from place to place on his backside with his broom gripped between his strong clubs of hands, methodically sweeping up valuable compost material, I'm inspired! If Uncle Wang, with all the challenges life has thrown at him, can enjoy gardening on a daily basis, then no matter what the weather is like, how much my back aches, or what vegetables are going to seed, able-bodied me can garden, too. And not moan about it too loudly!

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