Octopus Garden: A Song and Reality

By Anya Geiling

Art credit: “Majesty of the Kelp Forests” by Talia Katreczko

“I’d like to be under the sea, in an octopus’s garden in the shade.” Ringo Starr wrote this lyric in the last song the Beatles ever released. Many wondered why he would write about such a bizarre thing. Well, it turns out that octopi do indeed make gardens!

Ringo only wrote two songs for The Beatles, and as George Harrison said: “Octopus’s Garden is Ringo’s song. It’s only the second song Ringo has ever written, mind you, and it’s lovely.” He added that the song dives deep into the audience’s consciousness “because it’s so peaceful. I suppose Ringo is writing cosmic songs these days without even realizing it.” Starr was first inspired to learn more about octopi when he was aboard comedian Peter Sellers’ boat in 1968. He had ordered fish and chips, but somehow received squid instead. The captain of the ship then told Ringo about octopi, and how they travel along the sea bed picking up shiny objects then used for their gardens. With the help of George Harrison, he was able to create the beautiful song linked below.

Octopi are very intelligent, and yet are an unknown and mysterious species. It is known that most species of octopus are as smart as your average dog. Research has demonstrated that the brain capacity of a giant Pacific octopus is highly developed. Octopi have nine brains – a central brain and eight mini brains throughout their arms. This allows each of their tentacles to act independently. They also have three hearts and blue blood, because they need to adapt to the cold, low oxygenated water. With blue blood and nine brains, this miraculous creature will always be more interesting than fiction itself.  

A Giant Pacific Octopus.

“He’d let us in, knows where we’ve been, in his octopus’ garden, in the shade”. The song will forever be remembered with the striking events that followed The Beatles’ meeting on the boat. When they were practicing with each other only a few days later, Paul McCartney insisted on changing the way Ringo played drums for the song, Back In The U.S.S.R. This drove him mad, and their producer, Ron Richards, stated Ringo “couldn’t stand it any longer, got fed up and left.” He went on vacation with his family, until the other three Beatles persuaded him to come back. Ringo wrote Octopus’s Garden while on that vacation, escaping the internal hostility of the band.  

Much like Ringo’s hiding, octopi also conceal themselves. They stock up on rocks, broken glass, shells, or bottle caps. This pile of debris is called an octopus midden, which translates to an octopus garden from Old Norse. These creatures are resourceful, as they also use interesting pieces of coral and seaweed to hide their dens. Ringo’s song, a getaway, was his own version of stocking up on things to help him get through tough times. Ironically, his version of an octopus garden was the song as he was writing it. 

Ringo Starr, the Beatles’ star drummer and the mind behind “Octopus Garden.”

Unfortunately, octopi are often one of the targets of overfishing, as they are considered a delicacy in many countries. From Japan to the Mediterranean Sea, the call for eating octopus is growing to a greater demand, putting the species in real danger. It is also completely unethical to kill these bright animals, as they are necessary to life on Earth.  

When fishing companies hunt octopus and kill them, the octopus experiences way more pain than you could even imagine. They have a nervous system composed through three-fifths of their arms, which means they feel all throughout their body, compared to humans who have neurons concentrated in our brain. When octopi are hurt, they undergo extreme physical and emotional pain. There are ranches and farms in oceans that raise octopus to be eaten. Two-thirds of these are sent to Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea, and one whole third is sent to China. 

Tragedy at the octopus farm.

Ringo’s song shines a light on the amazing things octopi are capable of. Most people think the title of his song is fake, which is misleading. Ringo’s song is lost in today’s world of music. There are so many wonderful things on Earth that should be recognized instead of ignored– and the octopus is just one of them.