Published!

There are no words to describe the immense joy I feel about appearing in the My Real Garden book, alongside its creators Ann-Marie Powell and Tamsin Westhorpe, and the rest of the contributors in our My Real Garden community.

Writing a book is tough enough, but when you factor in the pressure of having to crowdfund the publishing costs, collating contributions and an impossibly tight deadline, it’s a miracle that we have it in our hands at all!

I have nothing but pride and admiration for what our community have achieved, together, for Greenfingers Charity. It’s a beautiful memento of a life-affirming year, and I am just so privileged to be bound together with you all.

When I began creating my garden, I never imagined that it would be leading a chapter on Tropical Retreats and the close connections it would bring me, be that on Instagram or the gardening community as a whole.

In these pages I take you on a journey through my garden and discuss my love of lush, architectural foliage, planting for pollinators, my passion for ponds and healthy, happy hedgehogs. I even share my tips for growing space-saving vegetables.

Compassion for my community shines through, be that my love for Leasowes Walled Garden or how a pandemic inspired the Plant a Thought project, launched to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week.

I am now part of a philanthropic phenomenon, where kindness is king and people in the community send you handmade bunting to help you celebrate this special occasion. WE DID IT!

The book will be exclusively launched through British Garden Centres Group. Retail outlet details can be found on http://britishgardencentres.com. It will go on general release through Amazon from 1st April 2021.

Your purchase will support Greenfingers – the wonderful UK charity that funds magical gardens in children’s hospices, giving life-limited children and their families precious time together.

2020: Covid, Creativity and Compassion.

As we leave 2020 behind us, I choose to approach 2021 ‘without fear’ – a mindset inspired by the title of the stunning Dermot Kennedy album, which I currently have on repeat. 2020 was never going to get off to a good start after losing a close family member, immediately before Christmas 2019, so I already had a sense of foreboding even before we knew that a global pandemic was about to induce panic and anxiety.

However, after developing and recovering from mild symptoms, just before the country went into full lockdown in March, some of those fears were allayed and I was able to resume work after a period of self-isolation. Others have not been so fortunate: lives and livelihoods have been lost, and many people face an uncertain future, so we must sit tight and continue to follow the rules until this modern-day plague packs its bags and does one!

It’s been heart breaking witnessing close friends and family struggle under difficult circumstances, but I’m proud of the strength they’ve exhibited and inspired in me. In the words of Bob Marley: “You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice.” In fact, it’s the strength of those close to me, my community and our keyworkers who inspired me to launch the Plant a Thought project, to bring about positive change.

Last, but not least, I cannot thank Ann-Marie Powell, Tamsin Westhorpe and the whole My Real Garden gang enough for the love and support they’ve all shown me since I dared to share my garden live, on Instagram, and found the most compassionate and creative community waiting for me at the other end. We’ve literally grown together, ever since, and I now have a zillion tulips to look forward to, come spring, thanks to their enthusiasm and encouragement.

To everyone who’s had my back, in 2020, thank you for putting a smile on my face during one of the most challenging, but life-affirming years I’ve had both the misfortune and pleasure to experience. I love you all. Happy New Year! ✨

Darren. X

Gifts for Gardeners

Love lockdown with a My Real Garden book pre-order and get Christmas all wrapped up by our November 17th publishing deadline, to secure yourself the gardening book of our time.
 
Have you or someone you know discovered gardening, for the first time, during lockdown? Or maybe you’re a seasoned gardener who’s given something new a go? Then you’re in good company…
 
A historic new book, My Real Garden, tells the story of real people, just like you, who’ve come together to share the lessons learned in lockdown and in life, and you might even recognise a few of them!
 
Nosey over the fence of more than 100 real gardens, dig the dirt on their disasters, and share the secrets of their success as they reveal their top tips and triumphs of this defining year.
 
If you gift any book this Christmas, make sure it’s this one. Arriving just in time for a new growing season, it’ll lift your spirits and spur you on as you grow alongside gardeners the world over.
 
Bulk buy books, or select one of many perks, giving your recipient one of our free gift certificates, available to download at www.myrealgarden.co.uk, with the promise of a beautiful book in March 2021. It WILL be worth the wait!
 
Get it exclusively through indiegogo.com, before the November 17th deadline, by searching ‘My Real Garden’. Or follow this link: https://www.indiegogo.com/…/my-real-garden-the-book–2…
 
Your purchase will support Greenfingers – the wonderful UK charity that funds magical gardens in children’s hospices, giving life-limited children and their families precious time together.
 
Thank you for your support, and happy gardening!
 
Darren

A community ‘grow together’ for charity gardening book.

Garden Designer, Ann-Marie Powell

Back in March, when the country went into lockdown, renowned Garden Designer Ann-Marie Powell (@ann_mariepowell) began her My Real Garden (@myrealgarden) journey on Instagram. She went live from her own ‘real’ garden every lunchtime, without fail, for 100 consecutive days, attracting an audience of gardeners from across the UK, Europe and North America, which totals 13.4K followers on Instagram and she has now been shortlisted for a Garden Media Guild Award for Social Media Influencer of the year, which she never expected to be nominated for, and has dedicated to us.

Book contributor, Darren Kench, in his own garden

As someone who has continued to work throughout lockdown, as a graphic designer and writer, I often caught up with Ann-Marie’s daily live posts later in the evening, but missed that instantaneous connection they provided, until the weekend when I could tune in live and hang out, online, with the rest of the My Real Garden gang who joined her for the eagerly anticipated ‘Sunday Social’ at 12:30pm. On Sunday 5th July, I defied my ropy WiFi connection to go live with Ann-Marie and shared my small garden, on the outskirts of Birmingham, just as others have done, and we continue to ‘grow together’ as a community.

Darren Kench at Oudolf Field, Hauser & Wirth

I even had fun linking up, live, with Ann-Marie as an unofficial ‘Roving Reporter’, sharing my visit to the Piet Oudolf garden at Hauser & Wirth, on Sunday 23rd August, during a weekend break in Somerset. As a result of our shared interest in gardening, connections have been made across the world, which has seen many local satellite groups develop as virtual friends have become real friends, meeting in person for the first time, while following government guidelines on social distancing. We are now one big family and support network, sharing our passion and keeping each other motivated during darker days. All thanks to Ann-Marie and her philanthropic personality!

Proposed sample spread from the My Real Garden book

When lockdown restrictions were lifted a little, and Ann-Marie returned to her design studio in Hampshire, the Lunchtime Lives ceased, but the friendships didn’t, and she continues to keep us entertained, during ‘Sunday School’, while brandishing her trusty – and surprisingly legal – Hori Hori knife. What next for Ann-Marie and the My Real Garden community? Well, not content with becoming the ‘Lara Croft’ of Gardening and our lockdown sweetheart, this warm and generous woman has drawn on this experience and is turning it into a book, to raise money for Greenfingers – the UK charity that fundraises to build beautiful gardens in children’s hospices. 

Iris sibirica ‘Tropic Night’, in Darren’s garden

Many of us have submitted our lockdown survival stories and scenes from our real gardens; the very same gardens that we invited people into, when we dared to share them with Ann-Marie and friends on her Sunday Social. Pushing that button, and sharing the screen with this lovely lady, was one of the best experiences of this extraordinarily challenging year. Who knows what the future holds, but what I do know is that we are in safe hands, and as one of many My Real Garden book contributors and ambassadors, I owe Ann-Marie a debt of gratitude for all that she has done and continues to do, by lifting our spirits and inspiring us with her kindness.

I have already met up with several local members of this community, but keep in touch with many more, and one day I hope to thank Ann-Marie in person, for the positive impact she has made and the many hours she, and her friend Tamsin Westhorpe, have dedicated to the creation of this unique gardening book, by the community for the community. After just one week of going live on the Indiegogo site, we are half way towards meeting our publishing target. Only then can we start to raise money for Greenfingers and the many children who could benefit from the sale of this book.

Below is a link to the fundraiser, where Ann-Marie shares her passion and experience of My Real Garden, and her wishes for the launch of the book, in March 2021, but we need to act fast! I hope you can get behind our campaign, help us to promote this positive example of community spirit, and put a smile on children’s faces.

Thank you for your support!

Darren

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/my-real-garden-the-book–2?utm_source=sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=bck-10242020update&utm_term=#/





Chi and Me

Today is World Mental Health Day, and an opportunity to reconnect with my Chi – the original life force that we are all born with, but which we detach from, to our detriment. As we strive to survive in a world of artificial affirmations and perceptions of perfection, we lose sight of our true origin and become further removed from the universe and the source of our life energy. As we grow and react to the environmental pressures of everyday life, we form bad habits, which compete with our basic instincts and our ability to think and feel for ourselves.

As someone who often forgets to deploy their off button, it’s even more important to check in with my Chi, and ask myself whether the choices I’m making are in response to the world around me or a much more healthy, innate response, coming from a place of compassion for myself and others. So, today, I wear my green ribbon pin badge, as a reminder of my vulnerability, but also my strength, and to show solidarity with the Mental Health Foundation and all those who are experiencing their own struggles and learning to accept their truth.

Love Darren X

Sowing seeds of compassion

A lot of people are struggling at the moment, and many of the charities that support the most vulnerable in society are also being hit hard. The #TwoPointSixChallenge was set up by organisers of the London Marathon, in support of these charities and the wonderful work they do. 

Any organisation that helps those in need is an asset we cannot afford to lose, particularly when those who need it are at greater risk during these challenging times. As these charities witness a downturn in funding, there will be a comparative upturn in the number of people who require the services they provide. 

I recently launched ‘Plant a Thought’, on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, in response to the coronavirus outbreak and the compassion that has inspired communities to #ClapForOurCarers. Having had to self-isolate, myself, albeit briefly, I fell back on my own resources, and practiced what I preach, nurturing nature while it nurtured me in return.

It’s this ethos that motivates me to make a change in my life and, hopefully, inspire others to pick up the green baton and plant it in the hands of another. When I look back on this time, I want to remember my creativity, the contribution I made, and the joy I found in the flora, fauna and friends who offset the anxiety.

I’ll continue to sow sunflowers and broadcast their seeds on a benevolent breeze, spreading a little sunshine into the lives of those who find them and grow them on. As each seedling experiences the warmth of both the sun and those who take care of it, it’ll plant a thought in the mind, with the potential to bloom into a lasting legacy of kindness.

It’s often said that those who’ve experienced difficulty are more charitable, because they understand the individual’s struggle and the difference kindness can make to the lives of those who receive it. Covid-19, however, has proved to be a great leveller, bringing together people from all walks of life (observing social-distancing, of course) to congregate on common ground.

Even so, no two people are affected in the same way, and some are more exposed to this virus than others, but when it comes down to our mental health, we are just as susceptible as the next person. There is no PPE that can protect us from our minds, and no vaccine or chance of herd immunity. Being kind is the best medicine we can prescribe for ourselves and others.

We continue the theme of ‘Kindness’ for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from 18th to 24th May. If you’re able to do so, please make a donation to the Mental Health Foundation, using the link below, so that they can continue to provide much-needed support and carry out research for good mental health. 

Please kindly share. Thank you, Darren X

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/plant-a-thought

Zen and the art of self-isolation

Today, I woke up a little out of sorts and thought I was taking a backwards step, but I overcame the restlessness and attributed some of it to a ruse of the mind. After stirring slowly, and witnessing the weather, I was low-spirited and lacking purpose (along with any kind of comfort food).

I wasn’t intending this to become the diary of a self-isolator, but we live in strange times and must do what we can to maintain our momentum and find new ways to power it. The way we live our lives is going to change, for the time being, and the word ‘cancelled’ is becoming commonplace.

As our world shrinks and we become more insular, we must learn to fall back on our own resources, perhaps discovering a newfound sense of self, with unlimited potential for creativity and compassion. This pared-down way of life will bring with it both challenges and opportunities as we are forced to discover new ways in which to serve ourselves and others, while this storm blows over.

So, the self-care starts here, because we can’t pour from an empty cup, and we’re all reliant on each other to control the confinement and carry out our duties to those who are dependent on us. You can have your cake and share it, so learn to live simply and we’ll get through this together.

When a gardener needs to self-isolate!

So, it’s Day #4 of self-isolation and although it’s getting boring, and I’m not feeling my best, I know I’m one of the lucky ones.

I picked this cold frame up from a supermarket, the night before I decided to quarantine myself, and just enough supplies to get me through the week ahead, but have only just felt like building it. Flat pack can be a faff, as I’m not the best at following instructions, and I don’t have the patience of a saint, but somewhere inside me I found the stamina to put the pieces together, and that got me thinking…

A lot of people would already have been feeling isolated and fragile before Covid-19 descended on them, and the panic-buying ensued, potentially making one of their only sociable situations seem more solitary and hostile as they left the store empty-handed and full of fear. Age is no barrier to loneliness, but mobility and confidence does make contact more accessible.

Empty shelves, however, is everyone’s problem and when, suddenly, the things you took for granted disappear, spare a thought for those less fortunate and less able to fend for themselves, and consider ways in which you can make them feel less alone and this societal disease disappear. There has to be a positive to this negative, and you can be a part of that solution. Be kind.

Never give up on a good thing.

Hypericum

I’ve never been a fan of Hypericum (St John’s wort). Perhaps it’s because it seemed like a ubiquitous, common-or-garden failsafe, which tolerates a range of conditions. I even ripped it from my own garden, when I started from scratch, unappreciative of its medicinal properties and many benefits.

A year or so ago, I found a sprig, which had survived my brutality, and potted it up. I left it to its own devices and neglected to show it much love. It’s been watered intermittently, only because it was in the path of my hose when aiming at more ‘desirable’ plants. It has managed to hang on, through the drought, and despite its mistreatment and ragged appearance, it’s now bearing fruit, and I am feeling ashamed by my actions.

What I’m trying to say, is that you should cherish the plants and people who are always there for you, through all weathers. It’s easy to overlook those who are loyal to you, until you nearly lose them, or worse. In the words of John Betjeman: “A gentle guest, a willing host, affection deeply planted – it’s strange that those we miss the most are those we take for granted.”

Tell someone close how much you appreciate their love, today, and back it up with actions. 💚

Random Acts of Kindness Week

chi garden

In case you didn’t know, it’s Random Acts of Kindness Week. So, in the spirit of Bernadette Russell’s ‘The Little Book of Kindness’, and Eden Communities, I’ve made a little chi garden for my very worthy and unsuspecting yoga teacher, Anna, at EmPower Yoga – Birmingham, who has just completed her Yoga Therapy and Anxiety course, with The Minded Institute. I am forever grateful that she arrived at my gym and in my life, to give me the benefit of her practice. I hope it makes you happy and you enjoy your mojito-scented tea light. Well done, that lady! Namaste