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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
I’ve been pulled in all directions, lately, that it’s been difficult finding the time to be mindful, and truly present in the moment, but if ever a garden symbolises serenity and inspires self-care, this one does. The Spirit of the Woods, by Peter Dowle of Howle Hill Nursery, is more than a gold award-winning show garden; it’s an experience.
The moment you step onto that jetty, and look across the lake to the meditative mask, created by sculptor Simon Gudgeon, you disconnect from the baying crowds and reconnect with nature. Framed by the naturalistic planting, which blends seamlessly with the landscape beyond, it evokes empathy from the viewer as you become a reflection of the scene and intimately acquainted with it.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to get up close and personal with this vision in the valley, such was the demand on its Designer, but it was so wonderful to witness its whispering waters, which spoke to so many, who may have needed it more than I did, from a young boy in his wheelchair, to many more who hugged its shores as I looked on from a distance. A sight to behold.
A selection of stunning show gardens from the RHS Malvern Spring Festival, yesterday. I have a particular soft spot for the Molecular Garden (bottom right) and had the pleasure of meeting one of its Russian designers, Denis Kalashnikov, to pass on my congratulations. But, the ‘At One With… A Meditation Garden’, by Peter Dowle, really stuck a chord with me (top left) and was the perfect way to conclude Mental Health Awareness Week. The gardens were all really rather good, though, and there was something for everyone.
Surviving or Thriving? This is the question being posed during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, taking place between 8-14 May 2017.
As someone who yo-yos between the two, it’s often a fine line and a distinction difficult to make. In recent years I’ve learnt to scale those peaks and glory in the views during times of high productivity, and also deliver myself safely to the ground when I’ve either ran out of inspiration or arrived at a path on my journey for which I have no map. I no longer waste my energy tilting at windmills, but having exhausted all avenues, I often consult my extensive support network of friends, family and trusted practitioners, before making any big decisions. It has taken years of resistance, relapses and fine-tuning to arrive at this juncture, and a combination of mindfulness and medication, but persistence pays off.
The longer you live with something, whether physically or mentally challenging, the more proficient you become at adapting your behaviour to fit the situation and responding appropriately. ‘Acceptance’ is the key word, here, and until you reach that point, you will find it almost impossible to move forward, uninhibited, and be happy in the present moment. It can take some people weeks to deliver themselves from the depths of despair, while others take years. Experiencing loss, or any unexpected interruption into our lives, often requires a process of grieving and adjustment. Left unresolved, grief is poisonous to both our bodies and our minds, and if you don’t ‘lance’ those noxious emotions, the more toxic they become.
Redundancy, an ailing Mother who’d fallen victim to the ravages of Cancer, and an unresolved identity crisis, all resulted in exhaustion, triggering a type of post-traumatic stress disorder that completely overwhelmed me and sent me into a major depressive episode. In that moment, I was neither surviving nor thriving, but existing in a place that I can only describe as hell on steroids. My story very nearly ended there, and my experience of the mental health system was largely traumatic and detrimental to my recovery. However, dedicated individuals from my local CMHT – including my GP – saved the day, and the support that I have received has been second to none. This continuity of care is the reason why I’m so happy to be here, contributing to the discussion and the community that helped save me.
Many people, uncomfortable with such heightened states of emotion, either resist help for fear of being annihilated by the initial groundswell that comes with acknowledging their anxiety, or simply don’t fully appreciate the impact that depression can have if left to run amok and permeate every aspect of their psyche. Generational life events aside, we are now assaulted from all angles: In today’s preoccupation with social media, for example, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of comparing your ‘meagre’ existence to that of someone’s highly edited, highly funded version of reality, invalidating your own life choices and experiences by creating an out-of-reach future self. Of course, this is just one blight on our mental wellbeing and there are myriad reasons for becoming mentally unwell and ways to improve our outlook on life.
A lot of the way that we respond to any given situation depends, to some extent, on our upbringing and the conditioning that we experienced as a child. Many emotions lie buried, like a sleeping giant, until we have the capacity to analyse the situation and recognise the part that this ticking bomb has played in shaping our resilience to stress. Reframing your thinking can be exhausting and not a particularly efficient way of living, but it can be achieved as you learn to develop a stronger sense of self and become master of your own mental health. I still have the occasional moment when I go from lucidity to languishing, at the flick of a switch, but those extremes have become much less frequent and short-lived. In the end you learn to be your own hero, but never forget the people who got you there and the impact that you, too, can have on another person’s ability to thrive.
One makeshift meadow sown, and a bug hotel in progress. It’s ironic that it looks heart-shaped from this angle, given that it’s in what you’d call dry shade for the second half of the afternoon, and I could be heading for heartbreak…
But, as there is a real buzz about bees at the moment, I decided to dedicate some of my time towards clearing an awkward and unloved plot of land, at the bottom of the garden, and have set to work transforming it into a wildlife haven.
I’m so pressed for time, right now, and feel like I’m trying to save the world – let alone the bees – but this is really important and if we all do our bit, we will be creating much-needed habitat for our floral foragers and creating a corridor from garden to garden.
The location, it has to be said, is not ideal: it’s at the bottom of a South West facing garden, flanked by a sizeable Silver Fir, and fencing, but as the only available option I’ve done my best to maximise sun exposure, pondering from different angles, and siting key elements accordingly.
It’s far from finished, but as one of 2200 citizen scientists I’ve made a commitment to Blooms for Bees, participating in their Dahlia Mignon Series Trial 2017, and will also be following the Wild About Gardens ‘Bee Creative’ campaign with interest. Watch this space for more news or follow progress on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!
Citizen scientists, It has taken just 4 days for the cotyledons to emerge from the testa and make their way to the surface, where they are now making food, by photosynthesis, for the growing seedling, before they are eventually replaced by the true leaves. The red Dahlia ‘Mignon’ is currently winning the race. I wonder which colour will be favoured by the bumblebees! Grown on behalf of Leasowes Walled Garden www.leasoweswalledgarden.co.uk