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

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

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 

RHS Malvern Spring Festival 2017

Malver Spring Festival

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. 

Zen Den

My kind of centrefold!

zen
Image source: Modern Gardens Magazine – March 2017

What does Zen mean to you? To me, it’s a common theme that runs from the inside to the outside: it’s the thoughts that I think, the lifestyle that I pursue, and the elements that I choose to furnish my garden – and home – with. As a nation, we’ve borrowed from other cultures that seem to compensate for our climate or counteract the chaos of our busy lives. It’s about transporting yourself to a far-off land, a place of refuge from the trials of life or a canvas for your creativity. Whatever your style, quiet the mind and enjoy your homage to Zen!

The Chi Gardener

Channeling my Chi

Dear friends,

Post-23 June 2016, social media temporarily became a joyless place, resembling an ideological ‘battlefield’ at a time when we should have been remembering the fallen who fought, without choice, for our democracy and the freedom to argue uncensored. Boom or bust, Brexit and the anti-globalisation continues…

As an antidote to the backlash, brought about by a befuddling blend word and muddy thinking, I decided to take the opportunity to extricate myself from it, in part, by launching a ‘channel’ dedicated solely to the universal love of gardening and its ‘positive’ effects on our mental health and wellbeing.

cropped-13923499_688945604593499_2071973460614678738_o.jpgPerhaps this is something that we can all agree on and become a place of refuge from a world that, quite frankly, doesn’t seem to know whether it’s on its Arisaema or its Elm bough (pun intended) and where we can grow a healthy community from the ground up.

Now, I’m not saying that gardening, per se, is the answer to world peace, but its therapeutic effects are renowned and can liberate many a mind in turmoil. So, move away from the megalomaniacs and towards the marigolds (however trite). Sorry if that offends anyone; we’ve all got a guilty pleasure!

This blog has its roots in the community – a community that is growing and extolling the virtues of health and horticulture, and self-sufficiency, but which reaches out and extends a hand to all who seek friendship through gardening, a sense of connectedness or to share my observations from a window on the world of walled gardens and more.

14753792_734311050056954_805202876811717710_oI am passionate about Social and Therapeutic Horticulture, and have witnessed, first-hand, its ability to effect a positive change on individuals of all ages – at the Leasowes Walled Garden restoration project, for example – minimising the negative impact of more dependent lifestyles.

This is not just a resource for the professional planstsman or woman amongst us; neither is it a means to deliver the perfect answer to your horticultural headaches: it’s a place to make mistakes, learn lessons, and harness the health-giving energy of gardening. The clue is in the title! So, join me on this journey and we’ll see where it takes us…

But before we set off, I’d like to give a special mention to Mick & Carole Freer and the volunteers at Leasowes Walled Garden, for their dedication to a cause, Glynis Powell at Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens (for introducing me to the philanthropic Nick Booth at Podnosh – during a social media surgery – and encouraging this ‘seed’ to germinate) and Caroline Hutton at Martineau Gardens, for inspiring me with her community garden.

Namaste!

Darren