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.

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=#/





Growing pains for growing gains

Lilium Acapulco

My pond is fast disappearing under a mass of foliage and duckweed. Even Buddha is beginning to berate me for his dwindling vista.

Neglect is neglect, but before you scold yourself for falling short of your self-imposed perfection, it’s worth remembering the bigger picture and that sometimes we have to take several steps back before moving forward, unabated, minus the nagging voice in your head.

The garden is thriving, in the main, thanks to my dedication during the drought, and a lot of encouragement from the foliage fraternity, who keep me inspired and in good company. So, while I reflect on the diverse plant life, which takes us somewhere between success and failure, I’m reminded that your last mistake is your best lesson.

Perfection is intolerant of mistakes and incapable of accepting flaws, but diversity is the result of flaws that have learnt to adapt into myriad forms. Thank heavens for imperfection! 

Walled garden to exhibit at Gardeners’ World Live

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The Leasowes Walled Garden is joining forces with the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) at this year’s BBC Gardeners’ World Live, taking place at the NEC Birmingham, between 15-18 June. The collaboration came about after the walled garden entered and won the group category of last year’s Wild About Gardens Week ‘Plant a bat feast’ photo competition, organised by The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), The Wildlife Trusts and Bat Conservation Trust (BCT).

Since winning the competition with its ‘Biodiversity and Bats’ area, created by volunteers, the walled garden has continued to build on its conservation efforts, incorporating a wildlife pond into what will become a beautifully spacious and well-thought-out wildflower meadow. Volunteers and visitors alike are free to take in the peace and quiet of the walled garden and heritage orchard, during designated hours, benefitting from this unique and restorative setting.

Visitors to the show are invited to come along and meet one of several volunteers who will be on hand to talk about the restoration project and this year’s Wild About Gardens ‘Bee Creative’ campaign, or you can pick up tips from a resident bat expert who will be giving talks throughout the duration of the show on stand G425. The walled garden’s display will also feature flowers by husband-and-wife team, Paul and Jo Hill of Brookfield Nurseries, Belbroughton, renowned for their award-winning hanging baskets – key to the success of Halesowen In Bloom’s coveted gold award.

The 18th-century walled garden was created in 1776 by Edward Horne, who took ownership of The Leasowes following the poet and landscape designer William Shenstone. It was purchased in perpetuity for the public, by Halesowen Abbey Trust, in November 2014, and is managed with nature in mind. The site comprises 2 acres of community gardens, maintained by volunteers and funded by welcome charitable donations. Mick Freer, project leader, said: “We are delighted that the Bat Conservation Trust has asked us to participate on their stand and have this opportunity to raise the profile of our conservation work and its continued reliance on funding.”

To make a donation, please visit www.leasoweswalledgarden.co.uk or make cheques payable to Halesowen Abbey Trust and send to 59 The Hawnelands, Halesowen, B63 3RT.

Modern Gardens Magazine

Modern Gardens_DPS

It was a lovely surprise to have received a mention in Modern Gardens (April 2017 – Issue 13) and see what everybody else is getting up to in the ‘WE LOVE OUTDOOR LIVING’ section of its magazine. This magnificent monthly chimes perfectly with my belief that gardening should be accessible to all and provide an opportunity for rehabilitation and reinterpreting an age-old British pastime. It’s packed full of inspiring projects and scintillating shares by readers of all means and backgrounds, breaking down barriers and adding to the sense of belonging and community, while giving you aspirations for your own garden. I love it!

Modern Gardens_EXT Close Up

Within the past 8 years I have spent a great deal of my time completely reworking a pre-war garden, retaining and reusing existing materials and sympathetically incorporating a number of new materials, design elements and specimen plants. The design of this garden has water at its heart and features exotic planting and Eastern sculptures alongside more traditional influences and planting schemes. I created this circular paved seating area, adjacent to the pond, choosing furniture that adds height and elevates me above the water. The burnt orange of the Hemerocallis fulva ‘Flore Pleno’, the brilliant red of Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, and the hot pink of the Drosanthemum were new additions, last year, successfully transporting me to more exotic climes.

Exotic entertaining

Hemerocallis (Daylily) and Dahlia have both undergone something of a revival of late and I can’t think of enough superlatives to sum up these show-stopping sirens. Take Hemerocallis, for example – yesterday, they were nowhere to be seen and today they’re trumpeting temptresses! Individual flowers are short-lived, (hence their name) but plants can produce a profusion of flowers, in succession, which could last for many weeks. Hemerocallis fulva ‘Flore Pleno’ certainly packs a pyrotechnic punch: like a dragon, spewing forth flames, it’s exceptionally exotic-looking and befitting of its primarily Eastern Asian roots, where dragons are usually a beneficent symbol of fertility, associated with water and the heavens. ‘Flore Pleno’ certainly fits the bill!