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=#/





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.

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.

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