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=#/





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

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.

Disconnect to Reconnect

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A bit of a random post, but something made me google ‘Earth’ today, and I found myself looking at seemingly far-off images of our planet and the place that we are fleetingly lucky to call home. I have felt very detached, lately, for one reason and another, and posts about ‘connection’ have really struck a chord with me.

Sometimes it can feel as though we are existing, but not truly experiencing anything, and it’s easy to become disconnected from the miracle that created us, in an effort to survive the recurring monotony that can sometimes befall us when we lose sight of the life that we are attempting to create for ourselves.

I looked at the earth from the moon’s eye view, and it seemed out of reach, like I was stuck on a barren rock and had no way of getting to that sparking sapphire suspended in space and time. Then I realised that it was a metaphor for my emotions. It looked so near, but also so far, and I had no vehicle to bridge that gap across the void.

Perhaps you are feeling the same, but berating yourself for being self-indulgent when there are others around you who are less fortunate or experiencing their own very real struggles. All struggles are equal when it comes to our mental health, and observing how you are responding to your environment is one of your biggest assets.

It’s important, though, to keep things in perspective; you have infinitely more resources around you than you would have if you were stranded on some inhospitable satellite, and the void that you are visualising is just a black dog that can be tamed if you respond with kindness and remain open to the beauty of the world around you.

This concludes today’s lesson and World Book Day. Whatever your situation, take the time to do what makes your soul happy. And remember, you are stronger than you think and more valuable than you know. Don’t let anyone or anything eclipse those sunny thoughts or stand in the way of your progress. You’ve got this!

 

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. 💚

Help make homelessness history, one kind act at a time

Doorway

Let’s tackle homelessness, one kind act at a time!

There have been shocking statistics about homelessness in the news, recently, with local councils estimating that more than 4,751 people a night sleep rough on England ‘s streets as of Autumn 2017. That’s up 169% since records began in 2010, and rising.

The reasons why someone finds themselves in this no-man’s-land are as diverse as those existing in this perpetual Groundhog Day. Devoid of interaction or purpose, their voices are muted and their lives hang in limbo, swept aside like spent leaves on an Autumn day.

In the words of Ben, from London, “Every day I wake up is just another day closer to death. “If I didn’t wake up, tomorrow, sometimes I’d think it’d be a blessing, then I wouldn’t have to do another 24 hours of this.” How, in 21st-century Britain, can we allow words like this to form in the mouths of our citizens?

The longer that someone is homeless, the bigger the impact on both their physical and mental health and the further removed from society they become, reducing their chances of reintegrating with and contributing to the community that created their predicament.

In the spirit of Bernadette Russell’s ‘The Little Book of Kindness’, I want to create a ripple effect of Kindness Scouts who, rather than turning a blind eye on their daily commute, stop and engage with those sleeping rough, from a position of safety and compassion.

Perhaps you can forgo your daily coffee fix on your way to or from work, slow your pace and extend a warm hand on a cold day. You might not have a ‘responsibility’ to that person, but you do have the power to give them hope, a meal, and a kind word or two.

How would you feel if you were identified as a ‘problem’, if your life amassed to nothing except for the tattered clothes that you were wearing, and the doorways you slept in were the same ones that closed in your face on a freezing night?

Be a part of the solution. Be a Kindness Scout and let’s help make homelessness history, one kind act at a time.

Tag your kind acts using the hashtag #KindnessScout

Thank you! Darren X

Statistics source: ITV News – 25 January 2018

A win for World Kindness Day

BeKind

I have just found out that I am one of the winners of the Eden Communities #KindnessCompetition, winning a copy of Bernadette Russell’s ‘The Little Book of Kindness’, for the work that I do in my community. I dedicate this win to all those involved with Leasowes Walled Garden and Halesowen Bloom, who inspire me to be a better person, with their tireless dedication to a cause.

Special thanks, also, to Halesowen Abbey Trust, Glynis Powell at Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens, Caroline Hutton at Martineau Gardens, and Nick Booth at Podnosh Ltd, who have given me the tools and the belief to bring about change, personally and in my community.

You are all stars!