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

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!

 

Chaos v. Creativity

ChaosVCreativity

Autumn has definitely been in the air, today, and a whole new layer is beginning to reveal itself. I’ve also given myself a moment to sit in my new happy place and respond to the change in weather and pace that is beginning to creep up on us. Long nights and log fires may not be far off, whether we’re ready for them or not.

Part of me is craving for a restful phase and also the opportunity to press pause on that relentless pursuit of perfection, which is always a little out of reach. There is always something to be pruned and preened, which often prevents us time-poor Gardeners from taking a break or appreciating our gardens as they are.

So, instead of berating myself for falling short and failing to find the time to titivate, I’m celebrating NOW and reminding myself that what I’ve created out of chaos was once just a dream. Chaos and creativity can coexist. We, and the universe, are proof of that. Chaos is not our enemy. It’s our opportunity to create!

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! 

Perfectionism and the battle for enough

Assignment blog

So, tomorrow, I’m putting this assignment to bed. It’s long overdue, by anyone’s standards, but it’s been a tough 3 months, being all things to all people and working full-time. I’ve learnt a lot, not just about the history of garden design, the characteristics of plants, and the benefits of different materials, but also about myself.

I will always be a perfectionist, which can rob me of time during open deadlines, and while this has its drawbacks, it also has its benefits: I get to see and feel things deeply, not all of which is pleasant, but I also see beauty in glorious technicolour and pick up on details that may pass others by. It’s an inherent part of my makeup, which I’m constantly battling with.

And although my dear mother suffered the same ‘affliction’, she was a deep and beautiful soul, who left too soon, without ever realising her uniqueness, because she compared herself to others, and created that out-of-reach future self, which makes us feel that we’re never enough.

I’ve been and done more than enough, lately, and shown strength where I may have previously faltered. I’m trying to be the best version of me that I can be, even if I go down a few blind alleys and give myself a constant guilt trip about the house that I don’t have time to clean or the strong and inspirational father who I have to miss a weekend with to complete assignments or recover from a long week.

But, tomorrow, I’m having a ME day (after I’ve flicked the duster and brushed things under the sofa) and taking a Yoga for Anxiety workshop with Anna at Empower Yoga Birmingham, when I will be enough, more than enough, for one day at least.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

Stress

It’s time to stop, check in with yourself, and notice how you’re responding to your environment and those around you. The truth is, none of us is immune to stress; it can creep up on us as we continue that relentless pursuit to pay our dues, being all things to all people while we neglect our own thoughts and feelings.

If you’re isolated or live alone, it’s even more important to be honest with yourself about how you are reacting to each twist and turn in your daily life, because, without witnesses, you can forget to deploy that OFF button and hurtle headlong into meltdown.

More and more people live alone, due to choice or circumstance, and one would hope that there are people around to support you, and who recognise when you’re taking on too much, or to be a voice of reason when you’ve been running on empty.

Be that friend to yourself, right now, and challenge those thoughts, which are, perhaps, telling you to carry on, regardless, when there is no dashboard to display the point at which you’re about to derail. We all have our limits: observe them, respect them, and respond with kindness.