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

It’s #timetotalkday2018

Time To Talk

When you don’t get enough sleep it’s easy to let your thoughts run away with you and start focusing on the things that you thought you’d resolved and would otherwise have managed to let go of. Instead, you begin searching for something deep within yourself that doesn’t live there any more, rather than accepting that it’s gone. For some, it’s a bit like when you know you’ve left your cashback in the self checkout, but continue to open your wallet, hoping to retrieve it. For others, it’s an overwhelming sense of despair that you thought you’d learnt to live with, but returns, threatening your peace of mind and ability to function at any level.

Know that this emotion is common to many, even if the reason is unique, and that your affliction, physical or mental, is a valid cause for disappointment and a part of living with the sense of loss associated with grief of any kind. You can’t change what happened, but you can change the way that you respond to it and leave room in your heart for everyone and everything that comes your way. While reminding yourself of your vulnerability, also reflect on the strength that it took to recover from that experience, and the beautiful soul that’s been preserved as a result of your growth. You’ve come a long way, my friend; don’t turn back. We’ve got this!

Darren

 

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.

Surviving or Thriving?

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Surviving or Thriving? This is the question being posed during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, taking place between 8-14 May 2017.

As someone who yo-yos between the two, it’s often a fine line and a distinction difficult to make. In recent years I’ve learnt to scale those peaks and glory in the views during times of high productivity, and also deliver myself safely to the ground when I’ve either ran out of inspiration or arrived at a path on my journey for which I have no map. I no longer waste my energy tilting at windmills, but having exhausted all avenues, I often consult my extensive support network of friends, family and trusted practitioners, before making any big decisions. It has taken years of resistance, relapses and fine-tuning to arrive at this juncture, and a combination of mindfulness and medication, but persistence pays off.

The longer you live with something, whether physically or mentally challenging, the more proficient you become at adapting your behaviour to fit the situation and responding appropriately. ‘Acceptance’ is the key word, here, and until you reach that point, you will find it almost impossible to move forward, uninhibited, and be happy in the present moment. It can take some people weeks to deliver themselves from the depths of despair, while others take years. Experiencing loss, or any unexpected interruption into our lives, often requires a process of grieving and adjustment. Left unresolved, grief is poisonous to both our bodies and our minds, and if you don’t ‘lance’ those noxious emotions, the more toxic they become.

Redundancy, an ailing Mother who’d fallen victim to the ravages of Cancer, and an unresolved identity crisis, all resulted in exhaustion, triggering a type of post-traumatic stress disorder that completely overwhelmed me and sent me into a major depressive episode. In that moment, I was neither surviving nor thriving, but existing in a place that I can only describe as hell on steroids. My story very nearly ended there, and my experience of the mental health system was largely traumatic and detrimental to my recovery. However, dedicated individuals from my local CMHT – including my GP – saved the day, and the support that I have received has been second to none. This continuity of care is the reason why I’m so happy to be here, contributing to the discussion and the community that helped save me.

Many people, uncomfortable with such heightened states of emotion, either resist help for fear of being annihilated by the initial groundswell that comes with acknowledging their anxiety, or simply don’t fully appreciate the impact that depression can have if left to run amok and permeate every aspect of their psyche. Generational life events aside, we are now assaulted from all angles: In today’s preoccupation with social media, for example, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of comparing your ‘meagre’ existence to that of someone’s highly edited, highly funded version of reality, invalidating your own life choices and experiences by creating an out-of-reach future self. Of course, this is just one blight on our mental wellbeing and there are myriad reasons for becoming mentally unwell and ways to improve our outlook on life.

A lot of the way that we respond to any given situation depends, to some extent, on our upbringing and the conditioning that we experienced as a child. Many emotions lie buried, like a sleeping giant, until we have the capacity to analyse the situation and recognise the part that this ticking bomb has played in shaping our resilience to stress. Reframing your thinking can be exhausting and not a particularly efficient way of living, but it can be achieved as you learn to develop a stronger sense of self and become master of your own mental health. I still have the occasional moment when I go from lucidity to languishing, at the flick of a switch, but those extremes have become much less frequent and short-lived. In the end you learn to be your own hero, but never forget the people who got you there and the impact that you, too, can have on another person’s ability to thrive.

Darren

Modern Gardens Magazine

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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!

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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!

Seek solace in your surroundings.

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It might have been a dreadful and dreary day, in the UK, but there is no excuse not to get outside, if you have the means to do so, especially when gardens are all about hope and new beginnings. Despite those events that are outside of our control, sometimes we need to seek solace in our surroundings and remind ourselves that it’s still a beautiful world, however small your particular corner of the world might be. When things seem slightly out of kilter, or your mind is in overdrive, tap into those natural resources that bring you back to a place of safety.

Tomorrow and Friday, I’ll be taking my place on Thrive’s Training and Education programme, learning how to use Social and Therapeutic Horticulture (STH) to benefit people with Mental Health Support Needs. I look forward to increasing my awareness of the importance of horticultural programming and planning, for garden projects, and sharing this experience with you.

Darren