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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
A selection of stunning show gardens from the RHS Malvern Spring Festival, yesterday. I have a particular soft spot for the Molecular Garden (bottom right) and had the pleasure of meeting one of its Russian designers, Denis Kalashnikov, to pass on my congratulations. But, the ‘At One With… A Meditation Garden’, by Peter Dowle, really stuck a chord with me (top left) and was the perfect way to conclude Mental Health Awareness Week. The gardens were all really rather good, though, and there was something for everyone.
What does Zen mean to you? To me, it’s a common theme that runs from the inside to the outside: it’s the thoughts that I think, the lifestyle that I pursue, and the elements that I choose to furnish my garden – and home – with. As a nation, we’ve borrowed from other cultures that seem to compensate for our climate or counteract the chaos of our busy lives. It’s about transporting yourself to a far-off land, a place of refuge from the trials of life or a canvas for your creativity. Whatever your style, quiet the mind and enjoy your homage to Zen!
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.
Perhaps 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.
I 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.