I run my own gardening
business and work with many people who have physical or mental difficulties. I
am constantly thinking about how I can make gardening easier for people, which
plants can be chosen to give maximum joy but require minimum maintenance and
how can I help keep people enjoying gardening independently at their home rather
than feeling overwhelmed with jobs.
Daily life stresses, bereavement, ailments and disabilities all bring their own challenges but whatever your situation an hour or two spent outside can work wonders for morale, reduce anxiety and lift spirits. Green therapy. Seeing a job through to completion is immensely satisfying and evokes a sense of pride.
Soil contains Mycobacterium vaccae, which releases
natural anti-depressants serotonin and dopamine so getting our hands dirty can
genuinely improve our mental health and make us feel more positive.
Gardening offers a great
distraction from everyday life, a few hours spent outdoors can work wonders. It
allows us a little breathing space away from issues that may be troubling us,
focuses the mind and gives purpose and hope for the future from the anticipation
of what will grow.
Try and keep gardening fun
and not a chore. If certain elements of the garden begin to stress you out then
change them. Gardens are forever evolving and need to develop to meet your
For example cut down on the
number of pots you have or consolidate small pots into larger as this stops the
soil drying out so fast. Small pots are rather needy for food and water.
Watering can feel an arduous
task so make life easy for yourself, choose drought tolerant plants like pelargoniums,
sempervivum, sedums or cactus for in a conservatory or windowsill. These
independent plants thrive on neglect. You can enjoy their foliage or blooms
with minimum input.
But if you love sowing seeds
and potting on then plant at a height you can work at. If you have back trouble
or cannot kneel then resist planting at soil level where you would have to bend
down; try waist height raised beds. It’s your garden so ensure you can access
Direct sow seed where you wish them to grow. This cuts down on the time
consuming task of nurturing seedlings through each stage till they are finally
transplanted out. Try Eschscholzia
poppy), calendula, cosmos, cornflowers, marigold, nigella
(Love-in-a-mist), Phacelia tanacetifolia (Purple Tansy)
Digitalis (foxgloves), poppies or
Cut down on weeding, use
groundcover such as hardy geraniums, vinca or hardy herbs to cover bare soil
and smother weeds.
Lasagne plant bulbs at
different depths in pots to get a successional display of blooms from winter
through to summer. Try crocus, muscari, fritillaria, narcissus, tulips and
alliums. All super easy to grow and provides months of colour.
If you are feeling lonely or
isolated then ring a friend, get them round for a cuppa and a gardening
Join a local gardening club.
Meet up with like-minded people and discuss what is going on in your garden. If
you are physically unable to garden yourself then go to the gardening talks.
Get inspired by the professionals and learn about plants. You can always hire a
gardener to come and help implement your new ideas.
Little did I know when I
start out on my horticultural path that an over riding factor of gardening
would be friendship. Over the years I have become great friends with the people
I work for. And it is a two-way street, putting the world to rights whilst
pulling weeds can be incredibly therapeutic. It can provide the platform to
express how we feel whereas we may not be able to find the words whilst stuck
within four walls.
Gardens are so personal and
bring such joy. They are an extension of our personalities and provide respite
from the stresses and toils of modern life. So get outdoors and inhale all the
scent, sights and sounds of nature and get gardening!
A sniff of aromatic sage leaves, a few snips of garlic chives, a dusting of fennel pollen… giving everyone the chance to experience – and taste – the power of herbs first hand is what a community herb garden is all about. And it just so happens that the garden I help to run is situated on a roundabout.
It may seem an unlikely situation, but it is not your average car-choked traffic feature. And the team of volunteers who help to keep the herbs happy and the litter at bay know that what they do brings joy – and free herbs – to the local population.
The Rothsay community herb garden sits at the junction of two residential roads in Bedford, a town of roughly 80,000 people situated around 50 miles north of London. The streets are lined with Victorian houses and mature trees, and the roundabout itself is larger and greener than you’d expect, with a diameter of around 40m (130ft).
Within it there are two large beds that make up the herb garden, filled with herbs of every shape and size, from creeping thyme and clumps of mint to mounds of purple sage and the towering elacampne (Inula helenium). All the plants have some value as herbs: some culinary, some medicinal. Paths intersect the roundabout so there’s plenty of passing foot traffic, and there’s an open invitation to everyone to harvest whatever herbs they need from the plot.
Regular maintenance sessions bring together a small group of local volunteers all willing to help maintain the garden, weeding and pruning sessions are full of chat on the local news and the odd passerby will stop to admire our handiwork.
Communication is a key part of the herb garden’s success. A noticeboard that helps local people understand the purpose of the garden and identify the individual herbs. Annual open days provide a chance for people to find out more about the garden and what they can do with the herbs in it: one of my jobs has been to give a talk which always garners lots of questions: it’s always surprising how some useful herbs are so unknown and under-appreciated.
The garden was set up a decade ago by Zero Carbon Castle, a local community group inspired by the Transition town movement, which fosters grassroots, eco-friendly community projects. The town council, who owns the roundabout, gave permission for the garden and helped pay for herb plug plants used by around 20 local people as they planted up the garden for the first time.
Ten years on, and although Zero Carbon Castle has since fizzled out as an organisation, the herb garden has gone on nonetheless, managed by a small team of local people, including me. The volunteer crew may have changed its personnel a little over the years, but the aim remains the same: providing something beautiful for people to look at, providing locally grown herbs for the community.It has been entirely self-funded for the past seven years.
It’s not always easy: I popped down to mow the grass around the beds the other day and within a couple of minutes I’d collected an empty sandwich carton; one nitrous oxide canister; a few cigarette butts; and a blizzard of sweet wrappers. Litter is probably our biggest problem, but by tackling it regularly, the space stays well looked after, which reminds people that it’s anything but a dumping ground. Whole plants have been dug up on occasion, and a few dogs wander between the herbs from time to time.
Bedford is a multicultural community, so there are sometimes language barriers that can cause confusion: signs in Italian and Polish as well as English help to explain that while people are welcome to snip away at any herbs they want to take home, digging up whole plants is not allowed. There are two benches on the roundabout that attract people stopping for a rest and a chat, but also act as gathering places for late night drinkers and those taking drugs (which explains the nitrous oxide canisters). That said, the vast majority of people respect the space.
There is no source of water nearby so the planting has to be drought-resistant: bark mulch helps to keep the moisture in, but during prolonged dry spells we carry out emergency watering, transporting containers of water from a local resident’s outside tap to the herb beds.
A largely organic approach means that we can help rather than harm what’s a surprisingly wildlife-rich area, with owls hooting from the trees at night, hedgehogs snuffling for insects amid the herb beds, and bats circle above on warm summer nights. Not bad for a roundabout, really.
Six tough herbs for community spaces
The stands of feathery, deep red foliage make it a wonderfully pretty plant for a herb garden, but its delicate looks belie the fact that, given the right setting, this herb is tough as old boots, naturalising along railway sidings and road verges wherever there’s a patch of sun and a scarping of poor soil. Pollinators such as hoverflies love the acid yellow umbels of the flowers, and it self-seeds around given the chance: just let any artful interlopers remain and pull up any seedlings that turn up out of bounds. A mix of bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’) can look particularly striking mixed with regular green herb fennel (Foeniculum vulgare).
I have a love-hate relationship with this plant: on one hand, it’s one of the most easily recognisable and widely-used herbs there is, valuable for everything from teas and salads to cocktails and garnishes. It’s also extremely tough and tolerant. But boy, does it spread. We have several different mint species and cultivars in the garden, but keep them under close control, and aren’t afraid to remove huge clumps every maintenance session to keep it in bounds. There are dozens of stunning mints to choose from: my favourites are chocolate mint, and mojito mint (Mentha x villosa), a ruffled-leaf mint that makes the perfect cocktail. ‘Eau de Cologne’ is marvellous as an addition to a hot bath.
This plant (Latin name Helichrysum italicum) is worth it just for the incredibly aromatic smell it pumps out on a hot day, although it also makes a good addition to the colours and textures of a herb garden: nursery Architectural Plants calls it a ‘shapely grey blob’ which is a little like damning with feint praise, but you get the idea. Its yellow flowers also attracts huge numbers of pollinators, and I cut springs of the silvery-grey foliage for use in vases and make aromatic herb wreaths out of it, too. Some education is required to show people that this isn’t the plant to use to flavour your curries: that plant, Murraya koenigii, is too tender to survive in temperate locations over winter.
Lavender has the whole package: aroma, flowers, and a surprisingly wide repertoire in the kitchen; I use it for everything from baking to barbecue marinades. Lavender looks great as a low boundary hedge to a community herb garden (try the compact cultivar ‘Miss Muffet’ if you want a really low hedge), or dot it throughout the garden to bring the bees in: its evergreen foliage also provides added interest in winter. English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is the most hardy species, perfect for planting in beds; French lavender (Lavandula stoechas) is bet planted in containers that can be moved or protected as temperatures drop. Lavender’s only vice is becoming leggy and sparse after a few seasons, so treat it as a shortlived perennial, taking cuttings to raise as new plants.
The seed of this biennial herb is reputed to be difficult to germinate, and there are many tips and tricks to get it to sprout. The strange irony is that once planted in a herb garden, it will self seed around very happily and provide you with many a plant for selling or sharing. If you have several plants, cut all but one down before it sets seed but after it flowers (it’s another pollinator magnet) if you don’t want it spreading all over the place. I love flat leaf parsley (Petroselinum crispum neapolitanum) most, and love the huge-leaved variety ‘Gigante d’Italia’, whereas other swear by the curly (Petroselinum crispum), or butcher’s parsley as my mother calls it, has its place – for one thing it’s generally hardier than Italian parsley: it may even be due for a revival.
I think of chives (Allium schoenoprasum) as the perfect herb garden plant because pretty much everyone recognises it, and very few people object to its flavour. Plus it produces stunning lollipop like flowers every June and can thrive in all sorts of soils and situations from heavy clay to an unirrigated green roof. If you want to be a bit more adventurous, its relative garlic chives aka Chinese chives (Allium tuberosum), with flat strappy leaves and white flowers makes a useful addition.
Saturday, 13th July for Gardening for Disabled Trust.
Court Lodge, Bodium, TN32 5UJfrom10.30 until 4.00pm
Teas, coffee, cake and Rodda’s Cream Teas.
A sense of panic has been slowly pervading this household over the past few weeks. In the depths of winter, after a couple of gin and tonics, it seemed a warming thought that summer would eventually come and we would share our garden with others in aid of charity. The reality is now beginning to bite. In six weeks, garden enthusiasts will hopefully be queuing at the gate and paying money to see what in my darkest moments is a bomb site strewn with weeds. We have agreed to open our garden to the public to raise funds for St. Michael’s Hospice and for the Gardening for Disabled Trust. We have actually done this before, but it’s rather like having a baby….somehow you block out memories of the pain and happily only remember the good bits. I had conveniently forgotten the work involved and the sleepless nights fretting about gaps in borders and rampant bindweed.
first asked a few years ago my immediate reaction was “absolutely NO”…our
garden is not nearly good enough….we have no specialist plants or water features
and what design there is has had to fit in what was already there. But the very
persuasive and charming lady from the Hospice reassured me that it wasn’t like
the NGS (which has very high
standards)…and that people are curious, or actually just plain nosey, and love
to see other peoples gardens, in fact they quite like to see other peoples
weeds and messy little corners….it gives them a lift in a schadenfreude kind of
way. We are lucky to have a fabulous view over Bodiam Castle and to the east
along the Rother Valley…I rely on this as the main attraction….or distraction.
and gardening are my passion and it is immensely rewarding to share the fruits
of labour with others for a good cause. It has the added advantage for an
innate procrastinator, of forcing one to plan ahead, keeping up to date with
all the chores and constantly thinking of where improvements could be made.
life started for me growing sweet peas on a London balcony. We moved here to
East Sussex 27 years ago in the depths of winter. The comparatively large
garden looked neat and tidy, if a little bare. We knew we had to mow the lawn,
although a new mower was stolen within 2 weeks of our arrival. But spring came
and a wonderful garden appeared, lush borders full of colour and unfamiliar
plants. However, we did not understand the dynamics of herbaceous borders and
the amount of care required. Within a few years some plants had grown enormous,
and others had completely disappeared; the whole lot held together by a mass of
tangled bindweed and dandelions. Sorting out the beds was a steep learning
curve but eventually we learnt the mysteries of digging, dividing and staking.
main interest has always been vegetables, they are rather more controllable and
there is nothing more heartening than finding something to cook at the last
minute after failing to plan ahead for the evening meal. It is also immensely
satisfying to cut out shelf life, food miles, and all the chemicals. At this
time of year asparagus to plate, covered in butter, in under 15 minutes is
heaven, and freshly dug leeks in the winter almost as satisfying.
am a list person, and lists of jobs for the garden are no exception. The “Pre
Open Garden Countdown List” started in the autumn. It went something like this….
Make a list
seeds. The only seeds I sow in the
autumn are sweet peas, on October 6th (my birthday)
catalogues again, order more seeds
cuttings. This is an exciting and satisfying way to obtain more plants, for
free. Some of the ones that work well for me are lavender, artemesia (Powys
Castle) Argyranthemum (Jamaica Primrose)
any structural work needed and get it done early. (We did decide that it was
time that the greenhouse was renovated, but unfortunately that slipped and
won’t be done until the week after the open garden)
the front of the house will have to wait another year….or two.
catalogues again, order more seeds
early. I invested in a heated propagation mat a few years ago which makes life
very exciting. This year I am growing
some unusual beans…Borlotto Lamon and the purple climbing French bean,
Blauhilde. I am also trying a new tomato called Black Sea Man which is supposed
to have very good flavour.
control early, especially the drive and paths. Repeat every 3-4 weeks.
Keep on top
of mowing, edging and watering (check weather forecast daily)
plant supports before plants start to fall over, about 2nd/3rd
a Chelsea Chop at the end of May. Hopefully this should delay some of the
flowering until the open garden in July.
helpers for on the day, cake donors, scone makers. A wonderful outfit called
“Rodda’s Good deeds” who make Cornish Clotted Cream are donating clotted cream
and Tiptree Jam.
tea urn, crockery, tables and chairs…gazebo?
plants needed for the plant stall, as well for church coffee morning, and village boot fair.
Feed…this was a useful tip I heard on Gardener’s Question Time to encourage a
weekly habit. Unfortunately I have only managed it once so far this season.
slug damage. Coffee grounds scattered around the base of plants seem to work
for a while, beer traps are effective and I often resort to hand picking slugs
off at night by the light of a torch. I enjoy feeding them to the chickens.
badger damage, fill holes with soil and grass-seed. This year seems to have
been a bumper year for leather jackets and chafers… Michelin meals for badgers.
mole hills. After a nightmare last year, so far this year there have been very
few. I invested in some special French Putange mole traps which worked very
well but thick gloves are essential to avoid broken fingers. Thank goodness we
don’t have deer or wild boar……yet.
Vow never to
read another seed catalogue
list goes on a bit. Nearer the time it gets more specific…
edging, final weed
areas that might be dangerous….remember the greenhouse?… swimming pool… or
unsightly…the compost heap…behind the old pig sty
not all of these jobs are completed….the day arrives…you take a deep breath and
resolve that people will have to accept us as we are…and pray for good weather.
did occur to me that after all the hard work, neatly trimmed edges, swept
paths, weedless beds, neatly trimmed lawn, all over in one day…why not open for
a second day whilst it is still looking good and double the donation? So this
is what we are doing.
Tuesday, July 9th for St.Michael’s Hospice. 10.30-4.00pm
£5.00 entrance. Teas, coffee, cake, and lunch.
Saturday, 13th July for Gardening for Disabled Trust. 10.30-4.00pm
entrance. Teas, coffee, cake and Rodda’s Cream Teas.
come and visit us but please don’t point out the bindweed.
Garden Opening gives all the hard work a genuine sense of purpose and it is a great privilege to share nature and man’s wonders with our visitors and raise a little money for good causes.