Gardening Therapy

Episode 1  

Gardening wasn’t a feature of my life when I was younger – I had places to go and people to see. I loved the outdoors but it I preferred to be out walking the hills or going for a run through city parks to pottering in a garden.

But as I settled into my own flat in my late thirties, I became more interested in having some greenery around my home. I acquired several houseplants and learnt how not to kill them. A few pots of herbs and salad leaves grew on my kitchen windowsill.

Then in 2013 I moved back to live with Dad and his garden became my garden too. Unfortunately, I was so busy trying to get to grips with my new caring role that gardening wasn’t a priority. It was frustrating – a lovely garden just outside the window but rarely the time to spend in it. Between my brother and I we managed to cut the grass, pull out the biggest weeds from the gravel path and prune anything that threatened to get completely out of hand. But that was about it.

Last year, as Dad became ever frailer, we increased the number of carers coming in to help out and that allowed me to venture into the garden. I successfully grew some salad leaves in a box on the patio and planted out some spring bulbs. I discovered that there are few things more enjoyable than pottering in the garden – getting my fingers in the soil, watching seedlings emerge, hearing the bees buzzing amongst the flowers.

Then last month I had a little health scare, which forced me to acknowledge that I have to make time for my own wellbeing. I can think of no better way to improve my physical and mental health than spending more time in the garden.

So I’d like to introduce you to my Dad’s garden. It’s a large garden split into two distinct areas – Above The Fence and Below The Fence.

Then there’s Below The Fence. What can I say (except beware, for here be dragons). This area of the garden used to be Dad’s domain. A forester throughout his working life, Dad began growing some Christmas trees here as a hobby. However, since his head injury in 2008 it has been increasingly neglected. Ivy, moss, weeds and saplings have been happily seeding themselves and growing wherever they fancy.

So there is plenty to do. I’ve already made a start with weeding and feeding the soil and have begun to plant out some vegetables, emboldened by my success with the salad last summer.

I’m very much a novice gardener and learn as much by trial and error as anything else (much trial, lots of error). But the garden is already working its magic – helping me to switch off, toning up a few muscles, getting me into the fresh air.

So over the coming months I’ll be sharing more photos, stories and videos from my garden and encouraging a few of you to get planting too, whether it’s in an outdoor vegetable patch, a small patio or a few pots in the house.

I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Episode 2

Want to know how you can stop slugs and snails from eating your plants?

Well, in this, Alison’s second gardening therapy post, you’ll learn a neat environmentally-friendly trick for doing just that.

Come on, let’s go on a quick tour of her garden. You may or may not catch a glimpse of dragons.

You will though, definitely, learn a neat trick for keeping slugs and snails away using steel wool and copper tape.

It’s a cracker. Enjoy!

Here’s a good source for other environmentally-friendly gardening tips too, courtesy of the RSPB.

Episode 3

“It’s nice to have living green in your house,” shares Alison, as she bring this week’s session to us from her sunroom. Find out her tips on three forgiving houseplants, ideal for carers who want to bring a pop of colour into their home, as well as to enjoy that living green. 

Episode 4

The lovely thing about cultivating a garden is that it’s not just about the vegetables and flowers, the trees and the shrubs (lovely though they are). It’s also about life of the feathered variety too.

For years my mum put nut feeders up on a bird table in front of the kitchen window and I carried on where she left off, adding seed feeders and coconut shells filled with lard. So, we’ve always had our finches, tits, robins, and sparrows flitting back and forth across the garden from the safety of the shrubbery to the feeders.

As I’ve been digging the beds, feeding the soil, pulling out weeds and putting in more plants for the bees and pollinating insects, I’ve noticed that our birdlife has begun to increase too. Better soil means more worms and more plants means more insects – all tasty snacks for the birds.

We now have a resident blackbird and a thrush, the latter particularly welcome for the way it feeds on the snails that would otherwise be tucking into my vegetables at any opportunity.  A thrush on snail patrol is an important ally for the gardener.

The last month has been a particularly lovely time for birdlife, as our feathered friends have been busy building nests and feeding their young. The blackbird has been patrolling the lawn, pecking insistently at the grass and moss to winkle our worms and other tasty morsels, then disappearing into the hedge to offload his hard won feast into hungry beaks.

The thrush has been scuffling about in the flower beds, impatiently tossing aside the dead leaves and twigs with her beak to get at the grubs underneath, until her beak too is full and she flies off into next door’s trees with her loot.

The piece de resistance came this morning when Mr Woodpecker turned up on the peanut feeder with fluffy Baby Woodpecker in tow. As Dad attacked the peanuts with his long, strong beak, the youngster constantly looked around him, with the gormless look of a hatchling that isn’t quite sure what’s going on yet and is still trying to work out this strange new environment. Suddenly, with some signal between them that my human sense can’t detect, off they fly together. 

I read somewhere many years ago that taking an interest in birdlife is a sure sign of middle age. Well, guilty m’lud.  

It may well be a feature of age but I think that being a carer also has something to do with it. Life is so busy that I now appreciate it when I get a spare ten minutes to look out of the window and watch what’s going on in the garden. It’s gentle and relaxing and helps me remember how lucky I am to have that view on my doorstep.

In amongst the demands and responsibilities of caring, it’s a precious thing to have and I no longer take it for granted.

Episode 5

As a family carer, you may not get time, or have the space, to keep an allotment, a veg’ plot or even a raised bed in which to grow your greens.

Worry not. You don’t need space or much time to re-create Alison’s upcycled, environmentally-friendly, pigeon-proof salad box! 

Episode 6

It’s been raining this week. Not light summer showers that send a sprinkling of raindrops to moisten the earth and revive the garden.

I’m talking RAIN. Cats and dogs. Stair-rods. Buckets. (“Dingin’ doon,” as we say in these parts). The gutters overflow and the surface water drain backs up.

These cloudbursts leave behind a trail of destruction in the flowerbeds – petals are knocked off and delicate stalks broken. Some of the lavender flowers, just about to flower and needing the sun to thrive, are already threatening to turn brown. The branches of the blackcurrant bushes, heavy with berries, are bent low.

When I venture out into the garden in between the showers, it’s to inspect the damage and make repairs. I put canes around some of the taller, delicate flowers and tie string around to keep them upright and protect the stalks. Fortunately, the garden is on a slope, so at least the water can run off and I don’t have large puddles or flooded areas to deal with. But I still fret over my flowers, though in truth there’s little I can do. Mother Nature is in charge, not me, so the flowers that venture into bloom will just have to take their chances.

The showers come on quickly so I stick to small jobs that can be finished quickly or abandoned easily. I deadhead the rhododendrons and pull up the worst of the weeds. The bigger pruning jobs, which would mean getting stuck into sodden foliage, will have to wait.

The outlook amongst my vegetables pots is mixed – the plants look generally healthy but wildlife has been helping itself wherever it can. My beetroot leaves have been reduced to one-inch stalks by a deer and our resident red squirrel has managed to get his nose through the strawberry netting just far enough to nibble at the edges of the succulent red berries.

Not all is lost, however. The climbing roses and my pot of sweet peas sit under the overhanging eaves outside the sunroom and this gives just enough shelter to protect them from the worst of the rain. Three sweet pea flowers are getting ready to bloom and the red rose is in full flower. It produces gorgeous blooms with deep red, velvety petals but that’s not its best feature, for its outstanding quality is the scent – a pungent rose perfume that beats any synthetic fragrance that a human can manufacture. You can keep your Chanel No. 5 – this is the real deal.

All in all, this week has been a lesson in enjoying the small moments in the garden when I can. Sitting on the garden bench with a cup of tea, smelling the roses while I’m out deadheading or savouring the unbeatable taste of a sweet strawberry just picked off the bush.

Even at its soggiest, the garden never fails me.

Home Garden & Pets

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