Another lovely endorsement for our ‘Grow4it’ hospital work

“I wanted to say a big thank you for your nature studies sessions. Patients have found them really interesting and a great escape from the hospital environment breaking up the day. We have noticed such a difference in patients that come to the session being engrossed and engaged with the fascinating topics that you present. They find them so interesting and as they have limited outside time it helps them to visualise their own gardens and favourite outside spaces. It also promotes chatter amongst the others on the ward”.

(Community hospital Dementia Support Worker)

If you are interested in receiving our lively interactive nature studies for your ward/hospital/hospice/social/community group, please contact Isa isa@groceriesfromthe.garden – for more information. Sessions can also be delivered online.

Received this lovely endorsement for the Grow4it sessions today.

“I am a dementia support worker in (North Wales) Community Hospital. I am writing in regards to Isa, from the King’s Garden. This lady has made such a huge change to my week it is remarkable. It gives me fresh new innovative ideas to come up with different activities. It calms patients and makes them forget they are in hospital. A couple of patients even said “It was like attending my local community centre with my friends, such fun!” We have been fortunate enough to have Isa deliver some taster sessions, her knowledge is remarkable! I personally could not deliver a session in such a unique way and with such passion. If a patient hears a bird in the garden Isa will identify the call immediately. Alongside her marvellous presentations come props such as fossils, woolly mammoth hair, birds’ nests, wasp nests and magnifying glasses to enable the patients, even the poor sighted, to really see what’s going on. So, you can see nature in its glory seeing things the naked eye wouldn’t ordinarily see -it’s really extraordinary. The patients and I are always really keen to see what will be produced from the Mary Poppins rucksack next! Our patients are so enthusiastic to attend that some have to be told they can’t attend due to popularity. Not only does Isa come with an enthusiastic way of delivery to her sessions, she also has an incredible amount of passion. A topic is picked in advance either by Isa or she will offer me a choice depending on the type of patients I have and their capabilities, again being person centred. I have never come across an organisation as special as the King’s Garden. It delivers a person centred, individual hour of escapism for a patient who ordinarily would be sat bored by their bedside. Patients leave uplifted and eager to tell their fellow patients in the ward what they have learnt. Having a friendly face who is an outsider to the hospital also makes a huge difference. Being in hospital means that elderly patients have limited access to the outdoors, a lot of these patients adore their gardens and embrace being outside. Having Isa coming in to discuss various topics brings the outside inside for some patients. Or it will make an individual fall in love with the great outdoors again. It’s really quite hard to describe their faces and how much these sessions are well loved. We all look forward to our sessions with Isa and keenly await her friendly smiley face”.

N.B – places are limited due to the need to comply with social distancing measures.

Please email Isa for more information on the sessions, and how King’s Garden can help your group to cultivate connections to the natural world :

isa@groceriesfromthe.garden


Ponderings from the Polytunnel

Bring back playtime!

It seems that ‘Billy the Kid’ (see March 2021 – Groceries from the Garden ), and ‘Billy no Mates’, are in competition with each other. Young Billy no Mates and his crew of 6, recently enjoyed a boy’s night out. Looking for greener pastures and a better night life, they decided to break out of their field in Beverley, East Yorkshire, and paint the town red. Young bullocks out on the razz must have been a sight to behold! They had a raucous time of it, making sure they stopped for a good scratch on lampposts as they worked their way through the streets. They dined out on as many verdant garden lawns as they could find– the bovine equivalent of a good curry and a pint. No doubt they paid their bill with a little something to help the roses grow! One was even tempted to try out a trampoline but thought better of it. Wise move – curry and trampolines are not a good mix – no matter how many stomachs you have! * Billy no Mates somehow managed to avoid being herded back into the field with the others, and was seen searching for his posse on the village green before being apprehended. That’s enough to scar you for life! You’re on a night out, you turn around and all your friends have gone home, leaving you on the dance floor busting your moves alone? Quelle horreur!!

Tearing up the dance floor – photographs: David Harrison

In fields, pastures, and woodlands across the Northern Hemisphere right now; there’s much frolicking, chasing, running, gambolling, dancing and play-fighting going on. Mini Me’s are learning the skills they need to be their adult selves – all through the gift of play. They’re testing their strength, learning the rules, pushing boundaries, and honing hunting skills key to their survival. Or are they? A number of scientists are coming to the conclusion that much animal play is pointless; in that it doesn’t actually teach the critters anything; they’re just having fun. Ornithologists are also concluding that not all bird song is about staking territorial claim or wooing a potential partner. Sometimes, they sing simply because they enjoy it and it’s good for them.  I love that!

photographs – creativecommons.com

 We know that as children, we learn how to communicate and socialise through play and that it can be educational. As adults, we might construct play differently but it’s equally as vital. What an absolute gift it is, and what a relief it is that here in the UK, we no longer have to break out of our fields in the dead of night with Billy no Mates to have our fun! It’s time to fill the air with laughter again. Children, we adults may need your help. Remind us what the ring of excited, unrestrained, unabashed enjoyment sounds like. We may have to involve copious buckets of water and a water pistol but I know you won’t mind. Let’s bring back playtime. I don’t see why the critters should be the ones having all the fun. Who’s coming with me to buy a trampoline? But they’ll be no stopping for a curry on the way back! 

  *For the sake of accuracy and because I’m a pedant – cows don’t have 4 stomachs. They have one very large stomach made up of 4 chambers.

What a difference a year makes.

This time last year I woke up with an idea.

Life had radically changed for all of us; around two months into the first long lockdown, unable to work and, for me an added threat of redundancy was looming. Now, I am a thinker but I’m also a doer. Sometimes I sits and thinks, sometimes I just do. The weather was glorious so I painted everything that had the misfortune to be in my way (sorry cats). The garden was weeded, hoovered, tidied and peacefully growing at its own pace. I had repaired things, decluttered the house, chopped up wood for the winter and rearranged the hen pen. I had tidied the shed and, like so many, I had even had a go at making sourdough bread – we’ll say no more about that!

Then I stopped. What next? With nothing to do and no-one to see, I’d run out of purpose and was genuinely beginning to run out of hope. Looking at the long term forecast, I couldn’t see the way ahead – no income, desperately limited social contact, others in my life suffering, and no inkling of how things were going to improve.

A year ago – to the day – Groceries from the Garden was born. Writing it helped to keep me sane, gave me reason and construct to my days and now it’s an experience bookable through AirBnB / or by contacting me on isa@groceriesfromthe.garden

https://www.airbnb.co.uk/experiences/2161722?checkin=2021-04-10&currentTab=experience_tab&federatedSearchId=2cb37d80-8631-43a3-8f25-6323b92c1fd1&searchId=&sectionId=06b76335-be8f-4fbf-af33-95dc2247dcba&source=p2

I got my mojo back. But what a difference a year makes.

In the garden, this spring has proved to be a challenge for those of us who don’t have a heated green house. Seedlings have struggled with the fluctuating temperatures; so much so that this is the difference 12 months has made:

Tomatoes were in their pots ready to be sited in the garden 2020
Tomato seedling 2021!

But there’s hope! Sometimes you have to create it or at least play a part in its creation. I can’t change the weather to help my seedlings but I can do my best for them. So, during the day 100 tomato babies have basked in the greenhouse and in the evening they have been dutifully transported to the kitchen. I’m confident they can survive the nights in the greenhouse now. Things will improve for them and they’ll soon catch up.

This month you can sow just about any and every veg seed you want to grow. I didn’t sow my parsnips and carrots until the beginning of the month and they’re now peeking through the soil. Sometimes it’s worth holding back. Salad crops can be sown directly into their growing areas. May is known as the growing month. Things other than your delicious veggies and flowers will be growing rapidly too so if it’s a weed in your veggie patch, get rid of it. If you can hold off mowing your lawn (no mow May), and allow dandelions and daisies to grow, the bees will be for ever in your debt and will reward you by pollinating your plants. There’s much to do but don’t forget to simply enjoy the garden. As you plant your veggies, consider the hope that you have participated in creating and the difference a year makes! See you in June.

Ponderings from the Polytunnel

Where’s Wally?

I know he’s not supposed to be easy to find. In fact, he really isn’t supposed to found at all. At least not in the UK. No, not our bespectacled friend in a woolly hat and scarf. I’m talking about that moustached, marine gentleman in flippers.

Wally, the juvenile arctic Walrus was first seen in Ireland. It’s believed he drifted across the North Atlantic Ocean from Greenland after falling asleep on an ice floe – as you do! From Ireland he swam to Tenby, in South Wales and has found an ideal spot for a ‘staycation’. He’s become a bit of a celebrity and, in true celebrity fashion, he had a diva moment – disappearing from the public glare for a few days over the Easter period. No-one knows where he went but he’s returned in good health and has even gained weight. He apparently spends his day simply resting, eating and sleeping – a man after my own heart! A walrus can live up to 40 years in the wild, weigh up to a tonne, and their 4cm thick layer of skin and fat helps them withstand freezing temperatures as low as minus 35°C. They are sensitive but resilient creatures and you wouldn’t want to pick a fight with one!

Wally taking his staycation in Tenby, Wales, UK. Photographs: Amy Compton

Life can be a bit like Wally’s accidental adventure. One minute you’re happily drifting along on your iceberg and the next you find yourself in a strange and distant land, far removed from what you had expected or intended.  Life interrupts your plans. Sometimes the interruption is ridiculously difficult and painful, sometimes it’s pleasant – even wonderful. Like Wally, we have to adapt and settle into the new environment we find ourselves in. That can be exhausting. I think Wally’s idea of getting away from it for a while was a good one. Even when we can’t physically remove ourselves, we can immerse in the things that make us smile, even if only for several minutes.  And just like Wally does; keeping to our routine will bring us familiarity and comfort as we learn to navigate the new waters.

Good on you Wally. You’re welcome here. I’m going to take a leaf out of your book now – off to sit in the garden with a cuppa and a slice of naughtiness, while I listen to the birds make their music. Feel free to stay as long as you need to. Sometimes, when your ice floe has deposited you somewhere you didn’t expect, it takes a little time to figure out what your next move should be!

Wally ‘sleeping on it’, while he figures out his next move. Photo: Emma Ryan

Blog

This time I won’t shout. Promise.

My poor delicate seedlings don’t know whether to wear fur lined boots or open toed sandals. In the greenhouse they bask in 80 degrees centigrade during the day and shiver in minus 1 at night.  Such extreme fluctuations have led to a dozen of my tomato seedlings giving up in their confusion. They have ‘damped off’.

This is a term used for when a seedling collapses and dies following attack by a soil borne disease – usually a fungus. The fungus is caused by damp conditions and is particularly problematic in Spring when light levels and temperatures are still low.  Of course, I’m also going to apportion some blame to the lockdown too, as I hadn’t been able to buy any vermiculite to add to the sowing compost. Vermiculite adds drainage and helps to prevent the shallow roots from becoming water logged.  Their demise had absolutely nothing to do with me being way too eager and sowing too early!

The seedlings in the foreground have ‘damped off’ and cannot be recovered

No other seedlings were harmed in the writing of this blog and I do still have about 100 tomato babies left– I can’t help myself; I have a problem, I know! At the opposite end of the spectrum; broad beans, garlic, onions and shallots are as resilient as resilient things and thriving in situ. Snow and frost haven’t fazed them.

Happy garlic

The fruit trees are dripping with blossom and buzzing with bees; teasing me with the prospect of deliciousness to come. The girls, who are now allowed out to play, are starting to hide their eggs from me again. It’s a game they play. They tell me they’ve heard that we humans like to go on egg hunts at this time of year – something to do with an Easter tradition and all that. So, April is living up to her horticultural reputation of toil, unpredictability and promise. She always was a bit of a drama lama. Exhausting! I’m going for a lie down. See you in May.

Ponderings from the Polytunnel

No Kidding!

In a small seaside town, a group of kids are causing trouble. They roam the streets in gangs; sometimes terrorising, often vandalising. Helpless residents nervously pull back curtains with trembling hands to gaze upon the havoc wreaked. Oh, the things their eyes have seen! The untold horrors! The trouble makers are a well-known group of local lads from up the hill. A wild bunch – Hill Billies you might say – and nobody can stop them. It’s not just youngsters behind hooded woollies causing the mayhem. Whole families are confident and bullish as they move in on new turf. Irresponsible adults show their kids how to decimate a garden, leave their calling card at the traffic lights, and butt their way through the local superstore. No garden is safe! They trash the streets, lounge on the beach and even disrespect sanctified ground. They lavishly break all social etiquette and flaunt the law. Yes, the renegade goats of Llandudno are having a wonderful time while human beings bemoan their incarceration!

This pretty town on the north coast of Wales is nestled between two limestone peninsulas – the Little Orme and the Great Orme. The wild Kashmiri goats are usually content to live on the Great Orme, only taking a trip into town in stormy weather or for essentials – you know, essentials such as, dining out on prize winning cultivated rose bushes! When it went so quiet during the first national lockdown 12 months ago, they decided to take a closer look at how the other half live. It seems they’ve found their Nevada and have no intention of climbing back up that giant hill! By in large, their antics have delighted and entertained but a problem has recently come to light. Every year the goats are given contraceptive injections to manage their numbers. Due to the pandemic, they didn’t receive them last year and the population is growing. They’re also roaming further than they’ve ever done before (as far as 2 miles), and there are concerns that they might set up home in ‘Newfoundland’.

No social distancing for these guys waiting to have their lockdown locks trimmed! Photo – Brian Lane
Synchronised hedge trimming -Photo Andrew Stuart

Now, here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write – I quite envy the goats of Llandudno! They’re free to go where they want, meet who they please and ‘be goat’. There have been reports from around the world of animals exploring these strange habitations we call towns and cities, making the most of our inactivity. Like them, we too have an innate curiosity; a need to venture and explore, to see and try new things. But it’s been supressed for the last year. Oh, for a map, a flask of tea and the wind in our hair!! With childlike curiosity, we can at least explore the micro worlds at our fingertips; leaves, spider webs, morning dew on the grass.  I am so grateful for them.  I don’t know about you but as soon as I can, and with the exclusion of certain anti-social activities, I plan to be more goat – no kidding!

Climb every mountain – Photo Andrew Stuart

Step AWAY from the Propagator!

Yes, you!  You know who are. You’ve sowed those seeds and now you can’t help yourself. You peer into the propagator every few hours searching for just the tiniest sign of life. Is that your imagination or is there something breaking through the soil? You’re tempted to rummage around in the compost – just disturb it a little to see what’s going on. Don’t do it! Roots grow before shoots. Who knows what untold damage you might do? I can totally relate to the temptation. It’s an exciting prospect. A germinated seed is filled with anticipation for the months to come. It reminds you of the burgeoning colour, texture, form, vibrancy, fruitfulness and life coming to your garden. It tells you there will be plans to make and work to do before you can enjoy the deliciousness it will produce for you. And now we’re in the month where we can really indulge ourselves as we get things going.

Roots before shoots – photo by uberbuttons.com

You can sow beetroot, carrots, cucumbers, lettuces, oriental leaves, summer radishes, salad leaves, parsnips and turnips all outdoors under cover, if you have been able to warm up the soil with a cloche. If you haven’t been able to warm up the soil then it’s best to wait a few more weeks as it’s still pretty cold and wet out there! Plant your potatoes by the end of the month and it’s the last chance to plant shallot sets-if you haven’t already got them sprouting in a greenhouse. The latest time to plant onion sets is in April. If you have space and patience to grow asparagus, you can plant the ‘crowns’ now. You can still plant fruit bushes such as blackberry, gooseberry, raspberries, strawberries and currants. You could even find a last- minute home for the apple and pear tree.

And, the excitement’s not over! There are so many goodies you can sow indoors;

broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, aubergine, celeriac, celery, cucumbers, chillies, peppers, Florence fennel, herbs, kohl rabi, lettuce, tomato, globe artichoke, oriental greens, beans, peas, spinach, leeks, swiss chard, spring onion, rocket, purslane, pumpkin, courgette, radish, squashes and melon. And we haven’t even thought about the flowers we can start! Lobelia, dahlia, calendula to name but a very few.

Other jobs for March include; applying feed to your growing area, ‘top dressing’ pot plants (scrapping away about an inch of the compost from around your plant and replacing it with fresh potting compost), cutting back autumn fruiting raspberries to make way for this years fruit, feed and mulch established fruit trees and bushes, erect bean and pea supports for your early crops and continue to work on your plans for succession sowing to elongate your crops and harvests.

Happy sowing everyone!

Ponderings from the Polytunnel

I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve lived in lockdown land with all its’ variations on a theme.  No matter how many times we get to visit, it doesn’t become any more enticing does it? We wouldn’t want to set up home here. It’s not what we’re made for. Thank goodness for the world outside our windows: bugs, beasties, plants, trees, hills, streams, seas – countless mini worlds that feed our imagination, bringing entertainment and comfort as they invite us to connect to something outside ourselves. Our lives have stopped and started over the last twelve months but their rhythm has remained steady as they respond to the beating drum of the changing seasons. Even ‘the girls’ have had to inhabit lockdown land because of the outbreak of avian flu. So, now we’re in March and the pace is picking up.

Brown Hares boxing in spring, GB – photograph by robertharding.com

Rabbits and hares have been working on their masterplan for world domination since January. We think of this month as being the time when we see ‘mad hares’ in boxing matches. The boys will box each other to win the girl or to establish a hierarchy but the girls are equally as scrappy.  The female (Jill) will box a male (Jack) if she’s not ready to mate. Females are larger than males, so Jill usually emerges the victor! Girls rule and Jack should know better! Matches can be seriously aggressive and fur may literally fly but they don’t only take place in March. They occur throughout the long mating season – from January to August. When a happy couple comes together, Jill makes a shallow hollow in the ground called a ‘form,’ to have her hare babies in. These leverets are born fully furred, able to see and pretty much independent from the moment they arrive. They’re ‘good to go’ and live out their hare lives within an hour after birth.

We’re starting to feel the air thicken with anticipation of our being ‘good to go’ – to fully live out our extraordinary, bittersweet human life as it should be lived, once more. However, a residual of lockdown loopy- ness is threatening our equilibrium. I’ve heard it a couple of times this week. Thankfully, Jack and Jill have been using the gift of verbal articulation to release their aggression and not their fists.  I want to encourage you; come on folks! We have endeavoured through remarkable times. But unlike the hare, we can choose to engage with more constructive means of releasing the March madness. Get outdoors, walk, run, garden, dig, paint, plant, create, and plan. We are not a hare!! We are fearfully and wonderfully made, so let’s not behave like Jill – even though we all know that Jack really does deserve it!   

Ponderings from the Polytunnel

Sowing seeds of hope

In my kitchen there is a table covered in seed packets and bits of paper with scribbled drawings of a so called ‘plan’ for the veggie patch.  And, joy of utter joys; there are two heated propagators that look like they’re levitating above it all, coaxing the first shy seeds of the year to come out of their shell. I am as excited as an excited thing -if not more so – because spring is definitely in the air. Just as we begin to question whether or not we’ll ever see the long days of summer or be warmed by natures’ central heating system again, the fair maid of February (the snowdrop), lifts her head and we begin to see the vibrant glimmer of the brave forsythia, the crocus and the daffodil. They’re reassuring us –  it’s going to be okay. Even the random chit chat of the sparrow and our faithful winter companion the robin, sound more hopeful.

You nurture something which is a responsibility that is good for you

As per usual I have over done it with the seed buying thing and no doubt will overdo it with the seed sowing thing too. Sowing seeds is addictive because it’s like casting hope, and I think you’ll agree, hope is a much needed commodity right now. There’s a promise of life and abundance to come in every seed plunged into the warming soil. It will grow, bloom and provide food for others. It will bring colour and cheer and a subconscious rhythm to our lives. Recently, I have spoken to some who, because of the ongoing responses to the COVID 19 outbreak, have lost their jobs; lost their income; lost relationships and are without a reason to get up every day. I know some of what they feel, having experienced those losses myself in different circumstances.

Without question, gardening is one of the things that has seen me through some very dark days. On a practical level, growing your own food is good for you physically – you get fresh air and exercise. It’s good for the environment as the food doesn’t have much of a carbon footprint, and you are improving biodiversity in your location. It helps economically, the food generally tastes much better, and is more nutritious. But most importantly, engaging in the activity promotes a period of time when you have to focus on something outside of yourself and your circumstances. It improves your mental well being. You get to marvel at creation and practice your own creativity. You get to nurture something which is a responsibility that in turn, improves your sense of purpose and esteem. Growing your own food gives you a reward for all your efforts as you make your contribution to the dinner table and pantry. What more can I say? You get to be as smug as a smug thing when you bring in your harvest – no matter how big or small.

It’s still too cold to sow outdoors but if you have a heated propagator or a heated greenhouse, you can start quite a number of veggie seeds, including tomato, peas, beans and cucumber, and you can ‘chit’ those seed potatoes! You can get a head start on dahlia tubers and other summer bedding plants such as petunia and busy lizzie. If you’ve never grown your own food before, maybe I can entice you into our world this year? After the one we’ve just left behind, we could all do with sowing ‘hope seeds’. Why not start with sowing cress to boost your confidence? Come on; come over to the bright side.

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