Gardening for mental health

I almost stopped this blog soon after starting it. I had started it while not in a good place: my sister was nearing the end of her life after a battle with cancer. (And yes, I call it a battle because it was. She was never going to win and she knew that but what was she supposed to do? Lie down and wait? Well, I wouldn't have criticised her if she had but no, she fought it hard.) She died two days ago and the last thing I thought I'd be doing so soon after was writing on a blog I should never have started and had decided quietly to stop.

But I'm a few things and one is a writer and another is a gardener. I garden for goodness, as I explained. And a very large part of the goodness I garden for is mental wellbeing, which I specialise in as a writer and speaker. Gardening is part of how I practise what I teach.

Now, more than ever, I need my garden and my writing. Whether it's collecting far more tomatoes than one person can use, weighing my watermelon (I KNOW!), being ridiculously amazed that something has appeared from the ground after incredible frosts, pottering in a greenhouse when it's raining outside, laughing at wonky veg, or (one of the very best things) digging potato
treasure from the ground, it's healing for heart and mind and pretty good for the body, too.

I arrived back from my sister's house late last night and went out into my garden with my torch. Well, OK, partly I was trying to find the package that a delivery company said was in my greenhouse. It wasn't. Turned out that my lovely neighbour, who had been watering and picking for me while I was away, had kindly unpacked it and put the plants safely. Thanks for all your help, Verity!

Anyway, it was really just an excuse to go into my garden and start to heal and breathe. I went into the greenhouse (obviously these photos were not taken at night...) and picked (ate) tomatoes in the dark. I brushed against salvia leaves and inhaled their intensity. I went and stood in my veg garden and listened to owls. I inspected my watermelon. The agapanthi almost glowed in the light of a near-full moon.

Throughout the last weeks and months of my sister's illness - only five months but it feels like a lifetime and yet so short - my garden is one of the things that's kept me sane. (Running, work, family and friends are the others. With a few measures of wine and chocolate thrown in.) I work at home and my increasing workload (not complaining!) means it's very easy to stay at my desk far too long but my office is in my garden so it's also very very easy to leave it and go and sow, pick, water, stake, weed something. In fact, if I don't, it will die. And that would never do. That's a battle I can fight and win.

Jo's border as seen from my garden office
One thing I couldn't see last night was the bed I created for Jo. I started it earlier this year, when she was first ill, digging in anger and sadness - and violently because I could hate the builders who left so much outrageous rubble under the lawn where I was digging. Blisters, jarred shoulders and a pulled back muscle were my penalties for not regulating my emotions a bit better! About a week before she died I sent her a video of it. I'd told her I was making it for her, to remember her by, and she loved the idea. She told me, though, that it was interesting that I was angry, as she never had been. I'm not any more. I wish she'd seen it.

My office, seen from Jo's border
It's a modest bed, but then Jo was. It will grow better. But it has transformed a boring fence and I will walk past it every day and see it from my office desk. It will remind me to look after myself and stay well. It has colour for every season: three different clematis, Penstemon King George 5th, aucuba, several salvia, abelia, pyrocanthus, a magnolia and an everlasting sweet pea.

Three sisters, from left to right, Jo, me, Sarah
I hope your garden keeps all of you well, too.


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