Gardens as therapy…

May is a glorious month in the garden. Everything is really getting into full swing with lush greenery and plenty of flowers coming into bloom. When I look out at my garden I know that I am lucky – lucky that I have the space and (some) time to potter in it. I know many other people are not so fortunate. No matter how stressful life and work may become, I always feel better for a gentle stroll around the borders, pausing to admire a bloom or breathe in a gorgeous floral scent. For those few minutes in a busy day, I am outside, listening to bird song and getting a dose of fresh air – and it always makes me feel better.

My own little haven of peace – my garden in May. I am very lucky to have a stream running through the garden which is extremely restful…

I was interested to see both Gardeners’ World and some of the TV coverage of RHS Chelsea this week both talking about the importance of gardening and the therapeutic benefits that can be derived from it. And, after them making such a feature of it, it seems NHS GPs are all wanting to know how they can ‘prescribe’ gardening for their patients! It seems so obvious to me that I find all this sudden surge of interest slightly odd…

In its most formal sense, a therapeutic garden is: “An outdoor garden space specifically designed to meet the physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs of the people using the garden as well as their carers, family members and friends.” Therapeutic gardens can be found in all sorts of settings including hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and other healthcare and residential environments. The gardens can be designed to include practical features such as raised beds for people with mobility issues, or more gentle and relaxing uses such as quiet private sitting areas next to a small pond with a trickling waterfall.

Little Havens Children’s Hospice garden created by Greenfingers – a wonderful design that must give so much joy to young patients and their families.A few years ago I remember being really upset while visiting an elderly relative in hospital and seeing the central courtyard of the building being no more than a weed-filled bit of scrub with a couple of broken plastic chairs in it. It was utterly depressing and so not what these poorly people needed. Eventually, it was taken over by a local charity and transformed into a beautiful green oasis appreciated by patients, visitors and staff alike. But how sad that it was allowed to get into such a state in the first place.

But times have changed, thank goodness, and now there is plenty of documented evidence that gardens and green spaces have a very positive effect on people’s mental and physical well being and the NHS and other medical bodies realise how important such ‘breathing space’ Is.

I turn to gardening as a way of calming my mind and the tangle of competing thoughts inside my head somehow clears and settles, and ideas that are barely formed take shape. I must confess, I often come up with some of the most ‘deadly’ plots for my novels when I am in the throes of deadheading!

Let’s face it, plants are much less frightening and challenging than people. Background noise falls away and you can escape from other people’s thoughts and judgments so that within a garden, I think you have more freedom to feel good about yourself. 


The reasons for seasons…

We’ve had several glorious warm and sunny spring days this week – so lucky for everyone enjoying an Easter break down here in Devon, or indeed for those of us fortunate enough to live here! I love springtime and the whole cycle of rebirth and renewal heralding the arrival of longer days and (hopefully) more sunshine – so uplifting!

Somehow, seasons used to be more clear-cut when I was a child. Summers were warmer, it always snowed at Christmas and I am sure all of that is probably poppy-cock – it’s just childhood memories that seem to change as you get older. But what really makes our seasons and the weather that they bring? I thought I’d investigate…

What causes the seasons?

The seasons are a result of the tilt of Earth’s axis in relation to the Sun as we orbit around it. This tilt (all 23.5º of it!) means that throughout our orbit around the sun (which is our calendar year) certain areas of the earth are tilted towards the Sun, while other areas are tilted away from it. This creates a difference in the amount of sunlight that reaches different parts of the Earth and that’s how we get the seasons.

When does spring officially start?

Well, that depends on whether you are referring to the astronomical or meteorological spring.

The date on our calendars that marks the start of spring refers to the astronomical season which is a result of the Earth’s axis and orbit around the sun. However, organisations like the Met Office use meteorological seasons based on the annual temperature cycle as well as coinciding with the calendar to determine a clear transition between the seasons.

Since the astronomical seasons vary in length, the start date of a new season can fall on different days each year. This makes it difficult to compare seasons between different years and resulted in the introduction of the meteorological calendar. This splits the calendar into four seasons of approximately the same length. The astronomical seasons run approximately three weeks later than those of the meteorological calendar. So now you know!

Which is your favourite season?

Do tell me your favourite. I think I could make a case for each season in turn and I am very grateful to live in a country where there are actual seasons rather than constant sunshine… would one of you remind me I said that in the depths of next winter please!



An old fashioned rose…

I have a real passion for old fashioned roses in the garden – David Austin is a great place to find these. This beautiful card takes the old fashioned theme and carries it through the embellishments too. The cream crocheted lace, tiny pearls and pretty flower all add to that shabby chic look.

The image is one of many I really love from the Daphne Brissonet pads that we brought out in November. I think they have been one of the fastest selling new products in a while – such a gorgeous choice of images to use on cards.

To make the whole card confirm to that shabby chic feel, the backing paper has been “antiqued” by rubbing the edges with an Old Paper distress ink pad. This is a great tip for making paper look less new and ‘in your face’ – in this case it also helps that the pieces of backing paper are layered onto brown card as that too helps the aging look.

This is one of those cards that really does need a combination of double sided tape (or an ordinary glue) and foam pads or tape, or alternatively if you aren’t a foam tape fan then Pinflair glue gel would work too. Having different heights on a card really help give it ‘oomph’ and looks oh so effective. Give it a go!


Last of the Summer Strawberries

This card reminds me that summer is just about over really – and it’s been fun. Well it could have been even more fun if the lovely weather had lasted a little longer, but we have had some seriously tasty strawberries and soft fruit this year so maybe I’ll focus on the good things!

Whether you are making a card for a summer birthday or any other season, strawberries are always a smiley image for me. They remind me of long summer days, Wimbledon, holidays and cream teas – all lovely things to think about!

The main image on this card comes from the One Summer’s Day CD, which contains the artwork of Barbara Mock. The jam jar is stamped, there are lots of jar stamps that have been produced over the past years, or you could try just cutting a jar shape freehand, it’s not too hard.

The combination of a doily, pretty ribbon and strawberries is always going to be a winner!



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Cut flowers – one of summer’s many pleasures

Wandering around the garden with a pair of scissors, snipping here and snipping there, is a bit of an August treat for me.

While some people are expert flower arrangers, or just have a natural flair, others just plonk flowers in a vase. But it doesn’t matter what level of skill you have, truly, as decorating the house with flowers from your own garden is one of summer’s many pleasures.

How and when to pick your flowers

  • Don’t pick flowers in the heat of the day, as they will quickly wilt. Pick last thing at night or first thing in the morning.
  • Don’t try to arrange your flowers straight way. Instead, stick them into a bucket of tepid water and allow them to recover for a few hours or overnight. This will prolong their vase life.
  • Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the stem – you don’t want any leaves left below the water level, as they will rot. If there are fewer leaves there is less demand on the stem and the flower is less likely to flop.
  • When picking annuals and biennials take out the leading shoot by cutting just above a side branch with a bud. This will encourage more flowers.
  • The more you cut some annuals, such as sweet peas (one of my absolute favourites!), the more flowers the plant will produce.
  • Take care with lilies – I think we probably all know this, but I’ll say it again – the pollen can stain hands, clothing and upholstery and is poisonous to pets.

Even a very simple arrangement can look stunning. I remember going to a very ‘laid back’ wedding reception that was held in a barn. They had two long tables covered with gingham cloths and the only table decoration were rows of jam jars filled with hedgerow flowers barely arranged, just left to tumble and froth as nature intended – and the effect was enchanting!

Here, I’ve used a plain glass vase – but it could just as well be a large jar, and a zinc bucket, for a more rustic look. To start off, place the flowers in your vase stem by stem and vary the heights. You will need some tall – two or three times the height of your vase – and some shorter stems for support. Don’t be tempted to overfill the vase as this can make the arrangement look cramped. Add foliage such as a favourite grass or leaf stem to give an interesting contrast. 

The important thing is not to worry too much about creating the perfect arrangement. Too neat is not a good look, go for ‘natural’. A pretty vase and plenty of colour are really all that is needed. And if the flowers are fragrant that’s an added bonus.

Have fun!