Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Is how I feel right now. The weather is all over the place; one day fine the next day, well, revolting, might cover it. The economy is on the up or in free fall dependant on which radio station/newspaper/person you talk to. Yet, life goes on albeit like a merry go round! Trying to stay positive and upbeat when petty red tape and people's limiting views constrict one, can just be downright, hard. When that happens I try to stop, take a few breaths and look at the world around me. It goes on regardless. The autumnal colours at the moment are wonderful. The frost yesterday morning was stunning. I wish I had had my camera with me. At a client's garden the sedums were in full bloom with the most exquisite frosting around each individual flower so that their heads looked like they had been sprinkled with the lightest dusting of icing sugar. It is still a wonderful world!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New partnership

As autumn rapidly approaches (I think) we have teamed up with a super small gardening company based in Gillingham called Shrublands Gardening. Carolyn Powell who heads the team has an ethos similar to mine combined with a great sense of humour (absolutely essential). I am looking forward to working with her, and expanding our reach to include the Blackmore Vale and Gillingham area.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Our most requested plant from the Combat Stress Therapeutic Garden

Well, I could hardly leave our most requested plant identification off the website. It was Francoa sonchifolia 'Rogersons Form'. A lovely frost-hardy perennial that has stunning spires of pink flowers about a metre high that last from summer to early autumn. We planted it around the base of the multi-stemmed sorbus and the pink flowers set off the pinky bronze trunks quite beautifully.

A new home

The hardest part of The Show was dismantling the Combat Stress garden. I suddenly realised that like Topsy the number of plants had grown - hugely. I think that I worked out that there were over 1500! And of course, unlike most other show gardens these plants had all been bought and paid for by our incredibly generous donors and needed to be moved, carefully, to their new home at Tyrwhitt House, Leatherhead. So several days, man (and woman) hours later we ensconced them all in their wonderful new home. The plants will stay in their holding beds until the work at Tyrwhitt has finished and we can finish designing the courtyard garden - hopefully in March 2011.

They are all being carefully protected with high metal panel fencing around the outside to keep out deer, and then an inner tape of electric fence, low to the ground, to keep out whatever enterprising rabbits may be thinking about an extra bit of lunch.

And none of this move would have been possible without the help of 'Bones', Hazel, Mike, Vince, Roger, Chris and Carl, who have been amazingly hard working, supportive and constantly upbeat even when they must have wondered how many more plants were going to come off the lorry! Thank you.


To say that the last few months have been hectic is an understatement. The Show (have to use capital letters here) was exhilarating, heartbreaking, exhausting, hot, fun and fulfilling. The press coverage we received was extraordinary and the garden was, if I am correct, one of the most requested destinations at Hampton Court. We had over 18,000 people through the garden. And it stood up to it. The resin-bound pathways (courtesy of Cirencester Civil Engineering) were an unmitigated success; we walked on them in high heels, flat shoes, clogs, sandals and bare feet and at the end of each day they looked fine.

We carried out a declared war against pigeons who did nothing but gorge themselves on the amelenchier berries (up to 6 on one tree) but at least we were not attacked by paraqueets! The weather was so hot we watered continuously, but by the end of the week the plants were looking even better than when they went in - in particular the echinacea which looked stunning.

However, without doubt the most fantastic part of the whole show was the feedback we received. It was outstanding. We had serving soldiers, ex-service personnel, wives, sisters, fathers, brothers, husbands and wives of those who had been out or still were in Afghanistan, in Iraq; those who had seen and felt the horrors of the Falklands and Northern Ireland, to name but a few places. Some having walked through the garden were in tears, others just silent, and some simply smiled and said 'thank you for doing this'. But what really overwhelmed me were that so many of the public had absolutely no idea of what PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is or does. And that includes those whom I would politely term 'the older generation', although describing PTSD as 'shell shock' garnered some understanding. Perhaps I am just naive having lived with the understanding of what PTSD does to so many ordinary people who suffer from it as a result of either an accident or work. PTSD is horrific and it is not just the person who suffers, but the whole family. I think though, and this may be contentious that in some instances PTSD is used inappropriately and can be used to cover a raft of different types of shock. I also feel that using the same words to describe what happens to service personnel and civilians does not do the sufferers (in either instance) justice. Service personnel are taught to cope with extreme situations in a way that civilians are not. They are highly trained, highly motivated, and work as a team; they expect to see and be in distressing situations as part of their work. They have different priorities and different ways of dealing with events that would leave most of us civilians completely immobile. PTSD suffered as a result of war time operations, should I think be given another name.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Today is the day!!

Well after all the planing, mishaps, fingers crossed, hot weather, chocolate and adrenaline today is the day that we know what medal we get - but of course it won't be until this evening!

The garden is looking superb. The pathways have gone in which add the finishing touches and pull the whole design together. (Here you can see what the paths look like - the pieces of hardwood are not part of the design, but are to keep the plants off the pathway whilst it sets!! Fi and CCE have worked tirelessly to ensure that the design is the best that it can be. So all we can do now is sit back and wait......

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Man handling

Yes, we are getting there with the garden..... And as you can see from these pictures it takes a lot of men to manhandle these benches into place. Solid oak, and created by Tristan Sutton these are spectacular pieces of furniture. Which is why we all wear steel capped boots and viz vests. An unsuspecting foot in the wrong place would be a permanent fixture!

Monday, June 21, 2010

And it is getting there

And here the garden starts to take shape.......

The oak tree

The bones of any garden are the trees. They give relevance, position and gravitas to the garden and the buildings placed within the garden. And nothing is more English than our oak trees. This oak tree has added poignancy. The centrepiece of the garden, it stands over 5m high and was purchased through donations from the Combat Stress veterans to replace a much-loved elderly speciman that had to be felled at Tyrwhitt House. It still needs a little bit of tidying up to look its best, but at over 2.5 tonnes in weight it makes a wonderful sight.

Trees and more trees

Seen here is an Amelenchier with a backdrop of ivy screens which act as a living wall to the garden. This picture does not do these wonderful small trees justice; beautiful blossom and then a fantastic colour in autumn. We have 8 of these in the garden.


There will now probably be a flurry of posts as I try and update our blog with bite sized pieces as opposed to a huge ramble.

Firstly, the work is well and truly underway on the Combat Stress Garden. And what an absolute joy it is to work with professionals. I have always been extremely fortunate with whom I work; perhaps it is my very bad sense of humour, but I always work with great people who have very high standards and a very very low, black sense of humour. And Fi Boyle and the mob from Cirencester Civil Engineering are no exception. I cannot recommend them highly enough. You saw the picture of the site taken several weeks ago. This now resembles the beginnings of a garden. The site is so dry that the soil looks and acts like sand and everyone comes back looking as if they have been sprayed with earth - you end up eating and breathing it! In one area the ground is so hard (not on our site thank goodness) that they are having to soften the ground with water to be able to break it up.

So to the pictures.........

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pesky pheasants

The warm weather is supposedly here at last. Although over the last week it has gone cold again. Butterflies were everywhere particularly the singularly beautiful Brimstone. Always a sign of spring. The bees are out and about too covering plants such as Pulmonaria. This much maligned plant is a joy at this time of year. I particularly love ‘Opal’ which has the most exquisite flowers. They are almost luminescent. And it was a very useful plant in medieval times being used to treat bronchial problems; hence its ‘other’ name lungwort. Pulmonaria pairs particularly well with primroses, snowdrops, cyclamen and ferns as it loves part or full shade. In addition, the pheasants don’t seem to like it. I don’t know whether any of you have suffered the depredations of the two legged monster, but all my wallflowers have been decimated by the wretched bird! Although I tend to think, looking at my poor border, that there is more than one. Hopefully as spring goes into full swing the growth will prove too much for it and will outstrip its hungry beak!

Stunning silence

I know I know. There has been a complete and utter stunning silence from me, and it is not because I have gone quiet. Quite the opposite in fact. Life has been so so so busy that everytime I think of catching up with our blog, something else happens. I will update in the next few days.

But in a nutshell..... the work for the Combat Stress garden is really underway. And I have attached a picture of our site at Hampton Court. Terrifying!!!! We have to transform this huge space (spot the yellow flags marking our boundary corners) into the therapeutic garden you see shown further down this blog. And yes, to answer your question we are still fund raising.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

We are in!!

Okay, so our 'space' has not been confirmed, but we are into the Hampton Court Show week commencing 5th July. At last. And yes, we are still finalising bits and pieces. The ever indefatigable Mike Sugg and Lee are beavering away trying to source various trees and we are still fundraising. However, we have reached our target for getting the garden to the show. What we now need to do is to get the garden to Combat Stress' headquarters at Tyrwhitt House and have it installed there for which we need additional funds. So it is onwards and upwards.

And it is so good to have such great news, because on many other fronts there seems to be gloom and disaster. Avoiding anything to do with the impending election..... the weather is dreadful. The amount of grey cloud presiding over the south of the UK at the moment is monumentally depressing. I do not suffer from SADs, but am definitely starting to feel like taking a sunshine pill. Plants are slowly emerging from hibernation, but are very reluctant to show themselves. Daffodils are finally unfurling after the spectacular display that the snowdrops made. Roses are starting to put new growth on, and the fruit trees are threatening to break out into blossom. But the threat of snow and frost has not passed, yet!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A step closer

Events are moving apace. The garden for our autistic client is now a reality, with plans to put the fence and level off the ground starting on 12 April - so fingers crossed for good weather, good machinery, lots of muscle and general good humour as it is going to be two days of very hard work.

And secondly, the Combat Stress garden is inching closer to happening! I love working with people who 'can do'. It makes such a difference that half glass full rather than the half glass empty way of looking at life. I had a meeting with Mike Sugg, Leigh (sorry Leigh I never did get your surname) and Peter Wenham of Adbruf to look at the logistics of creating this garden. And it is suddenly so close to happening that you can 'feel it'. We have a couple of dedicated growers nurturing our plants to greater and better things; the trees we are still sourcing as they have to be spectacular - but not so big that we cannot get them in! And we are now looking at the hows and wherefores. So fingers crossed and we will keep you posted.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


The sun is shining, the birds are singing and the amended plans for the Combat Stress Therapeutic Garden have met with the approval of the RHS. Not only that, but one of our suppliers, Cirencester Civil Engineering have been absolutely wonderful and are donating the hard landscaping elements of the garden. So the garden is a huge leap nearer becoming a reality; thank you so much Mike. It makes a huge difference when you work with people who understand the vision and reality of what we are trying to do. The garden courtyard at Tyrwhitt House the headquarters of Combat Stress is an arid building site. Scarcely conducive to getting the best out of rehabilitation or even being able to relax. Now all we need is to get the plants sorted out. So a huge thank you to Mike and to all our other suppliers who are being so brilliant such as Geotextile (who supply pond liners amongst other things); Mobilane who are supplying the ivy screens; and Gaze Burvill who are lending us some of the furniture. A huge huge thank you.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Gardens ARE important!

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at a conference being held by the UK's leading Rehabilitation Cost Consultants Jacqueline Webb & Co. Put simply this company provides extensive costings and advice to personal injury lawyers, insurers and claimants/pursuers, in Britain, Ireland and overseas, to provide an expert analysis of the past, present and future needs of the injured person. My task was to explain the important part that gardens have to play in the rehabilitation package ie The View from the Window. In reasearching this subject I have come across evidence both factual and empirical proving that the environment that we look out on and function in is vital to our well being and to our recovery from injury and illness. In addition designing the house for those with an injury - be it neural or physical should take place alongside the design for the garden. The saving of money, when this is done is enormous. The benefits to client huge - both in looking out of the window onto a changing scene of flowers, light, seasons, and in the use the garden is put to. After all what is the point in having a house, apartment that has a garden that is inaccessible to a wheelchair user, and the adaption cost is prohibitive and has not even been allowed for? It is frightening how often this happens.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Therapeutic Gardens Update

It is interesting that I am so tired; I spent the day in London yesterday at a seminar. Admittedly it was pouring with rain and not an ideal day to be out and about. But the tiredness comes more from sitting in a room all day and not getting out and about in the countryside that I so take for granted. I know that I talk and believe in the importance of our environment and gardens, but I tend to forget just how much cities can drain our energy, particularly on grey, low light days such as we are experiencing now. It makes that view out of the window even more important.

I was attending a seminar the RHS were giving about exhibiting at the Hampton Court Flower Show in July where we hope to be showing the Combat Stress therapeutic garden. We have been asked to fine tune our design - so you will see some updated drawings on this page soon. We have also managed, with the assistance of the nimble fingers of the Combat Stress fundraising team, to create a Bmycharity.com page so that any donations given for this garden will attract Gift Aid (fingers crossed!). You can view the page - and make a donation (please please please) on http://www.bmycharity.com/v2/combatstressgarden. Please if you know any organisation or person who might be willing to support this fantastic concept do let them know about the page. You can email me with any questions/ideas you may have. It is all very gratefully received!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The view from the window

I was out visiting some old friends of mine today; old in terms of knowing them, but young at heart. They are avid gardeners and they asked me about Independent Gardening and why I had set up the company. As I talked to them about why I was so passionate about the importance of gardens and their impact on us, there was a slight pause in the conversation. 'When I am bed bound' she said, 'I am going to be surrounded by windows so I can look out all over my garden'. And that in a nutshell is why I feel this company is so important. Someone has to stand alongside the occupational therapists, the families of those injured, and those people, qualified or not who care, and say ' what we look out on is as important as how we are looked after'. When the view from your window is a concrete wall you might as well be in a prison. Being imprisoned in your mind through brain injury is a 'hell' I hope you and I don't have to go through. But for those who are, they deserve something better than to be surrounded by machinery, walls, curtains and hushed voices. The view from their windows is as important as the touch of someone who cares. The play of light and shadow across the trees, or the movement of clouds in a sky provides a scene of variety and life to those wheelchair or bedbound that those of us who are more mobile and 'cognitive' don't always appreciate, because after all, we are often too busy to stop and notice. Giving people a view from their window is not difficult, nor is it expensive. It is a case of seeing what is possible, and making it happen. And that is why this work is so so important.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Combating Stress

After a day like today; driving all over the place, caught behind tractors (makes a change from traffic jams) and generally getting frustrated at the pace of things, or rather lack of it, it is wonderful to come back to the office and speak to people who are so incredibly 'pro' what we are trying to achieve with the show garden for Combat Stress.

I have uploaded an image of what the Combat Stress therapeutic garden at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show will look like - only it will be better! Our suppliers, and I know that Sean Farrell from Mobilane (who are supplying the fantastic ivy screen/walls that provide part of the garden boundaries) will not mind me mentioning him, are a constant source of inspiration. His energy and enthusiasm for this project is boundless. We are determined that this project happens. Our service men and women deserve the best that we can do for them - not only out on the ground, but here back at home. As do our really unsung heroes - the families, wives, partners, parents and children who support them.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Interesting times!

I sometimes wonder why I do this work, and then I meet people or read what they have written and I know why.

Clare's poem, featured on our pages on our website, makes me smile every time I read it. The fact that she wrote it tells me more than anything about the difference that the work we did in her garden made. She has huge windows from her bedroom that overlook the ever-changing scape of her garden. I hope, that with her permission, we may show you some more of what her garden 'does' over the years. It is a credit to her determination, her wonderful mother's vision and the fantastic people who assist Clare in leading a life that has a huge amount of meaning. She is a seriously inspirational lady.

On the other side of the coin, is the work we are doing on the Hampton Court Palace garden for Combat Stress. We are hoping to obtain additional sponsorship. Our fantastic suppliers have already come up with the goods, but we need more assistance to make this garden a reality, both at Hampton Court and at Tyrwhitt House, the headquarters of Combat Stress. Then I see an article written by a British squaddie in Afghanistan, which is take on Rudyard Kipling's 1895 poem 'The British Soldier'. And I know why I do this work. I know what the fallout from PTSD and Combat Stress looks like, and both Fi Boyle (the designer of the garden) and myself are going to do our utmost to ensure that those that come back from active service get the best assistance possible. If you have any ideas about who we can approach or how we can get further financial assistance please let me know.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Welcome to our new blog

I have been inspired to launch this blog due to our increased work load in the field of brain and neural injury/disabilities. What started off as a 'one-off' garden design job for a client has become something of a mission. So much so that I find myself starting a new company called Independent Gardening Ltd (IG), with a new soon to be completed website. Between IG and its sister company Down to Earth I hope to be able to design and build a variety of different gardens (small and large). The aim of this blog is to encapsulate what we are doing, what we've learned and cover new projects. I also hope to be able to make a difference; to inform and promote discussion about the importance of our gardens and our immediate surroundings, and the views through our windows to our emotional, physical and mental health.

I am especially happy to be able to bring my experience and knowledge of garden creation and maintenance to this specialised and worthwhile field. The media has ensured public recognition of the complex range of problems faced by our injured soldiers, helped by charities such as Combat Stress and Help for Heroes. But perhaps less well-appreciated in this country is the enormous part gardens and gardening can play in the long rehabilitation journey. I look forward to sharing with you the challenges and triumphs of this work – with some photos if the rain ever stops pouring!