Today I was invited to become a wellbeing advocate at work, which took me by surprise and I was delighted. This will involve completing mental health first aid training and learning about wellbeing practices. I am also planning a ‘wellbeing wander’ for a festival that’s coming up in our organisation, which is inspired by one I followed at Anglesey Abbey a couple of years ago 🌸
Besides this, it’s a stunning afternoon here in Cambridge – breezy, sunny and quiet. An iris has bloomed for the first time in our little garden, and the roses are not far behind.
This weekend has been a time of reflection, so today I’m sharing 21 months-worth of things I’ve noticed, learned and loved since beginning this garden.
(Maybe) don’t buy one of everything I was incredibly excited to get started, and as a beginner fell into the trap of buying a single pot of each plant I felt drawn to. While this seemed no bad thing initially, over time it led to a garden which had little patches of plants in bloom and lacked coherence. For example, if we’d planted several of the same euphorbia around the garden, when they bloomed it would make a bold impression across the space and draw the beds together; and with several plants placed in this way we’d soon form a fabric of planting, with some repetition. (That said, I don’t regret buying quite a few different plants early on, as this helped us notice which we enjoyed most, and establish what worked well together – see below).
Figure out which combinations make you feel good As I bought plants initially, I was drawn to their beautiful colours and forms online, but seeing them in the flesh – and noticing how they grow – made it much easier to gauge whether they went well together. It’s easy to move things around, and this experimentation is part of the fun! Which colours most fill you with pleasure? This year I’ve noticed that purples, pinks and vibrant greens do something good to my brain without question. Soft yellows and deep reds, too, though not together.
Pay close attention to where the light falls I’ve heard Adam Frost talk about this several times on television, and can now appreciate why. We have a shady area in the garden which is dominated by a tall fence, and I’ve noticed the plants we’ve placed there tend to lurch towards where the sunlight begins, beyond the shadow. If I’d assessed the light levels before selecting these plants, I’d have opted for more shade-loving varieties! It’s well worth taking time to do this.
Don’t forget to water bulbs in pots I planted a lot of tulips in autumn but didn’t water them until quite a bit after greenery began to form in early spring, assuming the rain would be plenty in the meantime. With very little rainfall this year in Cambridge, this led to very short tulips, and is thus something I’ll bear in mind this autumn/winter. (I’m not even sure I watered them well when planting, which is another error. Oops!)
Gardening and mindfulness go hand-in-hand Having a garden or green space to potter around in is such a gift, and presents endless opportunities to practice mindfulness. Stopping to notice the shimmering of petals or the movement of shadows on our plants; watching the water from a hose or rain from the sky drop onto the leaves of trees or shrubs; spotting bees, butterflies and other insects steadily forming habitats in the little space we’re cultivating…it’s all wondrous. Let’s enjoy it.
Prepare to be amazed When the above poppies first ‘popped’ last spring, I genuinely gasped upon seeing one for the first time. This may sound silly, but actually it’s a beautiful thing to experience – a genuine moment of wonder and astonishment at nature and its continual surprises. I was also amazed by the sheer scale of the cardoon we grew last year, and the teasels we’ve planted for this summer are increasingly giant, taking up a lot of space at present…! Something else I’ve been pleasantly surprised by is how easy the roses have been to take care of – even when covered in aphids they have bloomed beautifully over two summers so far.
Take note of delight So much of gardening is about how plants make us feel. There are certain flowers which move me – roses in particular, with their exquisite forms, complex shades and often incredible scent. (I wouldn’t be surprised if this place becomes a full-on rose garden over time!) In an effort to keep note of delight, I’ve listed my favourite plants to date below. What are yours…? 😊
Roses – especially ‘Scepter’d Isle’, ‘Boscobel’ and ‘Munstead Wood’
Verbena bonariensis moves beautifully in the breeze, and bees love it
Verbena hastata f. Rosea, as stated, can reach great heights (see photo below)
Spiky purple salvias such as Salvia nemorosa Ostfriesland.
Geranium ‘Rozanne’ will flower all summer long and into autumn, and if you look closely it sparkles in the sunlight
Achillea – pattable clouds of colour (I especially like the yellow varieties)
Erigeron, forget-me-nots, pulmonaria and flowering thyme at the edges of beds
Euphorbias – I’m keen to explore these further
Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ – the cones are a bee’s paradise!
Asters in autumn…so lovely
Fluffy grasses of all kinds – hopefully ours will thrive this year
As for the future, I’m excited to see peonies, delphiniums and angelica gigas flower for the first time here. The grasses and newer thalictrum we planted last autumn will be interesting to witness taking on new growth, and we’re about to plant some Queen of the Prairie, which I’ve not seen up-close before. It’ll be good to see how those huge teasels turn out, too…
Have you ever tried to dig up a creeping buttercup? Its roots can run surprisingly deep, sprawling out in clumps, thick and white. The more you dig, the more you find, and a fork perhaps won’t do; you’ll likely need a spade to get to the bottom, but you’ll get there in the end.
That was last week’s challenge for us here in the garden, but another obstacle I face is less simply overcome. It is fumiphobia – a phobia involving a strong fear of, or aversion to, inhaling smoke and other fumes. This is something that has become especially prevalent since Covid-19 involved worrying about breathing in the virus, or indeed giving it to a loved one inadvertently. Yet, looking back, I think this phobia has been creeping up on me since I was quite young and my siblings would smoke indoors: I felt like there was no escape from it, and would get frustrated, upset, exhausted with the situation.
If you, too, have experienced fumiphobia, I wondered how much it impacts your time spent in the garden or in outdoor spaces? Personally, it can put me off being in the garden if our neighbours are smoking or barbecuing…which actually is quite a bit of the time, in the summer months at least. It does make me appreciate the periods in which this isn’t the case very much though 💚
Having googled this phobia and found very little, I thought I’d mention it here, as it may chime with someone now or in future. (If so, you’re not alone).
I’ve put some photos below that were taken this morning here in the garden, after a little rainfall. I love this kind of quiet, raindrop-filled time.
It’s a wonderfully sunny bank holiday Monday here in Cambridge, and before sorting several things out in the garden (e.g. staking and weeding), I thought I’d snap a few photos of what’s looking especially pretty.
It’s the first year in which most beds appear quite full here by early May, which is exciting. This time last year things were quite a bit smaller and separate.
I hope you’re enjoying your garden and the delights that this season brings.
I’ve spent less time in the garden recently – slightly overwhelmed by working in the city rather than from home for part of my week – so it was lovely to roam around and notice autumnal details flourishing in the cloudy light today.
Not sure what kind of beetle this is ^ but it’s amazing.