Saturday, 14 January 2017

Happiness Championing....

Recently Bristol organisation Happy City, published a list of 25 people working in the city who they describe as their Happiness Champions. It's an extraordinary list, filled with people who are making change within communities in the city and I feel a bit of a fraud being in it, albeit thrilled that I am. 
Of course people who know me are seeing an irony in this!! My main reasons for doing what I do are fury, disappointment and sadness at the state of all sorts of things.
Why don't schools offer horticulture as a viable career?
Why are we allowing the skills of growing and gardening to disappear?
Social injustice.
Food poverty and food waste.
Climate change.
Etc, etc, etc. The list is endless.
Most of my days are spent in conversations around change and inevitably where change is needed there is an issue in the first place. Be it anti social behaviour, poor design or use of public space, communities feeling they are voiceless, these are real issues that we are tackling through making positive change by making gardens. And it's working.
And it's this positive, gentle change that tackles lost and unloved spaces and turns them from embarrassing eyesore to a place of community pride, and in turn leads to increased community cohesion, resilience and eventually happiness.
So I guess being a champion for happiness means also being a champion for people, for communities, for gardens, for social justice, food and wealth equality, for the environment, for horticulture and more. And that, I think, means continuing to be furious, to demand change and to support people, gardens and horticulture in the city and beyond. 
My own feeling is that what we need is a kinder future that acknowledges the small changes and the power of those changes across communities both in Bristol and the UK. Happiness needs to be at the centre of all of this, rather than wealth or growth, and is made through grassroots action rather than government decision making, be that local or national. So I'm going to carry on supporting that change to kindness......
If you'd like to know more about the other Hapoiness Champions here's a link......


Sunday, 8 January 2017

The miracle that is the NHS!!

As some of you who follow me on Twitter will know, Mr V was rushed into hospital on Thursday following a huge degeneration in his back injury. I'm not going to go on about that other than to say he is definitely on the mend, but I am going to offer some thoughts on the NHS. Obviously this is poignant at the moment as the Red Cross have declared a humanitarian crisis in our hospitals.
What's most apparent both at A&E level and throughout the hospital we were transferred to is that everything is at capacity. At the Bristol Royal Infirmary Majors dept there wasn't a bed free and as soon as there was, another ambulance arrived with another critically unwell person. Having said that, the treatment was exemplary, not just medically but on a human scale. Both nurses and doctors, whilst obviously at peak capacity, took time and effort to explain what they thought was going on, what was being suggested and how the conclusions being brought were going to impact on the patient. 
But the incredible care started long before we got to A&E. Calling 111 can sometimes feel like a thankless task but hearing Mr V crying in pain in the background the operator put us immediately through to a doctor who immediately called an ambulance and stayed on the phone until the ambulance crew arrived. When they did arrive not only were they professional, calm and caring, but they took their time and understood that there was a level of confusion in the patient caused by acute pain, exhaustion and a huge cocktail of pain relief. Not only did they make quick, definite decisions, but they kept us both informed and were supportive of both patient and career. They even made sure I had the cash to catch the bus into town so I could just get dressed and organised and follow straight away. 
We were transferred from Bristol Royal Infirmary to Southmead by the same crew, who ought to have been headed for a meal break but offered to take us as they knew our history, that we were both somewhat terrified by the speed at which things were progressing and felt they could offer the necesssry support. I will forever be grateful to that crew. 
Once we arrived at Southmead again we were treated speedily, professionally and with the ultimate respect. Nurses, doctors and anaesthetists all spent precious time with us, going through options, explaining what they thought was best and why and going over what had brought them to this conclusion. It felt that kindness, respect and patient care was firmly at the core of everything they were doing, and that carried through until we left. Every single member of staff treated us as humans, respecting our need to ask questions and being very honest with their answers but also realising our vulnerabilities, never rushing decisions.
For me this is such an important story to tell. We know the NHS is having funding cut right, left and centre and we know it is stretched to beyond capacity. We know difficult decisions are being made every day and that in many places hospitals are struggling to cope, with people waiting in A&E departments for hours at a time. There are terrible tales.
We're also aware that there is privatisation happening in our hospitals. Costa coffee and M&S food stores, pharmacies run by high street chemists and outsourced catering are all signs of that happening before our eyes. 
So what can we do?
Well share your positive stories is a good and important start. Our story isn't the only one, and we know that because we saw other people all around us being treated just as amazingly. We saw people at their most vulnerable being treated with care and kindness. We saw relatives having complex issues and procedures explained to them as if they were the only family in the building. We listened as a man crashed and a team brought him back in away that made you know that not only did that team have the backs of the patients but also each other. We saw pressured nurses seeing relatives concerned and upset making sure they looked after them as well as they were the actual patient.
Looking back I realise Mr V was an emergency case all the way through the first day, although I didn't realise that at the time, mainly due to the calm of all those amazing people. From arriving at Southmead to going to surgery took less than two hours, which is extraordinary. And just to point out the obvious, all of this was completely free. 
So let's tell these positive tales, support our NHS in any way we can, and demand our government supports this wonderful institution. Being without it is a terrifying thought and one that we must ensure never happens. 

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Resolutions? Not on your nelly!

I don't do resolutions. Setting yourself up for failure on the first day of the year seems unkind and unnecessary. After all changes come slowly, incrementally and start with small changes that lead to more. 
Which reminds me of a family I have worked with for the last year. They were desperate to grow some food and teach their children where food comes from and approached me to find out how to get an allotment. Our first conversation was difficult as it was apparent really quickly that they just didn't have the time to work a plot properly and that they would have struggled and given up. This family has parents with 3 jobs between them, one car which is generally at work with one parent or the other or ferrying children around to various sports and  clubs and when we sat and worked out what their really spare time looked like it was pretty much not there. They certainly couldn't find 8 hours a week to get on top of a weedy plot!!
I always think it's harsh but kind to be really honest with people about time and gardening, because there is nothing worse than knowing something will be a struggle for someone. If  struggle is involved there will disappointment and a feeling of failure. Gardening, be it for flower or fruit, should be a pleasure, a joy and for it to be anything else is sad and wrong. 
What I didn't say to this family however, was that they couldn't garden, but that we would find a way they could, allowing for their time, or lack of it, and ensuring the youngsters in the family were involved! We looked at what space they had available to them at home in their tiny back yard and front garden and we planned to make those spaces edible, productive and beautiful. 
They discussed what they wanted to grow and a raised bed was made and some large pots bought and filled with compost. Seeds were sown of lettuce leaves and tomato seedlings were bought. Chillies were gifted and herb plants bought. Eventually everything was planted out, a feeding and watering rota was made and the growing began. Every few weeks more salad was sown and slowly over the summer the family realised they were becoming almost self sufficient in salad leaves and in late July when the tomatoes started fruiting, enough sauce was made to last a fair while and some 'sun' dried tomatoes were made using my dehydrator, and stored in olive oil. The chillies also fruited somewhat spectacularly, leaving my own crop looking embarrassingly light, and they were turned into ristras and dried and are on display in their kitchen labelled by heat level with luggage labels. 
All in all for a family that's really pushed for time, this little project has done several things. It's enabled them to eat fresh, seasonal food and learn to preserve some of it for the winter months. It's enabled them to use what garden space they have productively, and to be in that space more and so outside more. They've learnt some growing skills and are excited to learn more and have visited some gardens to look at how others grow. But most importantly it has been a family project that they have worked on together and that they all agree has helped their family to spend time together which they might not have otherwise done. With 3 young people in the house between the ages of 9 and 15 it's often hard to find something everyone will enjoy and learn from, but this has seemingly really worked. 
I'm told more pots and another raised bed are being planned this season and that courgettes and potatoes in bags are on the menu as well as the tomatoes, chillies and herbs of last year. And that their neighbours are keen to join in turning the project into one for the street, which they are happy to support and help establish. 
As we move into 2017, with its uncertainties and global concerns, stories like these make me realise that everyone can make change in their lives if they want to. What's important is that those changes are sustainable, not overwhelming and seen as fun. Small actions that lead to movements of change through families, into communities and beyond through real grassroots activism.
So with all that in our thoughts, let's stop making pointless resolutions. Instead let's look at one small change we can make and make it for good in away that is meaningful and offers kindness to ourselves, our friends and our planet.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Resist and survive.....

In that hot summer of 1976, whilst sitting in the parched lawn in our drought ridden garden, my mum, presumably whilst talking about the drought to a very concerned 6 year old, said to me, "you'll be alive when the oil runs out" and since that moment I have lived my life exploring that statement and what it's effect would be, on both people and planet.
Of course with the technology we now have it's unlikely I will see a world without oil, but it's a moment I've almost wanted to see, and sitting here today I'm beginning to make sense of why.
Frugality has always been my middle name. I've never wanted "stuff" particularly, and even if I do covet gardening tools and plants, I've always found joy in recovering old tools and of course, growing plants from seed or cuttings. A roof over my head, warmth, food and an allotment are my needs and I've progressively found it harder and harder to see the need for much else. Of course that's not to say I refuse gifts or never buy anything, but I'm clear about my ethics and stick to them rather than just purchasing mindless stuff. Over the last few years, setting up an organisation voluntarily this has been useful to say the least!!
But back to the point of this post. 
"You'll be alive when the oil runs out" has never been a statement to me, but more a call to peaceful arms, to look for an alternative way and playing a part in mending the earth from the scarring of industrialisation and humans ongoing need for things whatever the environmental price. To stand up for the planet  above anything else and to work to a different way of being.
Why are you telling us this I hear you say? 
Well I think we're at a point in history where we are on a cusp, a precipice if you like, and we have choices and we have voices. We can follow the Trump/May/scarily right wing and immensely corporate agenda of growth no matter what, or we can ignore it and follow another way.

This weekend we have seen the coming together of American tribes at Standing Rock win the first of what will be several battles in the war against an oil pipe going through their sacred lands and below the River Missouri. The battle was won by the bringing together of tribes, mostly of native American decent, but eventually bringing in a new tribe, the American veterans, to the battle. 
To me this gives hope and a really strong message. To move our world forwards in a new way we need to accept that we are all tribes and that to create change those tribes must come together, talk and share their connections, discuss their differences and find a way for mutual respect based on positives, instead of negatives. We must stop being hatefilled, and refuse to listen to that rhetoric, and instead make our own media, our own stories, based on kindness and positivity.
And then I hear someone ask, "but why should we?", and here's my reply.
We recognise that we live in a hate fuelled world. We know the media spin everything to their own agenda. We now understand austerity is caused by the elite few looking after their own rather than everyone. It's easy to get angry, sad and depressed even. 
But that achieves nothing. Changes nothing.
If you turn that anger on its head, subscribe to the idea that a million small actions can turn into a mighty movement for change, and begin to make some small but significant changes in your life and in the lives of those around you, across the world change will be inevitable and people will once again take back control for their own lives.
If you then bring that to friends, family and community, joining those tribes through positive actions, change will begin to spread, like wildfire, at grassroots level, everywhere. 
And why? Well I want a better future for my kids and their kids, but not just a better one. 
A kinder future. A future where success is measured in health and well being as much as wealth. 
A braver, kinder world. 

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Flower Sprouts are a go!!

This morning I popped up to the allotment for an hour, more to get some fresh air than anything, and to pick some purple sprouting broccoli for dinner. It was a bit of a grey, damp morning but as usual I had a good wander around the garden, picked some beetroots as well as the psb and then saw the flower sprouts looked quite healthy so went to have a look.....

And found this..
Flower sprouts, otherwise known as Kalettes!!

Now I have to admit I didn't grow these from seeds but bought them at Thornbury Garden Shop, which is one of those garden emporiums that sells loads of plants, including home grown seedlings, seeds by weight and a whole host of things you don't realise you need until you get there! I saw these and having tried them the previous year having found them in M&S at an enormous price, really wanted to try them myself. 

Now I have to admit they have not been well looked after! They were left in their modules for too long, planted out and eaten by slugs almost immediately, we didn't net them until the pigeons had had a go, and I certainly haven't fed them. And for that I can only apologise to these poor plants which are now going to feed us over the winter. Particularly as they are delicious!!

So what do I do with them? Well I just pop them into some salted water, let them come to a boil and remove from the heat almost immediately. They taste between sprouts and purple sprouting broccoli and are in fact a cross between sprouts and British kale, and are not just delicious but also a really beautiful addition to the plate. 

Lots of people are selling the seeds right now, so if you were wondering whether to try them, I would definitely say do so. I'll definitely be planting some along with other brassicas next year!!

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Behind the aquaponics challenge!!

So the BBC finally showed the little aquaponics and growing without a garden film so I thought it'd be good to write a wee bit about it.
It was great to do. I entered into it in a slightly cynical way for sure as although I'm fascinated by aquaponics, I really wasn't sure that it would be possible in a domestic setting, or if I could be interested enough in the detail to really get properly involved. But once it was up and running and the fish were in, it became a bit of an obsession and was really fascinating and very, very productive.
Lots of people have asked what was grown in the grow box, so here's a list and how.
Firstly the box is filled with clay pellets, with a few red worms added which have multiplied over the year. The majority of the plants were grown from seed in modules and then planted into the grow box when they had 2/3 sets of true leaves. The only exception to this was watercress which we added as seed and which went completely crazy. It's fair to say we have been self sufficient in basil, watercress and parsley from the box alone all over the summer.
Now the fish were a slightly different matter. They came along and were popped into the tank and we quickly realised that they probably weren't the ideal fish for the tank. They were mirror carp, a deep river fish, so the tank was far too shallow for them, and we had several incidents of them jumping, flying out and across the wooden floor!! As someone who's slightly fish phobic, thus wasn't ideal to say the least. However, they tasted absolutely delicious. Carp is often described as muddy but as we had maintained the water well, keeping it clean and changing it a couple of times, they tasted clean and sweet. We did lose 3 of the fish during an algal bloom, which was awful and really upsetting, it made me realise that water quality is key so we began doing regular partial water changes.

The tank and grow box are definitely staying as part of our home growing story, but we have goldfish now, and we're overwintering the grow box with strawberry plants. In the spring we're going to add some aquatic plants to the tank to help maintain the water quality, but so far it's doing really well.
Several folk have asked me yo blog about how we grew the tomatoes so I'll do separate piece with pics!!
Would I do it again? Yes!!

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

The Autumn Is Here

I'm really not joking but I'm trying not to panic!!
The seed heads of my alliums have finally fallen over. The sunflowers are dropping their heads. The calendula are still flowering but the seed heads are turning black. The dahlias have  gone black in the last frost. The perennial kale looks sad where it hasn't recovered from caterpillar attack and the mints are looking sad  and a bit cross.

The leaves are falling from the trees and shrubs that surround the garden, and each day the little Ginkgos leaves turn a bit more buttery in colour. The Acers, both in a bit of a sulk being in a garden that in all honesty is a bit too windy for them, have lost their leaves and the dieback is showing a bit. 
But am I rushing out to tidy it up? Am I panicking about the weeds that are still coming or the grass needing a last cut and it being too wet? What am I doing about the leaves falling everywhere? 

Well the answer is, I'm not really doing anything. There is no rush, no panic. It's my garden and at this time of year I'm losing interest in what I want from the garden and concentrating on what the wildlife need to get them through the winter.
Of course I'm still doing things. Sweet peas are sown, plugs bought are potted and being cared for in the greenhouse, several pots are full of primulas and some new bulbs have been planted. We've potted self propagated runners from the Japanese Wineberry, the strawberries have had their runners potted on and all the pots are weeded and top dressed with compost.
The leaves falling on the patio and paths are being collected for leaf mould and soon the compost will be emptied and spread on the beds keeping them full of the rich flora and fauna needed for the best growth next year. 
But most of all I'm enjoying the return of the birds to the feeders, the dewy cobwebs across the shrubs each morning and the feeling of life continuing in the garden despite the cold and damp and dark. I'm enjoying knowing the garden is beginning to take on a life of its own, where nature is the predominant force and Mother Nature is in charge.

Just probably need to point out that none of these pics are of my garden, but are photos taken around Bristol during the autumn!!