Thursday, 16 February 2017

The power of kindness.....or #gdnbloggers

Today I toodled into London to the Garden Press Event, a yearly event aimed at people who write about gardens. I had never been before but several people had said what a great event it was so I decided to go along.
And there were some fabulous exhibitors who were there to talk about their products and who were extremely generous with both their time and their gifts, and I'll be talking about those at a later date, but something else came to mind that needs expressing first.....
Now it's no secret that I am a big fan of social media. I've been tweeting, facebooking and Instagramming for years now and it's always been, for me, a positive thing that has truly enhanced my life and given me the confidence I have to do what I do. But today really brought that home, in quite a moving way. 
 Me and the lovely Charles who I first chatted with via Twitter, having a right old laugh!! Photo by the lovely Steph Hafferty who I also met on Twitter!!

Today a community came together. An extraordinary community of garden bloggers, all different but joined together by a love of gardens and growing. A community which is supportive, generous and kind. A community that usually chats on Facebook and Twitter but that today came together and made a statement. Not a spoken or written statement but a silent one that said we are a community that will support each other. A community that has, when needed, one voice, albeit made of multiple voices. 
These were such good fun and as you can see were shared as an Instagram story-a new and fun way to share your day!

And then I looked around and realised that it was more than that. There were people on stands, exhibitors and journalists who are all friends that have been made through the joys of social media. Through sharing posts, through sharing successes  and failures and through a combined love for what we all do, this community is growing, gaining traction and creating a slightly alternative voice within mainstream garden media.
Since the garden bloggers community became a more structured entity through organised Twitter chats and Facebook groups I think, probably unbeknowingly, a force has been unleashed. With more people using social media, exploring different platforms and enjoying conversations with each other and joining in with conversations, using hashtags and generally getting on no matter where in the world they physically are, it feels, to me at least, that there's somewhere to go for help, advice and most importantly for support.
And I think this can only become more exciting as we go forwards. For years many of us have said we'd like to see an alternative to the traditional garden press, and perhaps here it is, all around us without us actually realising!!
So if you want to join in then do!! You don't even need to be a blogger to join in the conversation really. Just get online and look out for posts with the tag #gdnbloggers and get involved!

Monday, 13 February 2017

Give a bird a home.....

The 14th to the 21st of February is National Nest Box Week, an important week in the year if, like me, you want wildlife to come and use your garden, making it as diverse a space as possible. Of course it's important to look after the birds all year round but National Nest Box Week always reminds me of a few things!!
Firstly, as I sit writing this on February 13th at 4.45, looking occasionally out of the window at the blue sky, I'm reminded of the returning light and the oncoming of the season ahead. It's just now worth sowing seeds in warm greenhouses or on windowsills as the light levels are just long enough to stop the terrible legginess of seeds sown earlier in the year. A month ago it was pitch dark at this time , and the light returning makes us all brighter, gives a Spring to the step and purpose to our actions.
And then I remember that bird nesting season will be upon us any minute!! Birds will be gathering nesting material, making their nests and inhabiting nest boxes prior to getting down to the serious matter of mating and laying of eggs. Particularly in urban and peri-urban spaces where trees and hedging are often not available for nesting, bird boxes are vital to ensure successful families of a range of birds can mate and raise their chicks to a point where they can successfully fledge.
So this weekend get out into the garden and clean out your bird boxes, or add a new bird box to your garden. Remember when siting them that they need to be faced away from direct sun, and far enough up the tree or wall that they can't be got at by next doors cat! 
And while you're looking at where to put some bird boxes, don't forget to clean out your bird feeders to stop diseases spreading and fill them up with new food.
A great way to begin a year of supporting wildlife in the garden, and a brilliant thing to do with the children on half term. And you could even get them bird boxes that can be painted to really get them involved. Then just sit back and watch those small feathered friends arrive. 

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Bristol Jam Plan-food waste warriors!!

On Monday last week, after a crazy day of garden consultations, I popped along to meet up with my lovely pal Danielle, who runs Bishopston Supper Club. I adore visiting her home as she has turned a beautiful Victorian ground floor flat into a complete food hub. Her kitchen is her workspace so a professional kitchen but also a beautiful space that is always wonderful to be in, and as I arrived it was full of the evocative scent of plum chutney on the hob. Next to the kitchen is the space the supper club is held in, with wooden floors and high ceilings it's a glorious space to meet with friends both old and new!!
Sadly by the time I arrived it was dark but the other quite extraordinary thing about this home is that both front and back gardens are filled with raised beds full of fruit and vegetables that are used for the supper club meals. The beds are beautiful and always full of delicious looking and tasting goodies.
Bishopston Supper Club is also famed for the preserves they make and sell in various independent shops across the city. From rhubarb ketchup to medlar jelly, these jams and preserves use the seasonal harvest to create wonderful preserves that talk of the seasons with creativity and love.
But I was there to talk about Bristol Jam Plan, a new venture with a great community slant! Using surplus fruit and veg, Danielle will create great preserves, jams and jellies which will be used in two ways. Firstly using her cargo bike to deliver them, the jams and preserves will be given to homeless shelters for breakfast spreads and additions to meals later in the day. Relying on surplus means that often there's a lack of preserves for toast, to add to porridge etc, and so this is something that really matters in supporting people through homelessness and we already know is making a huge difference in severa shelters across the city.
The rest of the preserves will be sold at markets, food festivals and in independent food shops across the city, so you'll be able to buy them all over, including in the Bearpit and several other places where people are working hard to support the homelessness issue in Bristol. Any profit will go back into community projects that are supporting homelessness or food surplus issues across the city. 
So if we have any surplus at Incredible Edible Bristol you can guess where it will go!!
I think this whole project is awesome, but not just because it's using up surplus. It's also proof that by having a brilliant idea and getting on with it, everyone can support change to happen, just by talking to people and taking action. Often it's a scary proposition to begin with, but once there's support from the community, which there always is for great ideas, these projects fly and expand!! I'm so excited to see this happen at Bristol Jam Plan.
At the moment volunteers are coming together on Mondays to prep and make the preserves at Bishopston Supper Club HQ, and what's great here is that you need no experience to join in as Danielle takes you through everything you need to do, so not only is she supporting homelessness and food waste, but is also teaching folk how to preserve their harvests!! If you'd like to get involved just email!!
I'll be there as often as my crazy diary allows. 

Saturday, 4 February 2017

British Flowers-the 2017 edition!!

What does that word mean to you?
A birthday present to myself or a lovely friend. A gift. A treat. A piece of beautiful decadence. 
And for me that means buying those beautiful blooms from a trusted source, be that through a trusted online shop such as that at Common Farm Flowers, who grow glorious blooms and post them all across the UK, or my local, independent florist, The Mighty Quinn's Flower Emporium in Bristol's Wapping Wharfe, or any of the other places I buy from.
Today I bought my daughter early daffodils from a farm shop in Cornwall from where I could see the fields where they were picked and where the lady wrapped them with love, talking with genuine concern for her blooms in the storms arriving over the weekend. 
All these places, and many, many others across the country, grow or buy their blooms with the deepest respect for the land on which they grow, the people who do the growing and the blooms themselves, and this is why I urge you to make a commitment to try to buy British flowers when and where you can!
In years gone by our cut flower industry thrived, and our magnificent flower farmers are today working hard to replicate that success with small flower farms popping up across the land, often growing flowers that are rare to most florists as they travel poorly. Dahlias, Ammi, Foxgloves, Cerinthe and more, growing in huge varieties of colour and form, with little and generally no chemical intervention, proving that British grown cut flowers are not just good but are great. 
So before you rush to your local floristry franchise and buy out of season flowers that are generally covered in chemicals and flown in from Africa or South America, take a few minutes to find your nearest flower farmer and  find out how they sell their flowers and make an effort to buy from them! From ranunculus to anemones, daffs to tulips and more, you'll get a beautiful bouquet that has supported an industry that is truly fighting to be the Phoenix from the ashes. 
If you need help to find a nearby British flowers supplier, look at
For stunning mail order flowers look at

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Confidence in the garden....

Recently I have had several conversations with people which have made me realise that for many people gardening is about confidence and if that confidence is knocked for some reason, there can be a real problem.
There are a million reasons why confidence might disappear. Often something else goes wrong-redundancy, a change of circumstances, new babies, grief, illness are some of the reasons I have seen people lose confidence which has not only knocked lives, but also inevitably knocks the ability to feel confident in the garden. When life has thrown a curveball on your confidence it affects everything, making a person constantly question their worth across everything they do, and often this stops people from moving their gardens forward, leaving a sense of not knowing what to do next. 
Of course for a garden this can cause chaos. Take your eye off the ball at the wrong time of year and when you look again it feels overwhelming, out of control and something to avoid, which in turn makes it worse.
Why are you telling us this Sara I hear you say?!
Well recently I have been working with a friend to whom this has, for various reasons, happened. An amazing garden has lost its joie de vivre as settling into a different life and work scenario has happened. There was panic, a lack of really knowing how to get back control and a need for a helping hand to put things back on track.
It's not rocket science for me to help to do that. A bit of bossiness, a look at how to make the garden slightly easier to manage, a plan and some hands on help kick start both confidence and enthusiasm and a promise of ongoing help and support keeps that enthusiasm going. 
And that all important plan and the knowledge that you are not alone.
That's all folk who are struggling need.
Sound like you? Get in touch-I can help!!

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Seed sorting....

Today, in the light of every crazy thing that is going on in the world and despite that craziness driving me to the point almost of despair, I needed something to do. I couldn't go on the women's march as I'm still on nursing duty some of the time and so I decided to organise my seed collection. 
Now my collection of seeds is quite large. I hold the seeds for Incredible Edible Bristol and for the How to Garden course I'm about to start teaching, and I am lucky enough to get sent a fair few packets by kind folk who are either donating for the beds across the city, or asking me to trial things. That said, every year we see tray after tray planted out, donated to other projects or into our allotment of garden, so they all get used! Often also we donate seeds on to new community projects, school and youth groups, early years centres and more, and so in all honesty we can never have enough!!
And of course the collection is full of little packets of seed saved by others that I am given or are swapped. Beans, achoka, giant pumpkins, 1000 headed kale....
And of course there are the seeds of little oddities. New varieties I've never seen before. Gifted heirlooms from friends across the pond. Firm favourites I grow every year.
So today I sorted them into various piles. Seeds to be donated to Bristol Seed Swap, seeds for Incredible Edible and seeds for the garden and the allotment.
Then I sorted out the seeds saved from the Incredible Edible Bristol beds into little packets. Calendula, mallow, radish, kales, poppies and more all grown and saved right here in the city. 
There's strength in saving seeds. It's a quiet power that allows us to be in control of what we grow, and to ensure plants that have done really well are saved along with their genetic make up. It means we know where our seeds come from and how they have been saved and looked after. It means we can share our successes.
Of course across the globe we are seeing more and more farmers and food producers being stopped from saving their own seed and having to buy it from agricultural giants who control not just the seed but also the varieties that they stock. The amount of varieties that were grown of all crops were huge, but now we see farmers having far fewer varieties to chose from as the large seed companies stock only what is certain to grow or what is easy to store.  In order for seeds to be sold they need to be listed with Defra, and this costs meaning that fewer and fewer varieties are listed. This makes it all the more vital to save our own seeds, particularly of heritage or heirloom varieties and to support organisations such as the Heritage Seed Library who look after varieties that are no longer sold, but who, for a yearly donation will send you a selection to both grow and save the seed of. 
So if you've never saved seed, and you feel, as I did this morning, lacking in any power to do anything about the craziness in the world, decide to save some seeds. Lots are easy to save. Fennel, beans, peas, lettuces, calendula, nigella, parsley, are all easy , and you will inevitably then have enough to grow next year and to give away to friends or at your local Seed Swap. What a great way to counteract the madness!!

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......