Saturday, 23 January 2016

British Flowers-the 2016 edition begins!!

It's been a while since my last British flowers post and I am very aware that most folk were left hanging after RHS Chelsea last year, when I promised to report back from conversations with Interflora about their stand. It wasn't that I didn't want to but was simply because on Press Day there was no one to be seen on their stand to talk to, which was a shame. The cynic in me says they were hiding under one of the flower covered cupcakes.....I'll leave that thought there!

So this week I was kicked into action by a tweet, as often happens in my world. An organisation in Bristol is fund raising to create an online project supporting Fairtrade over Valentines. Although I completely back the ideals behind Fairtrade when looking at products that can't be grown in the UK, in order to support local economies we must look to supporting our own growers first surely? Particularly in an area where we have lots of people growing flowers all year around and who depend on Valentines Day in many cases, to kick start their business year.
Stunning buttonholes made by Fox and Cat flowers here in Bristol from entirely British grown blooms.

It seems to me a real shame that still we are having to have this conversation. Surely we all understand the need to support local business? Local businesses ensure that our high streets remain vibrant and exciting, and that our local growers, be they of food or flowers, remain working our local land. Local business also ensure our local economies grow, keeping money and skills in the local area. Instead of our hard earned pounds going into the coffers of multi-national organisations, concentrating on local and independent business means you know where your money is going and who it will be supporting.

But with our flower growers, as with our small food producers, it is so much more than that. They are looking after the land on which they grow. I could write a whole oiece on that alone but georgie Newbery of Common Farm Flowers has blogged about how they are stewards of their land here, in a wonderfully emotional piece that describes her and Fabrizio's amazing emotional link to their land.

I set about trying to have a discussion with this organisation, and I hope that discussion will move on from where it is today as I have thus far only spoken to the Fairtrade organisation they are working with. They suggested that in the flowers section they mention local growers, to me at least and that they would never normally "actively promote" anything that has to be flown, but seem to think that the fit for flowers in the campaign was so great they would overlook it. However something they said really hit me as being patronising and not understanding our British growers at all. The quote is this.....
"However tough it is for for local flower growers it's still not an issue of whether they can feed their families......."
As if the belief is that growing flowers is a nice little thing that people do but that isn't something that is full time or that pays enough to be a primary income. This really shocked me as I know there are flower growers up and down the country who rely on their flowers as their income, and will be horrified to read this!!

So the conversation, I hope, will continue and with luck, (or a little bit of persuasion),  they will mention the many flower growers in the South West as well as across the country, and at best they will remove the idea of Fairtrade and mention that second to our amazing UK flower industry.
after all if we truly "love the future", we must look after the here and now.........

Stunning rose at Common Farm Flowers

Friday, 15 January 2016

Grief #2

It became very clear very fast that my last piece touched many in a very powerful way and many people have said that I somehow managed to out their thoughts into words. And it has lead to so conversations about grief and how we manage, or often don't manage it.
What is vital, in my opinion, is that we have to allow people to grieve. It's a process and a really powerful one, much like birth for women, that changes you in a completely unfathomable way, and that some go through and manage well and some do not. And when my Mum died I did not.....
It wasn't that I went off the rails or drank or hit out. It wasn't anything ovbious to anyone other than probably poor Andy. But I know I retreated into myself, refusing to stop, refusing to take time off and pretending that everything was fine.
That I was fine.
But in reality I was far from fine. I would go to bed and cry because I didn't want to cry in front of anyone. I couldn't sleep. I didn't eat. It would hit me in crashing waves that quite literally took my breath away. I had chest pains that I have never told anyone about until writing it down this minute. Physically I had the most horrific stress related rosacea and was constantly battling yeast infections (sorry!). I was so busy worrying about how everyone else was coping, that I took no notice of me.
Actually that isn't true-I knew I wouldn't have to consider how I was coping if I concentrated on everyone else. There-I said it.
And then something happened. I read Alan Titchmarsh's autobiography and he speaks of losing his father. And through streaming eyes I read that the man who I have adored for more years than I can remember say that you never get used to someone being gone, you just learn to live with it, slowly over time.
I read that sentence and sobbed. Sobbed because someone understood. Sobbed because suddenly I knew I wasn't the only one. Sobbed because there appeared to be someone else who understood that black hole of grief.
Now I am not going to pretend it was all sweetness and light from there in. This year mum will have been gone for 14 years and I can still be knocked off my feet by it. Every year I fall apart on various anniversaries, with her birthday being, usually, the worst. Every new year I feel I am further and further from her, and in all honesty have given up celebrating and just go to bed and sleep through it.
And I also know in all sincerity that I will always be  achingly angry that the evil bastard that is cancer took her away from us when she was only 61 and she had a life yet to live. The fact that she never got to really finish her garden is one of the saddest things.
I miss her every day. Everytime I achieve something I go to the phone and realise she isn't there to call. And yet she is there. There's this little voice in my head telling me to push myself further, that I can do it, that I shouldn't be afraid and I know that little voice is her. People may leave us in body, but their legacy is what they leave in your soul, how they have infiltrated your person with their beliefs, their ideals. That person will always be with you, whispering in your ear as long as you allow that voice to be heard through the noise.
Why am I telling you all this I hear you ask? Many of you will be expected a gardening blog, or something about land rights or food activism. Some of you will be deeply uncomfortable reading this. Part of me wants to apologise but actually the realities of our everyday lives are just as important as those things and I hope this is helping some. Various people, in various stages of grief, have contacted me this week saying just thank you, and I want everyone to think about one thing, and this is hard, but how would you want your nearest to be treated when and if you are suddenly not here?
My experience was that no one from work contacted me, I went back the following day and only had 4 days off and not one person commented or thought I shouldn't be there even though it was obvious I was disappearing regularly to cry and was being completely unproductive. I had to ask for my compassionate leave pay as to begin with I wasn't even paid for those 4 days. My daughter was at primary school and, in all honesty, although her teacher was wonderful and coped with both me and her in different stages of collapse, including holding Em's hand as she sat her Year 4 SATS "because Grandma would be so cross with me if I didn't Mum", most people just avoided us, or said crazy and unhelpful things like "oh aren't you coping well". I cannot tell you how I wanted to scream 'NO" everytime!!
Now I have to admit that whenever anyone dies now, be they famous or next doors cat, I am catapulted straight back to that hideous moment when the phone rang and I knew that was our lives changed forever. Tell me someone has gone and even if I manage not to cry I will be obviously moved.
This is ok.
It is compassion.
It is understanding what they are going through, empathising with them, feeling and understanding their pain.
But I know you don't need to say anything. What they need is a hug. Possibly a sit down and a blanket.
They also need tea. Not because it is the British thing to do but because your body reacts to deep shock by sucking up all the moisture in it and causing constant thirst. Make them tea. Give them a piece of cake or a sandwich. Don't ask them if they need anything because invariably they will say no, just pop it in front of them.
Make them a casserole.
Take their dog for a walk.
Offer to look after their children if they are young enough not to be affected themselves.
Just do everything you would do for a friend who had just had a baby in fact. Let them be whilst making sure they are physically looked after.
And in the same way as post birth after the first couple of weeks everyone disappears just at the point you could really use their support, don't disappear!! Let them talk, let them cry, let them shout and get angry. Don't try to fix it or rationalise anything, just let them do what is needed.
All this sounds so obvious and yet over and again I hear of people really struggling because their employer doesn't understand or their friends have disappeared. And it reminds me that perhaps I am really the lucky one. Being a part of a movement of kindness makes you consider that before most other thoughts occur and grounds you in a way that is comforting and mindful and that immediately makes me remember the love I am surrounded by as a part of the Incredible Edible movement.
So what is your point Sara I hear you cry!! And I guess it is just that-be kind. Look after people as you would wish yours to be looked after. Look out for people who might be trying to reach out and most of all, if you are coping with loss, even if it's just saying no when you're asked if you are ok, try to reach out. You are not alone.

Monday, 11 January 2016


I feel compelled to write this, a strange feeling that occassionally comes and I assume no one will be interested in. And then I hope that is wrong because what I am about to say comes from kindness and the want for people not to suffer.
I apologise that there is very little gardening involved but I promise to get back to that and soon.
David Bowie is dead.
Today for the first time ever I sobbed for someone I never knew, had been in the same room as physically other than 3 times in stonkingly large arenas) or who had any idea I was alive.
And then I questioned, through those tears what right have I to cry about a death that doesn't really affect me. My life is effectively the same. Nothing has changed.
Yet it feels like everything has changed.
So I stayed at home and watched social media throughout the day as I got on with normal things but still with this weird sense that everything had changed and wondering why. Listening to tracks that made me cry again. Tracks I had forgotten. I went into town and listened to the radio, singing along at the top of my voice to Kooks, always one of many favourites. I went to a favourite cafe that was playing Ziggy Stadust on repeat, and sniffled into my tea, whilst watching others of my generation and dare I say type, behaving similarly. All in pain with an air of confusion.
And then I remembered. I remembered the 8th December 1980. I remembered driving home with my brothers and mum in the car, listening to Radio 1 to keep us quiet, and sitting outside the house as the 5.45 news came on. The news of the death of John Lennon being shot and dying. And I remember mum screaming at us to be quiet whilst she listened to the news looking lost and confused and finally sobbing. And then apologising because she was sobbing over someone she had never met and saying how silly she felt.
Then I didn't understand that. Suddenly today I do. I remember thinking how silly she was being, in my wise 11 year old brain. How could you be so upset about someone you don't know? I'm sad to say I took no notice and went upstairs and probably spent the evening complaining that the radio was constantly playing Beetles tracks. But today I understand. And feel the need to apologise.
What we are mourning is our youth. Those heady days when we believed everyone was immortal, and that our heroes would always be there.
Perhaps today we are also mourning not only the loss of a great man, but also the loss of the man who made us all realise it was ok to be different. That we didn't have to "fit in". That we could reinvent ourselves as often as we liked.  That suddenly made it ok to be "creative" and made arty ok again, even in the middle of the economically driven 80's. In a school that was, really, very staid and expected a line to be walked, Bowie made it ok to not conform and so while some listened to slightly iffy 80's synth pop, some of us listened to Bowie, concentrated on the arts and read. Some of us even gardened knowing that however weird some people thought we were, it didn't matter as it was what we needed and wanted to do.
It occured to me today that the reason I first read "Seven Years in Tibet" was Bowie, that book that changed my life in that it made me interested and passionate about social justice and equality was introduced to me by him in some interview or another. And so I realised that actually, in the absence of anyone thinking laterally and suggesting horticulture as a career, I ended up at art school, painting pictures and taking photographs of the environment.
We're mourning the loss of a great man, but also a great influence. A cultural icon of the type it's actually hard to see as human. We are mourning our youth.
And then I realised I couldn't apologise to mum, because she too is gone. And even now, nearly 14 years later, that knocks everything out of my soul and leaves me struggling for breath. All the feelings that life can't possibly go on and the confusion of the space left both physically and mentally come flooding back and it feels like it's yesterday that that life changing moment happened. It's a moment from which you never recover, but have to rebuild a life from, holding tightly to loved ones and friends. A moment from which forever you are seemingly moving away from that lost person, leaving them in that moment as you try to move forwards.
Yet it focuses the mind and makes you realise what's important. It also makes you realise that whilst you focus on the physical loss of that person, their soul is embedded deeply within you, influencing your every move. And whereas we may not, most of us, have that loss of the physical today, that influence is what we are mourning because it has gone.
So being me and having worked all this out in my mind, and laughed and cried and listened and thought, I wondered what we do now. When mum died I did the oddest things, revisiting places I knew she loved and going to places, or really mainly gardens, that I know she had wanted to visit but had never managed to get to. Great Dixter, Sissinghurst, Nymans, the Dales, Hampton Court all saw me plodding around, taking them in, deep in thought and remembrance. Hard as it was I slowly began to see the beauty in things, the way things worked and were designed and why. And so the rebuilding began.
And so it makes sense for us to grieve whilst revisiting albums, listening and understanding both new and long lost lyrics with a new found appreciation. But also let's celebrate the different and rather than avoid what we don't understand, let's embrace it whatever or whoever it is. Let's focus on kindness and understanding rather than persecuting what we don't know or understand. After all isn't that the best legacy anyone could have?

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Walking away.......

It's been a while. Not sure why other than the usual, difficult period when the light begins to fade and I really find doing anything that I don't absolutely have to really difficult.
Last year was hard. Leading on the one hand on a high profile Bristol European Green Capital project with Incredible Edible Bristol that was set to increase the visibility of food growing in the city whilst watching the environmental devastation of the allotment land I had taken on and loved was very tricky to reconcile in my own mind, and was something I struggled with on a daily basis. Seeing the diggers and bulldozers on that precious Grade 1 BMV (Best and Most Versatile) soil broke my heart as did the scenes of destruction when the land began to be torn apart. Watching the bulldozers taking out the wildflower meadow at Feed Bristol was heartwrenching and seeing the hedges behind the plot taken out in peak nesting time knowing that they were home to not just birds, but invertebrates and mammals whose populations will take decades to recover if they ever do, was like watching a horror movie.
And then, just as we thought it was all over, the work on the hillside opposite began. Trees obliterated, grassland removed, huge swathes of beautiful soil prepared for concreting. I saw this on a cold, grey day in December and sat in the greenhouse and sobbed. Sobbed great big tears of sorrow and loathing for a world in which, on one hand we are celebrating the outcomes of the COP in Paris and yet allowing this raping of our lands to continue in the name of progress and profit.
Ecocide. Look it up. It's a thing and it's happening worldwide.
Whilst here in Bristol we see huge tracts of land including the BMV soils of the Blue Finger, common land, ancient woodlands and more disposed of for the sake of a bus route that is already being called a white elephant by many, in Sheffield they are removing street trees for health and safety reasons. Perfectly fine specimens being razed to the ground rather than being looked after for their pollution controlling properties, not to mention the amount of wildlife they will support. Even if they are replaced it will take decades for new specimens to recover the biodiversity lost by the culling of these trees.
So on a personal level I have had to make difficult decisions. Moving helped those decisions but in all honesty even if I had moved far away in normal circumstances I would never even have considered giving up that piece of rich and fertile land. But the heartbreak and the broken community of allotment holders that was creating became too much. The black dog was literally sitting on my chest taking up all my time and being at the land became a hideous dark time when I knew I ought to be there but could't get away fast enough. There was constant bad feeling between allotment holders who couldn't see past the occupation of the land, tools and plants were disappearing and then, as a final blow a whole raft of plants disappeared from my plot. And not just plants. My fuchsia that was given to me by Christopher Lloyd
, hellebores from my dear mums garden and a monkey puzzle that I bought from a dear friend nearly 10 years ago.
All gone. Disappeared. Taken by someone who I assume was so greedy that they couldn't see what they were doing was wrong.
And so the final decision was made by that final blow. The allotment that I loved, lost sleep over, cried huge, sobbing tears over, has been handed back to the allotment team who have worked so hard to be the mediators in this dreadful battle.
Where I expected to be heartbroken, I am only relieved. A weight has been lifted and I can now begin to fight for the Blue Finger in a far more intelligent and thought led way, rather than emotionally and constantly on the verge of either tears or anger. My determination to continue to help and support that fight is no weaker, but my ability to do so is strengthened by making some distance.
And as one door closes another opens as those great folks at the allotment office are helping me find a new and closer site with a plot that I can call my own, which won't happen over night, but will happen in the nearish future.
In the meantime I am looking forward to starting growing in the garden of our new home, and carrying on creating growing spaces across this city on those pieces of land that are lost and unloved, inspiring people to begin growing their own food and connect with the earth. The journey continues........