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......


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.