My Sensory Garden

Do you have a sensory garden? If not, are you sure?

I find myself sitting at a little bistro table in my garden with fingertips poised near the keyboard. It’ll be my first post for a few weeks you see, after life, as it does, got a little heavy. But with a few moments of peace available I’m determined to reignite my writing brain and post something interesting, or useful at least so here goes; a post about my sensory garden.

Blue hyacinth flowers in a rusting, tin pot, in the garden
Hyacinths punch well above their weight in terms of scent – these are incredible!

Sense of Smell

Take a patch of moss…

I was dazzled in the garden yesterday, and not for the first time by a patch of moss. This patch was part of a larger one growing very happily on the lower part of a tree trunk sheltered by hedges. The patch was soft but tough, rooted firmly to its spot and wrapped tightly around the west face of the tree – a shadier space in the garden could scarcely be found.

Its brightness captured my eyes for a while, shining as it was on a dull February day. One of those days when the sun only occasionally appeared, and only then like torchlight through the fog.

Garden Journal 29.8.20

Welcome to a slice of my weekly gardening journal – an entry for the week leading up to Saturday August 29. This week there’s a bit about barrow pushing and a bit more about pressure points!

Barrow Pushing
This week has been quite a whirlwind – after arriving home from our travels late last Sunday to heading into work early doors the next day to get the week underway. From Friday to Monday I had literally gone from leisurely strolling around the garden paths at Wallington, and without a care in the world, to barrow pushing along the garden paths at Broadwell in the Cotswolds.

Up the garden path at Wallington Hall in Northumberland
Up the garden path at Wallington.

Storms
To touch on the weather, ‘turbulent’ is how I’d describe the week, for most garden folk it’s been a Karate Kid situation of ‘jacket on, jacket off’ to beat the showers. Mind you, despite the lowering light levels and shortening days, humidity and moisture levels have been up, meaning the growth rate for many plants (grass in particular…) seems high.

Garden Journal 16.5.20

Broadwell Manor, Gloucestershire
Broadwell Manor

Today is a bit of an anniversary for me, marking the six month point working in a full-time role at Broadwell Manor. I had envisioned putting together a six-month-review sort of journal entry, although, and this is something I toy with daily – I feel the need to tread carefully where privacy is concerned, and as with my blog that continues to evolve, so is my gardening and social media output whilst I’m at Broadwell.

While I now work at an all-singing, dancing and traditional Cotswold Manor House garden, it is also a private home, so forgive me if I’m a little hesitant and changeable in the things that I post across Twitter, Instagram and now TikTok (Re. TikTok – Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it – it’s getting a great many people through the nightmare that lockdown created…!)

Previously, my social media ‘presence’ was structured heavily around my work at Compton Verney; posting things that were largely aimed at boosting the profile of natural, historical and horticultural elements, at a public venue I passionately cared for. Presently though, whilst I’m engaged in very similar nature and horticulture focussed activities, and at a venue that is steeped in historical features; the property itself doesn’t exist to attract thousands of visitors, and so my ‘content’, for want of a better word, continues but in subtle sort of way.

Beautifully scented Wisteria doing its thing on the south wall….

It must also be said that again, as much as I’ve a keen interest in sharing my love for gardens and where I’m at, I’m not employed to spend time creating ‘content’, and I have an awful lot of practical gardening work to be getting on with! If only I could walk around with a live web-cam on my hat – you’d probably still struggle to keep up!

Six months though… It seems like nothing compared to some time-served gardeners, but it’s been so full of activity that it does seem much longer, and so much has been achieved. After a much more public facing role at CV, it did feel for a while as though I had gone into hibernation, and I’m sure some people were questioning my sanity but, I think I’ve finally worked out why I needed to change my core, daily role, after putting in so much hard work over the years at CV.

Allium breaking its silence in a border at home…

I simply needed to step away from pressure that had built, and to reconnect with the very thing that had sustained me for so long – gardens, nature and growing. I had been losing my connection with the very things that had driven, excited, encouraged and engaged me for so long. Although I might not have realised it at the time, I ‘simply’ needed to step away, to refocus and reconnect – and look at the door that eventually opened…

And so to the present, where you’ll find me actively engaged each day and completely immersed in horticulture once again, both at home and at Broadwell – the added filming elements and working for such a supportive and respected TV gardener (and lovely family) just adds to the daily wonder!

Yes, there is too much to do, I’ve lost weight despite upping my food intake, and I’m knackered on a daily basis, but every day is different and more importantly; every day is full of plants and flowers and wildlife – I have indeed reconnected and I feel grounded on a daily basis… What an incredibly challenging and life affirming 6 month it has been! Now, back to a swift finish for the journal proper…

The past week has been really varied to say the least. I usually structure my journal entry with a look back to the previous Sunday, which last week coincided with #GardenDayUK, This explains my first random image below where I put common sense to one side, and joined in by making my version of a floral crown – or floral hat in my case!

Floral Crown #floralcrown
My floral creation for Garden Day UK, all cut from my garden!

Although the weather had turned cold, with the usual British resolve many folk joined in and supported the initiative through a range of zoom-style online activity from quizzes to demonstrations and live chat – it was good to see so much support from some high profile and entertaining garden characters, and I think that for me, the day’s success was the home-style presenting that everyone was forced into doing, which worked really well.

There was plenty of floral creativity through the many flower crowns, and whilst I had lots of other things to be getting on with I enjoyed tuning in frequently. The reliable gardening people and their ‘we’re-in-this-together’ attitude was very evident and a good day was seemingly had by all! Crowns off to the many folk and Candide who made GardenDayUK a success.

On the work summary front, the past frost-threatened week looked a little like this: Monday – Tidied tulip borders. Watering. Began scything perimeter boundary to facilitate access for stone wall repairs. Tuesday – Scything and clean-up of boundary. Shear cut Lonicera shrubs and tidied surrounding area. Wednesday – Auricula session. Relocated stored debris to compost. Received compost delivery (Yay!) Mowing. Thursday – Mowing. Began digging south herbaceous border. Friday – Watered. Continued digging.

Scything, mowing, composting, digging, hedge trimming - a busy week indeed!
Scything, mowing, composting, digging, hedge trimming – a busy week indeed!

So there we have it, a somewhat reflective post again. (I can see a theme developing here…) At least in my struggles to post a useful journal entry each week, I’m being forced to be more creative with its content – hopefully when I look back at some of these posts in the distant future, there will be enough intent and meaning in the words to time travel me, you or my children back to this unique time I’m experiencing.

Regards & Happy Gardening, Gary

Where is your Silent Space?

Whether we believe in Blue Monday or not, many people do feel down in January, maybe because of all the hype and increased activity of the festive period. In truth though, there can be many times throughout the year when our spirits can for whatever reason, drop. Feeling over-worked, stressed, overwhelmed or just a little lacklustre, all are common feelings to many people at one point or another. But there’s hope…

One thing I have come to understand is that I definitely need quality time alone to unwind and recharge, maybe you feel the same too? “Ha!” I hear some people say, “like when do I ever get quality time to myself?!” Well, I’m familiar with this as well – very much so.

Now, I’m fortunate to work in the field of horticulture, which is to say that I spend most of my working days gardening. Something I’ve realised recently is that whilst I’ve prepared, restored and created gardens for people to visit, enjoy and relax in, I’ve also been able to experience these myself, even whilst busily working away.

Whilst in these spaces, I’ve always remained aware of the busy, thriving world outside because of lorries in the distance, jet planes overhead, ‘trends’ seen on social media during tea break and even by email – and yes, gardeners do get emails! Either way, I know that I’m never really that far away from the hustle and bustle yet, whilst I’ve been in my garden space, I have in a way been enjoying respite away from that congested, energy sapping world outside.

Please don’t misunderstand me, gardening is all-engaging, can be very stressful in many positions, and often, when a calm day of gardening appears to be ahead, a physically and mentally challenging day actually unfolds. Yet, through my work I’ve come to understand how, when ‘at one’ with nature and the green, growing environment; I can be completely calm and at my happiest.

I’ve also met many garden visitors and heard countless comments about how they love visiting and just being in gardens. “I love it here,” is something I’ve heard often. I’m completely sold therefore on the concept that gardens, woodlands, landscape and the outdoors in general can offer more nourishment to an individual than may be quantified. Put simply, if there’s a green space where one can be alone for a while to escape from the hectic world around, or even from a situation that needs more thought, then surely it must be a good thing for the individual.

Well, to get to my point, I’d like to introduce you to a set of green spaces where you can head for restorative purposes – and to an initiative that is ‘Silent Space’.

I will not attempt to explain at length, for it’s very simple – Silent Space encourages us to put our phones aside and to take a moment in a garden or green space. For all the reasons mentioned above, and more, Silent Space is an initiative that empowers us to breathe in the green space around us, to reconnect with nature, and to revive our spirits.

Where? You might ask, as often there are no quiet places nearby that ever come to mind for this sort of activity. But stress not, for wonderful people who believe in Silent Space have already prepared and opened areas of their gardens and venues as Silent Spaces, for you to visit.

Silent Space at Waterperry Gardens
Silent Space at Waterperry Gardens

True, if your garden or the park down the lane offers you a place for solace, then embrace it and use it, but the silent space I refer to here may just takes things up a notch or two.

The single link that follows will take you not just to a website, but to a growing world of much needed Silent Spaces that may offer exactly what you’re looking for. A growing number of gardens and landscapes are featured, and there’s likely to be one near you to try this year, and if there’s not, then why not ask for one, for Silent Space offers us so much, & is sure to keep growing…

Silent Space 🌿

Becoming a Gardener

Becoming a Gardener.

~

Birds will call you to the garden each waking moment,

Then, you will find yourself working amongst them whilst appreciating

Their melodies, their objections, and their interest in your gardening.

~

Gardening will cease to be a chore when each action has deeper meaning,

When each action contributes not only to your garden

But to your neighbourhood, your planet, and to your wellbeing.

~

Each plant will share its special qualities with you at any given moment,

A moment when you could be anywhere else, but you will be there,

And rapidly any worry or toil that plant ever caused will be gone.

~

Be they lovely, harmed, harmful or full of delight and promise,

Every leaf, stem, flower and insect may present a new discovery for you,

And every voyage will become a journey of learning and fascination.

~

Time spent feeding the soil, sowing seeds, planting or looking,   

Lifting a pendulous flower or tickling your palm across soft spring growth

Will be an earthing occasion, connecting you with the world around you;

It will restore you and will never be time wasted.

~

Sometimes achievements will be crushed and losses will feel harsh yet,

The challenges are always worth rising to, and in the process a balance

Will be found that will nourish your heart, mind and soul.

Your back may need a little extra care though I have to say.

~

To know now that a plant or garden grew from your effort,

To know that ecology or the community may have unknowingly benefitted

From your guiding hand and watchful eye,

Is to know that you became a gardener, you contributed,

And you created life through your gardening.

~

Become a gardener and make a difference.

Gary Webb, June 2019

I’d love to hear why you became a gardener, what you get out of gardening, or what prevents you from seeing yourself as a gardener.

Regards,

Gary

Pomp, Circumstance & a Touch of Mindfulness at Elgar’s Birthplace

One breezy, rainy afternoon recently I made a curiosity visit to Elgar’s Birthplace, and enjoyed a pleasant surprise. To the uninitiated, Sir Edward William Elgar, (1857 -1934) was an English composer particularly noted for the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, Cello Concerto, and Salut d’Amour. He was born in a quaint red brick estate cottage known as The Firs, around 3 miles northwest of Worcester, now under the care of the National Trust.

Image of Elgar’s Birthplace, facing the Malvern Hills. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019
Image of Elgar’s Birthplace, facing the Malvern Hills. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019

On the day of my visit the clay roof tiles glistened, cars splashed through puddles in the nearby lane and the Malvern hills were barely visible for cloud cover. This scene I describe created the most perfect collar gripping, hat pulling atmosphere for a visit, although causing an all-too-swift walk from the museum centre, through the garden, to the shelter of the front porch. The dimly lit rooms beyond, with music drifting through the upper floor were, I have to say, completely enchanting.

As mentioned, my visit was born out of curiosity and as such, I was in a casual, light-touch, information grazing kind of mind set. However, I couldn’t not listen Elgar’s music, which infused many of the museum spaces. I couldn’t not read the museum labels, stories and quotes, or watch the introductory video. Furthermore, I couldn’t miss the considered introductions the volunteers offered.

Looking back as I type, I can see that the visitor centre, birthplace cottage and the garden were delivering, for me at least, a consistent message. Supporting this message were the misty vista from the front porch, wind blown cherry blossom branches filling the bedroom window view, in fact the whole view looking out from the cottage. It all blended to hint, I believe, at a nourishing and guiding light in Elgar’s life: nature.

Grape hyacinths, or Muscari, before an antique garden roller at Elgar’s Birthplace. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019
Grape hyacinths before an antique garden roller at Elgar’s Birthplace. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019

Let’s be honest, I have spent a mere blip of time learning about Elgar, but I drew clear connections with him due to the way the museum has been presented, and the messages that unknown curators have brought to the fore. I learned less about what he composed, and more about how and why he composed – this, for me, was perfectly pitched.

“The trees are singing my music.” wrote Elgar from a home, Birchwood Lodge, in the saddle of the Malvern Hills.

I was challenged above all with the realisation that Elgar was very well aware of his need for mindfulness and wellbeing; things that are increasingly referred to everywhere these days. Sir Edward Elgar, despite being of another age and situation, appeared to face similar work, life, confidence, and creativity challenges as many people do today; and the museum engaged me in this aspect of Elgar’s life completely.

Museum text: “Elgar chased fame and fortune from a young age [but] on the other hand, he was happiest living the simple and rustic life that he had been afforded as a child. Often he’d retreat into the peace and serenity of nature when work commitments became too much for him.”

What materialised for me was that despite Elgar’s success, wealth and worldly travel; he still appeared to yearn for the peace, escape, and personal inspiration that the Malvern Hills and other rural places offered him. We’re all familiar with the ‘escape to the country’ idea, but for Elgar whose living and success depended on productivity; the inspiration and creativity he drew from the Malvern Hill, or nature generally, was clearly very important.

We may not all be creative composers, but most of us will recognise and identify with Elgar’s need to relax the mind. Creating that escape in order to properly refresh our minds and bodies helps to restore balance, and helps to prepare us for the next period of intense activity.

Cherry blossom filling a window view at Elgar’s Birthplace. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019
Cherry blossom filling a window view at Elgar’s Birthplace. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019

Elgar had certainly found his place, and one thing I took away from my visit was the need to find my own place. If I needed to further prove the point, I just turn again to Elgar’s example, who, although leaving his birthplace at the age of two, revisited often, retained a close connection with the area, and expressed a wish to purchase the The Firs if ever it were to become available.

Elgar wrote: “My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around us; the world is full of it, and you simply take as much as you require.”

Returning to the garden, the benches were sodden from rain, but I spent a good while in the garden whilst trying to pick up on its spirit of place.

The tall, rolling, country lane style hedges shivered in the breeze. Freshly composted, mixed cottage style borders were packed full of plants, and although hellebores and primroses drew the eye, the winter structure stole the show with standard roses, a range of budding shrubs and an ironwork arch over a path entwined with climbers.

A rustic, thatched shelter nestled against a wattle fence, offering a shady place to perch. Gravel and wavy lined brick paths crossed the garden, and a bench in a far corner was itself a sculpture of Elgar relaxing whilst taking in the Malvern Hills vista.

A sculptural Malvern Hills view. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019
A sculptural Malvern Hills view. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019

Clearly the garden, whole property even, had moved on with the passage of time, but generally appeared to hold true to its original form judging by the old images available. It was a delightful little garden and was so valuable in allowing me to experience the all-important rural idyll that was so very important to Elgar.

I completely tuned-in to his need for mindfulness, and for the need to invest in his core self; and in this respect, The Firs connected me with Elgar, and the environment, perfectly.

During his final illness in 1933, Elgar hummed a concerto’s first theme to a friend and said, “If ever after I’m dead you hear someone whistling this tune on the Malvern Hills, don’t be alarmed. It’s only me.”

Regards, Gary

For more information about The Firs, visit this link: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/the-firs