Brenda and Malcolm’s front garden is a blaze of colour throughout summer, with the famous ‘three arches’ hedge marking the boundary. I met up with Brenda and Malcolm, to find out more…
Brenda, a recently retired occupational therapist, appears to be working full time volunteering and providing support for several health groups. The couple also spend time looking after the two grandchildren and caring for six dogs.
How did you become interested in gardening?
BRENDA: My father was a gardener. One of my earliest memories was sitting with my father discussing what we could have for dinner. We decided on potatoes, so he’d go off and dig them up from the garden, and they’d be on our plates within 45 minutes. His interest in growing plants was infectious.
How are the tasks split out between the two of you?
MALCOLM: I’m in charge of the watering at home, but I also manage the allotment. I’ve been growing food for our family for 30 years, and I tend to produce so much food I can share it out with neighbours and friends to avoid having gluts.
BRENDA: Each year I create a plan on paper for the front and back garden. As the season progresses, I take photos to ensure that we can learn what works, and what doesn’t, and then improve on it next year. Every hanging basket and pot has been carefully thought through to ensure they are colour-coordinated, and each year we’ll have a theme.
Any of those lessons learned or top tips that can be shared?
BRENDA: Last year I tried combining marigolds and salvias, which were superb with the orange and bright red, but I couldn’t get them to flower for very long. This year I have learned and I am using begonias as the base, as they have a very long flowering period, and cordylines to add height.
I get interesting tips from a group I volunteer with, where I run a gardening group with residents in a care home. Within the group we include ‘reminiscence time’, asking questions about how we dealt with common gardening problems in the past. A circle of soot from the fire grate was used to protect delicate plants like dahlias from slugs and snails. A circle of salt around a beetroot plant also apparently encourages the root to grow large, as they reach for the salt. Sheep droppings stirred up with hot water creates an excellent liquid manure.
MALCOLM: We’ve had people asking about how we maintain our hanging baskets. We don’t have any particular secret, we just make sure there is enough moss to keep the roots moist and a stable temperature.
What benefits do you think you get from gardening?
BRENDA: I find it is so calming. From my work as an occupational therapist, the evidence that horticulture is a method for reducing stress is well documented and gardening is now used as a treatment for all sorts of mental health conditions. It is gentle exercise with an end product, which allows people to feel a sense of achievement and can be used to gently support people back in to society.
Given the life-long health benefits, how do you think we can get more people in to gardening?
BRENDA: I think children can be very interested in gardening, and that should always be encouraged. My grandsons really enjoy going to the allotment with Malcolm, and they are also growing jack in the beanstalk plants in the back garden, from magic beans. They love to see how the runner beans have grown each time they come back, it is truly magic. Allowing children a small amount of space of their own allows them to show their creativity and will pique their interest.
There have also been discussions at the allotment about plot sharing. They will assign a younger person, who is just getting interested in growing food, to an older person with an allotment, who has a lot of knowledge and experience, but is now feeling the strain from digging for 30 years. Over several years the partnership would allow a steady change of roles from the older person to the younger person, passing on the knowledge and allowing the older person to enjoy the allotment for many more years without getting injured.
Brenda and Malcolm have developed a cheery gardening style that exudes the happiness of summer. I loved Brenda’s thoughts on the benefits of gardening to help with mental health and passing on experience down the generations.
Further articles about gardening and health can be found from the College of Occupational Health website, http://www.cot.co.uk/. An article about the benefits of gardening can be found here: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/seriously-its-good-you-how-6930731