A Garden for Mum – Changing the Foundations

In 2006 whilst I was recovering from depression, my Dad became ill again. He had previously been diagnosed with Cancer a few years before and against all odds had beaten it. But this time a few months after becoming ill, he passed away, having lost his battle.

My Dad and me

Before his illness he’d been building an extension to the back of our house. Mum was now left with just the foundations of the project, another heart-wrenching reminder that he was gone. With the rest of the garden looking like a building site, it was hardly the place you’d want to sit and relax and reflect on what had just happened.

The garden before

A Place to Reflect 

Seeing this I wanted to create a garden for my Mum in his memory. Somewhere Mum could sit and remember Dad, while enjoying the sunshine. A place where we could come together as a family and celebrate.

So with no real gardening experience other than pulling a few weeds and watching the Chelsea Flower Show on TV, that’s what I did. I asked Mum what she wanted from her new space; a patio to sit and have a morning cuppa, large tropical plants giving the feeling of being in Mauritius, the sound of trickling water and a place for the grandchildren to play.

 As much as this was about giving something to my Mum to help with her grief, it was also a project for me, helping get me though a difficult time too. Being able to create something beautiful from the unfinished works of someone taken away from me all too soon; brought light to what was a very dark time in my life.

A Gold in their Hearts

It was here that my passion for designing gardens was first ignited and had I thought back then, that one day in 2015 I would be part of a team helping to build a garden at the Chelsea Flower Show; I would not of believed it in a million years. The truth however, is that I did make it to the Chelsea Flower Show. I’ll be talking more about my journey there in a future blog, but thought it worth a quick mention, given the coverage on TV at the moment.

Back home and away from the glamour of gardens designed by the those at the very top of their careers, is a garden designed not by a professional, but by someone with a story to tell and wanting to share it with others. It might not win a Gold medal, but it won the hearts of the people it was built for.

I chose brightly coloured Cannas, Bananas with their large paddle like leaves, Bamboos which brought sound and shelter and hardy Palms to give structure to the garden and a tropical feel. A small patio area was created for Mum to sit and have breakfast at on a warm morning and the remaining foundations were covered with a decked area. A new wall was built along the boundary line, utilising the bricks left over from the building works. The project was physically and mentally tiring and each day came with its own challenges. Emotionally I felt so many things while building this garden; sadness, anger (having lost my Dad), guilt, grief, followed by pride and a sense of purpose that helped me to get out of bed each morning.

Newly planted beds
The garden in Spring 2015

A garden can be a very powerful place and tells you a lot about the designer, the people it was made for and those that use and take care of it. It has its ups and downs, not everything will be happy at first. It also takes time to build and mature with constant nurture; much in the same way that our relationships with family and looking after ourselves does.

From the outset of wanting to build this garden for my Mum, the goal was to create a space where the family could come together and reflect on the good times and memories of my Dad, but also make new memories and celebrate. However, it delivered a lot more; as building this garden was also about rebuilding myself and in some way the heartbreak of my Mum and the family. As the plants started to establish themselves and grow strong, I too found myself growing stronger and better able to cope with the grief and pain. A garden can bring hope and joy as you watch it mature and for me personally, it was the foundation I needed to help build my own road to recovery.

Some of the plants used to create the garden

  • Musa sikkimensis (Darjeeling banana)
  • Musa basjoo (Hardy banana)
  • Fatsia japonica (Paper plant, False castor oil plant)
  • Trachycarpus fortunei (Chinese windmill palm)
  • Phoenix canariensis (Canary Island date palm)
  • Albizia julibrissin (Persian silk tree, Pink silk tree)
  • Phyllostachys nigra (Black bamboo)
  • Phyllostachys aureosulcata ‘spectabilis’ (Yellow bamboo)
  • Zantedeschia, (Arum lilies, Calla lilies)
  • Canna Tropicanna ‘Phasion’ (Canna lilies)
  • Canna Tropicanna ‘Gold’ (Canna lilies)
  • Verbena bonariensis
  • Phormium ‘Jester’ (New Zealand flax)
  • Phormium ‘Black adder’ (New Zealand flax)
  • Cordyline australia