The allotment became my thinking space

The allotment became my thinking space

For Emily Jarvis (@emandpaulsallotment), her biggest inspiration when it comes to gardening, is her dad who first instilled the love of gardening in her, and she now loves re-creating all her childhood memories of her time in the garden with her partner and children. In this blog post, Emily, CoirProducts Featured Grower this week, shares with us her gardening journey. She tells us what she loves to grow, what some of her gardening successes are, and the wider benefits of gardening. Given her own work as a trained mental health nurse with the NHS, Emily reflects on how much she values gardening in improving her own health and wellbeing. Read on to learn all about Emily’s gardening journey.

How and when did you start gardening/growing? 

I started growing as a child with my dad or pops as he is affectionately known. We created a kitchen garden in raised beds in our garden at home, and as the eldest of six siblings I was the one who enjoyed helping with this. The taste of produce from your own growing space out does the supermarket experience for me. Later on, I attended an allotment open day with my little girl Isla who was 3 at the time and I was just turning 30 and I signed up for our very own plot, and now I get to re-create all the memories I had as a child with Isla who is 9, my step children Alfie and Maddi and my partner Paul.

How has your garden changed since you first started growing? 

When I first took on the allotment it was all bare ground and at times it seemed a little overwhelming, particularly juggling working full-time, being a mum and juggling life. Over time, we moved to raised beds and bark paths, which made keeping on top of things much easier. We adapted our approach to suit us as a family. Through the lockdown and the pandemic this space was really important to us as a family, particularly given that myself and my partner were working throughout in the NHS in frontline services.

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You share a lot about gardening with children. What do you love about gardening with children? 

I love teaching our children where things come from, and how they grow and watching the wonder of seeing them sow a seed and watching that become something they can harvest, and will form part of a meal. As a mental health nurse I am all too aware of pressures we all face as a society and for all generations I am a great advocate for mindfulness, and what better way to connect than being outdoors, with your hands in the dirt and having time to just be?

What are some benefits of getting children involved in gardening from a young age? / What tasks can children do in the garden?

It inspires creativity and hope. To plant a garden or allotment and watch it grow really is a labour of love which changes with every month and season. The tasks the children undertake also change. When Isla was little I had a summer house built at the plot which provided a safe space for her to nap or be creative with her chalkboard wall, when she had had enough of digging, planting or catching bugs to play in her bug house. As they have gotten older they have had their own spaces to grow, and they have helped shape the space it has become today.

What do you and your children love to grow? Do you have any favourite plant/vegetable/crop, and if so, why? 

Pumpkins have always been a favourite growing and picking from your own patch has always been a memorable occasion. Sweetcorn is something they love to harvest and it doesn’t last long until it’s boiled and on the plate and devoured. Brussels, which I have to say I am proud of as I am not a huge fan, but all 3 children tuck into these and I am sure it comes from growing their own, what was once a no, no for Isla and Maddi has become a firm favourite. 

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What have been some of your gardening successes? 

Creating a space that is accessible to us as a family, which doesn’t feel like a chore or a pressure and gives an escapism away from the usual pressures of work and life! There have been a number of things that I am proud of with the allotment, mostly its carrying on a growing tradition my pops started with me, which I hope in time our children will recreate with their families.

What have been some of the most valuable lessons you have learnt through gardening? 

Patience and learning through the process. Sometimes even when you follow instructions the outcome may not be what you expected particularly with changeable weather and seasons. I try to approach things with the attitude of if it doesn’t work there is always next year. Sometimes it’s all an experiment and I love the plot community for sharing tips and advice and also Instagram, it’s nice to connect with likeminded people and share the successes and the not so successful attempts at things.

On the other hand, what do you find the most challenging when it comes to gardening/growing? 

I try to never approach the allotment or our garden as a challenge. I see it as something that is always evolving and changing. I think it’s important to have the space to do that as our day jobs can be quite stressful, so the allotment and the garden are where I go to unwind and refocus. I suppose the biggest challenge is time as given the opportunity I would love to have more time at the allotment.

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What is your typical day like, when it comes to tending to your garden? 

I start every morning whether I am working or not in the garden with a cup of tea even when it’s raining. This gives me time to focus on the day but also remember that the day may bring challenges, but it will pass and there is always tomorrow. I like to potter, deadhead the flowers or sometimes just sit and take it all in. With the allotment it is always the same. I will always head there and take it all in before deciding what the focus of the visit is, whether that’s weeding or a bigger project… I will always start first with a potter. I think that is a great reminder of where we have come so far on our growing journey.

What are some of the benefits of growing your own / how has spending time in the garden and growing your own benefitted you? 

Growing my own and spending time at the allotment has gotten me through some personal challenges in life. When things felt hard and overwhelming, the allotment became my thinking space that was safe and protected. As a day job, I am a trained mental health nurse, now working in a leadership role and I am a passionate advocate for mental health. With this in mind, time has taught me to also be kind to myself. As a nurse I have always tried to give my all for patients and sometimes it’s easy to forget yourself. I remind myself that taking some time out for me isn’t selfish, it’s a necessity it allows me to be the best mummy, partner, step mum, nurse, daughter etc I can be. Being mindful and connected to the garden and the allotment allows me time to process and reconnect, and in doing so makes me a better version of me.

What do you think are some of the benefits of gardening for mental health and wellbeing? 

The pandemic has shown the effects of isolation and lack of contact with others hugely, and this has had a wide-reaching impact on people’s mental health. For me the growing community both physically at the allotment and virtually through Instagram gave us a platform to remain connected. In times when allotment open days and shows were not allowed to go ahead, accounts like @homegrownwiththehaydons_ connected us all through village fairs and shows virtually. The joy of watching people’s entries and ideas and being able to connect via this platform was really important in remaining connected, and in inspiring hope that “normal” times would return.

Who/what inspires you the most when it comes to gardening?

My pops would be number one as spending time with him in the garden is what in effect inspired my journey with my family, and what better tradition to carry on. In terms of famous people I do love,  love your garden watching transformations brought to life for people to suit their family/ life.

What do you enjoy the most about gardening/growing? 

Feeling truly immersed in an activity that brings me joy, hope and health… all really important aspects of keeping me healthy and also being able to share this with my family. Also watching a tiny seed you have nurtured and grown end up as the produce on your plate that’s a really cool hobby to have.

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Have you used any coir-based products? What are some of the benefits of using coir-based products? 

I have used a few of the coir products to date. These have been the coir pots, absolutely perfect in terms of the root systems they develop and the lack of needing to transplant from the pot as these can be planted straight into the ground. My butternut squash are loving life and they have been planted using this method. The coir pellets, coins and blocks… again lots of benefits to these plastic-free, biodegradable products, and all of my seeds have been started this year using these products and germination has been great. The mini gardener bundle… Isla loved this and has completed the book and also grown pumpkins, cucumbers and runner beans in the pots and coir included. Next on the wish list are birds nest, more coir pots and coir mix and maybe some weed control mats 😊

What tips/suggestions would you like to share with other gardeners/growers? 

You don’t need an allotment or huge garden to have some of the benefits I have talked about, sometimes something as simple as growing some herbs on a window sill can bring joy and connection and can start a journey that will evolve. My biggest tip or suggestion is to have fun, be creative, like life things won’t always work out how you plan but its about adjusting that mindset and gardening and growing for you.

Written by Emily Jarvis

Leicester @emandpaulsallotment

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