Garden like you have one summer left
When we last caught up with Lara Honnor in 2019, she told us how Macmillan Cancer Support and her deep appreciation of nature had helped her through a year of treatment for breast cancer – and how she felt it to be a significant healing factor. Today, with a diploma in Social and Therapeutic Horticulture to her name, Lara is behind two gardens opening for the National Garden Scheme in 2023. We were excited to find out more…
Having cancer was this strange gift, says Lara. My whole life changed in that single moment of diagnosis. I decided cancer had messed with the wrong girl and three days later I got a puppy. I met my husband Mikey because of cancer – I wrote a blog about my experience, he read it and got in touch.
Walking my tiny puppy every day made me realise how comforting being outside amongst nature was. Cancer brought me back to nature.
When treatment ended I moved away from my busy life in London to be with Mikey in Brighton by the calming sea. In remission with a new appreciation for life, I started working on a project called Brightoning Lives with a group of unemployed people tending to community orchards with the Brighton Permaculture Trust. It was incredible to see the transformational healing power of gardening. Mikey has cystic fibrosis and as his health sadly deteriorated, we decided to move closer to his family in Somerset. I discovered the charity THRIVE and was interested in doing the Social and Therapeutic Horticulture (STH) diploma, and decided to do an RHS Level 2 at Cannington. Through friends I made there I started working at Long Acre Plants for Shade and for Charles Dowding. Visiting his garden for the first time was like entering a Roald Dahl book. Cabbages the size of baby elephants and seeing a ‘Kohlrabi’ blew my mind. It looked like something from out of space! From then on I was hooked on growing vegetables.
In August 2018, Mikey had a successful double lung transplant and a month later I started the diploma in STH at Coventry Uni. During that time Greta Thunberg and her Fridays For Futures movement was everywhere. Young people around the world were striking and standing up for our planet. It was so inspiring.
In these current unsettling political and environmental times I wanted to ‘do’ something. So I started volunteering at the local primary school in my village running an after school gardening club which the children loved. But then Covid struck and into strict shielding we went so I decided to use this time to transform an allotment opposite the school into a learning garden designed especially for children.
Skool Beanz Saturday gardening club started in April 2021. Now in its third year, it continues to run every Saturday from spring to Christmas as well as taking school groups there on Wednesdays and Fridays and clubs throughout the holidays.
The Skool Beanz allotment is a rainbow of colour. Children learn how to grow delicious veg, beautiful flowers and how to garden to help nature, with plenty of upcycled art thrown in. There is a quiet wildlife garden with a tiny pond, a rain water collecting station, muddy buddy compost heap, secret den, polytunnel classroom, community raised beds and sunflower shed. It is a garden where children can just be and also let their imaginations run wild.
Colour and horticultural at the Skool Beanz Children’s Allotment – opening on 12 August
Around the same time in March 2021, I was invited by my friend to look at his new business venture. Martock Workspace was a building site and he wondered if I would like to landscape the new car park. An old dairy farm – the farm buildings were being converted into creative, modern spaces for local businesses to rent. Excited for the challenge, I felt inspired by Piet Oudolf’s naturalistic planting style. The buildings are contemporary and masculine so in contrast the planting is soft and feminine. With a small café built, I was then let loose to create a 500 square metre kitchen garden to provide them and the locals with veg. Designed with the Victorian kitchen garden layout in mind, this is a no-dig garden full of colour, attracting nature and trying to work in harmony with the rabbits! A hedgehog has been spotted here too. We also have a polytunnel for growing winter salad and summer tomatoes and a greenhouse for all our propagating.
What do you hope National Garden Scheme visitors will take away with them from visiting Skool Beanz and The Kitchen Garden at Martock?
I hope people feel the joy and happiness these gardens bring to me and the people who use them. I hope they feel inspired to try out new things in their own gardens. We can all create our own Edens no matter how small our space is, indoors or out. Garden like you have one summer left – cancer taught me that. Plant those crazy gladioli, combine orange with pink, break all the rules!
Lara is the genius behind The Kitchen Garden at Martock Workspace that opens on 16 September
Skool Beanz Children’s Allotment next opens for the National Garden Scheme on 12 August – Click here for details
The Kitchen Garden at Martock Workspace opens on 16 September – Click here for details
This story originally appeared in The Little Yellow Book of Gardens and Health as part of our Gardens and Health Week 2023