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Gardening through the tough times of lockdown

Jan Rogers MBE, a volunteer gardener who helps open Ponthafren, a community garden in Newtown, Powys for the National Garden Scheme talks about her tough lockdown experience and how gardening helped her – and her community – through.

Hello my name is Jan Rogers, I was born July 1962. I met Mike Rogers when I was 16, he had four children living with him. We married in 1979 (with the children’s permission).

As the years went on we had six boys together, so we totalled eight boys and two girls.

In July 1992 our lives changed forever: after a horrific event I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress and depression. It was Mike and the children that kept me going, to be honest they kept me alive.

I’ve always loved gardening and outdoors and was always very sporty. Mike managed to revive my love for the garden amongst other things. I have for many years run a community garden in Ponthafren Association Newtown. This is a mental health charity based in Newtown and Welshpool: thanks to their open-door policy, anyone can pop in for a chat, or take part in courses provided, and come and help in the garden.

Over the years, I’ve seen my garden, along with other peoples’ gardens lifting people’s moods and putting a smile on their faces. We put plants and veg out in the yard for donations so the garden is totally self-funded. About five years ago we opened the garden to the National Garden Scheme, and now we usually have two or three open days a year. This helps in a few ways – people get to see the garden but also plays a huge part in reducing the stigma that goes with mental health issues. Our garden was also chosen to be filmed for ‘Glorious Gardens from Above’, shown on BBC One.

I could manage most things in the garden but if it was fences, walls, paths etc. which needed replacing, I would shout to our ‘tribe’.  Mike would rally whichever sons weren’t working that weekend to sort it all (as volunteers!).

In August 2019, my whole world fell apart. We lost Mike very suddenly.  Even my love for gardening was slipping away. Over the next six months I kept busy doing nothing really, it was a blur. I couldn’t face the garden at home or in fact the garden at Ponthafren, as Mike and I were a team.

We bought a bench in memory of Mike and placed it in the garden, I had started popping in and sitting in the garden there but this was as much as I could do.

Then lockdown, Ponthafren had to close its doors but the staff carried on helping those that needed it, from home via phone and Zoom. The next few weeks were a blur but at one point the police, the mental health team and the doctor were on the scene: I went to stay on the outskirts of the little village with one of my sons, his wife and four daughters. After a few weeks my son came home with some seeds as he had rented a small field, and decided to plant veg. He asked me to sow the seeds as he was working full-time but I decided to involve his four daughters. We popped the seeds into pots having picked up seed pots and trays and it just seem to grow from there. The garden was soon full of veg and sorted. I decided after several weeks I needed to face the demons and go home but we don’t have a garden for veg as our garden is full of shrubs and flowers.

It was then I thought about the Gardening for Disabled Trust Charity. I measured up and came up with a plan for three raised beds and a greenhouse.

When I got the go ahead, it was such a boost that I ordered everything but knew there would be a delay with the greenhouse due to Covid. Once the wood and soil were delivered, I was on a mission. The only thing was because of lockdown and my health problems only our son, his wife and daughters I stayed with previously could come and help.

But we managed, and very soon I had hundreds of seedlings including tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, a range of all sorts of beans, peas, brassicas, corn on the cob and more. Our back garden was full, our porch was bursting and also the downstairs bedroom which had been empty since our last son had moved out. It was a mission in itself to keep everything watered, but it was a mission I needed to help keep me going.

 

Then I got thinking, I can’t possibly plant all these in this garden. So I contacted local villages to ask if I could put a table with an honesty box by the village hall. The money raised I would give to Ponthafren.

I struggled sleeping but now instead of sitting in the garden I had a focus, I had been given the money to buy the wood so the greenhouse was a lifeline when everything was slipping away. It gave me a purpose – it didn’t change what had happened but it gave me a reason to stay.

I had spoken to the police and they gave me a card with a reference number on. This meant I was able to drive around the villages to water the plants and to collect the money. I totalled up the money and after all the seedlings had been sold I gave it to a staff member along with the collection boxes. I had also put a fundraiser page on Facebook, so that people who didn’t have cash on them were able to pay through this. In total this raised over £1,300 but for me it was as much about helping the people that were also struggling: through this, others were able to carry on and get out in the garden as it was one of the very few places they could buy seedlings due to lockdown.

So you see the grant that the Gardening for the Disabled Trust gave me has not only helped me, and my family but has had a huge positive knock-on effect. I even had emails and messages to ask if I would put certain plants down the bottom of the road so people could get somebody to pick them up and I also had a request to put a box of plants on the number 75 bus! I thought this was certainly different but it turned out that the bus driver picked up shopping for local or elderly people that live close to him. Some of these people had always bought plants from us so were over the moon when they found out that I had taken the garden home and, although on a smaller scale, carried it on.

From the plants grown in our garden at home I have also put them to good use by giving them to local people who are self-isolating and also groups that have been providing meals and delivery of these meals to the vulnerable. So again another positive knock-on effect. Alas my greenhouse came too late for this season but I have even more plans for next season. In fact my sons are putting the greenhouse up over the next couple of weeks so I have Christmas potatoes ready to go in there all planted in pots and growing well.

Janet Elizabeth Rogers MBE.

This blog was originally written for Gardening for Disabled Trust, they are helping people with all kinds of disabilities to enjoy gardening. If you would like to know more about the grants offered by the Gardening for Disabled Trust please visit their website and you can apply for a grant here.

More about Ponthafren

Ponthafren is a registered charity that provides a caring community to promote positive mental health and wellbeing for all. With its open door policy everyone is welcome to this wonderful community garden on the banks of River Severn that is run and maintained totally by volunteers. For more on Ponthafren which is due to open its gates again for the National Garden Scheme in 2021 click here

 

Hyrwyddo iechyd meddwl cadarnhaol
Promoting positive mental health

 

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