Maggie’s Peak Challenge

Maggie Porteous is opening her garden with husband Adrian in Chinley, Derbyshire for the first time in 2023. A lifelong garden lover and regular National Garden Scheme visitor, she had always thought of opening her garden ‘when she grew up’. But, it wasn’t until she was waiting for her post breast cancer surgery histology results at the NGS Macmillan Centre in Chesterfield that she decided the time was right.

We caught up with Maggie to find out more:

What or who inspired your love of gardening?

My parents were both keen gardeners. When I was little they would pay me 5p for every bucket of weeds that I picked up. Dangerous ploy – I would add anything to that bucket to fill it up fast!

How long have you been gardening at your current address and what have the main challenges been?

We’ve been gardening at Ashen Clough for 20 years. The garden is situated at 958 feet on the south west side of Kinder Scout in the Peak District, which means we have to contend with high winds, lots of rain, and our fair share of snow. We also have wild life challenges. There is a very large badger set in the field above the house, and badgers love digging up the lawn and my vegetables!

How did your breast cancer diagnosis effect your relationship with your garden?

My garden became even more important to me after my diagnosis of breast cancer. As a cancer patient you feel that you are on a rollercoaster, with very little control as you move through the process of surgery and then treatment. It’s very easy to become hyper focussed on the cancer, and to spend too much time thinking “what if…” in a very negative way, particularly when you are waiting for results.


Did your garden help you through?

Spending time in the garden definitely helps me. There is always something to do or just to enjoy, which effectively takes my mind off what can be horrible recurring thoughts. And when I am feeling low or worried, being out in the fresh air in the garden immediately lifts my mood.

What inspired you to open your garden for the National Garden Scheme?

I was sitting in the NGS Macmillan Centre in Chesterfield where I had my post surgery follow up meetings – it’s a fantastic centre, light, airy and welcoming – and I was waiting for my post surgery histology results, which would tell me if all of the cancer had been removed (it had – I’m cancer free now!). I’ve known the National Garden Scheme for years, have visited numerous gardens, and always thought that I would open my garden “when I grow up”. I hadn’t really registered that the building I was in had been part funded by the National Garden Scheme until I was sitting there, waiting for my results, and had time to read the donations wall. I took this as a sign that now was the time to open my garden to raise much needed funds for charity, including for Macmillan. I also wanted a project to focus on to help me get through my radiotherapy treatment.

How are you preparing for your open day and are you looking forward to it?

I have a very long “to do” list! I’m trying not to get stressed, but the impending opening has certainly focussed me on getting jobs done in the garden. I’m also organising refreshments and a raffle, with the proceeds going to Blythe House, our local Hospice. Adrian runs a microbrewery from an outbuilding in the garden, and has donated some casks of his draught Big Stone Beer so we will be selling that too. I’ve roped in lots of friends to help me, so I hope we have a fun day!

What’s your favourite thing about gardening / your garden?

I really love my Kitchen Garden. Nothing beats growing your own food, then cooking, pickling or preserving it. We are almost self sufficient for veggies now that we have the Polytunnel.

What’s your least favourite thing about gardening / your garden?

Sycamore helicopters! We have some very large sycamore trees, and their helicopter seeds are the bane of my life. If I had a pound for every one that I’ve picked out of the garden over the last 20 years I would be a VERY rich woman!

How do you feel when you’re in your garden?

Mostly happy. Although this being the Peak District often wet!

Do you have any ongoing or planned projects for the garden?

We would love to have a wildlife pond. I’m hoping that we’ll have the time and energy to build it this autumn.

What is your general maintenance plan for the garden?

It’s a big garden, so can be rather overwhelming! We tend to attack one area at a time together, finish that to get that all important sense of satisfaction, then move on to the next area.

Details about Ashen Clough

Garden size: About 1.5 acres
Soil type: Heavy clay, slightly acidic
Age of garden: Main Garden about 100 years old, Kitchen Garden 10 years old.
Aspect: South facing

Ashen Clough opens for the National Garden Scheme on 16 June, for more details click here

You can follow Maggie on Instagram @whatmaggiedidnext


What are your top gardening tips?

Make your own potting compost using 1 part soil, 1 part leaf mould, and 1 part homemade compost. We get moles here, and the soil they dig up is perfect!

Collect toilet roll inners. They are perfect for sowing peas and beans, and can be planted straight in to the soil, so there’s no root disturbance.

Learn how to save veggie seeds. It’s saved me a fortune over the years, and I’ve been able to do some great seed swaps.

What are your top tips to ensure people remain vigilant for the signs of breast cancer?

Tip number one is to go for your routine mammogram. I had no idea anything was wrong – I had lobular breast cancer which does not form a lump. My Consultant described it as a “sneaky” cancer. I was lucky – my routine mammogram picked up that there was something wrong and the cancer was caught in the early stages.

Tip number two is ‘Copa Feel’ – check your breasts at least monthly. If you feel anything unusual, or if your nipples start bleeding then see your GP immediately.

For more advice on symptoms and signs of breast cancer CLICK HERE

This story originally appeared in The Little Yellow Book of Gardens and Health as part of our Gardens and Health Week 2023



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