Susannah Taylor: Green shoots of self-discovery

When the world stopped last year, I found huge comfort in nature, as so many did. In between work deadlines, home schooling two children and juggling the third, I also became engrossed in our garden. I started growing beetroot, lettuces, cucumbers, beans, chillies and tomatoes, as well as dahlias, sweet peas and cosmos for cutting.

Susannah in her greenhouse: ‘Over the past year I’ve become engrossed in our garden’

My children laughed that I was talking to the flowers, but I was as happy as a pig in mud. Watching dahlias grow from knobbly tubers to glorious triffids, eating our own salads, waiting, waiting, waiting for the tomatoes to turn red, painting the flowers that bloomed all actually made my lockdown.

Did I know what I was doing? Barely, but gardening, I find, is a bit like having a baby – you can read all the books you like but you only really learn on the job.

I have recently been put in touch with psychotherapist and gardening designer Sarah Layton, whose company Growthfully, in Oxfordshire, helps women to make space for themselves through their gardens. ‘There is a huge comfort in creating a space that wraps you in nature,’ she says. ‘Nature was there before us and will be there after us, and that’s reassuring in difficult times.’ She has given me some great tips on creating a wellbeing-enhancing garden…

Make it your happy place

First off, Sarah recommends asking yourself how you want your garden to make you feel. Happy? Creative? Relaxed? Uplifted? Serene? ‘It’s so important,’ she says, ‘not to create a garden that will make the neighbours say “Wow!” – it’s about you and what makes you tick.’

Get the practicalities right

‘Work out what you and your family need,’ says Sarah. ‘Do you want a space for children to play in, for you to have a morning coffee or a barbecue area?’ Think about where the shade is and make it work for you.

Consider sounds, too

‘The sound of birdsong is hugely relaxing and brings happiness,’ says Sarah. ‘So you may consider planting trees and adding bird feeders. Also the sounds of rustling leaves and long grasses are immensely relaxing.’

Create a space that hugs you

For a tiny garden, Sarah suggests containers that mirror the plants you have indoors – so when your doors or windows are open you get the feeling of being wrapped in it. She also suggests layers of plants such as trellises up the walls or staggering planters (put them on stools) to add to the sense of reassuring enclosure.

Pick your palette

Unless you love a riot of colour (which is great), you may want to think about the colours of your garden as you would the colours in your home. Sarah suggests limiting to three or four shades. It’s a bit like choosing a piece of art. Some people may love a bright red and orange canvas, whereas I always choose soft blues, pinks and greens for peacefulness.

Let go of perfection

There is a lot to be learnt from our gardens and the main lesson is realising we can’t necessarily control them, says Sarah. ‘Plants will re-seed themselves, some won’t thrive and the birds will come or they won’t. Ultimately, we are not in charge – and that’s very humanising.’

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