Finding Purpose in the Garden

Nikki Cross has lived in Bellshill, Glasgow for six years with her husband, two rabbits and a puppy, Lyla. Her husband suffers from depression, anxiety, and psoriatic arthritis so the garden has become a sanctuary to which they can escape.

“The garden is somewhere we become lost in,” says Nikki, “it lifts us when we are feeling overwhelmed and gets us away from life’s worries because it gives us a purpose and something to nurture.”

Over the last few years, Nikki and her husband have worked together to remodel their back and front garden. Keen to grow more of her own food and to be more self-sustainable, Nikki wanted to have a mini allotment area in the garden so she could grow a variety of fruit and vegetables, while her husband wanted space to grow flowers: they now have the perfect mix in their garden.

How did you design your garden?
“When we first moved into our garden it was covered in stones and had a small patio with a slabbed path so in terms of a garden, it was quite a blank canvas.

“My husband is a land and building surveyor in his day job so he was able to survey our back garden before we planned out the design of the garden. 

“We designed the garden with a space for a greenhouse so we had a dedicated space to be able to sow and care for our seedlings, and chose the sunniest spot in the garden to place the mini allotment. 

“Once we had the basic design ideas, we made a plan for how big we wanted the raised beds to be for the mini allotment. My husband laid the design out with pegs and I decided what I wanted to grow based on what myself, my husband and our rabbits like to eat, although our new puppy does also like kale and broccoli!

“Once we had all that in place, I decided, that as rabbits eat herbs, I wanted an herb garden added to our garden. 

“I am a keen recycler so my husband suggested we use our old fence posts and fence to make a herb wall and now I grow basil, mint, parsley, sage, lavender, and thyme which means I can cut fresh herbs to feed my rabbits straight from the garden – you cannot get better than organic herbs, grown by your own hands!”

What grows well in your garden?
“Initially I wanted to grow sweetcorn, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. Then I added kale, broccoli, leeks, spring onions, and carrots. Everything has grown well in the garden apart from having our broccoli which was eaten by cabbage white butterflies but, as I want to attract butterflies and bees to our garden, I have decided not to intervene. 

“On harvesting the carrots, they were very small so we think the soil may have been too hard. This year we will grow them in a large pot, made by my husband, in sandy soil, as I have recently learned that carrots loved sandy soil.

“I am still an apprentice gardener, and growing produce is a big learning curve which I love. It gives me great purpose to grow and to nurture. 

“We are quite lucky that a variety of flowers grow well in our garden. We have fuchsias, ferns, hydrangeas, dahlias and two roses bushes that have been a permanent feature of our garden for the last six years.

“Over the years we have added more bee friendly plants to our garden, as I am passionate about helping bees as we need them for pollination to help us grow a variety of food. My favourite bee friendly and mini beast friendly plant, is sedum which starts off green, and then changes to a beautiful red as the season continues.”

Which season in the garden is your favourite?
“My favourite time of year in the garden is springtime: it’s such an exciting time as as plants start to grow again.

“I always make a plan for the year ahead and draw out what I want to do in my garden. Then I can get the seeds I need and start to sow them for the new growing season.”

Mental Well-being
Nikki is passionate that the joy of being outdoors, becoming lost in purposeful activity in the different areas of the garden, can support mental and physical health.

“I started an Instagram account in December 2019 where I begun to keep a record of my growing journey. You cannot underestimate the power of gardening, for your mental and physical wellbeing. Gardening has so many benefits but for me, it’s helped me grow my own self-confidence and self-esteem. 

“It has given me the confidence to try new things and meet new people through gardening. I now host a podcast where I interview fellow gardeners about why they started to garden.”

Top Tips for other Scottish Gardeners

  • Learn about your plants and flowers, and find out what you need to do to keep them healthy and happy.
  • If you want your garden to keep flowering you must keep deadheading.
  • Save the seed heads when your flowers have finished flowering, let them dry out, and keep them in an envelope to sow next year.
  • Remember never to plant mint in the ground as it will take over the area.
  • If you have an apple tree which is producing apples, take the apples down to two apples per branch. This will help encourage big, healthy apples as the tree will then put all its energy into growing the remaining fruit!

Find out more about Nikki’s garden on Instagram and Twitter.

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