A Gardener’s Diary – 1st Feb

It’s my own fault. Who in their right mind would try and rake up leaves as the wind blows?

The sun was shining this morning. The temperature is a balmy +11C and significantly higher than it has been of late. My enthusiasm to get out into the garden made me overlook some basic’s such as the strength of the wind.

It is a job on my ever increasing to-do list, and raking up predominantly oak leaves that have fallen each month through winter. Every time I do clear them, there are more that appear. Today however ended in much needed laughter as the warmer weather was an ideal opportunity to enable our son to sit out in his wheelchair on the decking while taking in the much needed sunshine. Still in our hats and coats mind you. The old saying of β€œNe’er cast a clout till May is out,” rings true. Meaning, don’t take your warm clothes off until the May blossom is out, is very good advice. So all wrapped up, a mug of tea on the little bistro table and as I watch our son in case he has a seizure, I set about raking up leaves.

I should have known before I even started, but as the first sweep of leaves caught the wind, that was it. Like a million mini kites being flown by invisible garden fairy folk, the leaves just seemed to multiply and fly all over. A shriek goes out from our son and I immediately look over to him. Leaves dried in the sun and wind are swirling all over him. The shriek is of delight rather than anguish and a broad grin is on his face. I swept another pile. Up in the air they went and almost as if magnetic they fly past the weather vane and all around our son, falling silently on his coat, on his head and on his arms. Bursting with laughter he shouts out to me “again” I need no prompting. We are always looking out for those small signs that show happiness or an interest that he is unable to speak of and here was something so unexpected, but created so much delight. I obliged by raking another couple of piles into the air and watched as our son using the one hand that he can try’s to catch them as they pass by him or fall onto him.

It did nothing to tidy the garden, but as I garden to support our sons complex needs, sweeping and raking up these leaves can wait. We laughed today and that was more important. Even though I cursed the might oak trees for endlessly losing their leaves, seemingly all in our garden, I do have the passing thought that maybe, just maybe, they knew something that I did not until this moment, and that is that a smile can be had in the most unexpected of times and places and these trees with their hundreds of years of wisdom, gave me something very special, to create in this moment, something very special.

Mug of tea drunk, we spend a few more minutes outdoors. Our two robins are sitting on the fence just watching what we were doing with cocked heads. Blackbirds fly down into the disturbed leaves and flicking them all over with their beaks, they go hunting for any grubs that are beginning to stir in the warming weather.

Next time, I should have my camera with me. These are the moments we cherish.

A Gardener’s Diary – 31st Jan

A gardener’s diary can be started on any day. The garden evolves throughout the year and any day would be a good starting point.

The last day of January works for me given a break in the cold, frosty weather. The sun is shining though the ground remains cold and hard.

Dare I suggest that if you have not been out in your garden since Christmas, maybe even before, then you are way overdue getting out there. In truth, that applies to me, ashamedly. Lockdown rules and family illness have I’m sorry to say, destroyed my motivation and drive to care for this magical space outside our door.

That is until now. In the last few days I have been out there, just for short amounts of time, but time that is reigniting my passion for gardening. Raking up leaves. Yes, for those who think the fallen leaves should have been cleared already, Oak trees infuriatingly hold their leaves well into winter and in our garden, kept falling through December and January.

I have been cutting back perennials that I had just left, hoping rather than planning that they would offer picturesque structure during the winter snows and frost. Sadly as our local climate is very wet, my hope was ill-founded as they lie in a wet soggy mess causing more damage to growing bulbs. I have concluded that The winter garden looks better in some areas and not others, in our case, I will be cutting back perennials and deciduous shrubs in autumn, having a tidy garden before winter and allowing me a more casual approach to next years spring garden. Even the natural homes for insects to overwinter is less of an issue for us in a semi-rural area as there are many opportunities for hideouts in the garden even with the cut back and tidy up.

Early spring flowering plants joining their winter flowering friends. They are, as often called, harbingers of spring and boy, do we need all signs of hope right now. It takes some resilience to go outdoors each day, even for a short time and frankly, I find I’m more often than not, alone in my endeavours. Family staying indoors in the warm, even our Parson Terrier is happier looking at me through the window from the warmth of indoors. No activity in neighbouring gardens either, but I carry on, little by little, I have significant restoration to do. If you decide to venture out, remember to wrap up warm, a woollen hat, multiple layers and long enough shirts to keep covered any exposed ‘flesh’ as you bend and stretch.

Even though the weather remains cold, I do prepare to plant out bare rooted trees and shrubs and this year I have a number of English Yew for a new hedge – creating a feature to house our statue of the Goddess ‘Flora’. Flora is the Roman goddess of flowers and of the season of spring. I like how formal gardening creates spaces in hedgerows to house sculptures set within them and I am trying to create something similar.

Of course when you go back into the garden, I can guarantee, like me, you will not know where you have left your tools. I blame the lack of motivation during the height of the lockdown for not putting ours away correctly and ensuring they were cleaned and sharpened. As each one is recovered, they need cleaning up, or permanently retiring.

On this day, we have Dwarf Iris showing, Snowdrops just about to open, and Japanese Flowering Quince with flower buds looking like opening even before our Camelia. Cyclamen Coum are fighting against the fallen leaves to show through with their stunning variegated leaves. The white winter flowering Sarcococca Confusa, Lonicera Fragrantissima and Helleborus Niger are beginning to fade, but have been so welcome through the last few weeks and the scent in the air has been wonderful. The delight is how many spring bulbs are forcing them selves through the ground, a certain sign of good things to come.

I don’t do new year resolutions as I tend to fail on them very quickly but I have a few projects I am eager to fulfil. Two I will keeps to myself and see how they develop through the year, but those I will share with some confidence this early is my plan to add a Polytunnel to the garden. I have been wanting one, or a greenhouse, for some time and have decided on a polytunnel. As well as home grown veggies, I want to bring on seasonal hanging baskets in this area so I can swap out spring for summer, summer for autumn, autumn for winter and then spring again with plants that have been established in the care of a managed area, the same with pots.

Creating a courtyard with cobbles and gravel, leading to an entrance to a real secret garden has been planned for the ten years we have lived here. Time I did something about it!

January 31st has also been dedicated to the catalogues pricing up and choosing the materials needed. I hope future posts will reveal our successes and importantly how they have (hopefully) benefitted our family.

Letters …

In this modern world, with technology everywhere, and for everything, words are passed increasingly more frequent through text or email than through a letter, written, stamped and posted with care and that personal touch. Even facetime or skype allow a face to face conversation to take place across the miles without being there.

For many this new age technology works. Immediate and expected. But somehow, I find the absence of that piece of paper saddening. No longer do we see the artistry of handwriting as the writer scribes with their unique style across a piece of dedicated paper specific for the message, folded neatly in half to be inserted into the matching envelope. Care taken to address the document to the recipient and a stamp lovingly attached as if to represent a final seal for the contents. A walk to a nearby post-box in which to place this personalised document. Instead, a ‘ping’ and a “You have mail” alert on computer or smartphone pops up on the screen that we are endlessly obsessed at looking at.

Our son listens for that ‘clunk‘ of the letterbox, now all too infrequently, as the postie drops the mail through the door. Eager for me to collect the posted material from the doormat asking if one is for him. As always, we sort through a mountain of junk-mail, the hard copy version of the in-box spam. Traders eager for business and targeting our postal district. They get put into the recycle bin without a second look. I dislike unsolicited correspondence like this. We then sort through that junk-mail which is personally addressed. Equally annoying as this pile of unwanted correspondence needs shredding to ensure identity theft is prevented as much as possible. There then remains a small pile of one or two letters that do demand out attention and excite us to see who has written.

No ‘letter’ is there. Nobody has written to us, or our son. Bold letters at the top of the page signify NHS. Yet more correspondence summarising a previous hospital consultation with our son or a forthcoming appointment with one of his specialists. We now hold many files, filled with NHS correspondence. Each document telling us about our son disabilities. The reading of them is upsetting. Each document recalls just how severe his illness is. We know the detail and so nothing written is new to us, but to see it in print, is, still upsetting.

Through Christmas and our Son’s birthday, he will receive a card addressed to him and with excited eyes, he will open it and ask me to read it to him. A little bit of magic sent by someone who has put thought and care into it. An email or text just doesn’t capture that same feeling as holding a letter or card in your hands.

Back in the 1960’s a person with autism was considered un-educational and was institutionalised. Since that time, we have learned so much about autism and how it enables a person to see the world in such a unique and magical way. A way that neuro-typical people did not, and still do not, understand. Ignorance and fear in those years gone by had you locked up. Allegedly for their safety and the safety of the general public. Sadly even today, many years are spent in secure hospitals by people with autism, with little or no prospect of being released. From our our own experience, we can understand the frustrations with living with a person who has autism, but overwhelmingly the love that is shown, interaction and achievements reached, though different than you or I, are non-the-less equal to anything that anyone achieves. The eagerness for a letter addressed to our son landing on the doormat is an example. Key to happily living in the community with autism is awareness and understanding, and being prepared and able to offer support to others when they struggle.

In a few weeks we will be celebrating autism awareness. World Autism Awareness Day falls on April 2nd. This year, the theme is ‘Inclusion in the Workplace: Challenges and Opportunities in a Post-Pandemic World

A window to a world outside …

When the rain falls. When the winds blow. When snow is seen in the icy cold wind, blowing relentlessly from the north. There is no possibility of a wheelchair user to engage with anything outdoors.

Supporting a reluctant person with special needs when every little detail, every activity is anticipated with fear, we pray that all conditions come together just perfectly.

On a day like today, a favoured window is ideal for us to sit at and just while away some time, looking for opportunities to occupy a troubled mind and bring peace, even for a few minutes.

Our resident robins visit daily and sing to us. They fear not about the weather. Looking into the window with cocked heads as if singing to us, ‘come on out, it’s not that bad’, and yet we hide indoors in the warm and watch. The robins are joined by sparrows, by blue tits, great tits, coal tits and long tailed tilts. We have found our daily feeding with sunflower hearts to be favoured by these birds. Robins need to be ground fed as they struggle with with hanging feeders. Fat balls hang in a feeder that attracts them all as well and there are often up to eight long-tail tits all hanging on together. Interestingly, they are always in pairs, there is never a lone one arriving to eat.

Of course, all the fallen seed and crumbs is eagerly scavenged by the woodpigeons, rooks and blackbirds. Occasionally we see the woodpecker fly in. Particularly for the fat balls. I explain in vain to our son that feeding these birds is like working in a restaurant. Different feed type, different feeding station and even those we deter from getting in to the feeders for the small birds are fed by scattering feed on the lawns for them. My explanation is lost on him, too much information for him to process and so I leave it, instead just pointing out the different birds flying in.

During the freezing weather I have had to dig out the ice that has formed in the bird baths and fill up again with clean rain water. As soon as I have completed it the sound of fluttering wings as the birds arrive to bathe and to drink.

Even now, so early in the year, the birds are finding bugs and beasties all over to eat that our seed seeks to supplement. In time the aphids will arrive and offer another meal to these visiting little birds.

I talk to our son about our bugs hunts. A long time has passed since we have been bug hunting and I talk about our plans to explore the garden for besties when it gets warmer. Frogs and toads, newts, dragonflies, and damsel flies, butterflies, ladybirds, bees and hover-flies in years gone by we have managed to attract them all.

Today is all about keeping warm and keeping dry, tomorrow is all about, adventure …

Over the threshold …

5th January 2022

Allow me, if I may, to paint you a picture. The threshold to outdoors is perhaps the hardest place to cross when you are filled with fear of what may lie beyond.

Two year of Pandemic controls have caused so many challenges for our son that we now need to address. Leaving the house even, is a key one.

Standing at the threshold with our son, hoping he will step outside with me, even for a short while, I look to our left, the steps leading down into this garden, giving the impression of a sunken garden, covered still with fallen leaves from the trees all around us. To their right, an area that was supposed to have an established alpine garden by now. Cotoneaster growing up and along a wall, leaves having fallen and through the bare branches, signs of repointing that has also escaped me. The fencing looks weathered and worn, not yet needing replacing, but certainly in need of treating and painting. The gravel garden no longer looks as golden as the stones are supposed to display and I regret the fact that I have neglected the raking and rolling them throughout the year. Again, another job left incomplete.

Looking to the right, at the far end of this garden room, the five barred fence and adjoining gate look almost barren and exposed rather than an integral feature to edge the garden. Beyond which is the main garden. Indecision and lack of attention has prevented completion of this area. It should by now house a potting shed and greenhouse allowing all those mini-adventures and activities to be crafted inside enabling our son to help manage his terrors and pain. A sign over the potting shed should by now have read “Head Gardeners Son” …. it’s not there!

Raised beds sit at the centre of this garden room, they are planted up and nature is doing all it can to bring on the bulbs and spring plants. Splashes of green in an area that should be, even in winter, magical to look at.

As I step outside myself into the area I had once wanted to be like a warm embrace for our son to encourage him outdoors, it looked like it had been forgotten. Our son resists stepping out, preferring instead to remain indoors. I’ll admit to not having either the time, or often, the motivation to get into the garden and nurture it. It is not so much neglected, not yet. Not quite abandoned, but certainly it has been left alone. For too long now.

Stepping out through the doorway. facing South-East. the shadows of neighbouring properties being cast along its length. This area is like a long walk. Twelve feet wide and around fifty feet long, the shadows gradually disappear as the sun rises in the sky and the whole length becomes a beautiful sun trap by midday. Today, though spring bulbs are pushing through in the cutting bed, there is not a lot here to encourage us outdoors.

Hit by relentless rain over the last few weeks and current frozen ground through sub-zero temperatures, there is not much scope to do much, other than plan for the future. Today the snow is falling.

A new gate, already painted, to be hung. Fencing and a further gate yet to be painted. A new small gravel garden to be created and form a home for our ‘Flora’ statue. A new pond in this area as experience has shown this garden to be ideal for the water grasses and lily, and indeed all the wildlife that attracts.

The potting shed and greenhouse will come, but I will add pots to grow an assortment of vegetables. Through the lockdown and limited ‘outings’ to shops to reduce the risk of catching the virus, a need to grow fruit and veg became essential. This needs to continue, not only so we can eat fresh and tasty food, but also to help our son explore and taste new tastes which can be a challenge for a person with autism.

The sun will begin to shine again, the rain clouds dry up and nature has a way of taking you by the hand once you engage with her and enthuse you to achieve many things. As a family, we remain very fearful of this COVID virus. We do not know for sure how our son may be affected if he became infected with it.

I’m sure many will relate to my feelings of emerging from a very desperate couple of years and a future that although full of promise and adventure will be embraced with caution. An optimistic caution, but caution none the less.

Our January garden will evolve. Five minutes here and five minutes there. Each little task being a step towards recreating something special that will once again reach out to our son and entice him outdoors on a bug hunt, looking for frogs and toads, butterflies and dragonflies, a variety of visiting birds, coming for the water and the seed we leave for them and hopefully they will help us with aphid control, or creating seedlings for future meals or gifts. Most importantly we will find once again, that focus of mind that will help him keep the terrors at bay and forget at least for a short time that pains he suffers as attention is distracted.

Snow is forecast again tomorrow, but I have resolutely decided that even clearing the paths and driveway of snow, is a step towards that vision I have found once again.

Something to say? …

I’m not sure if my writings are read by many, I don’t take too much interest looking at statistics and coverage, the most popular day or time this blog is looked at. I’m not writing to attract numbers, but rather, I’m writing to share a story. A journey that may be of interest, it may even be of help in certain circumstances.

For those who celebrate Thanksgiving, I want to wish you all a wonderful day. I find the excitement of getting together and sharing both stories and gratitude’s with loved ones and maybe even strangers, romantic and rewarding. There is a magic in the occasion that I hope continues, always.

Realising that Thanksgiving falls tomorrow in the USA, I’m sitting in the centre of our own decorated home with my wife and son, and of course our cat and dog and though the year, the last two years have been awful for us all, there are moments that I’m sure we can all look on, maybe not today, but in days or weeks to come, when we can contemplate all we have, and be grateful for.

Through his illness, our son reminds me how fragile life is, and yet even within that fragility, there is a resilience and strength, which I believe to be heaven sent, to support us through all the trials and tribulations we each must face. I don’t think that any family has escaped the impact of the pandemic, either through loss, or through some other hardship. There has been the wonder of communities coming together and offering a hand in friendship in a way maybe never seen before, certainly in my generation. Those heroes who have continued against all the odds to provide services to us all, even at risk of their own personal safety.

“Thank you”, “I’m sorry”, “I love you”, are phrases that seem so simple to say, but do we. If there is one thing I have learned personally over the last couple of years is that when life is unexpectedly taken away and you have, or had, something to say, don’t wait, the opportunity can so easily get taken from you. I am grateful that my immediate family is here with me. I have however lost three members of our wider family to this awful virus and in truth, never got to tell them the things I should.

Likewise, the opportunity to go on an adventure or an experience are ones I say ‘go for’ and make them happen. I know there are many who like ourselves, need to plan that little bit more to make them happen due to conditions that make inclusion a greater challenge, but I recall years ago, the day we raced across a field of long grass with our son in his wheelchair and the monumental task we had getting our son on the ‘Water-Shute’ ride at the fairground, but afterwards, the thrill of having done it, and the pictures we have of the absolute joy on his face following these and others is just magical, for him, and for us.

I would also thank those of you who have followed our story, quietly, or having given us such wonderful support and encouragement, sharing in our fun, and listening when we get down, your friendship is so very welcome, and our gratitude in being able to call you friends, is priceless.

Happy Thanksgiving, as the first Sunday of Advent is this coming Sunday, Happy Advent and let me be early in wishing you all a very Merry Christmas for when it arrives.

Christmas is coming …

… and our planning and preparation is in full swing.

Those with autism can have a difficult time enjoying the excitement of Christmas festivities. Our son is no different. The basis of this discomfort is the need for routine. Surprises such as gifts challenge the principles of routine and can build a sense of fear and apprehension with the unknown item inside the package. The putting up of decorations and Christmas trees can create similar fear and anxiety as they are an intrusion into an established environment. Something new and different that needs to be accepted and mentally processed to overcome any thoughts of danger. The number of potential triggers of anxiety are endless and anyone who lives with or cares for a person with autism will understand the importance of a gradual introduction.

We support our son by introducing aspects of Christmas early. We have routines and traditions that we follow so that our son begins to associate the routine with an event that can be enjoyed. Looking through the decoration boxes, reading Christmas tales together, watching Christmas movies are all essential beginnings. Key to a calm Christmas day is to prepare a list for Santa together. Adding things that our son talks fondly about. We create the magic of helping Santa buy the gifts and once our son has carefully looked at and handled them, we wrap them together and place them somewhere he can see and become familiar with this new, but now hidden gift. Don’t for one minute think that this destroys the sense of surprise when the present so opened on Christmas morning, quite the reverse, this process allows our son to feel a surprise that he knows is not a threat and the excitement of opening an item he chose is nothing less than thrilling for us to watch. And his smile is genuine.

I know that the twelve days of Christmas come after Christmas, but we have adapted it to use as an introduction to items of Christmas which will be seen as we head through to the big day. Using photography, I show our son an abstract image which we talk about, trying to guess what it is. The day after I show a picture of the full item and talk about it some more, the day after we display the item in full view. The twelve days begins on 1st December and concludes on Christmas Eve. It’s a little bit of fun, but for us, it works and with other interventions, it helps our son embrace the Christmas festivities more calmly than he once did.

That has got to be worth a smile πŸ™‚

A life, in a day …

Never more so has the thought of a whole life being experienced in the period of a day.g As our son experiences seizure after seizure each day, and sadly every day, his thoughts and memories are wiped away and replaced with confusion and pain.

It is said that a person who has epilepsy also needs the resilience to understand that resting is needed for their recovery. Memory loss occurs, attention is lost, and pain engulfs the body without mercy.

Increasingly we find that our son starts each day almost without knowledge of what took place the previous day, or any thought for what may happen the next … or even if there is a tomorrow. His life is, in the current day.

It’s difficult. For him, and for us. His care is imperative, even if a challenge. Understanding his thoughts during times of pain and fear is essential, as is endeavouring to fulfil some sense of achievement each and every moment we can.

Gardeners Journal notes …

Notes! Endless notes. November brings leaf fall and rain fall and more jobs seem to get added to the to-do list than crossed off.

I’m sure you know how it is when you do get out into the garden. Today there was a break in the weather, the sun even shined and for a while there, it was quite warm again. I am still grass cutting. Blades raised though to protect the winter lawns and importantly I was lifting the fallen leaves. I know, I know, with tomorrows winds and rain the Oak and Sycamore will cast more leaves on the newly manicured lawn. But that’s what being a gardener is all about and those who do likewise will rejoice at the compost we are creating this month.

As I walk round with the mower, the inevitable list is being created in my mind, to later write down. Dig back the gravel path here and there and sow grass seed instead. Edge the lawn to create the sharp formal line I like. Lift the perennials that had been left behind and replant into the dedicated border. Set up new pots – use the large Gothic styled ones – and plant up Hosta’s, Bleeding Heart and Ferns. Remember, position them before filling as they will be too heavy to move otherwise. I need the pergola arch and full height gate ordering. They need to be in place before Christmas and decked with lights. Oh yes, order the bare rooted English Yew for the new hedge, and plant it before the frosts.

Two Acers are needed and have yet to be ordered to sit alongside the new pergola arch and gothic garden mirrors …. but wait, my to-do list is just getting longer and longer. Next job is to break all this and more down into bite sized activities of no more than an hour to allow time for my caring role too.

I only set out to clear up the fallen leaves. Becoming captivated by the garden is not unusual and I challenge anyone not to get lost and absorbed in what you are doing, be it a garden, window box or even pot plants, nature has a way of doing that.

The light is fading now, I’ve filled a second leaf compost bin, my back is aching, but it’s a good day. Oh no! I’ve forgotten to feed the ericaceous pots with liquid feed to ensure I get Camelia blooms in spring … gotta go! πŸ™‚

A week in the life …

Those who have followed our story will understand the challenges our son faces. A theme I use is ‘a day in the life‘ to write about how he deals with such challenges. As his condition means that each day is like stating again for him and all memories need to be rebuilt from scratch, I have often though my theme would better reflect his health if I call it ‘a life in a day’.

This week is no different to others, but for the number of medical appointments he needed to attend.

Annual Flu jab, done! Annual health assessment, done, eye test and optical health check, done. These appointments have been planned for some weeks and entered onto his picture diary, allowing us to talk about each one in the extreme detail that our sons autistic mind demands. Gradually, the acceptance of the appointment became less of a fear and we were able to accomplish each one without too much issue.

That is except for the required appointment today. At our sons health assessment, we raised our concern about a ‘mole‘ that we believe has changed shape and texture. It is suspected from todays appointment that our son has developed a Melanoma. A biopsy is being appraised and we have to wait on the verdict. We believe we have caught it early but we also wonder how much more our son is going to have to endure.

In writing this blog post, I do so with a message to everyone who reads it. Please don’t neglect any aspect of your health that may be different. A new and continuous cough. A mole or spot that changes or weeps. Maybe even screening appointments. Eye tests, hearing tests. In our sons case we make sure he has regular check ups. He is unable to manage his health himself and we need to be aware of everything which may affect him. We also ensure our own health screening is up to date as our son depends upon ourselves and we need to remain fit and healthy. Are you in a similar situation? it is easy to put off these things, but even with the pandemic all around us, it is essential to spot illness early and have them dealt with.

As with our sons eye test this week when he had a seizure at the opticians, he also had a seizure as we were in the clinic investigating this melanoma, Our son and myself were supported on both occasions which is so helpful and tomorrow is a lazy day and an opportunity for him to spend quiet time processing all that has taken place this week.