We asked Kimberly to share with us her gardening experience and journey, and what is takes to garden with a neuromuscular disease. This is what Kimberly had to say...
Tell us a little about yourself?
My Name is Kimberly Cornish @growingwithspaniels, I’m 38 and I live in the Clun valley, South Shropshire. I live with my husband David, our teenage son Christopher and our two English Springer Spaniels Scout and George.
I grow in our cottage garden which we have set up with raised beds growing in a no dig style. I have eleven beds in which I grow potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beetroot, french and runner beans, squash, corn, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries etc. I have a polytunnel where I grow salads, tomatoes, peppers and chilies. I also grow herbs which I use in cooking and to make herbal tinctures, salves and soaps. My son built the arch in front of the polytunnel to grow sweet peas up, it’s made a great feature in the garden.
The garden is a shared space as they both work from home welding and fabricating, it’s not a quiet place until they leave to walk the dogs!
What was your introduction into gardening?
My grandparents first introduced me to gardening. My Grampi grew vegetables while my Gran grows flowers. When I was young, they had a steep back garden with a beautiful rockery which is where my love for alpines comes from. Sadly, I wouldn’t eat his veg complaining they tasted too strong! Of course, now I know the effort and care that went into producing them. I've been gardening all my life but only started growing vegetables since moving to Shropshire five and a half years ago. Growing our own food allows us to know nothing nasty is being sprayed on what goes into our bodies which is so important for our health and reduces our food miles.
Who is your gardening inspiration and why?
Ben Thorner @theyounggrower, I read an article he wrote on sweet peas in a magazine and started following him on Instagram. It was my first introduction to the community on Instagram but it was also wonderful to see a fellow disabled gardener. Charles Dowding with his no dig kitchen market garden. Ironically, I've come across him after moving to Shropshire. Before we moved, we lived just up the road from Homeacres in Somerset. Some other accounts I enjoy following include; @augusts_garden with her magical content cooking on the open fire, with their sprite caravan, Alison @thewheelchairgardener inspires me with her beautiful garden, @home_is_where_our_heart_is who share amazing wild medicine and herbs, Danni @plot.81 who forages, grows and preserves amazing food.
What do you enjoy about gardening?
Seeing the seeds or bulbs emerging through the soil amazes me every time. It’s the reminder of just how wonderful mother nature truly is. The smallest most oddly shaped seeds grow into the most beautiful flowers and vegetables. Its grounding and connects us to nature.
I enjoy getting out into the garden everyday whether it's to quickly walk around and just see how everything is doing or to plant seeds, pot on or plant out. I am however not a patient grower; I hate waiting for the veg to get to full size and often harvest them earlier.
Tell us about your gardening experiences?
The boys have set the garden up to help me as much as possible. This includes raised beds, the polytunnel is set up so I can sit down while potting up, I have a raised salad bed which can be adapted should I need to use my wheelchair more in the future. They are both usually on hand to lift or move anything quickly when needed.
Having the polytunnel has allowed me to grow year-round and ensures we have vegetables and salad to use during the winter. I've really enjoyed preserving the home grown produce with a friend. So far, we have canned tomatoes, salsas, burger relish, apple butter, apple pie filling, apple pie jam and apple sauce. I have frozen raspberries, cabbage, runner beans, tomatoes, peppers, parsnips, corn on the cob and spinach. I really hope in time we can be as self-reliant as possible; we have reduced our plastic waste following the food shop massively by growing our own. I have tried to grow luffas over the last two years, last time the plants were strong but I didn’t get any male flowers. I will try again this year in the hope to add them to my soaps and use them for washing up sponges.
What have been your biggest physical challenges when gardening and how do you overcome them?
I have a neuromuscular disease, meaning repetitive activity or movements are just impossible, it limits both my physical ability and the time I can spend towards anything. This means digging simply isn’t an option for me, No dig has absolutely been my way around this. I am lucky to have the boys available to help me pull out the parsnips, carry things, or cover manure onto the beds for me. Without them I would be much more limited and wouldn’t be able to grow the amount I do.
What are your top 5 tips with using the no dig method?
1. Do some research to make sure you understand the basic idea before starting and spending money you probably don’t need to
2. Reach out to people locally for manure, woodchip or cardboard as they are often given away.
3. Ask Neighbours for their compost and garden waste for your own compost heap to make as much as possible
4. Hoe regularly so weed roots can't get a hold and become a bigger issue
5. Buy or make a dibber to make planting out easier and quick
What impact or benefits do you think gardening has had on your life and why do you feel gardening is important?
Gardening has always given me purpose while I’ve been unable to work, but vegetable growing has taken this even further. To be in the garden daily to tend to the veg and harvest is wonderful, especially on a bad day when I might otherwise choose to stay in bed. There are of course days where I’m simply too weak to do anything and need to give in. On these days looking through Instagram, reading a magazine or watching YouTube videos really helps keep my spirits up. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet some local growers as I sell some of my vegetable seedlings. This has really opened up my otherwise small world in a very rural area of Shropshire.
The garden is my haven in a world which could be quite lonely otherwise, as I don’t often feel well enough to go out and about.
How do you try to manage the impact your gardening has on the environment?
This is truly something we are passionate about in all aspects of our lives. In the garden I do everything I can from using soil blocks to reduce my plastic use, reusing pots the locals bring me, saving toilet rolls for growing sweet peas etc, choosing never to use pesticides, introducing ladybirds and lacewings as natural pesticides, building a wildlife pond, keeping scruffy areas with weeds, feeding the birds, providing shelter for different creatures, reusing or repurposing such as old sash windows into a cold frame. Every purchase is considered, purchased locally and secondhand where possible and without single use plastic. If you haven’t come across soil blocks, I highly recommend them. The hardest part is finding a soil mix that works for you. The benefits include no single use plastics, very healthy roots and the ease of starting so many seeds in 3⁄4 inch blocks (20 fit into a takeaway pot). The downside is the watering which needs doing daily for the smallest 3⁄4 inch blocks and every couple of days for the next sizes.
What are your future plans for the garden?
The garden itself has overgrown leylandii trees all around the edge which blocks out light, takes nutrients from the soil and upsets the ph. They were originally planted to reduce the wind coming down the valley but were not maintained. The boys have started removing them so I am hopeful that it will help everything grow much stronger in the coming years. We are planning to create new flower beds around the edge to include the cut flowers, which will give me more space to grow veg. We have no perennial flower beds currently in the back garden so I’m really looking forward to creating these boarders which will completely change the look of the garden. We’ll also be able to enjoy the views.
One of my favorite parts of the garden in 2022 was the patio outside the back door. My son built me a firepit, it’s been the most wonderful place to sit and enjoy time as a family surrounded by potted flowers and gaze at the stars. Continuing to learn about each plant and grow more every year is so very important to me. Learning new recipes and techniques to preserve what I can. And of course, learning from my mistakes. I think I may be addicted!