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My Gardening Journey by Susan Taheri

The Gardening GP Susan Taheri has kindly agreed to share with us her journey into gardening and the importance gardening has on our health.

Tell us a little about yourself?

I’m Susan and I’m an NHS GP. I’m originally from the Midlands and moved to Devon over 20 years ago.

What was your introduction into gardening?

It was through my very green fingered Polish grandfather who loved his veg and roses and my grandmother who tended the fruit bushes and grew flowers. Needless to say this love of gardening was passed onto my mum and in turn all five of her children!

Who’s your gardening inspiration and why?

I got involved with the Instagram gardening community during lockdown and met some very inspiring and knowledgeable but also very relatable gardeners this way. There’s so much negativity about social media (in any cases justifiably) but there’s also a huge source of support and learning and friendship. I’ve met some of my virtual gardening pals in real life now - it’s been like having pen friends again when I was a child. @katesinthegarden gets a special mention for her knowledge, especially of flowers for cutting and exquisite use of colour. If you don’t follow her go and take a look!

What do you enjoy about gardening?

I actually enjoy quite repetitive tasks like deadheading and pricking out (I’ll often end up walking around other people’s gardens deadheading their flowers and never know if that’s helpful or just plain rude!). I don’t mind weeding too much but hate wrestling with bindweed (alas we have a lot of it!). I’m not very good about cleaning down tools and washing up all my pots and seed trays as I finish with them and end up with an enormous pile to tackle at some point.

Tell us about your gardening experiences?

I’ve always tried to garden in some small way since I was a student - pots of flowers and shop bought bedding, I even had a little veranda garden in the house I rented when I lived in Australia for a year. Moving around so much meant I never had a permanent place to garden. When I bought my first house on the edge of Exeter I had a tiny little front garden and no back garden to speak of but I packed it with as much colour as I could. It’s really only in the last decade that I have got so into growing from seed which has become a little addictive, especially with regard to growing flowers!

How you get into the Growing Well Garden Project?

It’s an idea I’ve had for some time, based on my love of gardening and how much I know that gardening supports my own wellbeing and mental health. There is increasing evidence supporting the benefits of gardening for physical and mental health so this goes beyond simply the anecdotal! The pandemic also showed us how important access to a garden and green spaces were to people but sadly also showed us how inequitable this is. The opportunity (and time!) to start creating a garden finally arose last year

What impact has the Growing Well Garden Project had?

It’s still really early days but it has already become a way to help people connect and share. Garden volunteers helped to plant a whole load of bulbs outside the surgery and it’s been lovely seeing the impact that has had for our patients. All along we’ve said “Build a garden and people will come” and really this is just the start of our journey with the main layout of our allotment style garden set up now. We are opening regularly for drop in gardening sessions with the help of volunteers and hope to be able to offer more opportunities and activities over time.

What are your top 5 tips for gardening for your wellbeing?

You don’t need to be an expert to garden - just try something and see what works and definitely don’t be intimidated by people who seem to know the Latin names for everything (I’m hopeless for a start!). There’s no gardening mistakes - it’s all experiment! Take time to notice what’s around you using all of your senses. Stop for a minute! Close your eyes and feel the sun on your face (but don’t forget sunscreen and a hat!) Is that five?

What impact or benefits do you think gardening has had on your life & why do you feel gardening is important?

Gardening gives me rhythm and purpose, it keeps me focusing and looking forward even at difficult or stressful times. If I go into a garden feeling worried or with a problem, I usually find a solution or at least a sense of ease. I’ve always found winters hard work - all those short and dark days- but autumn sowing a few flowers each autumn has helped enormously as it feels like such an act of hope for spring and it means that there are plant babies to take care of!

How do you try to manage the impact your gardening has on the environment?

We actively encourage wildlife with plenty of nettles, long grass and unkempt areas. We try not to use any chemicals or sprays and in recent years I’ve found Nemaslug really helpful to control slugs along with mostly module planting rather than direct sowing. I grow lots of insect friendly annuals and at home we are lucky to have a mature garden with lots of tree and shrub cover for nesting birds. We also have some resident bats.

What are your future plans for your garden?

At home I’m currently clearing the greenhouse of all my half-hardy annuals and starting to think about starting all over again with biennials. There are loads of cuttings and things I’m growing on for home and GWG. There are dahlias to plant out still too. It feels like such an urgent busy time. Suddenly there’ll be a point when the garden takes control and everything romps away and there’s no point trying to keep up with it!

At GWG our next plan is to create a covered central garden structure and some accessible raised beds, hopefully later in the summer, which will be the final part of our original initial plan for the design of the garden. Then we can decide on phase 2!

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