“In The Bleak Mid-Winter”

Just when you thought it was safe to go out into the garden, along comes… “The Beast from the East”!

This time last year I was cutting my lawn for the first time. That’s not going to be happening for a while this year. On what is officially the start of meteorological spring, it is blinking freezing and blowing a gale. The Christmas carol “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” comes to mind…

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

It is certainly not a day to be spending long in the garden and I have received many pitiful looks at work today. I actually haven’t been outdoors too much, instead I’ve been making some new tabletops to replace some rotten old ones. I did, however, venture out to fill up all of our bird feeders. I wouldn’t like to be one of our feathered friends on a day like today.

Despite the weather I did still manage to find some beauty in the gardens.

Wintery scene outside Woodview

Wintery scene outside ‘Woodview’

Some flowers have appeared and are probably regretting coming out early.

Snow covered Daffodil

Snow covered Daffodil

This beautiful crocus appeared a couple of weeks ago, adding a bit of colour to one of the flower beds near the hospice entrance.

Crocus

The dogwoods have been looking resplendent, whilst much of the rest of the garden is looking a bit tired and dull. I’m so glad that last spring I hacked them right back in order to renovate them after years of neglect.

Dogwoods

My final picture is of a frosty bulrush, although it should actually be known as “reedmace”. I love bulrushes! I’m not quite sure why I like them so much, but I think it goes all the way back to Moses! When I was Christened I was given a Children’s Bible, and one of my favourite stories was of Moses being placed in a basket in the bulrushes in order to escape the tyrany of the Egyptian Pharoah. There was an accompanying picture, which is probably why I liked the story, showing Moses in the bulrushes (reedmace). They don’t actually have reedmace in Egypt, instead they have Scirpus Lacustris, which is a true bulrush and which looks very different. Anyway, what I call bulrushes were mistakenly in the picture of Moses! I then remember seeing bulrushes (reedmace) in real life and being fascinated by their unusual velvety look , a bit like a sausage on a stick. They are not terribly pretty for much of the year, and they can be invasive if not well managed, but I like them anyway!

A Bulrush

A Bulrush by the pond

This winter hasn’t been easy, what with Dad dying and then getting the nasty cold/flu bug that’s been going around. It seems to be going on for a long time. And for gardeners, there isn’t much to do during this period, so I haven’t been going into work as much. I have realised that the lack of work and exercise, the cold, dark days, and the bereavement, has left me feeling a bit low. So it has been good for me to pick up my camera and to look around the gardens at work for something to blog about.

And fingers crossed soon I’ll be able to sing “Spring is Here” by Frank Sinatra.

“I Wish You A Merry Christmas…”

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Liught For A Life Christmas Tree

This is the amazing 30ft Christmas tree outside Wigan and Leigh Hospice’s front door. It is a fabulous tree covered in 50,000 lights, and is put up each year for the “Light for a Life” appeal. This year alone they have raised over £35,000 – well done!

I have now been blogging for almost a year now, and have really enjoyed reflecting on some of the work that I have been doing. For me, the highlight of the year has been opening the gardens as part of the National Garden Scheme. It was hard work, but well worth it. We are opening again in July 2018. It has been great working with so many volunteers this year. As well as the regular volunteers, I think that there have been 8 groups come in from the council and local businesses. Thank you!

There is much to look forward to in 2018. In a couple of months time I am going to be sowing the new wildflower garden, which is very exciting. There are also going to be some new flower beds planted up, and a couple of others to be refreshed. This, on top of all regular weeding and pruning, should keep me out of trouble.

So enjoy Christmas and the New Year, and I look forward to updating “The Hospice Gardener” when I go back to work in January. Thanks for reading! X

Father and Son [Cat Stevens]

I am sure that most people who work in the hospice movement would say that it is a real priviledge. I certainly do, and I am not even on the “front line”. Hospices provide care for people who have an incurable illness, from the point at which their illness is diagnosed as terminal, to the point at which they die, however long that may be. Hospice care provides for medical, emotional, social, psychological and spiritual needs – it is truly holistic. The care is not just for the patient themselves, but also for their families and friends. And this can and should continue beyond the patient’s death. Hospices place a lot of emphasis on dignity, respect and the wishes of the patient, so that their needs are met.

Sadly, this last week I have been on the other side of the fence. After a very short illness, my Dad passed away at the age of 78. It was a shock for us. He had been under the weather for two or three months, but there was no indication that he was going to die. He had heart failure which deteriorated rapidly. He was admitted to the local general hospital (NOT Wigan), where he stayed until his death, ten days later. Thankfully, my brothers and my wife and I, were at his side when he passed away. He was comfortable and not in any pain, which was a blessing. It was a huge priveledge to be with my Dad as he approached the end of his earthly life, and I am sure that he was reassured by having his family around him.

But is wasn’t all plain sailing. He was on a medical ward and not in a hospice. Oh, how I wish that he could have been in a hospice. Dad was told that his heart failure was just like cancer, at which point the consultant just left him. My brother was then immediately asked to leave the ward, because it was dinner time and visitors weren’t allowed to stay – it was a protected time. A day later, Dad was told that he was dying and that he probably only had a few days to live. He was told this when there were no family present to be with him, which was obviously very upsetting. Then there were a couple of nurses moaning about their work patterns over Christmas whilst taking dad’s blood pressure, failing to notice that it was hurting him. And we didn’t really feel supported as we walked with Dad in his last days. There were some examples of excellent care, where a member of staff spent that little bit of extra time with Dad or us, or brought us a cup of tea in the middle of the night, just as we were struggling to stay awake. In these moments it felt like we were truly being cared for.

I’m not saying these things to slag off the NHS, although I am going to write to the hospital concerned. The NHS generally does a great job. The reason I am writing about my experiences is partly cathartic (to express my thoughts and feelings), partly to celebrate what a great job hospices do, but also to express my wish that the care that hospices provide can be transferred to NHS wards a bit more. It would be wonderful if people dying in hospital, and their families, could be treated with a little bit more respect and dignity.

My Dad was a good man. He was hard working and at work always treated everyone equally and with respect. He had a great sense of humour and had loads of friends. One of his passions was gardening. His garden was always very neat and tidy, and packed with flowers. His favourites were roses and dahlias. His love of gardening rubbed off on me. So it is thanks to him that I am working as The Hospice Gardener. (Incidentally, my Mum, who has also passed away, was a big supporter of the hospice movement). Sadly Dad never got up to Wigan to see the hospice gardens, but I am sure that he would have been impressed and very proud. I’m going to miss you Dad… Rest In Peace. X

Leave or Remain? (Should I Stay or Should I Go?)

“Leave or Remain?” is the big question at the moment. The hospice gardens are firmly in the leave camp. No, this hasn’t become a political blog. Rather I am talking abouts trees and their leaves… should they stay or should they go?

For the last few weeks I have spent increasing amounts of time picking up leaves that are littered all over the gardens. We have approaching 100 trees at the hospice, and the vast majority of them are deciduous. Around this time of the year, as the levels of light decrease and the temperatures fall, deciduous trees prepare to drop their leaves in order to preserve water and conserve energy. It’s tempting to curse the leaves when, having spent ages picking them up, you turn around to see a whole lot more that have fallen. But leaves can be beautiful with their colours, shapes and textures. As gardeners we shouldn’t just focus on the flowers! Here are some examples of their beauty…

I also spotted a ladybird sat on an evergreen holly leaf.

Ladybird

Last week I had some more volunteers come from Wigan Council and there was one job that I really wanted to do with them. There are three silver birch trees, that over the years have become hidden by some unruly, and rather unattractive, dogwoods.

Silver Birch before

Before

I have wanted to tackle this area for some time, but have been a bit daunted, questioning my sanity. The dogwoods – should they stay or should they go? Definitely go! So we got to work and a day later this was the scene…

Silver Birch After 2

After

I was very chuffed! The bark on the silver birch is stunning.

On another day last week I heard the unmistakable noise of honking geese overhead. It is a sight that really thrills me – seeing geese flying over head in a V shape. I dashed to get my camera as 200 geese flew overhead. An amazing sight and another sign of the approaching winter.

Geese Arriving

This wasn’t the only thing of note in the sky recently. On Tuesday morning the skies went dark and yellowish as storm Orphelia approached. Then, at 11am a bright red sun appeared in the sky, apparently due to high levels of Saharan sand in the atmosphere. It was very surreal.

Red Sun and DogwoodsRed Sun

As you can see, it has been a busy couple of weeks in the gardens, but with lots of interesting things to observe. Let’s hope there’s a lot to admire in the coming weeks.

Room 101

Today I have been in Room 101, literally. I have been working at the hospice now for just over a year. Each year we have to do some mandatory training (ie H+S, manual handling, data protection etc). The time had come for me to redo mine. So I went to a room with a computer and started the online training. I laughed out loud when I looked down at the phone and saw that I was in Room 101 (Room 101 being the torture chamber used in George Orwell’s 1984). Mandatory training, very important as it is, can seem somewhat tortuous, especially on a sunny day!

Room 101

I feel that I am also in a slight metaphorical Room 101. Over the last few days my back has been getting increasingly stiff and more sore, a fear that all gardeners dread. By lunchtime I decided that it was best to stop working and rest up for the next few days, in the hope that the pain will ease off. I am also being referred to a back rehab clinic.

It is now just over two weeks since the Garden Opening. For a few days afterwards I was exhausted. We had a quick debrief afterwards, and were very pleased with how the day went. We have decided to open again next year, this time a bit earlier. So on July 15th 2018, Wigan and Leigh Hospice will be open again to the public.

Last week suddenly went very autumnal. The leaves were dropping off the trees quicker than I could clear them. Is it me, or are they falling earlier this year than in recent years? Mushrooms have also started appearing in the lawns. Mushrooms, and fungi in general, remind me of autumn conditions – cool and damp. The mushrooms in question are called Bay Bolete.

Bay Bolete

The Imleria badia (syn. Boletus badius), as it is officially known, is bay brown (chestnut) in colour and grows up to 15cm in diameter. On the underside they do not have gills, but rather pores. And despite being named ‘badius’, they are actually edible, although I haven’t dared harvest them to give to the kitchen to cook up, just in case I have mis-identified them! They are mild tasting, and according to one website they smell “mushroomy”!

Another highlight of the garden this week are the kaffir lilies – Schizostylis ‘pink princess’.

Schizostylis 'pink princess'

They are so pretty and delicate, and a real treat to see in flower, in a month which can feel a bit depressing as the days start to get shorter, cooler and more damp.

Hopefully I’ll be back in work next week, as there is plenty to do, and not just picking up leaves!