A View from the Garden Gate Project: Fruit, vegetables, flowers and the therapeutic benefits of doodling

Oriental poppies at The Garden Gate Project

By Nick Condron

As summer gently rolls into July we’re beginning to reap a steady harvest of fruits and vegetables from around the Garden.

Protected under netting from the ever-hungry and vigilant birds, our raspberries and blackcurrants have really flourished this year and are just about ripe for picking. It’s very tempting to savour them straight from the bush and they make for a variety of delicious desserts. Here at the garden, Julie enjoys making the majority into extremely tasty and longer-lasting preserves that are available for visitors to purchase when they drop in or on our open days.

Raspberries ripening

Our autumn sown broad beans have already been enjoyed and come to an end for now, and the plants have been cut down with their roots left in the ground so as not to disturb the soil. Beside them, we’re now sowing the next round of crops including carrots, fennel, spring onions and some kohlrabi, otherwise known as the German turnip, which is a cultivar of wild cabbage with an edible swollen stem. Ideal for grating raw into salads and coleslaw, it can also be lightly steamed, roasted or sautéed. It’s fast-growing, which makes it great for filling gaps on the veg plot, as you can pick them as baby veg in as little as six weeks and at full size in around 12.

Sweet Peas

Elsewhere, it’s just a case of keeping on top of everything as it all busily grows. We’re still picking peas, which add an especially sweet taste to an early summer salad; in the middle of enjoying the freshness of our new potatoes; and marvelling as our runner bean vines rampage away. Our garlic bulbs are being picked and carefully plaited into braids, to keep them fresh as they’re dried and stored away. Whilst in the polytunnel, our tomato plants are becoming ever hungrier for their fortnightly feed as they begin to flower and fruit.

Tomato plants

In our flower beds, the past month has been a wonderful time for appreciating the gloriously fragrant, mixed orange, red and yellow blooms of our superb hybrid tea roses. We also have a particularly floriferous pale pink climber arching over the door to our main cabin and it’s impossible to imagine the Garden without them. As they begin to fade, they’re succeeded by the dahlias, which seem to love their new spot this year and are just about ready for cutting in bunches, alongside some beautiful white antirrhinums and our ever-reliant sweet peas.

Tea Rose

Two towering, candelabra-shaped, yellow verbascums that have popped up at one end of our asparagus patch, and some royal blue delphiniums and speckled orange martagon lilies over in our fern area are also catching the eye at the moment. However, the pick of the bunch this week in particular, are the vividly coloured, yet short-lived, bright pink and red opium poppies, Papaver somniferum, which generously leave behind their distinctive and fascinating seed heads for use as striking dried ornamentals.

Meanwhile, over in our art and craft cabin, a number of our members have been enjoying the benefits of an amazing project put together by Margate-based textile artist Rachelle Francis. Inspired by her late mother Diana Francis’s lifetime of artistic doodling, which left behind an incredible archive of over 1000 pieces of artwork when she died aged 68 in 2019, Rachelle has secured Lottery funding from Arts Council England to produce a workbook evocatively titled ‘Mind to Pen’ and a series of workshops, that utilise a selection of the doodles as creative launch pads for others to take up doodling and explore their own creativity.

Yellow candelabra verbascums

Diana’s richly detailed doodles were the product of a “cathartic compulsion to create” that provided sanctuary throughout her troubled life, as she battled to overcome challenging circumstances and various mental health issues. “Her personal doodling practice became a meditative tool to calm her troubled mind.” Now, her visual language of patterns that said so much “when words were hard to find,” is speaking to others and sharing this rewarding, restorative and relaxing pastime.

Dahlias for cutting

We’ve had the books at the Garden for about a month now, and have appreciated being further helped by a couple of the workshops with Rachelle. Our Occupational Therapist Linda Stocker says that what makes this workbook “all the more powerful and inspirational is the personal story that is woven through every page.” Keen to continue using doodling at the Garden, Linda emphasises that “it should never be undervalued as a tool as there is no right or wrong way of doing it, no prescription to follow, only the flow of the ink from the pen in your hand. Whatever our personal circumstances, we can all benefit from this activity, and in doing so obtain a sense of pleasure and calmness regardless of the outcome – the moment while engaged in it is all important.”

Speckled orange martagon lilies

Flicking through the filled-in books, it’s fascinating to see how unique and varied everyone’s style of doodling is in response to the array of Diana’s patterns. It’s also abundantly clear how absorbing and enjoyable everyone is finding the doodling. I think Mel summed it up perfectly when we were chatting about the effect it’s had when she said: “It makes you happy!”

Royal Blue Delphinium

You can find out more about Diana and Rachelle Francis, how to purchase the book and the wider project on Facebook: With &Without Diana and see examples of some of our doodles and others uploaded on Instagram: @with_and_without_diana #mindtopen

Finally, we’d all like to wish a very happy retirement to Andrew after 25 years of hard work and commitment to the Garden. Besides digging out a pond and the footings for our polytunnel, you may know of his unstinting dedication to sawing up and thereby recycling into kindling, countless wooden pallets over the years. We wish him well!