Review: The Wellness Garden by Shawna Coronado

I’ve gardened all my life and cannot imagine how I would feel if illness forced me to stop. Two years ago, it’s what faced Shawna Coronado when she was diagnosed with severe degenerative osteoarthritis. How she manages it and the role gardening plays are chronicled in her latest book, The Wellness Garden.

The wellness gardenShawna’s condition caused severe pain and a curtailing of her gardening; in the past, she had planted around 3,000 vegetables a year.

“There would be no more hefting 50-pound bags on my shoulders, weeding for eight hours straight, or heavy digging in the garden,” she tells us.

It was a situation that left her feeling “devastated”. Determined not to simply take strong painkillers, she decided to explore alternative ways of improving her condition.

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Landscape with vegetables to increase the amount you grow. Photo: Shawna Coronado

These included working with a dietician to radically change her diet and incorporating exercise into her daily routine.

And it’s these steps that are outlined in The Wellness Garden, which is more self-help guide than traditional gardening book.

Key to her approach is eating well, specifically eating more vegetables, while she points out that growing them organically yourself ensures they are as fresh as possible and chemical-free.

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Pea towers, cabbages and thyme make an attractive display. Photo: Shawna Coronado.

To help, the book has a chart giving the nutritional breakdown of suggested crops and tips on raising them without chemicals from making compost to correct watering. There are also ideas for those who have little growing space, such as containers and ‘living walls’.

Growing food is just one aspect of The Wellness Garden and the importance of gardens to mental health is also explored. Shawna advocates daily exercise outside be walking in a nearby park or yoga in your own garden and suggests using parks or even garden centres.

“Clearly, growing is important, but having that regular exposure to nature and the outside world is critical,” she says.

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The Beuhler Enabling Garden at Chicago Botanic Garden. Photo: Shawna Coronado.

There’s advice on choosing tools to avoid straining muscles and suggestions for garden layout that make growing easier, while not doing one garden job for too long prevents injury from repetition.

The book ends with ideas for ‘therapeutic gardening’, including how to design a therapy garden or design a scented space.

Little in the book is new – the importance of eating ‘five a day’ and regular exercise have long been known – but the personal story quality make it very readable and the advice is valid whether you have severe illness or not.

The Wellness Garden by Shawna Coronado is published by Cool Springs Press, RRP £16.99. Buy now (If you buy via the link, I get a small payment. The price you pay is not affected.

Review copy supplied by Cool Springs Press.

Read more book reviews here

Growing a sense of peace

A recent report by the King’s Fund for the National Gardens Scheme has linked gardening to better health but it also has a role to play in end of life care as shown at the Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice.

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Gardening at Leckhampton Court

It’s the view that’s most surprising. An almost panoramic vista across the Gloucestershire countryside with the Cotswolds and Malverns visible in the distance, it seems at odds with the hospice’s location just on the edge of town. At odds, but also somehow fitting: if anywhere should have the benefit of a close link with nature, it’s here.

Then there’s the garden: nothing fancy but carefully tended and filled with colour, adding to the sense that this is just a well-loved family home rather than a modern, specialist centre for palliative care.

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The hospice is housed in a listed Elizabethan manor house

It’s an impression the team at Leckhampton Court are keen to foster: not only does it help to humanise what is often a distressing experience, the garden and indeed gardening have been shown to help in their work.

“It’s an important part of the care we provide here,” says Hayley Clemmens, the hospice’s spokeswoman, who stresses that the hospice is not just somewhere people go to die.

“Fifty-four per cent of our patients come in and go home again,” she explains.

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There’s a restful quality to the garden

Most are day patients – Leckhampton Court has just 16 in-patient beds – and many are being helped with long-term, life-limiting conditions such as multiple sclerosis and dementia.

As well as providing soothing, peaceful surroundings for patients, their families and the hospice staff, the gardens have been used in assessment and treatment, while difficult conversations are often eased by walking around the grounds or sitting on one of the many benches.

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Lavender lines one of the paths

A new feature that is proving particularly helpful is a raised vegetable bed near the day hospice room.

Tall enough to be accessible to even the frailest patient, it is filled with a delightful mix of colourful flowers and veg: celeriac, curly kale, purple sprouting broccoli, beans and sweetcorn rub shoulders with sunflowers, petunias and marigolds. Meanwhile, tomatoes are being grown in pots alongside.

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The new vegetable bed is brimming with produce

The mini veg plot is popular with patients, some of whom are distressed at no longer being able to care for their own gardens, and many take home bags of produce.

Tending the plants can also help with those in pain, says Senior Staff Nurse Katherine Grace.

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Flowers are grown among the veg

“I did a lot of planting with one MS patient who was struggling that week. It really took her out of herself.”

Her colleague, occupational therapist Anna Primrose-Wells, uses the raised veg bed when assessing patients, such as those with dementia.

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Colourful plants fill the borders

“One voluntarily picked up the courgette plant label and read it, which was massively informative for me to understand the level of his perception.”

The plants have all been donated while the bed itself was built by volunteers. Indeed, Leckhampton Court is reliant on volunteer gardeners as, along with the rest of the hospice’s work most of the costs have to be met through fundraising by the local community.

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Roses are one of the summer’s stars

A small team meets weekly to care for around five acres of garden in the total of just over 14 acres of grounds; there’s a sizeable wood as well as a lake and even the car park has planted boundaries.

There’s also an area of donated trees on the site of a former orchard, although tools rather than trees would be a more welcome gift today with wheelbarrows top of the list.

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Even the car park has flower borders

As well as tending borders filled with lavender, spiraea, hollyhocks, hemerocallis, leucanthemum and roses, the team also raise cuttings from existing plants to help fill spaces; penstemon are being targeted when I visit.

Pride of place is a new border by the main entrance created by Peter Dowle, a Chelsea gold medal-winning designer who donated the plan to the hospice.

“The bed was full of roses that were about 40 years old,” explains John Millington, who organises the team of volunteers. “We couldn’t replace them and had to go for something different.”

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Erigeron has settled well into the new border

Planting for the raised bed was funded thanks to the Farrell family, who raised the money with a charity golf event.

The new border was still being finished when I visited but already perennial wallflower, thyme and Erigeron karvinskianus were settling in around old stones from the manor house that have been carefully placed so that initials chiselled into them can be seen.

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Some of the stones have the original stonemasons’ initials

“It’s such an important bed as it’s the first one people see going up to the front door,” says John.

It’s also an important part of the ‘home from home’ feel that the hospice tries to create and the sense of peace that is so apparent.

“Lady Ryder believed that healing was helped by the environment,” says John. “This environment has healing properties because it’s peaceful and tranquil.”

For more information about Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court hospice see here

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