How a joyous, yet poignant, visit to RHS Chelsea Flower Show reinforced my love of flowers but came at a time when I was experiencing acute anxiety, two years after being diagnosed and being treated for breast cancer.
Two years on
On Wednesday I spent the day at Chelsea Flower Show with Liam. Nothing too unusual with that except that I should have visited two years ago. That trip was scuppered by my second round of chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. Events have come full circle; from enjoying Chelsea at home exactly two years ago yesterday, to actually experiencing the full on frenzied experience of the show in person.
A lot has happened in those two years. Dan and Laura both graduated from Manchester University, Liam had open heart surgery (very much recovered and back on his bike), I’ve had both breasts removed, lost and regrown all of the hair on my head and body (apart from some of my eyebrows), and I’ve started to grow flowers from seed in an attempt to become a cut flower farmer.
This was my first visit to Chelsea and it took on a much greater significance to me than it might have had before I had cancer. Growing flowers has helped in my recovery and eased some of the mental distress that I’ve been experiencing since my diagnosis. Being out in my garden means that I have something other than cancer to think about and that can only be good. Whenever I see a tiny seedling emerge from the soil, my heart swells and I can’t help but wonder at the wonderful power of nature. How does a tiny seed contain everything that’s needed to produce roots, stems, leaves and flowers? I’m constantly amazed that this happens.
Love at first visit
Let’s not beat around the bush (see what I did there!) – I absolutely loved the show! Yes, it was madly busy but for me that was all part of the Chelsea experience. What’s not to love about rubbing shoulders with and exchanging sharp elbowed attacks with fellow flower enthusiasts? I quickly got used to the fact that I’d have to wait my turn to get to the front of the massed ranks of people waiting to look at and take photos of the show gardens. I am vertically challenged after all! The wait was always worth it, and was made even better at those gardens where the designer was happy to chat and answer the myriad questions that us flower people had.
Lupins were everywhere in the planting schemes of the show gardens. Or maybe I was looking for them more, as lupins are one of my favourite flowers. Whichever is true, it was fantastic to see so many of these striking spear shaped flowers in such an array of wonderful colours. Liam was more taken with delphiniums and I think that we’ll be trying to redesign our garden to incorporate more of each of these.
The Big Top
The Great Pavilion has to be seen, and smelt, to be believed. Perfect displays of so many different forms of flowers and trees, collide with floristry creations, swathes of foliage and even alien looking carnivorous plants. I was especially looking forward to seeing the Flowers from the Farm stand and it did not disappoint. This collective of cut flower growers from all over the United Kingdom came together to produce a stunning British floral display. They won a coveted gold medal in their very first year of exhibiting at Chelsea. Maybe I could contribute some of my flowers if they are invited back next year – my fingers are tightly crossed!
A bonus of the show for me was the importance that the RHS gave this year to well being and the connection of gardening to improved mental health. The RHS Feel Good Garden is designed to offer a contemporary, therapeutic space in which to relax, while allowing the visitor to reap the positive benefits of being in a garden. The garden has been designed to raise awareness of the positive impact of horticulture on mental health and after the show, the garden is being relocated to the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, so that staff and patients can garden, relax and be close to nature. I think this is a brilliant idea…I know what positivity I’ve experienced from growing my seeds and being in the garden.
But…I’m not positive all of the time and my demons have a habit of coming back to bite me on the bum just when I think that everything is going swimmingly.
A couple of weekends ago I should have been enjoying a weekend away in Spain with Liam and two friends from university days. Instead, I stayed at home, crippled by horrendous anxiety which meant that I felt unable to travel even though I’d looked forward to this trip for months. I had felt the all enveloping cloak of anxiety creep up on me for a few days before our departure date and its severity took me by surprise. It all came to a head when I woke up on the day before travelling unable to stop crying and with a feeling of dread deep in my stomach. I was convinced that something bad would happen if I left my safe and secure place which is my home.
Walking my dogs around the beautiful and peaceful local nature reserve close to my home I made the decision not to go. I just couldn’t face getting on with the packing, organising and all the other mundane and normal tasks that needed to be done before going away…even though I had done these tasks countless times before. And that was before I had to get onto the plane. My catastrophising brain had taken over my rational mind and the monkeys in my head were swinging through the jungle that my thoughts had turned into.
Finding a way through
That acute phase has passed and I feel on a slightly more even keel. I’m trying to tap into why I have had such a maelstrom of emotions whirling around recently. I can’t pin it down to one reason but anger is definitely playing a huge part in my feelings right now.
Anger – at having had breast cancer and all that follows from that, being on the waiting list for a right hip replacement, the return of severe sciatica in my left leg, at not being able to play sport or exercise much at all.
I know that I’ll have more of these anxious and angry days when I don’t feel like going into my garden. But it’s always there for me and on most days of the year I’ll find peace, happiness and tranquility. And that really is a wonderful discovery.