Why gardening kicks Cancers ass!

The link between health and gardening is back in the news this week.


It’s an issue that’s very close to my heart, well my right breast actually.

I’m living, walking, talking, writing and gardening proof that horticulture heals. 

Gardening proved the key medicine in my fight and recovery from breast cancer 3 years ago.

I’m overly passionate about the subject so I’m super excited to see that the Royal Horticultural Society Hampton Court Palace Flower Show is shining a light on the issue through several stunning show gardens and a Health and Horticulture Conference.


Me with horrible chemo hair enjoying my garden on a lovely sunny day

So, why was gardening such a tonic?

Easy, it gave me something to focus on and something to look forward to. That’s the great thing about being a gardener, you’re always looking forward.

What’s going to flower next?

What veg are you going to grow next year?

Which fruit is going to be ready to eat next?

It’s a driving, positive force providing hope, inspiration and excitement about what’s to come.

Gardening kept me active in a period when my energy was low and tiredness was often overwhelming. I’m a runner as well as a gardener and as my treatment progressed I found it more and more difficult to do the miles and as any athlete will tell you that is truly frustrating!

Pottering in the garden, completing little tasks here and there meant I could still get out and keep my muscles active.

It also provided me with opportunities to challenge myself and show that I was still me. I remember 3 days after my 4th chemo session I waded into the middle of my pond and with my Mum’s help completely cleared it of an overgrown out of control Iris.

It was exhausting. I was in dirty water and with my chemo effected immune system ran the risk of all sorts of infections. It was a job I would have struggled to do in full health. But we did it. It took ages, we laughed and cried loads and had enormous fun.

When I pulled that last stinking, dripping Iris stump out I felt alive. I had won!

Overgrown Iris

The overgrown pond before we showed it who’s boss!

In my opinion gardening should be prescribed and be available to all cancer patients. Every cancer ward, hospital and hospice should have a garden that can be enjoyed and worked in.

Give me a veg box and I will stand on it and shout about this all day every day.

Horticulture and gardening is a natural life force. It’s high time we really recognise this and harness its effects for the better.

I’d love to hear how horticulture has helped you. If you want to share your story then post away in this thread.

If you want to help pass on the positive gardening message then share this blog. Let’s spread the love!

Rachel (getting off my veg box now) Whittaker

P.S Want to know more about the stunning Hampton Court Palace show gardens highlighting the health benefits of gardening. Click the links.

Katie’s Lymphoedema Fund: Katie’s Garden

The garden is a life-affirming, productive cut flower garden raising awareness of lymphoedema, a painful side effect of breast cancer surgery. It shows how to grow cut flowers in a small space, and champions seasonal, locally-grown blooms. Dried seedheads on display show the cyclical nature of life. A central water feature represents the flow of the lymphatic drainage system.

The Outdoor Room: Inner Demons

This garden aims to communicate the isolation and inner suffering people living with depression experience in everyday life, and the brave face they hide behind. The soft landscaping and naturalistic planting illustrate this concept, with marginal planting representing friends and family unable to reach the rock island. Alpines portray a harsher environment fighting to blend in.

Cancer Research UK’s Life Garden

Designed to be a peaceful and reflective space, the virtual reality garden will feature more than 100,000 flowers – one for each person who has left a gift in their Will to the charity. Mirrors in the physical space will hint at the expanse of the virtual garden and the colour palette of pinks, purples and white will be echoed across both.




A kiss from a rose

“Now that your rose is in bloom

A light hits the gloom in the grey”

Thanks Seal. A great lyric that sums up exactly how the roses in my garden are making me feel at the moment.

I’m having my very own rose festival and they are brightening up my garden and my soul in this gloomy rainy weather.

Roses are my absolute favorite plant and in my opinion every garden needs at least one.

They are a plant of contrasts and that’s what fuels my passion for them.

They have some of the most lethal thorns you will ever find in a garden (probably with the exception of gooseberries and blackberries).

They have the softest most beautiful blooms which light up your garden borders even in shady areas.

Their perfume is exquisite and adds a whole other dimension to your plot.

Green glossy leaves provide a fabulous foil for other plants.

They climb, they scramble, they ramble. Covering areas of your garden other plants just don’t reach.

As shrubs or standards they add formality and structure to your borders.

They are top dollar, rock star plants.

Talking of rock stars did you know The Stone Roses ( who just happen to be my favorite band) called themselves Stone Roses because, in the words of their lead singer Ian Brown it was “something with contrast, two words that went against each other.”

I wonder if Ian, John, Reni or Mani are gardeners? I hope so. That would be pretty cool.

You have to admire roses for their amazing names.

Who wouldn’t want ‘Absolutely Fabulous growing outside their back door?


It won Rose Of The Year in 2010 and is a repeat flowering bush variety. As well as looking absolutely fabulous it has an unusual myrrh scent.

How about ‘Apple Blossom’ covering that ugly fence?


This rambling rose has very few thorns and it’s foliage and stems are a rich green with copper overtones. Beautiful!

 ‘Creme de la Creme’ would look outstanding climbing up the side of your archway.


Its a wonderful soft creamy white climber with a great fragrance. As the flowers age they turn creamy lemon.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that roses are ACE!

And in a month where we have had so much rain it’s been difficult to even get in the garden their blooms are bright and big enough to be seen from the window and remind us that summer can’t be that far away.

So, as the rain keeps coming I will leave you with the words of Bette Midler

“Just remember in the winter, far beneath the bitter snow

Lies the seed, that with the sun’s love in the spring becomes the rose.”

If you have enjoyed this blog then please share it and let’s spread the love! You can also join me on my Facebook Page where I share my passion for gardening and garden design. CLICK HERE

Why Gardeners World Live works

Gardeners World Live works because it’s a garden show by the people for the people.

Now before I go on I want to be clear that I’m not dissing the RHS flower shows like Chelsea and Hampton Court. I adore them, actively attend them and religiously pay my RHS membership fees. In fact I bought my tickets for the new Chatsworth show last week. (Extremely excited about this and can’t wait till next June.)

The thing is they can be a little high brow though. They appeal to and attract the gardening elite with sizable gardens and cash to splash. Sometimes the common all garden gardener struggles to relate to them.

Gardeners World Live is the polar opposite and that is it’s secret to success.

I admire and give three cheers for the way that Gardeners World Live gives all of us access to the best and most well known down to earth gardeners. This year they had Monty Don, Carol Klein, Joe Swift, Jim Buttress and The Skinny Jean Gardeners to name just a few. Talks are free you just rock up, take a seat and listen.

You also get to meet the people behind Gardeners World Magazine and they are refreshingly normal, just like you and me. They have normal sized gardens and normal sized budgets.  They talk about small garden solutions, container gardening and veg in raised beds. Things all of us can take home and put into practice.

This year the addition of the scrumptious Adam Frost was genius. Not only is Adam super handsome with a dreamy voice I could listen to all day; he’s a 7 times Chelsea Gold Medal winning designer who is so down to earth he’s practically lying on it. He’s the type of guy you bump into at the pub or the bus stop get chatting to and instantly feel at ease with.

Here’s my attempt at grabbing a sneaky picture of my design hero without him noticing. (I think I got away with it!)

Adam Frost

He talked design in a practical no nonsense way showing all of us how we can add a little show garden chic to our plot.

It’s fab to hear he will be featuring on Gardeners World more in the future. (YIPPEE!)

The Show Gardens are deliberately small to mirror the size of an average garden and are chock- full of inspiring plants and ideas you can easily imagine outside your own back door.

How easy is it to recreate these raised beds on the Health For Life Community Garden,

raised beds

or this rustic fence on the Urban Nature Garden?


They even have a Beautiful Borders area where designers showcase their skills in a flower bed! The displays are designed to show what can be achieved in a small space with a limited budget. So take home-able!

The Plant Pavilion is bursting with over 100 specialist nurseries who are delighted to take the time to talk to you about their plants, where to put them and how to look after them. Their enthusiasm is infectious and sends you home buzzing.

I could go on an on! I haven’t even mentioned all the opportunities to buy plants, tools, seeds, gadgets, accessories, boots, pots, ornaments and FOOD!

In essence this is a great show that makes gardening, horticulture and design appeal and be accessible to the mass gardening market.

Well done Gardeners Word! Please keep up the good work!

Rachel (see you there next year) Whittaker

P.S. If you see this Gardeners World Team please don’t show Adam Frost. I would be so embarrassed!

P.P.S If you like what you’ve read please share it.

P.P.P.S You can join me on my Facebook Page. Click HERE


Today I wore my Happy Shoes…

and they worked!

Call me crazy but when I need a bit of luck or I want something to go well I get my Happy Shoes out.

If I was a pair of shoes I would definitely be my Happy Shoes.

Bright, colorful, loving flowers and great in the garden!

They make me optimistic and help me face difficult situations.

Today I had an appointment with my consultant at the hospital 3 years and 6 months after I was diagnosed with cancer.

I am perfectly healthy and have been since my treatment ended but every 6 months I have to see my consultant just to make sure.

I worry about these visits. They haunt my unconscious for about a week before I go. I get a bit snappy and tired; I find it hard to concentrate. Even gardening fails to calm my nerves!

So this morning I turned to my Happy Shoes.

As I put them on I smiled and felt the confidence flood into me.

They worked for a number of reasons;

  1. The traffic was fine along the ring road
  2. My appointment was on time to the second
  3. Mr McMillan’s hands were warm
  4. and most importantly, I got the all clear again

The sun even came out for a few minutes when I got home and I was able to grab and sow some of the Stipa gigantea seeds that are scattered across my decking.

Do you have a pair of Happy Shoes?

Rachel (seriously celebrating this evening) Whittaker

P.S. I’m going to wear them again tomorrow at Gardeners World Live – may be they will help to stop the rain that’s forecast!

Come and join me on my Facebook Page where I share my passion for gardening and garden design. CLICK HERE


What do weekends mean to you?

Weekends mean two things to me.

Firstly – quality time with John. He works away all week. I pick him up from the train station at 5pm on a Friday afternoon and the weekend really gets started. I cherish Friday nights. We put some music on, have a couple of bottles of wine, eat good food and catch up with each others news.

Secondly and may be a little less importantly (only a little mind) I get two whole days  in MY garden.

The thing about being a garden designer is that you get to spend a lot of time in gardens. Just not yours!

I’m not knocking it. I have my dream job and you should see my tan after the last week, (John isn’t going to believe I’ve actually done any work).

I get so excited. I can’t wait to get out of bed on Saturday morning.

I wake up with a mind buzzing with ideas.

I’m straight out there, tending my veg, checking all my plants are healthy, seeing what wildlife I can spot in the pond, filling the bird feeders, weeding, watering.

I get two days of total and utter relaxation.

I’m never happier or more at ease then when John’s home and I’m in the garden.

And that’s what it’s all about.

It’s why we work hard and get stressed.

To make those cherished times extra special.

So, whatever your doing this weekend make sure it’s extraordinary.

Create some memories.

Make the weekend earn its keep!


Rachel (lets get the weekend party started) Whittaker

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Why I can’t live without gardening!

It’s a pretty dramatic statement to make isn’t it.

I can’t live without gardening!

It’s absolutely true though. Just ask John how irritable and on edge I get if I can’t get out for at least a few minutes every day. I’m like our dogs when they don’t get a walk. I literally bounce off the walls.

Gardening is a bright green positive force that banishes life’s dark clouds.

It’s a great big smiley sun.

A warm hug on cold day.

It’s egg and chips.

A massively indulgent bar of chocolate.

It’s clean fresh sheets.

It’s comfort food for the soul.

All of us experience varying degrees of depression in our life.

For me gardening is my cure.

I’m not sure how it works I just know it does.

On my darkest days gardening is a bright light that guides me back.

Recent studies have confirmed what us clever gardeners have known for years: Gardening is good for your health.

Doctors are even starting to prescribe gardening instead of drugs.

Next time you feel a little low, step out into your garden pick up a trowel and pull some weeds. I guarantee after a few minutes things will look a whole lot better.

I would love to know why you can’t live without gardening.

Rachel (loves kicking dark days butt) Whittaker

P.S. Why not join me on my Facebook Page CLICK HERE where I share loads of garden design tips gardening advice.

Chelsea Show Garden Envy!


I’ve got Chelsea show garden envy!

I marvel at the Chelsea show gardens. Fabulous plant associations, wonderful colour pallets, textures I desperately want to run my fingers through. What strikes me most and turns me a deep shade of green though is the structure. Every plant looks right. Nothing looks out of place. I long to plant in blocks. I would love to have drifts throughout my border linking it together. I yearn for formal topiary to add points of interest and exclamation marks!

My garden is dotted with random, individual plants that look they have been plonked down with no consideration at all. I am jealous of all that Chelsea precision, but then I take a walk down my garden to my greenhouse and work area. What greets me and returns me to my normal colour is staging full of cuttings and seeds. Those plants that look random at the moment have been chosen with care. They may look isolated this year but next year there will be 2 or 3 more, then the next year there will be another few. With a bit of effort and patience my one plant will become a block or a drift before I know it.

So, I will continue to watch Chelsea and every year I will increase my stock of plants. In a few years I won’t need to be envious anymore as my garden will have drifts and blocks as good as any designed by Chris Beardshaw. It will have taken me a little longer but it will have cost a lot less and I will have gained skills, knowledge and joy from my journey.

Anyone for Pimms?

Rachel (patience is a virtue) Whittaker

P.S. Join me on my Facebook Page where I share great design tips and gardening advice. CLICK HERE