When allotment enthusiast Annabelle Padwick took to the stage at the RHS Flower Show Cardiff, she had so much more to share with the audience than advice on growing fruit and veg.
While her vegetable growing has gone from strength to strength, it’s not her home-grown carrots that Annabelle wanted to shout about. The self-taught allotment enthusiast shared her story of how growing her own produce has transformed her confidence and outlook on life.
“It really changed my life,” said Annabelle. “Gardening helped me when nothing else could.”
Healing with an allotment
From the age of 21, Annabelle began to have problems with anxiety and panic attacks – to the point where she couldn’t leave the house.
“Nothing that the doctor prescribed really helped,” explained Annabelle. “I tried CBT, but that didn’t really work for me. I had to come up with my own coping mechanisms.”
Years went by, but her confidence showed little sign of improvement so, at the age of 26, Annabelle decided it was time to get out of the city and escape to the countryside. Settling in Oxfordshire, Annabelle was surrounded by an abundance of green space and became inspired to start growing her own plants, having enjoyed gardening as a youngster.
Initially, she began growing in small containers at her new home and found that, with every new leaf that grew, so did Annabelle’s confidence.
“I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing,” she admitted. “I was a complete novice. But the great thing about gardening is that anyone can give it a go – no matter your space or ability.”
But, while her anxiety was finally improving, Annabelle longed for a vegetable plot to call her own. It was this that spurred her on to move put her name down for an allotment. It wasn’t long before a plot – number 27 – became available.
“It can be intimidating knowing where to start when you’re a beginner, but I kept it simple,” said Annabelle. “I just had the most basic pots, seeds and compost and just got stuck in. That would be my advice to anyone – just give it a go.”
Annabelle soon made her mark on her allotment, strimming the overgrown space to make room for her longed-for vegetable plot and planning which seeds she would plant for the following year. Having an allotment gave Annabelle the motivation to leave the house each day and, when she wasn’t outside digging, you’d find Annabelle blogging all about it online.
“It started with the blog,” said Annabelle. “But as time went on, I progressed onto YouTube and then was being asked to give talks and chat on the radio.
“My confidence has come a long way. I always get super nervous ahead of giving a talk, but I’ve learnt to put my nerves to one side. I think about those I’m talking to and if I help just one person, it makes it all worthwhile.
“My aim is to spread the message about how good gardening can be for your health and wellbeing. I really hope to inspire others to give grow your own a go.”
Fast forward three years and Annabelle is doing exactly that. Along with being an ambassador for the national gardening charity, Thrive, Annabelle is on the brink of launching her own allotment-based therapy treatment and is testament to the power of plants. Working alongside GPs and psychiatrists, Annabelle hopes that gardening will be offered more widely as an alternative therapy option for those struggling with anxiety.
“Gardening has helped me so much and I want it to be offered to people alongside more traditional therapies – such as medication-based or talking therapy – as these don’t always work for everyone,” said Annabelle.
“Gardening is not only good for mental health and anxiety, but it boosts your fitness and gets you outside in the fresh air. I always say that it doesn’t matter what you grow, it’s about how you grow as a person. “
Also at the 2019 show...
Allotment guru Terry Walton joined us as host in the Talks Theatre on Saturday 13 April 2019, where he brought a wealth of experience to RHS Flower Show Cardiff.
Having helped on his father’s plot as a child, Terry took on his own allotment aged just 11 and he’s been on the same site ever since.
Now a regular on Jeremy Vine’s BBC Radio 2 programme, Terry offers listeners advice on growing vegetables of all shapes and sizes and joined us as host of the Talks Theatre and on our panel for RHS Question Time.
“One of the beauties of going to shows like RHS Cardiff is that you get to go along and meet people,” says Terry. “It’s great when you get people that ask simple questions – ones that people are often too afraid to ask – as they’re often of the most benefit.
“When it comes to gardening, it all comes down to experience and experience takes time. Even people that have been gardening for years and years make mistakes. You’ve just got to roll up your sleeves and try again.”