During lockdown Leigh Johnstone’s garden ‘saved his life’ and now he’s on a mission to share the positive power of plants
Known as ‘The Beardy Gardener’ to his many social media followers, Leigh Johnstone is a mental health advocate who strongly believes in the positive influence of plants – in fact, he’s often seen dancing round his garden in his Instagram reels.
His gardening journey began in sad times though, following a bereavement. When his grandmother died from Covid in 2020, Leigh found some packets of seeds in her greenhouse. He decided to share them with gardeners across the UK via the online gardening community.
Leigh said: “It was a nice way for me to process my grief, to know that something of hers was being shared, cared for and looked after by other people. It was also lovely to receive picture updates of the flowers growing in other people's gardens.”
The first Giving Garden
Leigh also wanted to do something for those who weren’t able to grow for themselves, so he turned his own back garden into The Giving Garden and began inviting people, via his social media channels, to nominate someone to dedicate a plant to.
The sponsored flower was labelled for the recipient and they received regular growing updates. At the end of the season, the seeds, or a pressing of the flower, was sent to them.
The idea was a huge success as Leigh explained: “It’s a way to begin a gardening journey for that person, or if not, it’s just a nice thing to have. It shows someone was thinking about them, something was growing for them.”
A space shared with show visitors
The Giving Garden is back this year, along with a ‘grow-along’ of 50 mini-giving gardens around the country, so the project can expand beyond Leigh’s own back garden.
He has also created a special Giving Garden at RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival. As well as being on site to hand out free seeds and take nominations for the show garden plants, Leigh has planned more ways the Hampton Court garden will have special opportunities for sharing.
“It’s not a show garden, it’s owned by the visitors and it’ll develop as we go along.”
It’s a replica of the original Giving Garden with two raised beds filled with plants donated by nurseries (the first act of giving). There’s a wildflower strip around the beds (giving to nature), and there’s an archway with suspended quotes about the benefits of gardening to wellbeing (giving meaning).
Typically, plants in The Giving Garden are annuals and have a connection to wellbeing, either symbolic or medicinal, such as cornflowers, calendula, sunflowers, salvia, cosmos. However, the show garden contains more perennials, Leigh says: “It’s a mis-match. It’s not a show garden, it’s owned by the visitors and it’ll develop as we go along.”
Leigh says he’s not a professional horticulturalist, he was just inspired to get out gardening for his own mental health needs and he wants to share that with others. “For me it’s about giving people that first connection with growing.”
As for his grandmother who started Leigh growing and whose seeds inspired The Giving Garden project, he admitted: “She probably wouldn’t have liked the fuss – but she’d have been proud of me.”
Find out more about The Giving Garden project.
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