The Aromatic Allotment

I had a wonderful day on Tuesday, with my good friend Anita, on her aromatic allotment in Somercotes. She gave us (my friend Barbara came too) a tour of the extensive plot where she grows all sorts of wonderful plants, some for their healing properties, some to use as cut flowers and some to eat.

Rosa Dascena ‘Kazanlak’

Her Damascena roses (Rosa Damascena ‘Kazanlak’) were blooming in full, beautiful flower, so we picked the petals to distill into rose water. Why haven’t humans invented a way to smell things through the internet yet?! If only you could, it was heavenly, sweet and floral and smooth and rounded and delicious. It’s like getting a hug from your favourite auntie, all encompassing and so comforting and uplifting.

Once we had picked the rose petals, Anita selected some cut flowers to make into a gorgeous hand-tied bouquet for me. Centred around a peony, she added different types of mint, geraniums, black currant stems, nigella, valerian and more, with vetch trailing around the edges. Again, I wish you could smell it as it just smells of summer. Light and fresh, floral and minty, green and bright and refreshing.

My beautiful, locally grown, hand-tied bouquet

With our arms full of fragrant loveliness, we took the short walk to Anita’s house where her still was set up on her hob awaiting the rose petals. They were packed into the bottom of the still with water added on top. The pump to circulate the cold water to cool the distillate was powered up and the gas was lighted below the still. I found the whole process fascinating, and it brought back fond memories for me of touring the Drôme Valley in France in 2008, where a lot of the essential oils I use are grown, harvested and distilled.

The copper still, with rose petals packed into the belly, and the cooling water pumped from the bucket

We watched, mesmerised, as the temperature in the still rose, and the condensed, perfumed water (known as a hydrolat or hydrosol) started to trickle out. As we waited for the process to finish, Anita gave us a yummy lunch of home-made sourdough french stick with a selection of cheeses, tomatoes and cucumber.

Rose petals, now drying in my airing cupboard

I was also given a bag of rose petals to take home, which are drying in my airing cupboard as I type. Every time I open it, I get the most amazing waft of rose. I’m wondering if I should put them into honey and have rose honey in a few weeks?

Anita and me. I’m sure I’m not that much taller than her!

Anita is a very talented florist, and if you’d like a beautiful bouquet (or wedding flowers, floral cake topper, or funeral tribute etc), that is locally grown with love and care, and arranged in the most stunning way, please contact her. You can see her designs on Instagram here https://www.instagram.com/aromaticallotment/?hl=en-gb and contact her via her website here http://aromaticallotment.com/

Stopping to smell the roses

Generous Gardener Rose

My beautiful rose, The Generous Gardener, has burst into full bloom in my front garden. Please stop on your way in to take a deep inhalation of it’s gorgeousness, I guarantee it will put a smile on your face!

I am enjoying getting back to normal, although restrictions are still in place for treatments. I am still offering appointments that last no longer than 1 hour, which includes Indian head massage, reflexology, back, neck & shoulder aromatherapy massage or a combination of any of the above! And I’m still keeping up with the hand washing as you enter, mask wearing and of course thorough cleaning and disinfecting between clients.

Hopefully when all restrictions are lifted I can offer 1.5 hour full-body aromatherapy massages again. I’m not sure I’ll know what to do, but I dare say my hands will remember and guide me through, as they have done many times before.

I feel very fortunate that I have been able to continue with my other jobs (at Chesterfield Royal Hospital, packing boxes for my sister’s mail order business and my voluntary work as a breastfeeding counsellor) throughout each lock down. They have given me time out of the house, social interaction, a purpose and reason to get out of bed in the morning. On the couple of occasions when I had to self-isolate (once because my son had scarlet fever – though I didn’t know it was that until the scarlet rash came out – and once because someone in his class at school tested positive for covid-19), it brought home (pun intended!) to me how much I needed that time out of the house and to feel part of a team with all my colleagues.

My office for the morning

I also feel very fortunate that all my jobs offer me flexibility, so that I can fit most of my work around childcare, lie in the sun on beautiful days like today (whilst pretending to work, or at least working on my vitamin D levels!), run errands for my neighbour who has been isolating for over a year and generally do what I want when I want.

Stopping to smell the roses, which is one of my favourite past-times, is included in this list of freedoms and flexibilities . I hope you enjoy the delicious fragrance next time you walk up to my front door on arrival to your appointment. The aromatherapy starts right there!

Gardening for the soul

Ommmmmmm

I’ve never thought of gardening as a spiritual practice before, but spending time in my garden today has inspired me to reflect on the processes involved and how they intertwine with what it means to me to grow, both spiritually and practically. 

It’s not about being perfect. 

My garden is not perfect. It never will be. I yearn for a lawn big enough to have a trampoline on, and enough space to host my friends, as we while away a lazy afternoon, eating, drinking and laughing together in the sun. But when I think to times when I’ve had large gardens (up to 1/2 an acre when living in Alderwasley), I think how overwhelming it was, how it was a constant pressure just to mow the lawn, let alone keep on top of the weeding, pruning and actually growing the things I wanted to grow.  My present garden is tiny yet manageable for me, a little bit of time spent in it makes a big impact and it means I have time to lie back, relax and enjoy it (sunbathing is one of my favourite activities, and right now I’m multitasking by writing this whilst laid-out topping up my vitamin D). 

Tiny, lots of work to be done, loving it.

Currently my garden sports a large collection of pallets, that suit my budget (ie free) but not my aesthetic. They are ugly (too square, too utilitarian, too cheap!), but useful and have been repurposed as strawberry planters, a vegetable bed and sun bathing deck. One day I shall have raised borders, with proper garden furniture and a new fence that I can safely grow things up. I’m enjoying the process, however, of getting creative with zero budget (I have wonderful friends and family who donate seedlings and cuttings to help my garden grow and develop) so that I can save money for the big stuff. 

Plants aren’t perfect either. No one says “oh that birch tree is gangly”, or “that lilac smells too much, turn it down a notch” (see Hollie McNish’s poem ‘If flowers had disposable income’), and yet my garden is full of beauty, and scent, and texture, and things that bring me pleasure every day. 

The work is constant

If only you could weed once and that would be it. Not even an annual event. Just the once and no more weeds, ever. But much like the negative thoughts that are a seemingly constant, internal companion, when weeds are accepted as part of the deal with life, are confronted often and early, literally nipped in the bud, they are far easier to contend with and maintain than when left to run rampant and unchecked. Don’t let them become monsters!

Toes as tools for weeding

Gratitude 

My garden also reminds me to celebrate the little things, like the promise of my strawberry plants getting flowers on them, pea shoots sprouting to the sky and the return of the stunningly deep red/brown/burgundy/purple (it changes daily) leaves on the copper beech tree on the opposite side of the road. I’m grateful I have a space I can do yoga in, dry my washing (what’s better than snuggling down into bed sheets that smell of outside?) dine alfresco on food that I’ve planted, watered, nurtured and harvested, and have water fights in with my son.

Home-grown lunch

I could go on. I’m practicing the art of not being attached to outcomes, and my garden is a great proponent of this, but I think that’s a separate article, that I may or may not get round to writing. And I had to come in inside because I’d had enough time sunning my back (I didn’t realise how long this would take to explore/write when I first got started), and I can’t sun my front whilst writing this. So I’m off back outside to sunbathe a wee while longer, dig up a bit more earth, get mucky and grow things, myself included. 

Open, closed, open, closed, open, closed. Opening soon?

Well my loves, are we coming out of our third and final lockdown? Is April 12th the date I can re-open for aromatherapy, Indian head massage and reflexology again? Will I have finished all the painting and decorating, spider evicting and deep cleaning?

I’m feeling optimistic and have already had enquiries about making appointments, so let’s open the diary and get you booked in! It is of course, subject to everything going according to the government’s plan, and we’ve already learnt that things can change overnight. So let’s get you pencilled in, with a caveat that it may have to change, at the last minute.

I will be continuing with the changes made between the lockdowns – ie limiting appointments to one hour, disinfecting, wearing masks, disinfecting, washing hands on entry, disinfecting, and errr, a bit more disinfecting. My washing machine will be groaning again! But I will be happy to be returning to one of my favourite jobs, catching up with you all and helping to soothe away all the stresses of the last year.

I hope that come the summer, we might not need to wear masks, and that I can offer longer appointments again. I’d also like to bring back my upholstered chairs as the wipe clean ones are embarrassingly squeaky. But this obviously all depends on the aforementioned government plan, and there are some actions that are best practice anyway, so I will be keeping them up (apologies once more to my washing machine!).

I’ll be contacting my existing clients over the next few weeks to see if they would like to book in again. There is absolutely no obligation to do so, if you would rather wait until further lockdown restrictions are lifted, that is absolutely fine and totally understandable. I can’t wait to welcome you back, whenever that may be.

And hugs. When can we start hugs again? How I’ve missed them!

On being anti-racist

In September last year I embarked on a course in breastfeeding cultural safety (for those who don’t know, I’ve been a volunteer breastfeeding supporter for nearly 5 years), which took me through the history of racism and colonialism in the US & UK, the current state of racism, inequalities in maternal and infant mortality and how best to support black and brown women with breastfeeding.

It has been a rollercoaster to say the least. I had to put it down in October as my trauma bucket was full. And most of it wasn’t my own trauma, it was learning about the appalling way black and brown people have been treated by white people over the centuries, and how this legacy still affects them, and is still perpetrated, today.

And then I had a word with myself at the beginning of this year, as I realised it was my white privilege that enabled me to put it down, to put it off, to not have to deal with it. How could I support these women, reach out to them and include them in the support I give, with my biases in check, my white saviour hat off and my comprehension of cultural differences without doing the work?

As I am nearing the end of the course, I am realising just how much there is left to do. That this isn’t a get the certificate, never look at the content again course, but that this work is a continual process of awareness, understanding, reflecting, refining and developing. That I will never be done with this work, that I will always be uncovering racism within myself and the people and organisations I am part of. I have to keep challenging what I find and calling myself and others out on it.

It has given me more confidence in being able to support black and brown women with breastfeeding, and the unique challenges they face. It has given me an awareness of the language I use when offering support and how to change my language so that it is inclusive and not assumptive, nor biased. It has given me the prompts I needed to reflect on my behaviour & attitudes and to keep myself accountable in all that I do.

Thank you to Ruth Dennison, of 1-2-1 Doula, for putting this course together. It is something that should be integrated in the learning of every health professional and breastfeeding supporter, be they hospital consultants, GPs, infant feeding leads, midwives, maternity assistants or volunteers.