Category Archives: Health

Garden Room Plans and Plants

garden room planning for herbs

garden rooms for gardeners and cooks

May is the perfect time to plant a herb pot or corner in the garden room.  Growing your own, rather than finding the culinary kind in the supermarkets, can cut your carbon footprint and discourage the crazy air-freighting of plants.  Try planting what you know will be useful to you.  As you experience them through the seasons, they’ll teach you where they do best just as the garden in general will show you what works in it and what doesn’t.

Basil tends to do better on a windowsill inside for me but you might have the benefit of a sheltered sunny spot for it outside.  I’ve watched it thrive in southern England, although potted, outside. Parsley is easier to grow as the curly variety and will do well in a shaded area.  My flat leaved one is preferable for cooking and for salads but would rather sit inside with the basil in my house.  Both these specimens can be germinated from seed in Feb/March or plug planted at this time of year.

Tarragon, dill and fennel – the aniseeds – are hardier and can tolerate sun and shade.  Fennel will need a bit of space all to itself to develop and reach its full height – taller than me!  The bronze variety adds colour contrast to an otherwise green garden bed and will regenerate every spring.

Chives are a delightful confined, short and compact plant– keep them watered and they will always be ready for use.  They will die down overwinter but return every year.

Thyme and Rosemary like it hot, sunny and well drained and will accept being clipped regularly for the kitchen as long as you keep the scissors back from the woody stems!  Just take the new green growth and the plant will keep producing it.

garden room plans and planting

garden room plans and planting

Sage is a constant showman and easy to grow from seed.  Great with onion and chicken and the fresh leaf tea makes an excellent gargle for sore throats – an instant anaesthetic to the tonsills with antimicrobial action.  Also a magnet for pollinators.

Then there’s mint – fragrant, fresh, rampant and in many varieties.  Suitable for adding to drinks, deserts, salads, meat dishes, soups.  If you want to introduce more than one variety of mint, keep them well apart.  Folklore has it that planting them within reach of each other causes a revertion or merging of the varieties.  I keep mine in large pots to prevent the vesuvial rambling.   The one pictured below is part of my grandfather’s old mint plant which must be at least 100 years old now.  He used it in a remedy for his neighbours, friends and family.

garden room planting and planning

garden rooms planting and planning

Herbs are a most wonderful collection of plants, for not only do they look good, smell good and do you good, but they can transform a meal into a tasty feast. Anyone, with just the smallest space, can grow them.  Care, generally, is easy – well drained soil with enough nutrients to sustain growth and water after the sun has left the plant!  Watering in direct sun can burn the leaves – so an evening watering can trip with soft water gives them all the best chance.

May has turned with the rain into a blooming time for herbs: my lemon geranium is not only scenting the way to the studio as the leaves are brushed past but has produced award-worthy numbers of flowers.  It’s fresh, comforting smell soothes the nerves and encourages a relaxed, clear state of mind. 

It’s got to be Lily of the Valley for the prize this year.  Mine has naturalized beneath Japanese Acers and spread magnificently to cover the shady area.  An ancient indiginous remedy for slow heart rate and a tonic for the circulatory system, it also heralds a really heady scent which can perfume the house for weeks.


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Garden Studios Save Crowded Houses in Britain.

The Daily Mail rarely comment on garden studios but their recent story seems to pointedly ignore the obvious solution, claiming that a third of us don’t have enough space to live but can’t afford to move.

‘Twenty-nine per cent say ‘their property is too small to accommodate the size of their family’ – rising to 40 per cent for those 34 and under’.

Many families will resonate with the randomly strewn children’s toys on the floor scene in the living area. Or the bantering of the children doing homework at the kitchen table. Nothing wrong with that. When combined with the need to work from home, things can get confused and stressful.

Property analyst Samantha Baden reports ‘Affordability remains a key issue for families, with the average cost of a three-bedroom home around £193,000. Very few can afford to buy – or to rent – a property of the size they want and in the area they desire to live. As a result, they are often forced to compromise on one or the other.’

Grown-up offspring who cannot afford to leave the family home are also adding to the problem facing families in this unusual squeeze.

These factors combine, perhaps explaining another element to the growing garden studios market. Those who cannot afford to move can remortgage or invest to improve with a rapid build home extension or detached garden studio suite.

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Happiness Is … My Garden Room!

Rooms in Your GardenThis month, our office for national statistics will spend a considerable amount of time, money and effort assessing the happiness of 200,000 UK families.  However, Professor Martin Seligman, inspiration for a new commodity – gross domestic happiness, has changed his mind.

Searching for a better, more meaningful index the psychologist believes his original ideas have been watered down, devalued, and left bereft of the intended integrity by polititians. “Flourishing”, his new buzz word, consists of five components: positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning and accomplishment.

Not alone, many scientists are now showing genuine interest in the training of the mind, becoming more sensible people, putting value in the utilization of human intelligence to transform emotion.  They emphasize the achievement of inner peace for a better world and recognise its dependence upon giving happiness to get happiness. Following the banking crisis and subsequent fall-out, it is perhaps the time to challenge the major proportion of humanity that follows material values only.

In all our efforts, our charitable giving, our work time and family time, perhaps the easiest thing is to listen to each other, give loved ones our time and attention.  Helping them along the road to a healthy inner mental state; human happiness and genuine satisfaction cannot be bought with money or taken by force.  No wonder polititians are attempting to package it in these austere times.

I genuinely believe by providing a responsive service and high quality product to our clients, we are inducing positive emotion, encouraging engagement, space for positive relationships and well-being, a sense of meaning and accomplishment. How many other product based businesses out there have refined the balance between customer satisfaction / high quality products with the bottom line profit margin?    By and large, the effect reflects a happier and more satisfactory experience all round.

Tomorrow, His Holiness the 14th Dalia Lama (by invitation from Children in Crossfire, Afri and will attract thousands of people together in Dublin for the POSSIBILITIES 2011 civic summit. It aims to inspire people, young and old, to become vocal and active in transforming our country and our planet for the better.

Honoured guest, His Holiness, said,“One can be very rich, materially, but deep inside: stressed, worried, insecure, lonely.  Not in a religious way, just share with your friends the value of an inner healthy mental state. Scientists emphasize achievement of inner peace and a better world is dependant upon giving happiness.  Everyone has the right to achieve a happy life.” Learn more about the NI charity, patroned by the Dalai Lama.

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May Gardens for Living.

Cherry Blossom

If you survived the traditional DIY accident peak of May Day you may have ventured into medieval celebrations of Morris dancing, May Poles and folk arts.  May Day is a new year marker for a special friend of mine who denies cutting his hair and shaving until this point in every spring season when he rejuvenates himself in the garden, by his natural spring, and welcomes in his gardening season with a fresh face.

May welcomes us all into our gardens.  This week, our enquiries have come from families busy clearing frost bitten foliage and servicing the mower, digging over beds and planting out annuals, scrubbing decks and play equipment and washing down the garden table and chairs.  Getting the best use of garden space is clearly important to us and we need this careful preparation to best enjoy our family time, entertaining friends and have a safe outside space for our children to exercise and play.

With growing children craving privacy and space, this scene is echoed through the enquiries we are receiving from parents requiring a teenage garden den, music room for drums and electric guitars and guest suites for peaceful sleep overs where the rest of the family can actually sleep!  As a lifestyle purchase a professional garden studio has that crucial added benefit of adding value to the property.

Our own garden is misty with a carpet of bluebells below and a cloud of white cherry blossom above the hammock, magical when the wind blows!  The rate of growth is tremendous and the plants are definitely responding to the good feed I supplied.  The pea canes are in place and the shoots are beginning to bind, the tomatoes have germinated and the salad is ready to use.  As a grounding therapy, gardening allows immediate and long-term rewards.  Enjoy your garden this spring.

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How a Garden Room Helped Recovery from Chronic Illness.

Tuesday’s BBC Radio2 Jeremy Vine show had a focus on ME also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  Here’s my story about CFS and how one patient successfully returned to work by working from home in a garden room.  She was diagnosed very late into her illness in 2006.

More current studies have exposed the severity of this neurological illness, if not the absolute causes, and GPs may use The Nottingham Health Profile questions to ascertain the severity of symptoms and effects on quality of life and physical functionality. The six self-report areas: energy, pain perception, sleep patterns, sense of social isolation, emotional reactions, and physical mobility.  Graded exercise and diary keeping were initial steps which helped my friend be fully aware of the patterns of her illness. CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) was unsuccessful as her attitude was already one of determined resilience towards the illness.

At this point her husband invested in a garden room for her. This created a peaceful space where she could relax in the privacy of her garden. She was unable to continue teaching, due to the severity of the illness but enjoyed the grounding therapy of gardening itself. Having this window on her favourite pastime was related to me as a definite benefit which motivated her and provided the space to carry out her graded exercise regime and to deeply relax.

Two years after diagnosis her GP recommended she find part-time, stress-free work, to enable her to re-enter the workplace.  As a teacher she found herself unemployable, due to her condition. Even substitute work through agents was unavailable. She completed many lengthy job applications for various positions before realising that if she was going to find work, she had to become self-employed and work from home.

Her garden room became an office two afternoons a week, where she tutored GCSE and A level students. Over the first few months, her self-esteem improved. The impact had a knock-on positive effect on her sleep patterns.

After a full year she has gradually increased her income by using her garden office to write in. As a freelance author she has enjoyed regular publication in newspapers, magazines and specialist teaching websites.

Today, she describes her current state as, “in recovery but in control'”, and maintains it by being fully conscious of how she feels and of what is draining her energy.  Managing CFS must incorporate many elements, as the illness affects each patient in a variety of ways. After 5 years, she has successfully returned to the world of part-time work but claims she had to radically change her mind-set to enable this.

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London Commuters – A Call for Change.

South East England has the highest proportion of commuters with the average person spending the equivalent of an additional working day each week commuting, according to workwiseuk.  I find these stats quite shocking, even with 12 years experience of living close to London myself.  I expect the figure is directly proportional to property prices; there being an optimal balance between cost of commute and rent or mortgage repayments.

The South East already leads the UK with the biggest number of home-workers: approx 600,000 people work from home, almost 15 per cent of the working population, an increase of nearly a quarter in the last decade.

“The benefits of working from home, even occasionally, are now widely accepted,” said Phil Flaxton, chief executive of Work Wise UK, the not-for-profit organisation behind the initiative. “Not only does it reduce the amount of commuting people have to do, enhancing their work-life balance, but many are actually more productive.”  Work Wise UK provides guidance and assistance through

A new report has called on organisations in the region to adopt smarter working practices.  It identified that “the sustainability of the South East region is at risk from pressures on travel, congestion, skills availability and stress related health problems.”

The wider adoption of smarter working practices, such as flexible working including compressed working hours and nine day fortnights, working from home.  Mobile and remote working will improve business productivity and competitiveness, reduce transport congestion and pollution, improve health, assist disadvantaged groups, and harmonise work and family commitments.This is the perfect area for development of home-working resources.  Many among us flinch at the suggestion fearing the familiar distractions of home, the noise from partner/children/neighbours, among many possible disturbances to our concentration.  Garden Room companies have formulated new office pods which companies can purchase to drop into gardens and back yards, without planning permission.  The benefits include sustainable materials, mobility and high thermal efficiency with the crucial separation from the home.

A final word from Phil: “Work Wise South East wants to revolutionise the way the region works,” said Phil Flaxton, chief executive of Work Wise UK. “The situation will get worse. Over the next ten years, predictions are that there will be a 31 per cent increase in passenger miles by rail and underground, and a 15 per cent increase in bus miles. “

If transport infrastructure cannot sustain our commuting needs, the fear is that workers will migrate to elsewhere.  However, if companies incorporate these smarter, greener working practises the region’s productivity and competitiveness can be protected.

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How Garden Offices can Close the Skills Gap.

I am of the opinion that British and Irish workforces are missing out.  We have an excluded army of bright, well-educated, sophisticated people who find it almost impossible to attain the position relevant to their capability.  It’s a bit of a disgrace and at times, when I meet with these friends, I see for myself just how awkwardly society treats them.  I’m talking about so-called ‘special’ people, those labelled with a disability which somehow devalues them in employer’s eyes and creates an air of liability around them.

Smarter and Flexible Working practises can help employers, employees and potential employees by reducing wasted effort on travel, reducing stress by the introduction of new flexible home-working routines and helping improve the skills gap by re-engaging those excluded groups.

Here’s an example of that forgotten skill set.  Christine was born with spina bifida so has a severe physical disadvantage which is expected to shorten her life.  She also has regular epileptic fits, falls and infections.  She completed a degree in business management but finally accepted that after 47 job applications and 1 interview that she was virtually unemployable.  With undaunted determination and drive she now runs her own property management and letting agency, from home.  When I say home, she had a garden office installed to accommodate easy access, just a ramp and wide door with low handle and accessible switches for lights and power.  When I visit her she is usually buried in her laptop and can’t stop her phone ringing!  A successful, happy woman.

A successful woman in every sense only because she took the incentive to set herself up in business from home.  Not everyone’s that brave or capable in that way.  Mr Anderson taught my class A’ level biology until he fell ill with chronic fatigue syndrome.  After 4 years he was still not well enough to return to work and he was obliged to resign.  He would be capable, in his own words, of part-time lecturing but finds his applications fail.  As an experiment, he applied for a local position as a senior science tutor and did not return the medical form.  He was invited for interview but was declined when he revealed his history.

Our school-registration style of working is outdated, impractical and impossible for some.  There can be a level of trust between employer and employee based on quality of work and productivity, instead of presence and timekeeping.  Small businesses and large corporates all report that flexible home-working policies increase loyalty, productivity and efficiency.  That’s where my sales pitch could come in for garden offices.

It’s a fact that people with a chronic disease or congenital illness enjoy a better quality of life if they can work, even part-time.  Work satisfaction boosts self-esteem and can relieve/distract from stressors.  It’s a feeling of being valued, needed and respected.  This vast excluded group may appear different from our traditional workforce but represent a sure way to close our skills gaps with flexibility foremost.  I say this with personal first-hand experience of having a chronic illness and many employers’ negative attitudes.