You can play your part

Reading about climate change can be really depressing. It’s hard to feel like any of us can do anything meaningful. I thought I’d share a few things I’ve been able to do (even as a busy mum, company director and someone who always has too much going on!).

  1. I’ve changed my shopping habits. I shop each month at the local refill store, the greengrocer and the butcher to reduce both plastic and food miles. I get milk in glass bottles delivered to the door. I get other products from the local supermarket or a quarterly online supermarket shop. It takes some up front preparation to get organised, have refill containers and do meal planners every week. I won’t lie some weeks it doesn’t work out, but mostly it does : )
  2. I’ve ditched fast fashion (mostly). I buy far less clothes than I used to and try to buy from sustainable brands. I have started making my own clothes, as a way to be more considered about what I wear.
  3. I’ve reduced my water use. We have water butts in the garden and I’ve ordered two more, to keep my pots watered in the summer. I only water plants in the flower beds to get them established. After a year they are on their own!
  4. I’m a responsible leader. This is probably where I have most impact. At work (two garden centres) we have replaced oil boilers with air source heat pumps, we are reducing our own peat use, and encouraging customers to switch to peat-free composts. We are protecting wildlife on our sites.
  5. I am weaning myself off Amazon. One day deliveries are amazing, but are terrible for emissions. I now try and buy locally where I can, or at least order things in bundles rather than one by one. I’m now buying hard copies of books from my local book shop, and try to place quarterly orders which they post to me.

So I do more than many people, and of course less than others.

So, what should I try and do moving forward?

  • Eat less meat. This is a tricky one for me. I am already on a low FODMAP diet due to IBS, so beans, lentils and soya are not really an option and make up a large proportion of vegan meals. I am hoping the NERVA app will reduce my sensitivity to these foods, so I just need to commit to doing it every day (it’s only 20 mins, so why is this so HARD?!)
  • Research bigger purchases. In the last couple of years I have bought carpets, mattresses and paint without really considering the environment. I need to put in more effort here to find the eco options. We’ve just decided to recover our sofa rather than buying a new one. It’s just as expensive but it feels right to not chuck it into landfill and there is nothing wrong with the frame.
  • Read this article from The Times20 things you can do right now to stop climate change.

I’d love to know what you are doing, and perhaps what you find challenging? I totally get that sometimes in life we have to put ourselves first, and not worry about the bigger picture. For some people, particularly those with physical or mental health challenges, this extra pressure is just too much and can cause eco-anxiety.

Hanging out with the olive elders

I’ve just spent a glorious week in Puglia, Italy for my Dad’s 70th birthday. Like so many things this holiday has been delayed by Covid and at one point I began to wonder whether all the extra travel admin was really worth it. It turns out it was, although I probably wouldn’t travel abroad for less than a week. There are a lot of forms and reference numbers and it all added extra stress at the airport.

Anyway, having made it out there we picked up our hire cars and headed to the villa. To get there we drove through olive groves, lit up by the morning sun. They surrounded the villa in every direction and demanded my attention. Walking among them was very special. Many are hundreds of years old. Indeed the oldest in the Ostuni area was said to be 3,500 years old and would take 12 people to encircle it.

The older they get the more character they take on, trunks gnarled and nobbly or even split into two or three pieces, each continuing to sprout productive branches laden with bitter green and purple olives. I did try one and wouldn’t recommend it.

Each tree has a number, and the owner has to ask permission to cut any branches off.

Each olive tree is registered
Number 0118349 in the morning sun

Being in the presence of these olive elders is calming and awe-inspiring. I like being smaller than nature. I like that the tree has endured over hundreds of years. It’s good for my mental health to be surrounded by such sights.

I hope the olive groves will continue to endure, although there is a nasty bacterial disease called Xylella fastidiosa which has wiped out many olive trees in other parts of southern Italy. It’s devastating to think that these trees might not be there in the future. They enclose and hug the white, walled hilltop town of Ostuni. From below you can walk around them in the red earth. From above, as we stand in the town and look down, they create a perfect grey-green carpet, as far as the eye can see.

How to deal with FND (or unexplained medical symptoms)

In 2009 I was diagnosed with functional neurological disorder (FND). The symptoms, including severe and uncontrolled twitching and spasms, came from the body not functioning because of faulty brain signals. There were no structural changes to be seen on a scan.

I had a diagnosis, but whilst I now had a name for it, the path back to good health wouldn’t be easy. Had I been diagnosed earlier – before I’d found my own way through – the hospital would apparently have provided occupational therapy, psychiatry and physiotherapy. When they told me what was wrong, I was already sorting myself out by other means. Happy for me to continue on my own path, they discharged me.

The journey to diagnosis had been highly stressful. If I’d been told from the offset what was wrong, I doubt it would have gotten so bad. For me, uncertainty bred anxiety and depression, which made the FND worse. The NHS is good at ticking things off lists, and, of course, this needs to be done. Many doctors admit that they are good at treating illness but often can’t help people who are unwell with something that is not adequately understood. Still physically in crisis, the doctors left me to wait for this glitch or imbalance to evaporate.

I am sometimes contacted by people who have been diagnosed with FND and are not receiving adequate care and support via the NHS. Things are improving, and there are some excellent consultants and departments doing brilliant work, but sadly others are still left to go it alone.

So, here is my quick guide to helping yourself whilst you wait for support:

  1. Check out these excellent online resources – and FND Hope. They will help you get your head around your diagnosis. I found it important to try and accept the diagnosis.
  2. Find something to give you a break from the negative thoughts and the worry you will have about your situation. When I was ill I went for a walk every day (not easy when walking sets off the symptoms) and told myself I had to take one good photo every day. This made me really absorb myself in nature for a while, which I am sure helped me.
  3. Accept help if it’s offered, and be specific about what you need.
  4. If you have the budget available, consider alternative therapies. I had acupuncture and cranial-osteopathy, which gave me regular appointments with practitioners who cared for and supported me in ways the NHS team couldn’t. Anything that relaxes you and makes you feel more in control must be good.
  5. It’s also good to consider talking therapies. I found counselling invaluable both in terms of offloading emotions I’d been holding onto for years but also in coping with being off work and on a very uncertain journey with my health. NHS waiting lists can be long, but there are other avenues which you can find out about on the MIND website.

I’ve written blogs around counselling, acupuncture and why nature makes us happy.

You can find all this information and much more in my book The Cactus Surgeon: Using Nature to Fix A Faulty Brain which is on sale now!

Bigging up bulbs

I don’t believe in leaving things to chance. Luck doesn’t find me, I go out and find opportunities. And, in the same way, I engineer small wonders of nature in my garden. By small wonders, I mean anything nature does which makes me smile. It’s normally something that tickles the senses. Colour, scent, texture – yes, please!

At this time of the year, I buy spring-flowering bulbs like they are hotcakes. I simply can’t get enough. It’s because I know that the plentiful months are drawing to an end. The harvest is in and bleaker months are ahead. And I know that in 2022 when moods are low and bad weather is causing cabin fever, I want to be able to look out of the window and see cheerful faces looking back at me. Ramrod straight tulips, nodding narcissus (daffodils) and the brave snowdrops which are the first to appear, breaking even the coldest and frostiest ground.


So, I plant bulbs in flower pots and tuck them away next to the oil tank until the Spring. Then they are placed where I can see them without leaving the house. Others are layered up under my pots of autumn and winter bedding plants. Dark purple Queen of the Night tulips will perfectly partner orange violas and wallflowers (another example of planting now for spring cheer).

Each year the bulbs from the pots are planted out in the flower beds after they have finished flowering. It is much easier to plant them when I know where the gaps are. Irises will puncture the bare earth like jewels and delight me as I go to the car, wrapped up like the Michelin man in my duvet-like coat.

So if you dread the thought of the long winter moments spend a few pounds on some bulbs and I promise you will thank me in Spring 2022.

You can find more practical advice on how to bring small wonders of nature into your life in Hannah’s book, The Cactus Surgeon: Using Nature to Fix A Faulty Brain. It’s on sale now and you can find out more here.

Celebrating Publication Day!

Today is the day! The Cactus Surgeon has gone from being an idea in my head to now sitting in people’s hands.

So where can you pick up a copy? It’s on sale at Perrywood Tiptree and Perrywood Sudbury (of course!). It will be on sale at Red Lion Books in Colchester very soon. You can still order copies via my website. It’s also on Amazon and a whole host of other online book retailers, but I’d much rather you ordered it via your nearest local bookshop if you can.

On sale at Perrywood Tiptree

Some lucky people have received it in the post this week, and were sent an extra treat – one of my plant babies! I have gifted them a seedling of the ‘mother-of-thousands’ plant or kalanchoe, which grows baby plants on it’s leaves. Here is how to look after it.

p.s. I made a mistake and told them all it was the ‘pass-it-on’ plant which is a pilea. Another whoops! You’ll understand this once you’ve read the book.

An Ode to Autumn

I embrace the seasons. As each one fades I am ready for the next to come into view. The flush of excitement as I see something for the first time in months is, for me, simply irresistible.

Here are some of the Autumnal sights I most anticipate, with some suggestions of ways you can seek them out:

  1. The reds, golds and yellows of Autumn leaves – it’s the best time of year to visit an arboretum or the gardens of stately homes. Some of my favourites are Markshall, Hever Castle, Sheffield Park, Leonardslee, all the RHS gardens and the larch forests in Wales.
  2. Fantastic fungi – it’s worth a woodland walk after some rainy days to see these beauties, which have fantastic names such as Chicken of the woods, Inkcap and my favourite – Jelly Ear.
  3. Seed heads of grasses backlit by the low sunshine. I can’t take my eyes away as I drink them in. I plant them where I can see them from the house, and as I pull into our driveway.
  4. The first frosty morning! If I can I will run outside, probably in a dressing gown, to take pictures.
  5. Sunrises get later and are almost at a civilised hour. On waking, if I see a hint of pink I rush to the window and pull back the curtain to see the full spectacle.
  6. Picking blackberries. A task to enjoy with my daughter, as I once enjoyed with my parents. We try and beat our neighbours to the nearby blackberry hotspots.
  7. Collecting seeds from trees. Conkers, like we used to collect as children. Beech masts, prickly and crunchy underfoot. And smooth, brown acorns – perfect for drawing faces on with their little hats.

You can now pre-order my book The Cactus Surgeon: using nature to fix a faulty brain. It’s a nature and health memoir, exploring how I used the small wonders of nature to aid my recovery.

The first frost in 2020

Pre-order your copy of The Cactus Surgeon today!

The Cactus Surgeon is now available to order!

What’s it about? It’s a nature and health memoir which explores the possible reasons for my burnout and functional neurological disorder. It also investigates my connection with Mother Nature, how that has helped me over the years – in particular through my ‘green recovery’. It’s a book of mindful moments, savouring the small wonders of nature.

I wrote it to help others – to raise awareness of functional neurological disorder and because every time I open up and tell my story it encourages somebody else to ask for help. I spent years asking ‘why me’, but these days I say ‘why not me?’. It’s a story of hope and recovery, and most of all acceptance.

What will you get out of reading it?

  • Learn about functional neurological disorder (FND) which affects more people than MS and Parkinsons
  • Enjoy my whistle stop tour of growing up living next to a garden centre, working and partying in noughties London and returning to the Essex countryside as an adult
  • Find some ways to bring mindful moments and small wonders of nature into your life, which is so beneficial for mental health – and enjoyable too!
  • Be soothed by my full-page nature photos, which document the importance of nature during my Essex lock-down
  • Includes my personal bibliography of nature and health books, which have helped me over the years
  • It’s also the perfect gift – for nature-lovers, Perrywood Garden Centre fans and anyone who might be fed up of feeling unwell

I’ll be sending out some extra gifts with the first 100 orders, and am currently offering a discount if you’d like to buy two copies.

So, what are you waiting for? Go and order, or share this blog with a friend who might be interested.

Playing with ice during lockdown – one of the full-page photos from the book

Making memories and mood shifters

Some days I feel on top of the world and want to bottle the feeling, to enjoy at my leisure. Other days might be sad or irritable and I can’t wait to go to bed where I can not only slumber but also put an end to the bad mood. Here are my own top tips for savouring the good days, as well as moving on from the bad.

Making the positives last:

  • Tell someone three things you have loved about the day. This is a great way to encourage children and adults to be positive
  • Take a photo and send it to someone
  • Turn a one-off into a tradition. My aunt (pre-covid) used to hold a birthday party for their dog, Dug. We all looked forward to attending.
  • If you want more ideas read Making Memories by Meik Wiking

Ways to shift a bad mood:

  • Tell someone how you are feeling and get outside for some fresh air. It can work wonders, and it’s amazing how much easier it is to perk yourself up when you are surrounded my nature and walking side by side with someone you trust. Even sitting on the door step or by a sunny window can help if you are not up to leaving the house
  • Make boring things fun – such as chores (yes really). Read Ingrid’s blog on this
  • Music! Play tunes from a time when you were at your happiest and let the rhythm and nostalgia take you somewhere more cheerful. I like to play songs from our wedding play list or an acoustic Counting Crows album (my first gig)

Lastly, remember it’s ok not to be ok. We all have bad days and sometimes we need a rant, a good old cry or need to ask a friend or family for some help.

If you feel there are more bad days than good, or your mood is affecting your work or relationships you may need to consider seeking professional help. Speak to your GP or check out the resources on MIND including what to do if you need help now. When I saw a counsellor she said she wanted to move me from abject misery to levels of normal sadness. This has stuck with me, especially when I am having a bit of a wobble.

The menopause – something we should all know about

Over the last six months my awareness of how menopause, and perimenopause, can affect women has grown. I’ve learnt that menopause is when your periods stop, and perimenopause is the time before this (can be many years!) when you still have periods but start to experience menopausal symptoms.

I have been aware of my own possible perimenopause symptoms, including heart palpitations, brain fog, being hot and sweaty at night and feeling more anxious than normal. This has particularly been the case since I had a contraceptive Merina Coil removed earlier this year.

I’ve spoken to other women of a similar age (40s and 50s) and learnt that they have experienced a huge range of symptoms from urinary infections and mood swings through to night sweats and ‘feeling like they are going mad’.

I’ve begun to educate myself. I’ve read Perimenopause Power by Maisie Hill, which is a good summary of what happens to women’s bodies as they get older, and how this can make us feel (and act). Even better is the recently launched ‘Preparing for the Perimenopause and Menopause’ by Dr Louise Newson. It’s super easy to read, and explains everything you need to know before you go and see a nurse or GP at your medical centre. I knew I wanted to speak to someone but felt daunted. Having read her book I now feel confident in what I want to say.

I’ve watched the Davina McCall documentary. I’ve listened to a few discussions on BBC Radio 4 Women’s Hour, only this week discovering that all cells in the body have oestrogen in them. This explains why we can see so many different symptoms when levels drop during perimenopause and menopause, even including burning mouth and gum problems.

I’ve downloaded a couple of apps to help me track my symptoms. Moody is good, but you have to pay for it. I’ve since discovered Balance (by Dr Louise Newson), a free app that allows you to track your symptoms (which is helpful for health professionals if you seek out support) and also gives some great information and tips. For example, I didn’t know heart palpitations were a symptom until I read it on the app. I had mentioned them to a GP who hadn’t suggested this as a cause.

So, why am I telling you all this? Well, if you are going through this I want you to know you are not alone. We are in the process of setting up a menopause support group at work, which will connect female colleagues (and men who are also affected) with each other. Hearing from or talking to others in the same boat can be comforting, help identify symptoms you may not realise are relevant and give an opportunity to share practical tips and advice.

If this is something that affects you I’d love to know your top tips, please do tag me on social media or drop me an email I’d especially love to know about any books, podcasts and social media accounts I should be following. I’ll add any good tips below, with names removed. It’s amazing to me that an issue that affects so many of us is so poorly understood.

Here are the hints and tips, and sources of information, I’ve been sent since sharing this blog post. Please remember these are not medical recommendations:

 I follow the menopause doctor on Facebook. She is the one that made the balance app. I had a full hysterectomy Aged 38, nearly 2 years ago. I find lots of doctors don’t have much knowledge on menopause. I’m lucky that now, I have 1 doctor that is brilliant, but I spent a long time, feeling overwhelmed, lonely & physically ill. The media give a lot of wrong information, but I think by sharing the right information, no woman will be left feeling alone in it.

So my wife went through this very early (32). At the time doctors thought it was stress from our upcoming wedding etc. Had we have known we probably would have tried having children a lot sooner.

My advice would be to eat well. It can be difficult not to gain weight & indeed I have but eat the fats your body needs to nourish & nurture itself. Exercise too. Lots of walks for mindfulness

I also follow the menopause doctor on Insta and her podcasts. I also listen to the Happy Menopause podcast. I’m currently perimenopausal, even though I’m 53, my periods are still normal. But over the last few years my side-effects have ranged from heart palpitations and hot flushes (although I don’t get either of those anymore), dry and itchy skin, dry eyes (for the last 2 symptoms I use Sea buckthorn oil supplements, which have been amazing). I also get brain fog and memory loss.Due to my mother having breast cancer at 50 the GP didn’t want to prescribe the HRT but I did loads of research myself and then asked to be referred to the menopause clinic, and I had my appointment this week. Longer term they believe that HRT can help reduce the risks of osteoporosis (which my mum has severely), dementia and risk of heart attack. Also the research 20 years ago linking HRT to breast cancer was heavily flawed. Along with my medical specialist we have weighed up the pros and cons and decided that I will start on a combined sequential HRT patch. Once I found out menopause clinics existed, I asked my GP for a referral & she did refer me straight away and it took about a month or so to get the appointment. Originally my GP just offered me antidepressants! Even though I don’t feel depressed or anxious and they would do nothing for the symptoms I actually had – sadly this seems to be standard ☹️!

I asked a friend who shared the info above, when do you think we should we seek help? She said…I think if you’re having a number of different symptoms, which I was, or 1 or 2 severely then it’s time to go along and find out your options. You do have to be quite firm with them. If you go onto the balance app, which somebody above recommended, you can download a menopause symptoms checklist, which can also be very helpful as something you can use as a starting point. 

The British menopause society has lots of great info, fact sheets and video links

A link to my author friend Sarah’s blog, outlining her experiences of menopause


I’ve spent the last week in Broad Oak, Sussex on the edge of the High Weald, for a family holiday. It’s more by luck than judgement that we ended up in that spot, after the original booking got unceremoniously cancelled a few months ago. I’m glad it did. The view from our living room has been green and glorious.

Photos can’t do it justice, the detail is lost and the fence dominates. After a week away from any form of drawing or writing I felt the urge to put pen to paper again.

Like a collage the trees emerge from the morning mist. Verdant strips with torn edges, ragged to the sky.

I realise I needed space to think, to breathe, to consider and to rediscover my creativity. I have a few more days off later in the month, and will be taking my sketchbook. If the mood takes me I hope to find myself pen in hand with words or shapes in my head, ready to flow.