Writer finds the link between horticulture and healing

The rose garden, which Charlie cultivated in tribute to his much-missed parents.

The rose garden, which Charlie cultivated in tribute to his much-missed parents. - Credit: Archant

Gardener and author Charlie Hart’s five-acre garden on the Suffolk/Essex border became a project that helped him see hope and new life after the loss of his parents.

House on the hill - a view of the Hart family home from Skymeadow.

House on the hill - a view of the Hart family home from Skymeadow. - Credit: Archant

The perennial growth of a garden in the face of harsh conditions has given inspiration to many struck by hopelessness and despair in their lives. In the early 1990s the filmmaker and artist Derek Jarman made a home and garden on Dungeness beach and gained solace from the green shoots he was able to coax from the parched shingle blitzed by biting wind while the death sentence of HIV hung over him. More recently, TV presenter Monty Don revealed how gardening dragged him up from the depths of depression brought on by ill health and financial concerns.

Gardening writer Charlie Hart found a way back from his own dark nights of the soul by cultivating that rare geographical site – an East Anglian hill. In 2013 he, his wife Sybilla and their three young children – they now have a fourth, a daughter, Celestia -- escaped the rat race of London by purchasing Peverels, a small farmhouse situated on the lip of a hill running down into the Peb Valley in Colne Engaine on the Suffolk/Essex border.

The move coincided with a traumatic time in Charlie’s life – his father had recently died and his mother, who had been diagnosed with lung cancer, did not have long to live.

The Cambridge-educated Charlie was close to a breakdown, but Peverels offered him an escape and, in its expanse of untouched meadowland, the perfect setting for a garden that would pay tribute to his parents and slowly nurture his own spirit back to life.

A patch of lupins in the garden at Skymeadow in Colne Engaine.

A patch of lupins in the garden at Skymeadow in Colne Engaine. - Credit: Archant

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The story of the healing effects of nature on Charlie’s mental health as he tended to his five-acre slope of a garden is told in his wonderful memoir Skymeadow, which is to have its launch event at Waterstones Colchester on Friday, April 20.

Skymeadow is the name Charlie gave to the unspoilt area of land that he singlehandedly transformed into his spectacular garden.

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He says: “It seems to float within an impossibly large East Anglian sky like an island moated by cloud. Particularly when it is misty, the sky laps up against the side of it. As a result we started to call this place Skymeadow. It is here that I have dug our new garden… and it is now that I recognise it has been the distraction of doing so that has given me the oxygen and machinery I needed to grieve.”

“Creating a new garden by hand, working in step with nature and the seasons, has enabled me to unpack my feelings in a more deliberate way than I might otherwise have done.

Rural escape - Skymeadow taking shape with new hedges.

Rural escape - Skymeadow taking shape with new hedges. - Credit: Archant

“Through the turbulence of life our gardens, by merely being there each morning when we wake up, can somehow wrap themselves around us and help us face the tribulations of the outside world. Certainly ours does.”

The memoir has already attracted praise. Presenter of gardening podcast On The Ledge Jane Perrone Skymeadow is a “love letter to English horticulture written by a passionate gardener. A must-read for anyone who has dreamt of cultivating their own patch of land.”

Bestselling author Jilly Cooper OBE has described the book as a “fascinating” read in which “every flower, every passing bud, every change in the season is described with rapture”.

At the book launch at Waterstones, in High Street, Colchester, Charlie will chat to customers about his book and sign copies for anyone who wishes to buy a copy. There will be wine and nibbles to enjoy through out the evening, which will run from 6.30pm to 8.30pm.

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