Welcome to my new gardening world!

A tale of clumsiness, accidents and disregard of rules

The must-have garden accessory this year – an avalanche of snails

Welcome to the all-new MandyCanUDigIt website/blog thing. I’m at a funny age – I feel odd going the full hog and call it a blog.

If you’re a regular (God bless you), you’ll notice it’s much more ‘bloggy’ – and there’s even more reference pages.

Even though I’ve been doing this website for three years, I never explained why my background has had a massive influence on my gardening.

Here goes… the four things that shape my life as a gardener:

My garden and family

Echium pininana
Proud mother – with Echium pininana Blue Steeple raised from seed

I’ve lived in the same house in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, since 1988. It’s an end semi, with a long, thin garden and a dog-leg at the back. As with a lot of houses here, our is built into the hill – two storeys at the front, three at the back. The long, thin conservatory sits above the garden. The small front plot I basically ignore. Apart from one spell of getting the concrete drive removed, everything has been done by me.

The site is 120m up a west-facing hill – high enough to catch snow but avoid flooding. It’s hellish windy – we’re surrounded by bungalows.

My garden is a cacophany of noise, colour and leaf shapes, more DIY punk than Vivaldi. I’ve tried to control my plant buying but I’m hopeless.

I also have delusions of gardening in the tropics, hence my obsession with bananas, succulents and anything with big leaves.

Then there’s the people – Gary, the other half, who never goes in the garden unless it’s to help cut the hedge or eat; Vanessa, lovely daughter, back at home; Nick, away at uni in London and stepson Ali, who would used to jump in the hedge cuttings bin. Neither of my children has inherited gardening genes, sadly.

George the cat

At one with his people – me and Vanessa are pushed into the background as far as George is concerned when a camera comes out. All pictures courtesy of Sue Welford

George, a large ginger tom found by a cat rescue society in a skip behind a takeaway in Barmston, Washington (Tyne and Wear, NOT DC), came into our lives in March 2012.

Since then, this imperious creature has utterly ruled the roost, not just in our house but in our next-door neighbours’ – they have become his humans too.

Despite his unerring ability to crap and wee in any bare patch of soil, constantly photobomb and attempt to dent the bird population, he’s a real ‘people puss’ and a great character.

That time living behind a takeaway as a stray left its mark – he can’t abide prawns but will go out of his way to steal cheap white bread and cheese, especially garlic bread.


This beast reared its ugly head when I fell into a harbour in Greece at the age of 11 and woke up on a fishing boat. I still can’t bear sardines.

The fits continued until my late teens, so a career in gardening was ‘out of the question’ I was told by teachers/careers officers, as I couldn’t drive or use horticultural equipment and  it would be ‘unwise for me to go to university with my condition’.

Thwarted, I became a journalist. Finally with two clear years from fits, I passed my driving test at 23, only to have it taken away again at 35 when the damned epilepsy reappeared.

Wonky joints/back

Wrist injury
Unflattering NHS-issue steel and Velcro ligament support

My clumsiness was diagnosed about 10 years ago as Joint Hypermobility Syndrome (JHS). I’ve always been dislocating, pulling and twisting ankles, shoulders, wrists, etc. The collagen in ligaments is more stretchy than it should be, so you overstretch, then hurt yourself.

This is not a great condition for a gardener. In March 2014, I damaged the ligaments in my left wrist uprooting a Rheum palmatum (ornamental rhubarb), compounded by RSI. I was out of action for months.

Related to this are two prolapsed disc injuries, one in the small of my back (with added sciatica) and the other in the base of my neck. My kitchen cupboard is painkiller central.

So, that’s me and my family. It’s important to get the limitations up there first, so we all know where we stand.





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