We are absolutely not gardeners. We are a mum, Lucy, and her now three-year-old son, Jude. I know you are probably wondering what we have to offer as I start to type this, I am wondering it too. We live on the outskirts of Sheffield with husband and dad, Arron.
Back in the spring I decided to try to get our garden looking a bit brighter for the summer. We had a lot of pots, mainly with sorry looking contents, so we started removing what didn’t look like it would come back (perfect job for a two-year-old who loves getting filthy!) and bought some new bits from the garden centre. There was no real rhyme of reason to what we bought. Did it work in a pot? Did we like the look of it? We bought it. It was lovely to see the excitement on Jude’s face as we pushed him around in the trolley looking at everything, reaching out his hands to feel the textures, smelling the fragrances.
We got to the herbs, and he was amazed that you could snack on these things. We went home with a pot of mint and planted it right away. Every day that we went into the garden he would be eating it within minutes and offering it around like a box of chocolates. If I ever asked him to slow down on his eating it, he would tell me he couldn’t because “Grandpa says it will get out of control”.
Jude would spend hours at his mud kitchen making potions, teas and cakes from compost mixed with sticks from a walk and garnished with petals that had fallen off flowers or one of the pinecones we had saved. I would sit drinking a cup of (real) tea and watch him; the dirtier he got the more his imagination was working and the more fun he was having.
We would go on walks, and we would always come back with some “treasure”, a rock, a funny shaped stick, the largest leaf. We would look for flowers and spot butterflies, damselflies, and dragonflies. We would listen for birds and try to copy their songs.
I would move pots tirelessly, just making the prettiest backdrop I could rather than doing what was best for the plants. We would have breakfast and lunch out there and it became a real bonding experience for us.
We were gifted a belfast sink and we filled it with compost, added a plant, some toy dinosaurs, and some pebbles which we said were dinosaur eggs and it reignited his love for being out there. We added worms and he would look for them daily. On rainy days we would still pop out to check on everything and to see how different things looked.
We bought a box of seeds for edible flowers. It was the first thing we had grown from seed, so it was so exciting when we started to get little green sprouting showing. He would make a dash for that pot every time he went out to check on them and he would show them off at any given opportunity. When we started to get some signs of real flowers coming, I suggested we used them to decorate his birthday cake for his third birthday at the end of July. He agreed but I thought in the passing weeks he would change his mind and start nagging for a dinosaurs or superheroes cake, but he didn’t.
On some walks I noticed that Jude was starting to ask to be carried more or we would have to come home after a shorter amount of time. He would be eating less of our picnic than on previous occasions or he would need to sleep when we got home. I put it down to him being a growing toddler and getting stimulation from different things. However, over the following weeks he started waking up sweating in the middle of the night, crying, screaming in pain, he would sit down wherever he was because he couldn’t walk anymore, and he was becoming angry and upset. We had several trips to A&E before we finally got a diagnosis.
“So, is it cancer?” we eventually asked.
They looked at us then to the floor, the wall or anywhere else other than us and one of them said “yes, yes, it is cancer”.
Our son was diagnosed with cancer the night before his third birthday. The same birthday we had been growing flowers to decorate his cake. So many things now felt irrelevant and went so far from our immediate thoughts but there were some things that I couldn’t let go of. Somethings that to anyone else would have meant nothing but to us, they had been our early morning starts, our springtime lunch memories, our evening pastimes and I could give up on those things. He didn’t know that he had cancer and he wouldn’t even understand what that meant but he knew he had a birthday in the morning and so we had to make the most of it. My husband went home and collected the bunting that we had used for Jude’s first and second birthday so there was no chance that I was not having it there for him turning three.
When he got discharged to have a few days to enjoy, before further tests happened and his treatment started, I got that cake reordered and we decorated it exactly as we had planned. It felt like a triumph. It was awful news, but it absolutely wasn’t the end. In fact, it was just the beginning. It was like a change of season for us. Nature shows us so much resilience, it faces the very extremes, and it still makes its appearance and I had shown my son that time and time again and now it was our turn to be the wildflowers.
His energy levels have been hugely minimised since he started chemotherapy, but he still has some amazing days, days where you would question if the doctors had got it right. I ask him what he would like to do, and it is generally something simple and outdoors when he has the energy. He likes to visit farms and outdoor spaces or simply feed the ducks, touch trees, feel grass on his bare feet or feel raindrops on his face.
When we are in hospital if we get a bed on the front of the hospital it means that we can see directly into a park. We have spotted birds nesting, the sunbathers on the grass, the pops of colours from the flowers, the leaves changing colours, the branches of the trees being exposed like a skeleton. We can look out of the window and be taken away, temporarily, from what is going on in that moment or in our heads.
We still plan to get into our garden when we can. It might not be the same as last year but that’s ok, it’s supposed to change, and the amazing thing is it won’t begrudge us for it. It will forgive us, forgotten without any need for apology. It will still show up and there will be elements of surprise and wonder that we either forgot about or that have come along in the magical winds, on the legs of bees or in the tiny beaks of birds without any of us knowing or having to lift a finger because that’s what nature does. So, when our world feels like its crashed around us in the cracks, we can always find beauty. We are taking it one day at a time at the moment because that’s the safest thing for him physically but also for all of us mentally but when we spot the changes of the seasons and we can always reflect on how far we have come too in the extremes.