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Claire is a gardener, just like many of you reading this. You might know Claire from her Instagram account Sowing At The Stoop, which now has over 41,000 followers. In the last year, extensive lockdowns have pushed many of us onto social media in a bigger way. Human connection is so deeply important to our mental health and technology has been the surrogate. But when we spend so much time staring at our screens, it can be hard to see the wood for the trees. We are bombarded with thousands of examples of apparent perfection – images that favour fantasy over reality.
Whilst we all crave a little fantasy, I think we all need reality too. But, just for a change, could reality be kinder? I would ask for a reality that isn’t constantly bogged down by negativity, politics or agendas, but one that is wholesome, comforting and inspiring. In short – we need to see positive realities. It’s not about ignoring the serious things; it’s about recognising that keeping one’s feet on the ground shouldn’t always leave you buried in concrete. That is why Claire is such a breath of fresh air.
Claire’s philosophy allows the reality of garden life to shine through - not marred by imperfection but enhanced by it. That is not to say Claire’s garden isn’t beautiful and vibrant – far from it – but neither is it manicured and pristine. And personally, I bloomin’ love that! Claire isn’t trying to be perfect. Claire is sharing her joy and that is the most beautiful thing about her and her garden.
Claire agreed to chat with me about her gardening journey and how she came to be the much-followed and much-loved Sowing At The Stoop.
Would it surprise you to learn that Instagram wasn’t Claire’s idea in the first place? The story really starts when she decided it was time to give up her allotment. It had gotten a little political and Claire began to feel like her plot wasn’t really her own. So her attention turned to the back garden, to make a space that was truly hers.
It wasn’t much at the time, Claire’s garden, just a couple of flowerbeds, a patch of lawn and an ancient polycarbonate greenhouse that was so dark and dank and hidden that it was no one’s idea of fun to potter around in. A huge wall of conifers belonging to the neighbouring garden cast long shadows and Claire worried over the lack of sunlight.
But then one day the neighbours popped round to ask if it would be ok to cut the conifers down – “It was like turning a light on.”
And just like that, Claire’s enthusiasm was renewed. She took to Pinterest and sought inspiration. Husband and son were soon put to work turning over the ground in preparation for an expanded growing area. When the idea of a new greenhouse surfaced, Claire’s husband urged her to get the greenhouse she really wanted. A Rhino was chosen, “and I’ve never looked back”.
That was back in 2017, when Claire’s garden was reincarnated and became her sanctuary. It became her place of refuge, joy and recuperation – a place entirely for her. With a busy household to contend with, Claire’s life is hectic, but whenever she enters the garden, “my mind is quiet”.
“The garden doesn’t ask anything of you.”
Claire’s entire family understand the value of this space – for her wellbeing and theirs – and so once the garden was built, her eldest son turned to her and said: “How are you going to stick to it?” In other words, “Let’s make sure you always make time for yourself, Mum.” She needed a way to remain accountable to herself; it was thus that the idea of Instagram was broached. After a little coaxing, Claire set up an account with the goal of reaching 100 followers.
4 years later, to say she exceeded her goal would be a colossal understatement. Claire’s 41,000 followers are treated to views of her gorgeous garden and for Claire, it’s not just about her anymore.
“It is our garden. Mine and theirs.”
It is from this platform that Claire is able to spread her messages of positivity and community. Although social media gets a bad rap, Claire firmly believes in its capacity for good. The gardening community is a friendly one and the messages of support she receives on a regular basis are a testament to that. Claire tries her best to respond to every message or comment, because “you don’t know how much courage it might have taken to ask at all”. Claire’s sensitivity and empathy is palpable and it is this welcoming hug of garden-based love that can be felt on her Instagram feed.
Since the pandemic, Claire’s following increased dramatically and even she has been stunned by the number of people turning to their gardens for comfort since the pandemic. But Claire knows that not everyone is lucky enough to have a garden of their own to escape to and she sincerely wishes for her garden to be their escape too.
“My way of contributing to other people’s happiness.”
For me personally, the last year has shown me how much I have to be grateful for. Thanks to my job, I get to submerse myself in the goodness of gardening on a daily basis. I experience genuine relief when I turn on Instagram for work each morning. No statistics, no news bulletins, just all-natural, plant-based yumminess. I was the lucky recipient of some seeds sent to me personally by Claire, and I can’t tell you how touched I was. I feel so privileged to be a member of the gardening community and I hope to keep the friends I have gained for many years to come.