Dr Anne Pauleau interview: The GP gardener

East London GP Dr Anne Pauleau opens her garden to the public and calls it a 'natural gym'

I originally came to gardening when I acquired my first house as a GP registrar and first-time mum. The garden was an absolute mess, dotted with mounds of rotting furniture and festooned with brambles.

Bit by bit, I dug the garden, one square metre at a time, experimenting with seeds and various acquisitions from church fetes and the local flower market.

Initially, the garden was a random selection of these various plants, but it gradually acquired shape and substance as my eye became more discerning about the need for structure and layering.

I was also feeling very stressed, both at work and at home, so I found being out in the open utterly relaxing. I could channel my frustrations into pulling and digging up weeds.

Gardening, just like medicine, is not a precise discipline and I really enjoyed the daily discoveries from my strolls in the garden – another leaf unfurling, a beautiful flower hiding shyly behind some rogue weeds, the birdsong, the quarrelling magpies, the squirrels and of course, those old villains, the foxes, with their  playful offspring.

Much physical activity is required in the planting of bulbs (more than 500 last spring), lopping trees, pruning shrubs, digging – an absolutely splendid way of keeping fit, and a pleasurable one at that.

Over the years I read as much as I could about the plants I wanted to grow in the garden and visited many gardens for inspiration.

I also became a mother of four and the garden became a playground for me and my children, who enjoyed a good dig, making mud pies and chatting over the garden wall with the neighbours’ children.

I had long wanted to show my garden as part of the National Gardens Scheme (NGS), in which participants open their gardens to the public to raise money for good causes, mostly cancer charities and palliative care.

The first opening was very hard work, because I had to get the garden really tidy, getting rid of all the clutter – dead bikes, rusty chains, builder’s miscellany – that had gathered over the years, tucked down the side alley and the back of the garden.

I got up every morning just before seven for a fortnight and cleared it all, hard labouring work, but the benefits were that I could enjoy a beautiful garden unmarred by rubbish.

Opening the garden means linking up with the local community and fellow gardeners, encouraging new gardeners on their journey of gardening discovery and sharing conversations with neighbours over a cup of tea and a bit of cake.

I am very fortunate in working part-time, which means I can beaver away in the garden most afternoons. I dislike television and this gives me many more hours of fun, digging and pruning in the garden.

I also enjoy planning the garden. I take note of any gaps in the border, so  these can be filled in, either at the present time or next season.

I love to sit in bed at night reading gardening books and magazines, dreaming of the next year’s planting while perusing a catalogue.

I have often noticed how visitors to my garden are most taken by the fact that the plants are highly scented, and I have developed this by buying more and more fragrant plants, such as David Austin old-fashioned roses, jasmine and lilies.

In midsummer, the scent of the roses and lilies can reach right through to the front of the house, drifting down the alley way.

I just wish more of my patients could have access to gardening, because it is a natural gym and a
great mood booster.

I have opened my garden to the public for about seven years under the NGS. I find gardening a wonderful way of relaxing and keeping fit, and opening the garden means I can share the joys of having a lovely garden with other garden lovers.

Read more about the NGS: www.ngs.org.uk/gardens/find-a-garden/garden.aspx?id=21058

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