A stroke survivor claims tending to his allotment helped rebuild his life after he was left unable to walk or talk.
Jonathan Jones, of Ouston, County Durham, said that looking after his allotment has been hugely beneficial to him both mentally and physically.
The 52-year-old had a stroke 21 years ago after an incredible chain of events which started with a holiday to the Greek island of Kos.
Jonathan was born with a heart defect, which required him to have surgery throughout his life. After going on holiday he started to feel ill.
He said: “I went on a family holiday to Greece, and a business trip to Finland, but a few weeks after I returned I started to feel unwell. I found out that I’d got bacterial endocarditis, an infection in my heart.
“I was actually in hospital being treated for the high temperature caused by the infection when I had the stroke. Part of the infection broke off and went up into my brain where there was a weakness in a vein and it haemorrhaged.
“I had to be transferred from Dryburn Hospital, in Durham to Newcastle General Hospital 17 miles away. The doctors told my wife ‘if he bleeds any more on the journey he’ll die’.
“Luckily I got to the general hospital and they scanned my head and then drained the multiple bleeds.”
After his stroke, Jonathan faced a long road to recovery.
He said: “My right side was affected quite badly by the stroke.
“I had to learn to walk and talk again. It was a long hard journey, spending months in the hospital trying to get back to normal life. I did go back to work again but life just didn’t seem the same.”
Jonathan and his family decided an allotment might help with his physical progress, although he was a bit skeptical at first.
Jonathan said: “My wife Joanne, and I, considered an allotment to help me with my exercise, getting some fresh air and helping me feel better.
“My mood was very low. I just didn’t think life was worthwhile anymore. We got the allotment but I was a bit negative about it because I’d never been an allotment gardener.
“We took the allotment on with our daughter Megan, who was only four or five at the time, because it was something we thought we could do as a family.”
Jonathan now enjoys working on his allotment and says it has helped with his mood and self-esteem.
He said: “My daughter’s now grown up and my wife works long hours as a complex case manager for the NHS so it’s fallen to me to do it and I absolutely love it.
“It helps my self-esteem, it helps my mood. I’m putting something on the table. I’m getting fruit and veg which would cost an arm and a leg at the moment if you were buying it from a supermarket.
“It’s a real community spirit. I feel better when I go home. I feel like I’ve done something for myself and any problems you have just fade away when you’re on your hands and knees digging weeds out.”
As well as mentally, the allotment has benefitted Jonathan physically both with exercise and his diet. He said: “It gives me routine. I come up here and I can work all day.
“I do four or five hours and I look at my Fitbit and I’ve done loads of exercise. It’s amazing the benefits it gives me. It also helps with my diet. It means we eat much better food which is something you need to do as a stroke survivor.”
The UK’s leading garden centre retailer, Dobbies Garden Centres, has announced its support for the Stroke Association; a charity that provides specialist support and funds critical research for people affected by stroke.
Jonathan added: “I would recommend an allotment garden to anybody. We had a lot of support to do this. We got advice from Dobbies. and from other allotment gardeners.
“They come and help. They’re always willing with some advice. They tell you what to grow, what not to grow, how to grow it.
“I’ve also been helped by other allotment gardeners to build some covers for our raised beds to help in the fight against pests.
“We’ve managed to plant potatoes, cabbage, beetroot, Brussels sprouts, and onions so far this year. We’ve also got raspberry and gooseberry bushes, plus red currants and strawberries on the go, so hoping for a bumper crop.
“We’ve really built the allotment up, it’s a wonderful thing to do.”
Graeme Jenkins, CEO at Dobbies, said: “At Dobbies we’re passionate about enriching the lives of our customers and believe in the positive physical and mental benefits of spending time in the garden.
“Not only does gardening help with mobility and rehabilitation, but there are benefits for mental wellbeing too, something that is so important for stroke survivors.”
Juliet Bouverie, chief executive at the Stroke Association, said: “A stroke happens in the brain, the control centre for who we are and what we can do.
“The impact varies depending on which part of the brain is affected. It could be anything from wiping out your speech and physical abilities to affecting your emotions and personality.
“Gardening has many benefits for people rebuilding their lives after a stroke and we’re very grateful to partner with Dobbies to inspire and encourage stroke survivors to get gardening.
“From potting plants to digging up weeds, gardening activities can be adapted to all abilities and are a fun and rewarding way to keep active and build confidence.”
Jonathan has shared his story during the launch of the partnership of the Stroke Association and Dobbies Garden Centres. For more information on gardening on the Stroke Association website, please click here