Annabelle is the slightly nutty and super passionate Founder of Life at No.27. She is also as a professional gardener, wellbeing therapist, successful freelance writer, vlogger, speaker, potato growing addict and radio personality. Using her fresh approach to promote the magic of gardening and Grow Your Own.
Inspiring more people, particularly the younger generation, to put down their phones and pick up a spade. Annabelle has become a regular face at events throughout the gardening calendar and hosts a monthly radio show where she shares her allotment journey, the latest in the gardening industry and top tasks each month.
Through her passion and energetic enthusiasm, she aims to change the way allotments and growing your own are viewed and bring laughter, pure joy and wheelbarrows full of empathy to the gardening world.
Showing that gardening can change your life in so many ways, both mentally and physically – whilst keeping it simple, easy and more than anything fun.
Most importantly, she is now developing and building her UK wide vision for Life at No.27 – creating an allotment based support network to help change lives across the country, accessible through self referral, GP’s, psychiatrists and local councils.
Driving for a change from government to make gardening and ‘Grow Your Own’ in particular a prescribed therapy option for those suffering with mental ill heath, low confidence and loneliness. Actually…why drive the change, when you can create it?! That is Annabelle’s goal, vision and day to day mission.
Annabelle is a qualified mental health first aider and proud to be an Ambassador for Thrive, the UK National Charity which changes lives through gardening.
Read Annabelle’s personal story below, to understand why she has this utter passion and unquivering determination.
When I was a child, my dad and I would draw a big chart on paper and stick it to the fridge door. On it, we would list all the potatoes we ate that year – King Edward, Maris Piper, Desiree – and it was my job to give them a score out of 10 for taste, texture and cookability.
But this was not a ‘small potatoes’ job for me. In fact, out of it grew a love of growing your own that would help me get through some of the toughest experiences of my life.
From tiny seeds
Gardening was always around me growing up. As a kid I would spend time with my dad at his allotment and in my nan and granddad’s garden. While my mum and dad would enter the local autumn shows, I would go in for the kids categories: ‘best cress head’ or ‘make a face from your veg’! My nan taught me to use egg shells to ward off slugs and my grand dad, Fred said you should never leave a dug plot unraked! I look back now and realise all these different influences sunk in.
However, after suffering bullying at school my early confidence plummeted. It was either because of my hair colour or the fact that everyone had a clique but I didn’t want to be part of one. I didn’t really understand the mind games and while some people have the resilience, I didn’t. How do I make friends…was always a big question I only now really can answer.
Despite being a “people-person” and working my way up through senior positions at shops and bars at a young age, I was always trying to find a way to fit in or understand who I truly was . And at 21, everything came to a crashing halt.
I developed labyrinthitis, an inner ear infection, and woke up to a world spinning on its head. I couldn’t walk in a straight line, I was bouncing off walls, and had to crawl to get anywhere. Even as I got slowly better, I was so scared it would happen again I became increasingly anxious and agoraphobic.
After rounds of group cognitive behavioural therapy made little difference, I decided to take matters into my own hands and gradually built up my confidence with five minute, then 10 minute, then half hour trips outside the house.
It was then that my earlier hunger for the outdoors took over. I had this massive urge to get gardening, like it was a calling as weird as that sounds! So I moved to a new county, put myself on the local allotment waiting list and got growing vegetables in pots in the front garden.
From carrots, tomatoes, lettuce and even giant marrows, I grew anything and everything in my container garden – and as my produce grew, so did my confidence. I was hooked!
It felt like magic. I couldn’t believe how these tiny seeds that looked like nothing could with a bit of care grow into huge fruits and vegetables. It was amazing and I felt that with a bit of focus…could I transform my life too?
Six months later, at the age of 27 and on the 27th October 2015, I took ownership of plot 27, my Oxfordshire allotment – and the Life at No 27 blog was born.
I walked down the plot on the first day feeling daunted but excited. I had all the ‘old lady’ jokes from friends – it wasn’t cool to have an allotment in your 20s back then – and one man on the allotment said because I didn’t know what I was doing I should just put weed killer on everything! ‘You’ll never last, you’re crazy’, said another. But I was determined to show people it could be done, with no previous experience and juggling a career and university studies, plus share my journey along the way.
My Life at No.27 blog, which peeled back the traditional view of veg growing, was an instant success and showed GYO was open to anyone of any age, experience or gender.
I loved the thought that someone my age would go on my site, get advice, and that I could encourage one person to start growing.
Haven away from home
But throughout this time, my veg patch once again became my refuge when I began suffering an abusive relationship at home, whilst juggling the full time job and a uni degree. Fortunately, in 2018 I was granted a lifetime restraining order and built myself back up again, with great friends, psychotherapy and a lot of time outdoors.
My allotment was an instant escape through the years, a place to get lost and listen to the birds around me and not be scared.
This is all why my passion for sharing the GYO experience goes beyond my own allotment gate and the work I deliver through Life at No.27.
I have now completed a number of Social and Therapeutic Horticulture and Mental Health courses, so I can prevent others going through all the struggles I have faced and beaten.
I am also founder of National Growing for Wellbeing Week (June 3-9), where people can share stories about how their allotments and gardens have shaped them and their mental health.
I want people to be able to access gardening as the therapy option I never had at 21. To help people who are not gardeners, who’ve maybe never tried it before, and could reap the benefits. Gardening can improve your physical and mental health, build confidence and improve focus. Sowing a seed is a great sign of hope, a promise that six months down the line there is a future to look forward to.