Nikkis story hero image
By Nikki Cross

How my journey began

My gardening journey began when my husband Neil and I bought our first home together. Neil had been gardening since the age of three with his papa Joe, who had to give up his job and retire on medical grounds.

This is when my husband’s love of gardening started. Neil began to teach me the names of flowers and the basics of how to look after plants and how to set up and design our first garden. This is when I decided that I wanted to grow my own fruit and vegetables and have an area in the garden that was a mini allotment.

When Neil was in his early thirties, he was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. At the time I didn’t know what depression was or what symptoms to look out for and so I carried out my own research to try and help him.

Neil had noticed that his mental health improved whenever he spent time in the garden and when he was busy in the garden, it helped him to cope as it took him to his happy place and lifted his mood.

I hadn’t noticed that gardening was actually doing the same thing for me! It wasn’t until I was outside in our new garden weeding, that I realised just how therapeutic weeding my garden was as it gave me time away from everything and a boost to be able to help my husband.

I also enjoyed the actual tasks of weeding and tidying the garden and then looking at what I’d accomplished and the sense of achievement I got from this.

My dream of growing our own food began when my husband took me to a garden centre and bought me two strawberry and two tomato plug plants.

I have low self-esteem and confidence and although I wanted to grow my own plants and food from seed, I didn’t believe in myself enough to take on this new challenge. However my husband did and told me he was giving me the responsibility of looking after these plants and if I was able to look after them, then we would turn an area of the garden into my very own mini allotment.

This turned out to be the best thing I ever did as that summer it gave me the confidence and helped me to learn about plants: how to look after them, feed them, prune the tomato plants. I learnt all about pollinating and how food starts to grow from flowers.

Looking after these plants gave me the gardening bug and that autumn I began planning what I was going to grow in the following spring.

Nikkis story2

By teaching myself, I learnt how and when to start seed sowing, how to pot on seedlings, how to feed my plug plants and when to harden them off and plant them outdoors.

The excitement of seeing my own seeds growing into little baby plants is one that I will never lose or forget.

Taking my passion for gardening to work

I am a nursery teacher and took my passion for gardening into work when I returned after the summer holidays. I have a passion to teach others how to grow things and I wanted to teach the children about the joy of growing and looking after plants.

I also wanted to engage the local community and help parents, staff and children grow their own food. By a stroke of luck, a grandmother of a child in the nursery was looking for a nursery to come along and work at the local allotment in Castlemilk, Glasgow.

I was given the challenge of setting up a large cold frame at the allotment and to put together a team of staff and children to work together with the allotment members to teach the children about growing their own food.

Around this time, one of my good friends Gary suggested I start my own Instagram page about my gardening. I was reluctant at first to put myself and my gardening journey online and had no idea about hashtags, how to make videos or where to begin. I also wasn’t very confident about being able to speak on camera or to a large group of people.

In January 2020 I decided to act on my friend’s advice and started my own Instagram. As I felt shy and lacking in confidence about it, I decided to start a page with the name @gardenernikki. At the time I had no idea that we were about to be thrown into a global pandemic, but I was very lucky that I had impressed the allotment committee with my passion and enthusiasm and so they gave me my own small 3m x 3m allotment plot. Even though I was scared of taking on these new challenges, I decided that my Instagram was going to be my way of keeping track of what I had achieved.

I have to say that this decision changed my life. It has changed me as a person, made me more confident and I now no longer say “I can’t do that”. I believe in myself and can now talk to people on camera and on podcasts without even batting an eyelid.

How COVID opened up new opportunities for me

The pandemic and my health condition meant I had to stay at home away from work for 6 months. The garden and the allotment became my own little sanctuary, my oasis away from all the news and fears about COVID. It gave me the time and space to grow from scratch what I had planned for the allotment and garden. By teaching myself, I learnt how and when to start seed sowing; how to pot on seedlings; how to feed my plug plants and when to harden them off and plant them outdoors. It gave me something to grow and nurture and every morning, before turning on my computer, I found myself out in the garden, opening up my green house and checking on the seedlings. The excitement of seeing my own seeds growing into little baby plants is one that I will never lose or forget.

Nikkis story3

Gardening has given me an even deeper passion to help others and I was keen to share with others the joy of gardening.

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the children could not visit the allotment plot and so I decided I would carry on the plot for them with what we had begun to grow and add what they hadn’t yet been able to grow. I then took photos and videos so that the children could see what was growing in our plot.

I was asked to make a video for the children and decided that I wanted to send out seeds, compost and plant pots to every family in the nursery so that we could grow sunflowers and dahlias together.

This turned out to be the catalyst for change in me as I began doing weekly videos to the children and parents. This started to build my confidence in being able to talk on camera and I found that as I was talking about something I was passionate about, I forgot I was on camera!

Gardening has given me an even deeper passion to help others and I was keen to share with others the joy of gardening. I was also interested to find out more about why gardening is so good for your mind, body and soul. I started to research into how having your hands in the soil can actually be a natural form of antidepressants and that when touching the soil, it releases serotonin into your body.

I have always loved to have my hands in the mud and am not a gardener who wears gloves unless I am pruning my roses or raspberry canes.

Getting vocal about gardening and mental health

I also have a passion for spreading awareness and talking openly about mental health and wellbeing. During the first years of when Neil was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, we received negative comments from work colleagues and family members and this led us to close up and not speak to others.

However, through the power of allotments and gardening, this has given me a newfound confidence to speak openly about my husband’s depression. I am determined to help end the stigma of mental health and to help others by talking, having the conversation and sharing our story.

This also led me to starting my own podcast where I talk to guests about their stories, why they started gardening and how it has changed their lives like it has for my husband’s and mine.

I have now started a YouTube channel where this year I hope to be posting the gardening tips I have learned through the pandemic and to share them with others. I also have a TikTok where I post regularly about my garden and allotment plot.

Through sharing my own journey, I was offered the wonderful opportunity to volunteer in a therapeutic gardening programme where I spent the summer helping others and participating in gardening classes.

This then led to me being released from my job two days a week so that I can work in the garden at Help Yourself Grow in Glasgow whilst continuing to work in my nursery job the rest of the week.

This has been a massive challenge which I am loving and I will admit that every day is a school day and you never stop learning! I am so grateful for all the opportunities and the people that I have met through gardening.

I am currently studying an RHS Level 2 in horticulture which I hope will help to continue to add to my knowledge of plants and gardening skills. I am so excited to be given the opportunity to share my gardening hints and tips with you all at Thrive. I have recently taken on an allotment space in a local allotment near to where I live which is indoors in a polytunnel.

This is a new challenge which I am documenting and will be sharing tips of how and what you can grow in a small space. I also grow a variety of fruit and vegetables (everything from sweetcorn to raspberries!) in the mini allotment in my garden.

You can follow Nikki through the links below:

Instagram: @Gardenernikki or @gardeningwithnikkipodcast

Twitter: @NikkiGardener2

YouTube: Nicola Gardener

TikTok: Nikki Gardener

You can change lives with gardening

Chris M and Rebecca H pulling trolley

Thrive Prize Draw 2024

Make a difference with us! Join this year's prize draw for a chance to win some amazing garden prizes

Enter Now