‘I just needed to feel the real world’: gardening writer Anna Pavord describes crawling onto lawn after cancer


Barely out of intensive care and unable to walk after treatment for stomach cancer, Anna Pavord quite literally “crawled” on her hands and knees onto a patch of grass, desperate to reconnect with nature.

The much-loved gardening writer has told how she dragged herself along a hospital corridor to reach the the lawn outside the building on being released from the ICU department.

Ms Pavord has now spoken of the “absolutely critical” role the natural world played in her recovery. She tells today’s edition of Desert Island Discs of her battle with cancer and the moment she once again connected with the environment.

Ms Pavord tells the long-running Radio 4 programme: “’When I could actually move after coming out of intensive care, one day I was in a different room and there was a patch of lawn outside the window.

“On my hands and knees I crawled along the corridor to get out onto that grass. I just needed to feel the real world. The real world to me is not buildings, it’s not cement or tarmac, it’s not all the stuff of which so much of the world is now constructed.'”

It is this tactile relationship with nature which may explain one of her trademark characteristics – her habit of not wearing gardening gloves.

“’I like to feel the plants, I like to feel the earth, I get a real sensuous pleasure from the touch of plants and from the touch of the earth and you know, the feel of sticks and all the other things you sort of have to touch when you’re gardening. It’s all part of it.” She said

Ms Pavord, now 77, described her childhood in rural Wales, near Abergavenny, as “backward”.

Her family had neither a TV nor a car and she spent hours roaming outdoors, developing a lifelong passion for the natural world.

“We led these fairly free lives on the mountain, this small gang that we had. My brother who was two and a half years older than me and about four children. We roamed around on these hills and mountains.”

Ms Pavord, who has published a dozen books on gardening, is a member of the Gardens Panel for English Heritage and chairs the Gardens Panel of the National Trust, told how as a child she discovered jazz on the radio, choosing Bessie Smith’s Backwater Blues as one of her desert island records and reminisced about ‘smoochy’ parties in her late teens and twenties, listening and dancing to Ella Fitzgerald’s Every Time We Say Goodbye.

She recalls attending “any number of dances where these sorts of numbers would be played at the end and you hoped that you were in the arms of somebody who was going to ask to take you home.”

Any desert island with Ms Pavord as a castaway is unlikely to stay barren for very long.

He choice of book is the Dictionary of British and Irish Horticulturalists with a pen and paper to record her thoughts about the natural world as her luxury.

Asked by Kirsty Young how she might go about ‘beginning to cultivate this disastrous little patch of sand’ Ms Pavord said:” I would actually roam about and I would work out where the water supply was because of course the sea would be absolutely hopeless for anything I actually wanted to grow.

“Then I would start to actually be interested in things that were growing and I would do,as by trial and error people must done since the very beginning, tasting things and seeing if they gave me stomach ache.”


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