I LOVE gardening!
To have the chance to write a book about creating a garden was wonderful. I also wanted to write a book about the friendship between two characters at very different stages in their lives: one older (I always imagine that Mr Green is in his early seventies at the start of the book) and one much younger (Mo is still at primary school when the story begins). And finally, I wanted to write a story that encapsulated the joy and peace that creating gardens and working in them can give us. I’ve been lucky enough to garden since I was a child, and the passing of the seasons and the never-ending cycles that we see in nature can be extremely comforting, especially during difficult times in our lives.
The importance of recycling
I often look at areas of wasteground and wonder how it would feel to turn them into a garden. Writing Mr Green Grows a Garden made it possible to research and explore this. I liked the idea of the rubbish in the “ugly place” (that Mr Green takes over) becoming useful as plant pots, a shed, homes for wild animals and seats where people can sit and chat. I hope that readers take note of the rubbish that Mo and Mr Green collect at the start of the story and look for it later as it’s utilised in lots of creative ways. My own garden is a muddle of plants, recycled containers, pebbles from the nearby beaches, and old bits of junk (including the treadle from a Victorian sewing machine and the outside of my old wood burner) that serve as little stages for showing off plants.
Combining fiction with non-fiction facts
I wanted to explain how vital healthy soil is not just for growing plants but also as a habitat for billions of tiny living things. It was fun to think of ways in which Mr Green and Mo could obtain material to reinvigorate the soil in their garden (poo from the city farm and vegetable peelings from their neighbours). And it was a delight to talk about seeds, seedlings, growing vegetables and the importance of planting trees and making places for birds and other wildlife.
Being outside is good for our mental health
As the book came to life during 2020, the theme of gardens and other outdoor spaces being good for our mental health became ever more important. Like many people I had some very dark days during 2020, and being outside watching a blackbird digging in leaves or hearing a bee furiously buzzing inside the petals of a foxglove just simply helped.
Learning to live with grief
Mr Green Grows a Garden is also a story about learning to live with grief. Mo has lost his father and struggles with his feelings. But as the garden and his friendship with Mr Green develop, a “smiley feeling” grows inside Mo and he learns that a garden can be a very good place to sit quietly and enjoy memories of people we’ve lost.
I wanted to end the book with the garden mature and thriving. We see the character Mo grow from a sad little boy into a young man with a partner and children of his own. And at the end of the book, Mo and his family are still enjoying Mr Green’s garden. I also wanted a gentle way to end Mr Green’s part in the story. I’ve always loved coming across a commemorative bench and sitting for a while in a place where someone else once sat and enjoyed the same view. The words “. . . who loved this place” on a little brass plaque on a bench always make me want to simultaneously smile and cry. Therefore, Mr Green’s story had to end with a commemorative bench standing in the garden he created with his best friend, Mo. But we changed the traditional inscription to read: FOR MR GREEN WHO GREW THIS PLACE
A little more about our author…
Ruth Owen is a British author who has written hundreds of books for children. She lives and works in a cottage in the centre of the Lost Gardens of Heligan, a restored Victorian garden in Cornwall, England. A lifelong gardener, Ruth often looks at rubbish-strewn, unloved spaces and dreams of how they might look turned into a garden. Mr Green Grows a Garden is Ruth’s first picture book. The story blends her love of gardening with her passionate belief that spending time in a garden is good for our physical and mental health.