This Week’s Guest Bloggers are Catriona Fursdon, Katie Vanstone and Becky Smith

Fursdon House and Gardens, Cadbury, Exeter, Devon.

The gardens of Fursdon House will be open on Wednesday 19th June 2pm-5pm  and the money raised from the entry to the garden on that day will be donated to Gardening for Disabled Trust Charity

The History of Fursdon House by Catriona Fursdon

The Fursdon family have lived in this place since 1259 – so we have our 760th anniversary this year!

David and I came to Fursdon in 1979 to take over the running of the house and the estate from John Fursdon, David’s uncle. We were newly married and had no clue about running a big house or a farming estate that was sadly rather rundown. Through a combination of misfortunes Fursdon was not in a good state of repair. We were lucky enough to have some wonderful mature trees, great views and a fabulous framework for a garden but it had been sadly neglected for many years. We had no money and no gardening knowledge – so the whole thing was a steep learning curve!

However, with the enthusiasm of youth we set about a restoration project that has been ongoing for the last 40 years. We are so grateful to friends and family who helped in those early days of keeping nettles and brambles at bay and a sense of humour intact. Mostly! We’ve had professional advice from friends with horticultural expertise and I (Catriona) attended a Royal Horticultural Society course a few years ago – so slowly but surely we made inroads into the garden which has been open to the public along with the manor house since 1982.

As confidence in the garden grew we started opening it to visitors even on days when the house was not open. And the biggest difference in the last few years has been the introduction of Katie who shares her flair for colour and horticultural design with us. Katie grows plants from seed in her own greenhouse thus adding a far wider range of flowers and shrubs than we’ve previously been able to have. She has made the gardens around the house into a very special place that visitors tell me is inspiring and uplifting. We are thrilled to benefit from her enthusiasm and expertise.

If visitors are feeling energetic, they can take a stroll to the Meadow Garden, a wilder area which we began to restore in 2009, with the creation of a pond and wildflower areas.  Work in the garden never stops and we don’t pretend that it’s perfect – but we derive huge pleasure from giving visitors the chance to experience this historic and special place.

It’s only right that Katie should have her say too:

I started working at Fursdon six years ago, when I was asked to help create and care for a Cutting Garden – growing flowers to be cut for the house, tea room, and holiday accommodation. It was an offer I couldn’t turn down!

A few years later, in October 2017, I was asked to take care of the main garden that surrounds Fursdon House, including rejuvenating and replanting some of the flowerbeds and borders that were becoming tired. The creative side of gardening is what I love most of all – combining colour and texture with plants and flowers provides endless possibilities and fun!

This season has been so rewarding; watching all the new planting mature, and I love to see visitors enjoying it too, and finding inspiration for their own gardens.  It’s lovely setting to work in. Fursdon is such a friendly, welcoming place, and I like to think the garden is too!

Relaxed, informal planting throughout the garden provides plenty of colour and interest through the seasons, and we very much encourage wildlife – visitors often comment on how alive the garden is with birdsong and buzzing bees. I love the tranquillity – and the fantastic views over beautiful Devon countryside at almost every turn are a real treat too. I just need to remind myself to look up and out of the borders every now and again… especially during the frantic month of May!!

Fursdon is a special place indeed.  I’m a lucky gardener.

Katie Vanstone.

General information about Fursdon by Becky Smith:

Our gardens and Coach Hall tearoom are open on Bank Holiday Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from Easter to the end of September, 2pm to 5pm.

We run relaxed and informative tours of the family home on all Bank Holiday Mondays, and Wednesdays and Thursdays in June, July and August (2.30pm and 3.30pm) and as part of this tour, visitors are delighted to take a look around our small family museum in which we display family costumes and other precious artefacts.

We are delighted to welcome groups to visit the house and gardens by arrangement – we have hosted numerous local WI’s, Historical Societies, Book Clubs and other groups – and we are very happy to open the tearoom for groups so that they can enjoy tea and cake either before or after they have explored!

We also have special open days where monies raised from the garden entry is given to various charities. This year, 2019, we are open for the National Garden Scheme on Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th June, Hospiscare on Wednesday  12th June and of course, the Gardening for Disabled Trust Charity on Wednesday 19th June (all 2pm-5pm – house, garden and tearoom open).

The Coach Hall tearoom has become somewhat legendary for its delicious home-made scones and variety of cakes, lovingly baked and served by Kashy.  We believe that no visit to Devon is complete without a proper Devon cream tea – freshly baked scones served with lashings of clotted cream under delicious strawberry jam accompanied by a perfectly brewed cup of tea!  We have lovely outdoor seating for when the sun is shining and a warming log fire in the Coach Hall for the chillier days.

And of course, if you feel like you might like to treat yourself to a longer visit, we also have accommodation on the estate, where you can escape the demands of ordinary life and relax in the heart of stunning mid Devon.  Fantastic Fursdon Cottage is available all year and has its own terraced garden – perfect for families, friends or couples – and dogs are welcome to stay in the cottage too!  Also, until the end of June 2019, we have 2 beautiful and stylish apartments on the first floor of Fursdon House – the Park Wing and the Garden Wing – which offer lovely historical features and up to date style, colour and comfort.

If you would like to know anything further about the House, gardens or accommodation (or how Kashy makes such superb apple cake!), please contact us on 01392 860860 or email  Our website is and there you will find pictures and more information about all that we do here.

We hope you have enjoyed reading our blog and we would be delighted to welcome you to Fursdon in the future!

Catriona, David, Katie, Becky and team

some of the photos by Guy Harrop

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Clare Saxby

I tumbled into a love of gardening in my middle age, finally escaping London to buy a house
in a mediaeval town in the High Weald of Kent. The walled garden that came with it is not large, nor tiny, but just the right size for someone happy to make their own mistakes, with one long, sunny border, several square beds in dappled shade and a scruffy greenhouse tucked in the corner. I had volunteered for the rangers at Sissinghurst Castle, tackling tough, woodland tasks, but little in the way of gardening, so I applied to help one day a week at the renowned Great Dixter, to see if I could improve my skills. This was a life-changer, indeed. Under the patient eyes of a team of young and talented gardeners, led with infectious charisma by Fergus Garrett, I did my utmost not to kill anything and absorb everything, though failed, probably, on both counts. My modest garden began to flourish. A sense of  wonder set in, an appreciation of when and where to plant and a keenness to be daring;
inhabiting Dixter was to exist, however briefly, in a masterpiece and my dreams were full of colour and shapes for nights after each visit. My iPhone filled with photos of plants, idents of plants, wish-lists of plants, plants, plants.
And then disaster struck, or seemed to. A year into volunteering, I damaged my Achilles tendon and was off my feet for weeks, unable to really dig and heft about for months. Impossibly worse, just as I recovered in time for Christmas 2018, I found an undeniable, egg-shaped invader lurking deep in my left breast and by early January was informed that it was indeed a cancer and of the aggressive bent, so I would be forced to go through six rounds of chemotherapy, then surgery and radio therapy, stretching far into the Autumn and recuperation beyond. Almost a year swallowed up before my eyes on only January 2nd . Of course, the immediate fallout had little to do with gardening; priorities are what they are when you have two boys and a husband and a working life to try to protect, though I did find
myself googling “gardening during chemotherapy” in the days that followed and being told by my sensible MacMillan nurse that the risk of infection was likely too high, given the bashing my immune system would take. I shrugged it off; what did the garden matter, in the scheme of life and death. A flurry of invasive tests bludgeoned Winter, Valentine’s Day marked the beginning of chemo, but, by March, Spring was clamouring at the door and I gazed at my neglected borders, shocked to feel such despair. The Honesty, Sweet Rocket, Snapdragons, Calendula and so much more I had sown the previous year for planting out, were busting out of their pots, weeds of every ilk were taking possession of the beds and my plans to build on anything I had learned at Dixter seemed as laughable as returning to life
before the diagnosis. Some start had to be made.

It seemed my garden did matter, a great deal, especially on the worst days of chemo, when hours shrank to monotonous shifts between nausea, indescribable fatigue, or worst of all, dank depression. At first, merely going outside seemed a stretch, the Spring chill and unfinished tasks an unwelcome weight; but looking became everything. One of the best
things about gardening is that there is always a subtle difference to be made; a snip here, a weed pulled there, a handful of seeds scattered, all add up to a visible difference and a sense of achievement. I reopened my seed box and began to dream again, pulling out one packet a day and sowing just a few, wrapped up against the cold and possible scratches in my little
potting station. Walking out to water the greenhouse anchored my days and in the third week of every regime, as toxicity lifted, I found a surge of energy to plant out whatever I could, often late by weeks, but with a sense of delicious victory. My 49th birthday brought stout presents of gauntlet gloves and a long-handled weed tickler as well as a desire to involve my
menfolk in what had been a rather private, even prickly obsession. Deep holes were dug for two white climbing roses over an ivy-clad arch, inspired by one of my favourite photographs of Dixter, a project which I had put off, endlessly, for no good reason. Seeing these beauties in place, already scrambling for height and for life itself, feels like a promise to the future I
am determined to be part of.

So, the cycle of sowing, potting on and planting out flows into Summer, albeit much more sedately than I had in mind and with weeds merrily filling the gaps. In May, I find myself halfway through treatment, calmer than where I began and philosophical, thanks, to be sure, to my lovely family, the incredible NHS, but, not least,
because in every corner of the garden, life my own hands have pressed into the soil, prevails.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Julie Quinn

Julie Quinn

As Gretta, my Mum got older she adapted her gardening to fit her abilities.  She had built huge waist-high raised beds which she filled with spring bulbs and summer bedding.  She could potter out there without bending or digging and she kept that going every year. Her front door area was a mass of pots which she painted in primary colours, also  filled with spring bulbs and then summer bedding.  Her pots were a famous landmark and she kept them going till the day she moved out just before her 100th birthday.

Mum at around 93 yrs old in front of her raised bed full of spring bulbs

Another photo showing the raised bed

This is Mum and me with her front door pots taken when she was mid 90s.  She loved pots as they were so much easier to garden with, as long as she found someone strong to move them about.  She also found watering them very relaxing and therapeutic.

Now in a Residential Home she is still gardening at 103 yrs old.  Here are her pots from last summer.

More colourful pots from last summer.  As you can see, she loves colour in everything she has.

Colourful containers she planted up last summer for the front entrance to the Residential Home.  She persuaded the Manager to pay for it all too.

The point I want to make for all your readers is that if you have gardening in your blood and you have the urge to do it, then hopefully one can find a way to garden in some way whatever one’s age or infirmity.  Even with a walking frame she waters the pots when they need it and she brings blooms into the communal areas for everyone to enjoy.
I inherited her love of gardening later in life, at around 40 yrs old and three years ago started my blog at which is another way to bring the joy of gardening into your life by sharing the passion with others.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Philip Oostenbrink

Philip Oostenbrink is the Head Gardener at Canterbury Gardens who was instrumental in ensuring that Gardening for Disabled Trust Charity was included as a beneficiary of the Open Gardens on May 25th and 26th May 2019.

Gardening in a historic environment

 Four years ago I became Head Gardener at Canterbury Cathedral. Before I had the interview I imagined that the planting schemes would be quite traditional, but even when I walked around during the interview I discovered a whole array of unusual plants, Japanese gardens and tropical borders. When I told The Dean how surprised I was to find all this on a 1500 year old site he explained to me that although the building was not changing much and mainly preserved and restored, he felt the gardens should change and go along with the times. Sometimes when I do a tour through the gardens I tell this story and not long ago a lady exclaimed it should be more traditional and the gardens should be resembling the gardens as they were during Monastic times. If we did that though, we would have skipped about 700 years of history because even before the first church was built on the Canterbury grounds in 597 AD there was a Royal Palace on that spot which no doubt had its own gardens and orchards.

One project we are doing at the moment is creating a collection of Magnolia. These Magnolia have a local provenance. They are bred by Amos Pickard who had a nursery near Canterbury from the 1960s-1980s. He bred 23 different Magnolias and we are hoping to get all of these together and planted around the Cathedral grounds. Obtaining these plants is difficult and shows the importance of the conservation of garden plants as some of them are very difficult to get and some of them may already be lost completely. Once we have a sufficient amount of plants we will apply for National Collection status with Plant Heritage. It will also be our aim to redistribute any spare plants/cuttings so they are less likely to disappear. After all if you can give 5 people a Pickard Magnolia it is more likely for them to be preserved for the future than if there is only one around.

So this is how on an ancient site we extend important conservation work to the plant world and not just the buildings.

Under the National Garden Scheme
Canterbury Cathedral Gardens are open on 25th and 26th May 2019.
Please come along and support this Open Garden as Gardening for Disabled Trust Charity, Perennial and NGS will benefit from a donation from the entry fee

19 The Precincts
22 The Precincts
The Deanery
15 The Precincts will be open to the public

Added attractions include a new plant fair incorporating specialist nurseries with unusual plants for sale. Cathedral Gardeners’ herb stall. Home-made refreshments. Dover Beekeepers’ Association, up close and personal opportunity with Birds of Prey and unique access to Bastion Chapel. Classic cars on Green Court

It is a  wonderful opportunity to visit and enjoy the private gardens within the historic precincts of Canterbury Cathedral. The Deanery Garden with scented roses, kitchen garden, unusual trees and wild fowl enclosure; the Archdeaconry includes the ancient mulberry tree, contrasting traditional and modern planting and now both a Japanese and New World influence. Other gardens offer sweeping herbaceous banks, delightful enclosed spaces, and areas planted to attract and support wildlife. Step back in time and see the herb garden, which shows the use of herbs grown for many purposes in the Middle Ages. The walled Memorial Garden has wonderful wisteria, formal roses, mixed borders and the stone war memorial at its centre, and the hidden Bastion Chapel in the city wall. A garden planted in the Friends’ name surrounds the Buffs’ statue.

The gardens of Canterbury Cathedral comprise not only of the private gardens but also the public gardens of the Precincts, including the Friends’ garden. Lovingly cared for by the Cathedral Gardening Team, the private gardens are quite diverse; from the large open spaces of the Deanery, with fruit and vegetables, showing off the Dean’s love of roses, bulbs and blossom to the small garden of No. 19, with its medlar tree and blue & white border set in the shadow of the Cathedral itself. The Archdeaconry has a slightly more formal structure, with standard roses and a quiet area with a Japanese influence, whilst the front paving is lush with well-loved hostas and beginning to reflect the New Zealand roots of the Archdeacon. No. 22, has a ‘secret’ garden to the rear with a stone water feature and gazebo and No. 15, the home of our Canon Missioner has deep herbaceous borders with the lawn crowned by the magnificent Copper Beech . Apart from the 5 residential gardens, the Precincts offers the Memorial Garden, Water Tower Garden, Friends’ Garden and of course our Medicinal Herb Garden. In this garden you will find a collection of herbs relied upon for their properties through the centuries – which are now linked to our copy of Gerard’s Herbal from 1597. An extra treat is the Lattergate garden, part of the historic King’s School. All of these gardens are set against the magnificent backdrop of the Cathedral itself. Should you wish to stay overnight, B & B is often available at the Cathedral Lodge which is within the Cathedral Precincts. For accommodation contact 01227 865350 or

For further information contact 01227 762862 or

Gardening for Disabled Trust Charity was lucky enough to catch up with Philip Oostenbrink the Head Gardener at Canterbury Cathedral, who is busy preparing for the open days.
His top tips of what to look out for include :-
Deanery: the garden is over 1,000 years old and features on the first ever plan of the Precincts. A large tree of heaven Ailanthus altissima stands at the end of the lawn.

No 15 garden: a lot of work has been done in there since Canon Nick (now Dean of Salisbury) left last September. The woodland walk has been planted up with more unusual trees and ornamental shrubs have been replaced with Kent Cobnuts to give more of a native woodland feel. The lower bank is still in development as an infestation of bindweed and ground elder needs to be addressed before new plants go in

Archdeaconry: a rare variegated Geranium maccrrorrhizum ‘Variegatum’ can be found at the end of the lawn, under the Pittosporum.

No 19: an espallier gooseberry was planted along the metal fence.

No 22: The lawn has been extended and new borders planted on the right hand side as you walk in to make the feel of the garden flow better.

Saturday 25th May  2019 11:00 – 17:00
Sunday 26th May 2019 14:00 – 17:00
Light refreshments on Green Court. Entry Info: Sat 25 May general precinct & gardens entry £17. Precinct pass holder £5 garden entry. Sun 26 May £5 garden entry (no precinct charge). Refreshments in aid of nominated charities.

Adult: £5.00
Child: Free

Please note – on Saturday, in addition to £5 admission, precinct charges apply. On Sunday there are no precinct charges

Gardening for Disabled Trust Charity will be manning a stand at the Open Gardens so please pop along and see us.  We would like to convey our thanks to everyone at Canterbury Cathedral who has been involved in choosing our Charity as a beneficiary, we really appreciate it.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Anni Kelsey

The garden of delights

my edible perennial paradise

Everything that I do and understand about my garden changed radically when I discovered forest gardening in 2005.  I was amazed to learn that there was a way of gardening that meant I would have less work to do which would save me time, whilst at the same time giving me something to eat all year round and which would also be attractive and hospitable to wildlife. 

There are three key factors to making such a garden:

  • a layered structure
  • perennial edible and functional plants – otherwise known as an ecological guild or a polyculture
  • simulating and then facilitating an ecosystem

Layered structure

A forest garden captures the maximum sunlight by making use of trees, bushes, shrubs and herbaceous plants growing close together in layers – as you might find on the edge of a woodland.  It depends on the space available but the crucial thing is to make use of what you have choosing from

  • a tall tree canopy
  • medium height trees, bushes, shrubs
  • herbaceous plants up to about 3 feet tall
  • lower level / ground cover plants
  • root crops and plants with deep penetrating roots
  • a climbing layer

Polycultures of perennial edible and functional plants

  • perennial vegetables
  • plants to attract bees and other pollinators
  • plants to host a range of insects that keep ‘pests’ at bay
  • plants to fix nitrogen
  • plants to draw up minerals from lower layers of soil and make them available to the

I tend to use the word polyculture to describe this way of planting.  There are innumerable possibilities for combining plants with the different functions listed above into a polyculture so I will give some examples based on my own garden in Wales.  This is on an exposed somewhat wet and windy site with heavy clay soil and a lot of stones!  The plants that grow here do so without complaint (or I wouldn’t have them) and look after themselves year on year.  In other parts of the country with different weather and soil etc you can choose plants that are suited to those conditions.

My garden is not large and my polycultures are clustered round a range of small fruit trees and bushes.  My basic ‘template’ for this is to include the following plants:

  • fruit trees – apple, pear, plum, gage, cherry
  • fruit bushes – red, white and blackcurrants, jostaberry, gooseberry, blackberry, raspberry, wineberry
  • perennial green vegetables such as Daubenton’s kale, Taunton Deane kale, good King Henry
  • self seeding leafy greens – lamb’s lettuce, land cress
  • deep rooted and tuberous perennial vegetables – skirret, scorzonera, salsify, oca, Jerusalem artichoke, Chinese artichoke
  • alliums (onions) – chives, Welsh onions, garlic chives, garlic, perennial leeks
  • herbs – lavender, fennel, sweet cicely, parsley, wild marjoram, thyme, germander, catmint, yarrow, self heal
  • perennial and self seeding flowers – calendula, love in a mist, cowslips, forget me nots, poppies, creeping Jenny, lady’s mantle, nasturtiums
  • nitrogen fixing plants – annual peas and beans, perennial earth nut pea and vetches
  • climbing plants – blue sausage fruit, akebia quinata, Caucasian spinach.

This can be as simple or as complicated as you like – from one small fruit tree with chives, lamb’s lettuce, good King Henry, thyme, calendula and dwarf peas planted beneath it – to the twenty two small trees I have with all of the above and more. 

The pictures below show what this looks like in practice:

This spring time photograph shows a whitecurrant in flower that sent on to bear several pounds of fruit.  There is a gooseberry bush and sweet cicely to the right and a mixture of lavender, fennel, forget me not, mint, salsify, dandelion and land cress (yellow flowers) in front of the bushes.  There are literally thousands of tiny flowers blooming in the garden from spring through to late summer and these are crucial to making it a haven for bees and other pollinators.  The closely packed vegetation also means the ground is shaded and protected from what sun there is (!) and also from heavy rain.  There is also plenty of habitat for beneficial insects like spiders and beetles.

Jerusalem artichokes at the back with a mixture of early summer flowering plants – self sown foxgloves, astrantia (because I like it), mint for the kitchen and thyme for the bees.

This is a Welsh apple tree – Trwyn Mochyn – taken in late summer and surrounded by annual self seeding nasturtiums that virtually engulf it, there are also a range of alliums and herbs that have been temporarily engulfed – but not harmed by the nasturtiums.

Taunton Deane kale – a hardy kale that grows large but is easy to care for, ie it looks after itself!

A wider view of the polyculture patches showing how all the plants mix in together and grow very enthusiastically.

This garden is indeed very low maintenance – I cut back some of the plants that die back in the late autumn, but leave a lot for their seeds and structure for over wintering birds and insects and then do another round just before the spring bursts out.  In between I cut back or take out any plants that are not working with the rest, but much more time is occupied by harvesting the produce!

From early spring onwards there are so many bees in the garden that it seems to buzz most of the day, there are butterflies a-plenty and all sorts of insects that I cannot identify but which are all an integral part of this local ecosystem.  Birds nest in the hedges and feed from the bushes and plants, there are hedgehogs, mice, shrews, rabbits, frogs (even when there was no pond) and although they are present the slugs are not a problem and I don’t need to take any action to keep their numbers down.

When I began this style of gardening I was able to complete the ‘normal’ gardening tasks without a problem but as time has gone by I find I have much less energy and stamina than before and would not be able to garden as I once did, even if I wanted to.  However I love doing things this way, it makes my life enjoyable and puts good healthy food on the table whilst also benefitting the local wildlife and looking lovely too.  What more can I ask for?

More detailed information about the method of growing edible polycultures can be found both in my book “Edible Perennial Gardening” and on my blog “gardens of delight”.  I am also happy to answer any gardener’s individual questions sent by email to


Two other interesting websites are Incredible Vegetables run by Mandy Barber and Julien Skinner in Devon and The Backyard Larder by Alison Tinsdale.  Both of these have information about all sorts of unusual and perennial vegetables and also sell them.