This Week’s Guest Blogger is Ilena Gilbert-Mays

My Love For Gardening

My love for gardening began at an early age and my mother was a huge influence. As a child I can remember her endlessly planting daffodils along the base of the fence, creating a border of yellow that was truly beautiful to the eyes of a young girl. I can also remember the many varieties of bearded irises she planted thru out the back yard that created islands of color every where that one would care to look. When I attended high school, I took as many horticulture classes that I could, and followed up with an associates degree in horticulture from Fayetteville Technical Institute

My husband and myself eat a a lot of fresh produce and growing organic vegetables in a raised no dig bed is very important to me. I live in coastal North Carolina, in growing zone eight so it is possible to grow vegetables year round. Right now I have celery, collards, kale,and a few carrots. I have a compost bin that is located inside my chicken run that not only supplies me with rich organic soil, but is also full of big, healthy worms. These worms help with the health of my garden and keep my chickens happy.

I also have a very large informal flower garden with lots of unusual flower varieties and some old favorites. I have several varieties of ginger, some of them edible. I also grow sugar cane and several different varieties banana plants, that are hardy. Not all my banana plants can live outside, some of them along with my Ponderosa Lemon Tree and Australian Finger Limes have to spend the winter in my greenhouse, which I will write about later. Another added benefit are the pollinators that visit my garden every spring and summer. So many different butterflies, bees and wasps.

After several years of looking at hobby greenhouses, my husband finally installed one three years ago. If I had known how much of difference it would make in what I could grow, and what it could do for me, I would have installed one years ago. Not only do I keep the finger lime trees and lemon trees here during the winter, this is where I keep my ever growing collection of cactus and succulents and exotic ginger plants. It has also been a great stress reliever at the end of a long day. My citrus trees bloom all winter long and citrus blooms are my favorite scent. To be able to sit and take in the calmness of the
greenhouse, the earthy, citrus smell at the end of a difficult day, is something I always look forward to.

Thank you for allowing me to share my joy of plants and gardening. Please feel free visit my twitter account, @ilenagm

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Mike Rogers, an allotmenteer, armchair gardener, blogger and sofa flying book buff who writes Flighty’s Plot

Pot Marigolds

Much as I like to grow soft fruit and vegetables on my Flighty’s plot allotment ( it’s annual flowers that I really enjoy growing. In recent years I’ve grown California Poppies, Candytuft, Cornflowers, Cosmos, Love-in-a-Mist, Nasturtiums, Poached Egg Plants, Pot Marigolds and Sunflowers. As I don’t have a greenhouse and limited windowsill space at home I sow nearly all the seeds direct in the spring.  At the end of the season I collect and save seeds from most of them, let some self-seed and buy a few new ones.  My favourites are the pot marigolds which are a mix of varieties, to which I’ll be adding a packet of Playtime Mix  which won an award for consistent quality with a fine mix of single, semi-double and double flowers in bright, buff and pastel colours. I’ll also be trying the delightfully named Oopsy Daisy, which is a dwarf variety with bi-coloured flowers in a range of bright oranges and creamy yellows. The description for the Mixture of Varieties in the Chiltern Seeds Grow something new from seed catalogue says – To bring back fun into gardening, this is a jolly mixture to brighten gardens, lives and outlooks.  Who could ask for more?  My plot is rather exposed so I generally grow the knee-high sunflowers Musicbox.  This year I’ll also be growing the slightly taller variety Sonja, which has dark-centred, golden-orange blooms.  These are shown as being excellent for cutting, and I’m hoping that they’ll be good enough to exhibit at my local horticultural society’s annual show in early September.


I’m always a touch apprehensive when I sow the nasturtiums Tom Thumb Mixedas the Chiltern Seeds catalogue description states – If you can’t grow these then you’d better give up gardening as a hobby. Thankfully so far they’ve always germinated, grown and flowered.Have a floriferous 2020!


This Week’s Guest Blogger is Andrew Oldham who writes Life on Pig Row – down to earth gardening and cooking on a hillside with the Oldham family. He is A Garden Media Guild member and was a Finalist 2019

How Can You Be A Gardener?

The emphasis is often on the ‘you’ when this question is asked. It seems being disabled and a gardener confuses certain people. I became disabled after an accident in my late twenties and I was advised by consultant take up gardening but not to dig or lift. Digging and lifting had put me off gardening as a child. Back in the 1980s, I was an unwilling helper on my Dad’s allotment and gardening seemed to be all about weeding, spades, and heavy sacks of stuff that smelt funny. Gardening taught me patience during a dark period of my life where I had to come to terms with not being able to walk, run or even move without some sort of assistance. Being disabled felt like being back in school because I was learning a new way of life that I didn’t want. I felt helpless.

So, I sowed a pot of beans cursing my consultant in a series of four-letter words. The four-letter rant lasted as I read the seed packet instructions. I overflowed four-letter words from the tips of my fingers as I jammed them into pots brimming with compost. I dropped the four-letter bean seeds in the four-letter holes and covered them over with four-letter compost. I cringe now to think of how angry I was and how much my disability has brought to me. As the seed leaves broke the surface of the soil and spiralled up, I felt pride and for the first time in a long time, faith in my own ability to win. The seven pots I sowed in my rage all germinated. If I could grow beans then anyone could. If anyone could build a garden, so could I.

I built a garden that embraced all of me, my disability, my health and my well-being. If I couldn’t lift then I would start small, if I couldn’t dig then I would grow plants that kept care of themselves like rhubarb, geraniums and aquilegias; I would find joy in the self-seeding plant. This was how the cottage garden was born from seeds, cuttings and division. Small plants that swelled and covered the soil. Geoff’s Garden, the potager named after my late Dad took me two years to build. The garden comprises of six raised wooden beds surrounded by gravel paths. This is my sit down on a stool and think vegetable garden.

This year I start to build a teaching garden to show people who ask, ‘How can you be a gardener?’ that we all can be gardeners. It just takes patience and time.

This Week’s guest Blogger is Julie Dunn

A Garden to Sleep in

During the Spring of 2017 I had a prolonged period off work in order to recover from a hysterectomy. The procedure was planned and I was determined to use the ‘spare’ time productively. Planning a design for a show garden seemed like a good idea, it would be therapeutic for me and involve garden design and plants without having to leave the armchair. I had started a garden design business 8 years earlier (a career change from cancer research) but found it hard to juggle a busy job, bringing up daughters aged 6 and 8 and seeing potential garden design clients at weekends. I never expected my show garden design to be accepted let alone win a silver medal at RHS Tatton Park 2018! Fast forward to the garden, which combined my passion for ‘science/wellbeing’ and ‘gardens/design’: the garden (named ‘Sleep Well’) focussed on the importance of sleep and green spaces to a person’s mental health.

It’s big ask to make a garden that will serve as a form of therapy. In effect that’s what my brief was to myself and I thought how great it would be to be commissioned to make therapeutic gardens for anyone. With Lifestyle Medicine being a hot topic, I decided to focus on one the four pillars of Lifestyle Medicine (EAT, SLEEP, MOVE, RELAX)- the show garden would be about sleep. Furthermore, to add theatre for the show, my garden would have an actual double bed in it! I imagined a GP prescribing: “What you need madam is a private garden with a bed with comforting quilt, and space for yoga on some grass”. You might laugh but Lifestyle Medicine is at the forefront of current clinical practice. In 2018 the Royal College of General Practitioners ran a course for GPs to teach them the principles of Lifestyle Medicine and how to deliver it to the NHS.

Sleep Well’ Garden illustration for the application to design a show garden for RHS Tatton Park 2018

To begin, I considered how to make it possible to relax enough to fall asleep in the garden. I would need to feel warm, safe (from the Betterware man/whoever else rings the front doorbell, the PPI person on the phone, the sun, the rain); pleasant smells are also on the list. To unwind requires slowing down, being ‘in the moment’ and mindful of one’s surroundings (which must therefore be calming too). So, I need softness, wafting forms, faint rustling sound and maybe some water. I was getting sleepy already. To add to this, I wanted the sky to be part of the garden to remind me that I am but a small speck in a vast universe and nothing REALLY matters that much. I would feel part of the garden and I would slow to its pace.

The reflective pool and other plants including tumbling Echinacea ‘Milkshake’, soft Santolina, fragrant Salvia purpurescens (purple sage) and Agastache ‘Black Adder’, airy Verbena bonariensis and tall Eupatorium in the background behind the bed

The planting would help create the mood, being comforting, calming, dreamlike and scented. I chose a limited colour palette to reflect the mood, and a variety of leaf/flower shapes, textures and heights. I commissioned a bespoke quilt to dress the bed, designed by textile artist Janet Haigh, the colours of which reflected the planting. Plants were chosen for three main height groups: tall, medium and low. The tall planting should disguise the fencing and over time (in theory of course- this couldn’t happen during show week!) make the bed look like it had grown from the garden with the plants. Medium and low planting would create ‘cushion’ shapes as well as allow for viewing the garden from the boundaries. Plants of one type will be placed in ‘drifts’ or small groups, next to drifts of complementary types. For example, amongst the ‘Santolina cushions’ would be the ‘airy Sanguisorba ’ providing movement; similarly, loose airy grasses would be used in the tall sections to complement Salvia Amistad. Verbena officinalis planted in the gravel will create a delicious lemony aroma, and Santolinas and Sage will complement this. The colour palette is limited by design to be calming but there is a ‘pop’ of colour from Sanguisorba ‘Tanna’ in the low beds, and Sanguisorba officinalis in the medium beds.

Calming planting enclosing the fully dressed inviting bed. The bespoke quilt was designed and made by textile artist Janet Haigh using Kaffe Fassett fabrics chosen to echo the planting including airy Verbena bonariensis, the rustling grasses Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ and Deschampsia ‘Goldtau’, and fragrant Salvia ‘Amistad’..

The ‘Sleep Well’ garden turned out to have multiple therapeutic benefits. Firstly, for me and my recuperation, secondly for the visitors to the show garden (especially the ones who tried the bed out!), thirdly for the service users at the autism centre where I donated and rebuilt the garden (Wirral Autism Together, Bromborough Pool garden Centre), and lastly for anyone who listened to my podcast entitled ‘How sleep and green space can help your mental health’ by Dr Julie Dunn. › podcasts-and-videos

“Oh, and you never know, the light-hearted blog I published whilst designing and building the ‘Sleep Well’ garden might also be helping other stressed out show garden creators!

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Greg Loades The Editor at The Alpine Garden Society

Five handy tips for starting a new garden

Greg Loades’ Garden in July 2018
I moved into a new house with a tiny backyard in February 2018, in Hull, UK. It was a blank canvas except for a poppy and a few stray bulbs that appeared in spring. The fun of starting a new, tiny garden from scratch is that you very quickly see results. Although you also very quickly run out of room too! 
I’m learning to change areas of planting each year to keep the garden interesting. I’m a ‘doing’ kind of gardener and I soon get itchy feet if there isn’t a small project to tackle in the garden!
Have you moved to a new garden and you don’t know where to start? If so, here are five tips for starting a new garden, based on my experiences of my tiny garden in Hull!


Be ruthless

If there is something that’s growing in your garden but you don’t like it then get rid of it! The plant may be beautiful in its own right but if you wouldn’t have chosen it and you don’t like the colour or the style of it then be ruthless! You may be able to give it away to a neighbour too. I had an red Oriental poppy that popped up in the first year after starting my garden. It was a nice plant but it was far too big for my garden and looked out of proportion. So I dug it up and planted something smaller in its place.


Start with the biggest plants

Make a list of the plants that you would like to grow and then seek out the biggest ones and the evergreens first. If you can position and plant these ‘backbone’ plants in the garden, it’s easy to fill in the remaining space with shorter, free-flowering plants that can ‘colour in’ the garden. Pay close attention to what the size of the plant is (check the label) and make sure you give it enough room


Don’t start digging until you’ve had a spring

If you take over a garden in the winter, then there is a chance that the garden is holding a treasure chest of plants below the soil surface. Herbaceous perennials (plants that die down in winter and grow back in spring) can take until mid spring to appear so leave the soil undisturbed until then to give them a chance. There may also be some beautiful bulbs still to emerge too.


Prioritise prominent areas

Check to see which parts of the garden are going to be viewed the most from the house and get these planted and organised first. Looking out of the window and seeing progress or transformation in the garden helps create an impetus and enthusiasm to tackle the rest of the garden.


Look at the surrounding gardens

Be nosy and have a good look at the plants that are growing very well in neighbouring gardens. This can give you an indication of what will do well in yours. If acid-loving camellias and rhododendrons are growing well, it is an indication that the soil is acidic. If you are not sure what the plants close by are, ask your neighbour if they know the name. Research the plants to see what makes them thrive and then you can look for plants that like similar conditions. Choosing plants that suit the growing conditions (soil, climate, aspect) that you have will make growing them much easier.

Greg Loades’ garden in July 2019

See more pictures and updates from the garden on Instagram @hull_urban_gardener