This Week’s Guest Blogger is Brandon George a Professional Horticulturist writing about how his career blossomed in the UK

A bit of Crambe in the garden…

Brandon George is a professional Horticulturist currently living in New England. He is a graduate of the Longwood Garden’s Professional Horticulture Program and has gone on to work and live in many places including London, England, U.K. and Jerusalem, Israel. Within the industry, his focus and strengths are in education and garden design. In additional to his interest in horticulture, he enjoys world travel and currently hosts Horticulture Rising, a horticulture-based podcast.

Sojurn: England: The birth of my career in Horticulture

Time is the concept always pulsing through the vein of horticulture, I can think of nothing that humbles me more. When I meet people in the horticulture industry, lighthearted conversations often begin with; how long until something will be in bloom, or when it’s best to experience a particular garden. When it comes to our careers in this industry, the time we invest is no exception. This year, it will be five years since I left the U.K. In that period of reflection, the thought that crosses my mind the most when I think of my time living there is quite simple, this is where my career in horticulture began.

In January 2013, I moved from Reading, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. to the southwest of London to begin a new life with my partner. It was an exciting adventure for me, and one that changed my life forever. I was fortunate enough to find a job working in the plant area of my local Squire’s Garden Centre quite quickly. Over the next 3 years, I was given the opportunity to go on courses at RHS Wisley, and began studying the RHS Levels 2 & 3 in the Principles of Horticulture on my own. I even got to help with the building of our company’s display garden for three years at the Hampton Court Flower Show. Beyond that, I began to travel extensively to gardens in greater London and all over Europe.

While that is a brief summary of my time in London, I want to make something clear. Before I came to England, I didn’t know where my career was heading. I graduated with a degree in Finance in 2011, but lacking the drive to continue on this path, I was unsure of my aspirations. This country gave me the opportunity to redefine myself and explore my passion for plants to the greatest degree. Perhaps it was partially to do with being in the right place at the right time, London certainly is one of the epicenters of horticulture in the world.

But gardening permeates through this country like no other I have seen or have visited before. From the most humble of plots to the grandest estates, I fell in love with this nation’s love of plants. On my days off, I’d often stroll through Bushy Park and in winter would patiently walk the borders and grounds of the Hampton Court Palace searching for signs of the coming spring, looking for budding snowdrops and daffodils. I’d visit the artsy boat gardens of Regents Canal and discovered the most beautiful pergola covered in roses in Hampstead Heath in June. Even the weedy daisies thriving in the cracks of stone walls could create magic in the otherwise ordinary. Here, for the first time, I realized the potential for people to find healing from working with plants, in part to charities such as Thrive, in Battersea Park. This particular experience has even begun to shape my career goals in the coming year.

Allowing gardening an opportunity to change someone’s life in the U.K. is without a doubt, of the reasons why I love this country so much; it certainly has shaped and inspired mine. The friends I have made here are some of my greatest and have helped me find my place within the industry and continue to do so. As an American, I consider myself to be a self-professed ambassador to the U.K. Jokes aside, however, I am proud of having lived here and am grateful for the opportunity I was given to work alongside so many wonderful and inspiring people. Each time I return I am reminded that this is where it all began for me. With that thought, I hope to inspire others through my love of the U.K. to go and see their gardens, and expect to come back with a greater appreciation for this kingdom of gardeners.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Charlotte Blome

A Garden Story

Recently, I interviewed for a head gardener position and the best question I was asked was if there was a favorite garden story I would like to share. That was not one of the many standard questions I had prepared for, so it caught me off guard, and impulsively I decided to tell them about my failure as a vegetable gardener last year. Odd choice of a story to tell in an interview for a horticulture position I really wanted, but I could not help myself. I like the story, so I went ahead with it.

I described how I had rearranged all my planting boxes to align with the path of the sun. How instead of winging it like I usually do, I made elaborate charts and graph paper diagrams. I chitted my organic potatoes. I cleared a space in our basement and started tomatoes and lettuces from seed  under grow-lights. I planned everything out so it would be my best vegetable garden ever. When spring came, I planted interesting beets and kale. And heirloom beans. I made my own clever bamboo trellises. It was all going so well. But something happened by late spring and overnight it seemed, my vegetable garden quietly went off the rails and chaos crept in.

“I don’t know what happened exactly,” I told them. “Let’s just blame it on the weather” one of my interviewers conspired helpfully. Truth be told, I had been working long hours and been distracted by other projects and the vegetable garden simply had gotten away from me. Much earlier than usual. The other truth is, it always gets away from me sooner or later. But I left that bit out.

I was reminded of my failure twice a day on my way to and from work, as the path to my vehicle goes past my vegetable garden. I was humiliated by the fact the lettuces I had grown indoors could not compare with the robust and colorful volunteers that had sprouted outdoors all on their own. The wild lettuces laughed at my grow-light seedlings who were struggling to catch up. Meantime, the cabbage worms were decimating my kale leaving behind pathetic green ribs. And it rained too much. And it was too cold. But, I had spread in a bed that had remained empty, a little paper bag full of milkweed seeds that I had collected the previous fall. Just to see what might happen.

Milkweed is the sole food a Monarch butterfly larva will eat. No milkweed- no Monarchs. It’s that simple.

In a matter of days a 1000 seeds or more sprouted and I now had this 4’ square bed of milkweed seedlings. A virtual Monarch Magnet I thought. Things were looking up! I stepped over my crowded and falling over worm-eaten crops daily to check for eggs or little caterpillars, but for weeks there was nothing. I contemplated cheating and importing a few from the local forest preserve. Would that be legal? Maybe not, so I dropped that angle. And then I went on vacation.

When I came back, I was delighted to find my milkweed patch had grown much taller and now hosted a dozen or more tiny Monarch larvae. What a thrill! I had always wished for Monarchs in my garden, and now I had some. I counted them daily but was frequently discouraged to find many missing in the morning… then, another batch would hatch to my relief.

One morning, I discovered a celadon green chrysalis hanging gracefully from a slender branch of dill from which a single drop of dew dangled in the sun. A natural mobile, I thought. It was SO perfectly perfect. I said to myself “I’m going to photograph this every single day until it becomes a butterfly and it’s going be just incredible!”  But, on about day seven, I awoke to find that a skunk or raccoon had had it for dinner. It was such a let down that I decided that the next time I found one- if I were to find one- I would intervene and rescue it.

A couple of days later, I did find one of my caterpillars far across the yard stiffly hanging upside down in the shape of a “J” patiently waiting to pupate- that’s when in two blinks of an eye it would wriggle off its yellow, black and white skin for the last time and reveal the chrysalis hidden underneath. It had chosen to do this right on the footpath of the neighborhood raccoon family. I knew it would not last one night in that spot, so I brought it indoors and carefully set it in a box. By the following morning it had transformed itself into a tiny green chrysalis and the two-week waiting period had begun.

Some days I would get worried because I would forget to check it before I went to work. I pictured the butterfly emerging in my absence only to have the cat get it. After all that. As it turned out though, I was home on the day that it was ready. I could see the black and orange of the wings clearly now, so I knew the time was getting close. I took the chrysalis and the scrap of leaf it was attached to back outdoors into the garden and gently attached it to a rusty rebar arch that was supposed to have been for beans. I then pulled up a garden chair to watch. When lunchtime came, I darted inside to make a quick sandwich. Alas! My timing was off and by the time I returned my butterfly had already hatched. I had missed the very moment- the big reveal- I had been waiting for.

The disappointment was momentary, however. ”Never mind,” I thought- and anyway, it was a girl! I am outnumbered by males in my family, so the appearance of a female- even a female butterfly- is exciting. (Female Monarch wings do not have scent glands so they are easily identified.)

Please click on the link below to see the video

For the remainder of the day I watched her unfurl her wings and pump them full of blood and then open and close them over and over and over as she prepared to fly… It was a process I had never before witnessed up close and it was mesmerizing. She- my Monarch- was absolutely the most exquisite butterfly I felt like I had ever seen. She was a Super Monarch- it being the end of the season- so she was extra large and extra beautiful. And strong enough, certainly, to make the 2000 mile journey to Mexico. I was sure if it.

As the day wore on, she was having trouble gripping the rebar I had put her on. It was too slippery. Once again, I intervened and I let her crawl up my sleeve instead. Slowly she scaled my arm flexing her wings more quickly as she went. Picking up speed she made her way up to my shoulder and over my ear touching my cheek with her wing. Then, into my hair to the top of my head where finally she launched herself into the air and fluttered across the yard to my birch tree- right above where she had made herself into a little “J” just two weeks prior. There she promptly folded up her wings for a good night’s rest. She had earned it.

She was still there in the morning, unharmed, but when I got home from work that evening she was gone and I was happy. I like to picture her hibernating on an Oyamel fir tree high in the mountains of central Mexico waiting for the moment in a month or two when she will wake up and  flutter north again in a cloud of other Monarchs to begin the cycle anew.

My little female Monarch was a lovely reminder that sometimes what we plant in our gardens is not what comes up, and sometimes what comes up is better that what we planned. I’ll be back to winging it again this year in my veggie garden, except for one thing: I will definitely be planting more milkweed. I can hardly wait to see what grows!

I did end up getting the job.

© Charlotte Blome 1/20/2020

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Liz Ware, a writer, photographer and initiator of the Silent Space project

Silent Space

 A not for profit project creating opportunities to be silent in some of our favourite green places

Do you enjoy being silent in your garden?  What about when you are visiting other gardens?  Many of us find it restful to stop for a minute and to enjoy the sounds of nature in silence. But in a world where non-stop communication is the norm, how easy is it to find five minutes when we won’t be disturbed, particularly if we live in an urban area?

The idea for Silent Space surfaced years ago through my work as a garden writer. I often spent time alone, in very beautiful gardens early in the morning. The peace I experienced would stay with me for the rest of my busy day.

What a joy and a privilege it was to be still and silent in gardens where I wasn’t responsible for anything.  Realising that it was something many people never experience, I wondered how the opportunity could be shared more widely.

Over the years, I developed a simple format that would make silent visiting possible, but without creating extra maintenance or expense for busy garden teams. Like many good ideas, it stayed in my head. It wasn’t until five years ago that those idle thoughts turned to action.

In 2015, I took a break from writing to help care for my mother after a dementia diagnosis.  Temporarily freed from deadlines, I followed the advice of Incredible Edible: ‘Don’t wait for permission or funding – just do something today, however small and the result will grow’.  With my mother for company, I started to look for suitable gardens.

By the summer of 2016, I was ready to pilot a not for profit project called Silent Space.  A handful of gardens open to the public reserved an area where people could be silent, rather like the Quiet Carriage on a train.  For a couple of hours each week, visitors to the quiet areas were invited to switch off their phones and to stop talking.

There were no other rules.  Visitors could spend as little or as much time in the space as they wanted.  They also had the option to avoid it all together. But the majority didn’t. We left notebooks on benches to collect feedback.  The most common response was gratitude.

The gardens and I planned to run the pilot for a month but the feedback was so positive and the project so easy to run that most of them extended to the end of the summer.  They are still part of the project today.

There are now over 40 gardens running a Silent Space around the UK – from Scotland to Cornwall.  In December 2019, Dunedin Botanic Garden in New Zealand joined the project, the first Silent Space in the Southern Hemisphere.

Silent Space is still run voluntarily and relies on the good will of all the beautiful gardens that take part. This year it will become a small charity. Thank you, Incredible Edible for your sage advice.  Silent Space continues to grow.

photographs copyright Liz Ware

This Week’s Guest Blogger is by The Rev’d Canon Carl Fredrik Arvidsson

One day from being a very busy and active person I woke up and I new something was wrong. I was diagnosed within an a few months with an incurable cancer. Yippee! Working at Canterbury Cathedral and the King’s School I was very active and then for a year ended up in a wheelchair having had a stem cell transplant and now registered disabled.
Since being ill my healing garden has been my saviour in many ways and my fields where I created an acre for wild flowers. I remember reading that  ‘The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.’
Being in hospital for months and having very strong chemotherapy I started to plan my ‘Quiet Healing Pond Garden’ I am not in a wheelchair right now but I am in pain most of the day and can’t walk far and do much but with help I give orders and my wife and friends love me! I hope the do?
When diagnosed with cancer, your priorities in life have to change. It isn’t about work, money or how many branded goods you can buy any more.
It’s the simple things in life that can make you happy, like spending time in the garden, visiting NGS , enjoying delicious food that you grow from your vegetable patch and then sharing it with family and friends. I still have friends!
I am learning to accept my condition and move forward what ever time I have left be it a week or 10 years. Once you’ve changed your perspective, the hunger for fame or fortune diminishes or even disappears, and you realise you can be happy with much less.
It seems to me that cancer patients who live the longest have learnt how to be content. They have few wants and needs. They lead simple lives, they garden, eat simply and have zero stress.
I now don’t think of cancer as a death sentence. It’s not the end. There are many treatment options available today. Rather, treat it like a chronic illness. If you suffer a relapse, trust your doctor to keep it under control through surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
As as a priest my first priority is to be prescribe a proven medical treatment based on evidence. It’s only after I have received evidence-based help that I will try alternative treatments. The garden is now part of my healing treatment and a bit of Forrest Therapy. Nature never lets you down!
Of course, the process isn’t easy. It takes time to accept a cancer diagnosis, usually about six months after treatment. In the meantime, patients should not put things off. They should should get out in the garden or nature, live fulfilling lives, so that when the time comes – whether it is today, tomorrow, five or 10 years from now – they will pass on from this existence with no regrets. Get out in the Garden!