This Week’s Guest Blogger is Janice Shipp a Freelance Garden Writer

Visiting Gardens

Since switching from full time work in horticulture to part time freelancing a couple of years ago, I’ve had more time to go garden visiting. There were quite a few really well-known gardens that I’d heard people talking about over the years but was slightly embarrassed to admit I’d never visited, so with more time at my disposal I was keen to get out and see some of them. It’s been an interesting experience and I’ve seen some great gardens, though I have to admit I wasn’t always blown away by the ones I’d expected to find exceptional. In fact, there were a couple of very highly regarded gardens which didn’t float my boat in the way they evidently do for a lot of other people. I suppose you could say that after all the anticipation, I was at times a little underwhelmed.
Of course, gardens change over time, and possibly I didn’t see some of them at their best. There’s ebb and flow in any garden. But I realised it is also a matter of personal taste. If, for instance, I stand in the famous white garden at Sissinghurst and can’t help thinking I’d like it better if someone would throw in some other colours, that might sound like sacrilege to some. There’s no point feeling that I ought to like it, though. It’s not a matter of right and wrong. Personal preference is as relevant in appreciating a garden as it is in the clothes we buy, the art we enjoy and the films we like to watch. Some people love a carefully restricted colour palette and some of us just prefer to mix it up a bit.

So which of the gardens I’ve visited in the last couple of years have really made an impression on me, and why?
RHS Hyde Hall in Essex has made an impression on me. A transformation has been wrought here in recent years with the introduction of a sinuous winter garden adding to the appeal of the huge borders that overflow with waves of colour in summer and autumn and the justifiably famed and fabulous dry garden. There’s also a gorgeous rose garden and circular kitchen garden that combines skilled growing with an education about the origins of the vegetables on display.

In Cambridge I love to go to Anglesey Abbey, home to another outstanding winter garden (also beautiful in spring and autumn) and plenty of stunning autumn colour from a spacious shrub garden, avenues of hornbeams, a sea of cyclamen and many trees in the arboretum and across the park.

Lytes Cary in Somerset was another highlight. I was so taken with the beautiful displays of late summer perennials – asters, rudbeckia, tithonia, salvias and so on – billowing over paths, buzzing with bees and perfectly matching the warmth of the architecture, that I wished I could work there. Or better still, live there.

My last choice, although there have been other good gardens, will be David Austin’s Rose Garden in Shropshire. It is relatively small, and I must admit I went there on one of those glorious, blue-sky June days that fill you with joy to begin with. But it was the roses that really made the day. Swags, drifts and mounds of vibrant colour so gorgeous I walked round the whole place twice to make sure I’d taken it all in.

And that sums up the vital part of a garden visit to me. Like a work of art, a really good garden speaks to you. For me, the plants are the stars and if they look happy, I feel happy. Simple really!
Janice Shipp’s Plant News blog is at

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Kevin Brewer, a Master Arborist in New London County, Connecticut

Why do we garden?

Some people garden for food while other others for flowers. Gardening can be an outlet to escape the busy pace of life or simply an activity we look forward to on our weekends. A garden can be as simple and small as an herb box or as large and complex as your dreams can take you. When trying to answer the question of why we garden, it seems there are so many reasons it would be difficult to limit to just one reason why. However, the passion to watch things grow seems likes a great place to start.
When I try to boil gardening down to its basic form, I can see why it is intriguing. It is a completely fair process. We put effort into the soil, and it gives us a result. There are few things in life where we can say, we are guaranteed a reward if we put in the effort. It is a deal we make with nature – we will nurture nature and nature will in turn nourish. That nourishment can be literal food nutrients, or it can be nourishment for our soul by growing a beautiful flower.
The mystery of it all attracts many different types of gardeners. As humans we are naturally curious. Watching plants develop over time attracts our curiosity. We cannot help but watch in awe. How water, soil, and light come together to produce beautiful gardening results is fascinating to even the most skillful of gardeners.
Gardening is the help that nature needs from us. Especially in urban and sub-urban areas, planting a diverse range of plant types helps to restore balance to environments that would otherwise be barren of the many beneficial insects and animals. As a garden matures oven time and seasons pass, we build our own eco-systems. By having tall grasses and season long vegetative cover we can attract fireflies to our yard. By planting parsley and being willing to share, Swallowtail Butterflies may make your garden their home. We can see nature repairing itself and healing in real time.
Looking forward to future seasons of gardening gives us images of bright colour in our minds through the darkness of winter. We dream of what the season will bring and imagine the different fruits, flowers, and insects our garden will offer. We consider how much more lawn could we live without to expand a garden bed in size just a little bit more. We see the beauty that will become our reality in just a few short months. We will be able to gather with our friends and family to share and enjoy the freshest garden salads with the most colourful centrepieces our flowers have to offer. The fireflies will be putting on their best show as to say thank you for your efforts. There is an excitement when we see an eco-system of our own construct attracting beauty we could have never imagined. Our gardens will always be there waiting to reward us for any attention and nourishment we are willing to give. This is why we garden.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Florence Mansbridge a Living Landscapes Educator at the Eden Project

I’ve been part of the garden team at the Eden Project for over 16 years and really enjoy the variety of my role, a mixture of hands on horticulture, research and teaching.

My areas of responsibilities include ‘Plants for a changing climate’ which is positioned in a lovely sunny sheltered South East corner of the garden, full of Southern Hemisphere and Mediterranean climate plants. Thanks to our mild weather, many of these plants thrive here. May is particularly amazing with masses of flowering Cistus, which are always covered in bees and tall spikes from Puya chilensis and Beshoneria yuccoides.

One of my most recent projects has been creating a South African Veld, celebrating the diversity and beauty of it’s flora but also drawing attention to it’s fragility and need of conservation. We did the bulk of the planting around this time last year and lots of the plants have already put on significant growth. During the research phase I had the opportunity to travel around the Western Cape, in particular looking at the vegetation in the higher altitudes, more suited to our climate. I am especially excited about being able growing some of the Protea; we have found P.cynaroides and P.neriifolia do very well here as well as lots of the Cape heathers.

Since last year I manage the Global Gardens exhibit, divided into small allotments representing fruit and vegetables that Chinese, Afro-Caribbean, Eastern European and UK communities grow, as well as UK traditional and Andean crops. It’s fun getting to grow lots of unusual produce such as oca, horned melon and okra. It also takes a huge amount of planning to ensure a bountiful display during our peak season.

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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Geoff Stonebanks, Owner and Designer of Driftwood, Seaford, Sussex

Spring is the busiest time for Sussex, seaside gardener, Geoff Stonebanks, as he prepares to open his multi-award-winning garden, Driftwood, to the public. It has seen over 21,000 visitors and raised a staggering £137,000 for various charities, notably Macmillan Cancer Support and the National Garden Scheme. Driftwood has become a popular destination for locals and tourists over the last 10 years and featured on BBC Gardeners’ World. With just weeks to go before he was due to open last year, he had a pretty long to do list and couldn’t wait to get started. So, when he missed a step and fell, tearing his Achilles tendon, the timing couldn’t have been worse.

For a few months at least, Geoff was able to experience, first-hand, trying to garden with a temporary disability. The fact that he achieved it, in a garden on many levels, goes to show that if you are determined to do something, you’ll find your own way of overcoming the obstacles before you. Then Covid-19 hit and all openings were cancelled, leaving Geoff and his family to enjoy the garden alone.

Geoff tells us about his love of gardening, which only surfaced after being able to retire early at the age of 51, back in 2004.

“I knew (and know) absolutely nothing at all about gardening but have still managed to create one that has received much acclaim and publicity since 2012, even appearing on national TV a couple of times and winning a couple of national gardening awards. Trust me, if I am able do this, then anyone reading this who puts their mind to it, can do just the same. The really nice thing most visitors say to me is that they leave the garden totally inspired, so if some of this can rub off on readers that would be wonderful too!”

People often look and are amazed that it has been created in such a relatively short space of time. Competition judges have said that Geoff seems to have the knack of making something look as though it has been long established! When asked, he often describes his style of gardening as “one of being an instant gardener. I don’t have the patience to wait for things to grow I want the finished product now!” Driftwood has no exposed soil or lawn, which makes it difficult to find space to let things grow on and develop. Plants need to have had a head start in life and be established specimens. Geoff has an inquisitive dog too, a mixed breed terrier, so the garden needs to be ‘Chester-proof’ as well.

When he moved to Sussex from London, back in 2004, the garden was simple and his efforts to neaten it up and make it a little more interesting, through 2007 to 2012, have clearly borne fruit. It is listed on TripAdvisor and has had some amazing reviews. Geoff says “as a novice gardener I knew nothing of improving the soil, the garden is on chalk, and I just got on with things as I saw fit and hoped for the best. I do however feed the garden prolifically each season and am confident that this is what helps me achieve such a high standard, with many visitors complementing me on the pristine condition of the blooms.”

Driftwood is planning to open this summer from 21st June through to 12th August on 5 public days and by arrangement on other days. Visit the garden website at to check dates times and prices and see this delightful coastal heaven for yourself.