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This week’s Guest Blogger is Sir Timothy Bartel Smit KBE

Sir Timothy Bartel Smit KBE

Gardening creeps up on you. It’s not like keeping a pet or having a hobby. One day you’re not interested and convinced that it is something for other people and then suddenly you’ve started. It can begin irrationally, like buying a pot of basil and then taking it as a matter of honour that you won’t let it die and, before you know it you have a window sill full of waifs and strays from your living larder. Then it grabs you by the throat. Pots lead to bigger pots then tubs and finally a raised bed. You can fantasise about those two sleeper high jobs in neat squares and rectangles. Maybe even two or three of them. Raised bits of paradise,explosions of vegetables and soft fruit, maybe even a forcing pot. Radically I couldn’t help myself Swiss Chard, chocolate skinned Dahlias, fennel and honeysuckle. Bliss. So, there’s something inherently healing to the soul in these acts of nurture. It never occurred to me I could care about plants and now I look at them as if their every wilting leaf or discoloured stem is a reproach, a mirror on my inner life. Why does it matter? I write in early contemplation of the words I need to write to preface the Heligan Harvest time and, in reflecting on it I was acutely aware that we live at a time of refrigeration, international trade in seasons and a culture of bland homogeneity of shape and flavour. Time was when harvest was the arbiter of the nurturers craft and that mastery was the difference between abundance and hardship. The gardeners tending care has saved myriad varieties from extinction by supermarket and, as we wake up from our addiction to ease, we realise the strange truth that quality, beauty and joy cannot be shrink wrapped and traded. They are the mark of a brilliant re-emerging localism and it has been saved for us and our descendants by gardeners. Heroes all who refused to bow to the herd and who held up a sheltering shield to protect the black radishes, soldier beans, 17 varieties of rhubarb, the Queen of fruit, the Royal Sovereign Strawberry … the medlars, the turnips of flavour … on and on and on we could go and not a one of them has ever been seen in a supermarket. So long live the gardeners and long live the potential to be a gardener. It only takes a moment and you’re hooked and have meaning in your life and hope in your heart.

Pumpkin Display at Heligan
Previous Heligan Harvest Display

This week’s Guest Blogger is Michael Walker:

Michael Walker

Head of Garden & Estate, Trentham Estate

”Gardens have been very special places for me”

I didn’t expect that my stint of working for a property developer, who enthusiastically and proudly own the The Trentham Estate, would be one that would continue to fulfil me after 14 plus years. It is surprising perhaps for someone like myself to be consumed by a single place for longer than I have been at any of the wonderful places I have worked at prior to this. I am someone who has always enjoyed tackling new projects on fresh green grass in gardens in many different parts of the UK – each time I have relocated it has felt like I am on holiday and enjoying the new locations with the eager enthusiasm of a holiday maker. So 14 years at Trentham has been a surprise, I have been hooked by this unusual and amazing place.  But Trentham is not the only garden which has felt so very special to me – my heart warms to my times spent at Mount Stewart, Powis Castle, Beningbrough Hall, Harewood and Waddesdon Manor – each garden so very different, and for me happening at very different stages of my life and in the progression of my career.  I feel that I have grown up in the gardens which I have both worked and lived in – and believe me, I had a lot of growing up to do! My successes have been equally balanced by my mistakes and by so many adventures, and a few misadventures, along the way. It is not just the places but the people whom I have met and the support they have given me which has been so much part of my journey through my continuing career.

Gardens continually present new challenges. They can look entirely different as they change with the season, or even throughout the different aspects of a single day that just may, by chance,  provide the reward of an early mist or haw frost, or a setting sun with long dark shadows, or a special glimpse of nature that is a privilege to witness, and only comes by being in a certain place when the time and opportunity should rarely present itself.

When you think you have delivered a new project and it’s time to move on to the next, your earlier work is still evolving, presenting different opportunities and dilemmas; each needing to be prioritised with a view to what is happening across the whole garden. A good photographer might be able to tease out some of the different perspectives that we as gardeners may take for granted, and for many, their work may provide a record of how special a garden can be when the light or conditions create an ephemeral atmosphere that may not present itself during the busier visiting hours that the garden is open to the public. I am often told how lucky I am to have my role – well I am, but the full understanding of what the role entails is not defined solely by maintaining an image of the garden portrayed in a photograph, the garden is a living, dynamic entity that morphs and readapts its shape around its foundations. Managing this requires consistency, but equally its needs are also ephemeral and delicate.

I find the diversity of gardening and my own broader role of immense interest.  My children, who know me better than anyone, are so harshly critical of my ability to provide a relatively confident answer or solution for most things – just because it’s not the answer they want doesn’t mean it’s not a possible alternative, and there is always more than one answer.  I definitely count my google-like responsiveness  as part of my skill set – certainly as a Dad. There can be no better way than learning by actually doing something – ok – getting it wrong before getting it right. I can think of no other area where I have become an expert, I am not sure I have the ability to focus my concentration on any one aspect for long enough to achieve that; but this is all part of the role that continues to provide me with the most rewarding experiences.

I occasionally return to gardens where I had worked in an earlier stage of my career and am reminded of the special time I had spent there, and how, despite the many seasons that have followed, the places, whilst changed and evolved, continue to have a have a special sense of place which still feels legible and recognisable to me. It certainly helps when one has had the privilege to work in a place before one can truly connect with it – although I haven’t worked at Studley Royal, Castle Howard, or so many other beautiful places which I feel I have had an understanding and appreciation of how very special those places are. There are many special places – but my favourite is not a garden, it’s very much a landscape, just not a designed one. The North Antrim coast – now that’s more than special. I’m on a roll now, the Roaches in Staffordshire’s Peak District – I feel truly moved even thinking about these incredible places. I suspect many others have not had the time, inclination or opportunity to do so.

Michael Walker

Thie week’s Guest Blogger is Richard Baines

Plants offer the feel good factor in so many ways!!
It is often stated that plants are the lungs of our planet.
Plants are so important to us all providing endless benefits many of which we do not appreciate at the time.
Gardening whether as a professional or as an amateur, is such a healthy activity. The physical activity that we carry out as we develop and maintain our gardens helps to keep us physically fit and in good shape.
Mental health is very much in the news currently as a growing concern. A stroll through a garden can provide relaxation, relieve stress, increase our air quality, improve our physical well – being and put simply, just makes us feel good!
Gardens come in so many forms either in nature such as a carpet of blue bells or as a manicured creation of exoticness such as that at Logan Botanic Garden. Although very different in their forms both make us feel positive and help to create enjoyment and pleasure.
Even indoors plants improve our lives by producing life enabling gases that are vital to our long term survival.
Many of us have happy memories from an early age of our first encounters with growing our first plant. From a personal perspective I will never forget the sense of achievement of producing enough new potatoes for our evening meal at the age of 8! Even today when we share our hard work with friends and neighbours there is a shared sense of satisfaction and enjoyment. There is no doubt that people enjoy beautiful things!!
As the Gardening for Disabled Trust reaches the mantle of a half century it can look back and reflect on the positive effects and changes that it has made to so many people’s lives.
Gardening and plants come in so many forms but they all have one thing in common in that they can create enjoyment, health, social well-being and happiness.

This Week’s Guest Blog By Nick Hamilton

I have to admit to being a plantaholic although, to be fair, if you are going to be an ‘aholic’ in anything plants are far better for you than any of the others, although writing this I have to confess to having a conflict of interest, being the President of the Cottage Garden Society. However, gardening is not about categorising people it’s all about enjoyment, excitement, satisfaction and pride. There are many different styles of gardening with the cottage garden style just being one of them. I love it because it’s all about the plants, there is no pretention, there’s formality if you want it, but best of all the scope to plant whatever you fancy wherever you want. I love the fact that by using perennials and hardy annuals as mainstays it means that the garden or border will naturally change every year when some of these plants gently seed around. This leads to great excitement when one pokes its head out where I wasn’t expecting it and then reminds me that, no matter how expertly I design a garden or border, nature will always do it just a little bit better. Although I like to use a range of plants, which give interest all year round, I feel that it isn’t important to have the whole garden in flower all year round, just to have enough interest in a garden at all times of the year. Summer will be the time when I have most choice, but all seasons can be just as interesting. This means planning is the most important part of any garden or border, but even best laid plans sometimes don’t work as I think, so I never worry about moving plants around. Although I plan I will never be able to escape the curse of the cottage gardener – if you see a bare piece of earth then there is an unstoppable urge to plant something in it.


This Week’s Guest Blog by Pumpkin Beth

Pumpkin Beth

“Wherever I am, I am never happier than when I am surrounded by plants! “

I adore woodlands, meadows, gardens, plants, and nature. Wherever I am, I am never happier than when I am surrounded by plants! When I am inside, I get so much pleasure from creating indoor gardens: miniature worlds with their own individual landscapes and environments. I just love planting bottle gardens and terrariums! I also enjoy creating orchidariums: enclosures that provide my orchids with automated plant care, using automatic misting units, fans, and LED lights. I enjoy every aspect of indoor gardening, I take pleasure in creating all manner of indoor gardens and designing displays with potted houseplants. I love to find a plant for every area of my home!

The secret to indoor gardening is to look at the conditions you have available and then choose a plant that is perfectly suited to your environment. So, if you have a very sunny window sill, then you may want to grow a plant that enjoys bright light, like an African violet, a cactus, or an Aloe vera. Whereas, if you’re looking for a plant for a shaded spot, you may want to grow an Aspidistra or a Zamioculcas zamiifolia plant, also known as a ZZ plant. 

Streptocarpus ‘Polka-dot Purple’ produces flowers in abundance, just one plant can produce a display of one hundred flowers! This is a truly striking plant, each individual bloom displays a distinctive purple and white veining. This cultivar can be in flower for ten months of the year!

Streptocarpus flowers look great on the plant, they are held on longer stems than you might expect and make fantastic little posies of cut flowers. The plant’s flowers are very eye-catching, but I also admire this Streptocarpus cultivar’s leaves – Streptocarpus leaves are rather like primrose leaves – they’re very pretty, with attractive veining.

Streptocarpus ‘Polka-dot Purple’ is a great choice of plant for an area of your home that receives filtered, indirect light. Avoid a location where your plant’s leaves could be scorched by harsh light or direct sunshine. Take care to only water your Streptocarpus ‘Polka-dot Purple’ plant, once your plant’s compost has dried out, as this plant does not enjoy sitting in water, or being watered too frequently – I water my Streptocarpus plants and then I allow the compost to dry out before I water my plants again.

Phalaenopsis ‘New Life’ is a newly introduced Phalaenopsis, which has already been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit – an award given to special plants which are dependable performers. These plants have proven themselves to grow and flower reliably given regular care but no special attention. AGM plants are great plants to look out for at your nursery or garden centre, they often have the AGM symbol (a trophy or cup) on their plant label. This new Phalaenopsis is just so pretty; its ivory flowers are infused with the most delicate of pinks, the back of the plant’s petals blush prettily and the centre of each flower is delightfully freckled. As well as looking good, this Phalaenopsis has a delicate floral scent, which is most pronounced in the morning. Phalaenopsis ‘New Life’ is ideally suited to growing in a location that receives bright, but indirect light. Avoid growing this Phalaenopsis above a radiator, or in too bright a location, where the plant’s leaves may be scorched by harsh or direct light. For best results, place your plant in a location away from extremes in temperature.

If you’ve given any of your houseplants a summer holiday outdoors, it’s important to remember to give all of your plants a really thorough check over and a detailed examination before you bring your plants back inside. Examine the undersides of your plant’s leaves and remove any slugs and snails you find. Insects like aphids, or scale insects may be hiding on your plant’s stems and on the undersides of your plant’s leaves, so you may want to wipe over and clean your plant’s leaves before you bring your plants in.  
Aphids have sharp, piercing mouthpieces which puncture the plant’s stem, allowing the aphid to feast on the plant’s sap, as if it was drinking through a straw! Aphids give birth to live young. A new born aphid becomes a mother itself just a week or two after being born! Aphids can seriously weaken a plant, these insects can also spread viruses, so they aren’t the sort of guest that you want to invite to stay inside your home!

Remember to lift your plant up to check the base and undersides of your plant’s container for any pests that might be hiding. Look inside your container’s drainage holes, and under the rim of the pot, as well as inside any other crevices where slugs and snails might stow away. I use a torch when I am examining my plants, as the light helps me to be able to search more accurately. It’s important to remove all of these potential pests before you bring your plants indoors, as outside in the garden these creatures have a wider range of plants to feast on, so their damage is not as noticeable or destructive to individual plants. Whereas inside your home, the plant offerings that are available are often more limited, and as predators are not on hand to control their numbers, pest damage can be catastrophic. So, it’s really important to examine your plants thoroughly before you move them inside, to prevent your houseplants being decimated by any hungry creatures!

If you’re interested in indoor gardening, whether you’re thinking about creating a terrarium or bottle garden, or you’re looking for a new houseplant, you’ll find lots of information, step-by-step guides, ideas, and inspiration at www.pumpkinbeth.com

Monique Gudgeon, Sculpture by the Lakes

Monique Gudgeon, Sculpture by the Lakes

” Never look at a failed plant as  a loss, …always a new planting opportunity…”

As we edge closer to autumn and swap warm summer evenings for cooler nights, my thoughts turn towards tidying the garden for winter.  Although I love the exuberance of the garden in summer, when all is heavy with flower and fruit starts to ripen on the trees, it all tends to get a bit messy as autumn comes in and I itch to get going with secateurs, shears and rake.  I resist the temptation to the last possible moment though, because of course, this time of year is one of the most important for the wild creatures that share our gardens.

Late flowering plants, seed heads, fallen fruit, leaf litter, dead stems and grasses – all these form the basis of the winter larder and warm cosy nests, and are vital in keeping wildlife alive during the winter months.   So I keep my tidying impulses well under control and enjoy the garden for the remaining warm days.

Of course it’s not all about shutting down for the winter because we are fast approaching that time of year when spring flowering bulbs need to go into the ground, or into pots for early displays.  Planting bulbs is such a positive thing to do when the days are getting shorter; when the days start to lengthen again and those first green shoots appear you realise you have a whole new growing season to look forward to and spring is nearly here.

I have already ordered my tulips for the containers that will sit around the café terrace – a mixture of red and purple this time – plus a variety of new alliums will be going into the house borders together with some foxtail lilies.  These lilies love dry conditions and of course last winter was so wet that all my specimens rotted in the ground, but I am determined to give them another try.   One of the joys of gardening is that determination to look for the positive;  as a fellow gardener once said to me, “never look at a failed plant as a loss, look at it as a new planting opportunity!”  Wise words and a mantra that is often quoted…

Charles Dowding, the King of No Dig, writes on ‘easier gardening’

This week’s Guest Blogger:

Charles Dowding  

”the king of no dig”

Easier Gardening

Since 1982 I have been testing simpler and quicker ways to grow plants, and have always been impressed by the effectiveness of a no dig approach. My amazement is increased when I read so much advice saying the opposite, and giving the impression that soil preparation is complicated. It’s not, just the one thing is to mulch weeds throughly in year one, using variations of cardboard/compost/polythene to starve weeds of light, until they disappear, even couch grass.

The main thing is to feed soil organisms, so that they can be busy and breed and set up a thriving network of subterranean life. We don’t see them being busy but we see the result which is healthy plant growth. This comes from spreading compost on the surface, say 2-3in/5-7cm and just once a year.

The benefits include:

  • there is much less weeding to do
  • soil stays moist for longer because it’s mulched (covered) instead of being exposed to dry sun and wind
  • in wet weather your feet are less muddy because undisturbed soil is less sticky
  • fungal networks are preserved and they then pair with plant roots and help them find extra food plus moisture
  • when water is applied to mulched and heavy soils, it soaks in quickly without smearing the surface.

A nice example is potatoes, they are so much easier no dig, no forking or loosening of soil before planting. Use a trowel to make a slit in the compost and drop the seed potato in. Pull compost around if you see potatoes pushing up and into the light, but first earlies like Rocket and Casablanca often mature before you need to ‘earth up’.

To harvest, all you need do is gather the stems between both hands and pull gently. Half the potatoes will emerge, the rest can be found easily in the loose surface compost.

In terms of vegetables for winter harvests, most of the action is now for salad leaves. There are many you can still plant, from sowings in early September, such as rocket, mizuna, mustards and spinach. Growing them in a greenhouse or polytunnel will increase the harvests hugely: these plants don’t need heat and are frost hardy, but protection from wind and weather makes all the difference in winter.

The only sowing in October is garlic, and I had a comment about the joyful result of sowing supermarket garlic on my website forum in July, after I had suggested it’s worth a try: “The supermarket garlic I sowed last October turned out to be hard-neck. I cut the scapes off a couple of weeks ago,they were lovely. Last week the tops went over, then I harvested 21 of the biggest garlic bulbs I have ever grown, thanks Charles.”Every little helps””.

After sowing garlic I apply the annual mulch or ‘feed’ of compost, 1-2in deep, which is enough to keep soil lively and fertile for planting another more vegetables after next summer’s garlic harvest. In late June to early July you can be planting French beans, kale, salads etc. Wow thinking of next summer already, I wonder whatever the weather may be, and I hope you enjoy the experience of growing, harvesting and eating the wonderful flavours of home-grown vegetables.”

Charles Dowding



Mark Lane….on 2 types of Gardener

This week’s guest blogger:

Mark Lane

He writes:

No matter what level of ability you have there is a gardening task that you can undertake.                    Being the UK’s first garden designer and BBC gardening presenter who uses a wheelchair full-time, I really want to show how gardening can help both physically and mentally. For me, I suffered with depression for many years and still have the ‘spectre of depression’ sitting on my shoulder, but by being outside, getting my hands into the soil, which releases endorphins in the brain and serotonin, I start to improve my mental health. Rubbing soil within the palm of your hand and between the fingers can help with manual dexterity. By thinking about what to sow or grow, planning pots for autumn or the spring, or creating a new border you stimulate the neurons in your brain.

Garden tools have come a long way, and there are some great ergonomic ones and tools specially designed for individuals who live with weak wrists or are unable to clutch a tool. I would always recommend trying out tools before you buy. Make sure they feel good when you use them, are lightweight and well-made.

There are two types of gardener – an active gardener who continually gardens and loves sowing, planting, planning and creating; the other is a passive gardener who enjoys sitting back and enjoying a garden and the feeling that the space creates, the scents, colours and the wellbeing benefits of being outdoors. It doesn’t matter which type you are, whether you garden alone or garden as a social activity the knack is finding a gardening task that you can do. Pace yourself and at regular intervals just sit in your garden, whether it be a patio, a balcony, a few window boxes or a rolling estate and enjoy nature at its best.

Gardening and garden design has changed my life for the better, and with TV and radio work I feel extremely lucky. 

Mark Lane







Alan Titchmarsh offers sage advice about.. ‘having a go’!

Alan Titchmarsh offers sage advice….about ‘having a go’…..

He writes:

When I started my working life as a gardener back in the 1960s I had few aspirations, other than to spend my life growing plants. Sixty years on I can look back on a career – and a good deal of leisure time – when I have done just that.

But when other opportunities come your way – attractive opportunities – it seems churlish to turn them down. So it is that I have managed a career that has encompassed presenting music programmes, interviewing members of the royal family, hosting a chat show and writing novels. I say this not boastfully, but only to encourage others to have a go. All too often we remain focussed on a primary goal and are blinkered when it comes to recognising unexpected opportunities that come from left of field.

I’ve been so lucky in my life and work, but when I said this to my next-door neighbour he said ‘That’s funny. I find the harder I work, the luckier I get.’ Up to a point, yes…but we still need people who can see in us things that we don’t always see ourselves. I am about to embark on a publicity tour (dreadful phrase) for my eleventh novel ‘The Scarlet Nightingale’. Eleven! How did that happen? Well, back in the late 1990s I had an idea for a story about a television gardener (always write about what you know, they say). That first novel was called ‘Mr MacGregor’. And then I had another idea… I write about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances – perhaps that, too, is a result of personal experience. But gardening continues to be my first love, and the thing I do every day in my Hampshire garden, or a patch of earth on the Isle of Wight where we have a bolt hole.I know I’ve been lucky and, yes, I do work hard. But the luckiest people in life are those who discover where their own particular talents lie, and who encounter ‘ the enablers’ – people who will encourage them when their own confidence is not up to the job. That’s what happened to me. I hope I’ve been generous spirited enough to do the same for others.

Alan Titchmarsh