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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Alan Jolliffe JP Vice President at Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture


The Pohutukawa is one of New Zealand’s best known trees. It has been drawn, photographed, admired, talked and written about throughout the years. First Maori and in later years Pakeha have recognised the Pohutukawa as a very important tree.

Flowering at Christmas time each year and covering itself with bright dark crimson flowers, it is no wonder it has been called New Zealand’s Christmas tree. In New Zealand Christmas is in summer.

The flowering of the Pohutukawa has been described by many people as “perhaps the most magnificent plant in the New Zealand flora” and “one of the floral delights when at Christmas its whole broad crown is a solid mass of red flowers”. Anyone who has seen a large tree in full flower must be impressed. If not impressed by the display, one must be impressed by the thousands and thousands of flowers that cover each tree.

If you are a little late seeing the tree in full flower, then you will see another spectacle. Millions of dark red stamen carpeting the ground.

The flowers are not flowers in the traditional sense. It is about 75mm across, comprises three smaller flowers and has no petals. Protruding from a little cup at the base are masses of bright red stamen. It is the brilliantly coloured stamen, each about 25mm long that produce all the colour.

Each little cup brims over with copious amounts of nectar and the birds and bees will come to feast; notably Tuis and Bellbirds. The bees collect the nectar and take it to their hives to provide honey. Rata honey is renowned for its strong flavour.

It is abundant along coastlines, and in coastal forests of Three Kings Island in the North Island. Also found around Lake Taupo and other lakes of the Volcanic Plateau. It ranges in altitude from sea level to 700 metres. The coastal environment is tough and in some exposed rocky places it may be dwarfed by the elements to a tree only lm high.

This Week’s guest Blogger is Louise Bateman, a life long gardener and plantaholic who opens her garden for NGS

My trip to the Isles of Scilly

The islands are an archipelago made up of granite ending at the infamous storm battered Bishops Rock Lighthouse. There are five inhabited islands and many smaller ones where seals bask and seabirds nest undisturbed by human activity. Before the last ice age when sea levels were lower it was part of the mainland, and has a huge number of ancient archaeological sites. It is an area of exceptional beauty and when the sun shines the sparkly quartz and granite sand reflects the light offering crystal clear deep blue seas.

This holiday has been on my bucket list for a great many years, with my interest being focussed on the famous sub-tropical Abbey Gardens on Tresco. It was developed by Augustus Smith who on signing the lease, started planting wind break trees in 1834 which protected the garden from salt laden winds. His descendants still lease the island from the Dutchy of Cornwall. Most of the garden is terraced on a steep south facing slope offering maximum warmth and sunshine. It is frost free in most years and has high UV levels, so there are many choice plants grown such as Protea and Leucospermum from South Africa and Puya from South America.

It is estimated that there are approximately 4000 species, many of which self-seed around the property. The most iconic is the biennial Echium pininana which towers up to the sky and is a bee magnet.

Many plants have escaped the confines of the garden and have found places on the other islands. On St Martin’s there is a Puya which offers blackbirds and bees a nectar feast, as the co-evolved hummingbirds are in short supply!

Aeoniums are particularly happy growing in many walls and often sold from honesty stalls around the islands.


The decimated cut flower industry is evidenced by volunteer Narcissus, Gladiolus and Alliums growing through meadow grassland between high protective evergreen hedges of Pittosporum crassifolium.
Now for the trip advisor part. Would I recommend a visit? Yes! It is a perfect very quiet getaway in the UK offering spectacular views, sandy beaches galore, water sports, walking, bird watching and feasting. For those with limited mobility staying on St Mary’s is recommended as the main ferry and plane arrives here and all transport to the off islands are by small open tourist boats accessed by steps from the quays. Transport to and from the isles is frequently affected by poor weather, both rough weather or fog in the case of planes. If you’d like to give it a try you need to book it well in advance. Many people get addicted and go year after year, so there is a limited amount of available accommodation and it is pricey. Get your money box prepared and give it a go!

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Christine Fowler, Owner of Christine F Garden Design and Consultancy

Creating a Wildlife friendly garden

Wildlife can make its home in our gardens in many different ways. There are lots of things that we can do, from planting to maintenance that will make them as welcome as possible.

Making our gardens wildlife friendly doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to leave them to grow into wild jungles. Every space, whether it’s a huge estate or a busy family garden, can give a home to nature.

There are lots of simple things that we can do to help the animals we share a space with, from making sure that they have access to different habitats, to nurturing well-stocked feeding grounds for them.

A wildlife friendly garden is accessible to everyone whether we’re maintaining an established garden or creating a new one altogether.


Even the smallest of gardens can offer a huge variety of different habitats for wildlife. It’s good to create as many habitats as possible without cramming too much in. You may not even realise that some of the most common unassuming garden features can house thriving worlds of wildlife.

Lawns for example are an important habitat for all sorts of insects, as well as providing a feasting ground for hungry birds which feed on them. Try keeping an area unmown for at least part of the year and see the number of visiting birds dramatically increase.

Borders , filled with flowering plants and shrubs, give nectar rich food to butterflies, bees and beetles. All plants will fulfil this purpose, they do not have to be native plants and a variety of flower shapes will attract different visitors. Simple flower shapes are best and bees in particular are drawn to blue flowers.

Crocus and hellebores(the Christmas rose) provide a food source for bees early in the year as they emerge from hibernation and seeds and berries produced later in the year ensure that the garden has a fully stocked larder for wildlife all year round.

Trees and hedges offer roosting and nesting sites for birds and mammals, as well as valuable shelter and cover from the elements and possible predators.

Ponds and water features are the single most important feature if you want to attract wildlife into your garden, from amphibians( newts, toads and frogs) and invertebrates to bathing garden birds and hedgehogs. Even a simple shallow tray or sunken washing up bowl will be appreciated by garden visitors and remember if you are going to put in a garden pond to include a shallow beach area to allow wildlife to safely get out again.

A huge variety of animals will travel through your garden unknown to you, the trick is to provide a suitable habitat to encourage them to stay!

Even woodpiles, compost and trimmings, the decomposing and discarded off-cuts from your gardening can be incredible places for animals to live feed and hibernate.

To breed and shelter

A basic need for all wildlife is somewhere safe to breed and shelter, which a garden can provide in many different ways.

Growing climbers against walls can provide brilliant shelter, as well as roosting and breeding sites for birds. Trees, bushes and hedgerows can also be great havens for the bird world, as well as small mammals like hedgehogs. Cutting a small hole at the bottom of your fence between gardens will give access to wandering hedgehogs if you have a fence instead of a hedge.

Providing bird boxes, bat boxes and hedgehog homes can be a great way of introducing additional shelters for nature in your garden. Natural roosting and nesting sites can be increasingly hard for animals to find and our gardens give them an ongoing safe alternative.

Butterflies need breeding sites too, and growing the right plants can give them a place to breed and lay their eggs. Honesty and hedge garlic can be good for orange tip butterflies and buckthorn bushes are favourite food for breeding brimstones. Don’t forget that you will need to provide for and tolerate caterpillars if you want butterflies in your garden!

If you are looking to cut back overgrown areas, or untidy borders, wait until late winter or early spring to give any wildlife sheltering from the cold winter months the chance to move on.

Thinking sustainably

So many of our actions have an impact on wildlife which goes beyond our gardens and it is important for us to think about this when choosing materials and creating our spaces.

Peat extraction destroys vital habitats, so avoid using peat based composts, there are many alternatives now widely available. You can even try producing your own with a composter or compost heap.

Save rainwater in water-butts. Pond life much prefers natural rainwater if you need to top up your water features.

Buy FSC accredited garden furniture and charcoal.

Recycle wherever possible. Use reclaimed material when building raised beds and other garden structures. Old pallets and scaffold planks make great material for building.

Avoid using pesticides and use non-toxic, non-chemical alternatives.

If you have enjoyed reading this article head over to my website http://www.christinefowler.com to find out more. I post a monthly BLOG giving a month by month guide on what to do in the garden..

You can follow me on Facebook @christinefowlergardendesign and read weekly tips on gardening.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Peter Welsh, co-founder of Tadpole Garden Village

‘The Greenhouse Project’

Neighbours and Friends, Stu Olden & Pete Welsh co-founded Tadpole Garden Village (TGV) In Bloom. TGV is a brand-new garden village concept set on the northern outskirts of Swindon, a stones throw from the Cotswolds.

Peter Walsh and Stu Olden flanked by two volunteers

A strong community foundation, both Stu – Ex Army and Pete – Currently serving in the RAF, wanted to bring the community together through the RHS three pillars; Horticulture, Environment and Community. This concept would encourage people of all ages and abilities to take pride in where they live.
A community allotment plot saw the group grow on plants, fruit and vegetables for village planters, homeless soup kitchens, nursing homes and local charities. With two storms and two temporary greenhouses lost to the elements it was time for something with a bit more structure and space!
A £5,000 grant was successfully awarded by The National Lottery Community Fund which was set aside to build a greenhouse on the community allotment plot.

Our volunteers building the base on the unused allotment plot

Our volunteers worked the ground, built the base and created the look it has today. We wanted to appeal to all ages and abilities and prove that Gardening and an allotment was accessible to all.
The Greenhouse has a ramped access, our ‘living path’ is decorated with alpines and herbs and our rest area has space for a wheelchair to turn. Both were built with donated patio slabs that allows access to a wheelchair to run along the path. A local grant allowed us to purchase a custom-built ND Rhodes reduced mobility potting bench.
Although our plot is accessible to those with reduced mobility you will find small steps, stony ground or wood chippings. These allow people to improve their motor function and gives them progression.

Andy working on the reduced access path around the greenhouse

Though it’s not just the physical challenges. Mentally and socially the Gardening club allows interaction on the plot, it allows people the space and time for reflection, for quiet or for teamwork, for interaction – it simply gives people access to greenspace and a learning environment should they wish.

The National Lottery Funded Community greenhouse and allotment plot  – ‘living’ path, ramp access, rest area and wheelchair accessible path

A project that cost an estimated £10,000 has been completed with funding, donations and kind offers from local businesses. More importantly it has been completed by a team of volunteers of all ages and abilities.
COVID may have slowed us down, but it hasn’t dampened our spirits!

The reduced mobility potting bench – custom made by NB Rhodes funded by the Wiltshire Community Fund

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Nikki Cooper, Owner of Old Hogden, seeds straight from the potting shed, the heart of the garden

The Herb Garden

I always think that the best part of the vegetable patch is the herbs.  How nice it is to cook a meal; suddenly realize you need thyme and oregano.  Out the back door, to that special spot to tweak some leaves, giving magic to your food.

Yes flavour, but so many other things as well.  Herbs have many healing properties.  Take chives for instance.  They are antibacterial and a great circulatory stimulant.  Chopped up in scrambled eggs, added to sour cream and butter on a baked potato – it’s enough to make your mouth water!

Parsley is another great herb.  It is quite slow to germinate, sometimes taking 6 weeks to pop through the earth, but once up you have a tasty herb that is around for a full two years and gives far more than it takes, being full of vitamins A and C, iron, calcium and magnesium, just to name a few.  Brilliant anti-inflammatory and antihistamine, so makes a good herbal tea in the hay fever season.

Herbs are easy to grow.  Mostly they are best started off in small pots on a sunny windowsill.  Basil loves warmth, so I always start mine off in the airing cupboard.  Water it, then cover in cling film to make a ‘mini greenhouse’.  Just don’t do what I did and forget about it.

My favourite thing is to give all the herbs a full on ‘haircut’ around July/August time.  I have a large sieve that I got a long time ago.  All the herb cuttings go in here and then they sit in the airing cupboard until I get round to seeing to them. Pop them in a blender, taking out any large tough stalks first and add a good dosing of celery salt. This makes an amazing condiment for the table as a replacement for salt, giving flavour and good heath all round.

If you are interested in receiving my catalogue and garden journal, please email me at info@oldhogden.com or visit my website at http://www.oldhogden.com

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 http://janiceshipp.com

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.

You can follow what’s happening in the Garden

On Twitter @edenprojectgardens
On Instagram @edenprojectoutdoorgardens

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 http://www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk to check dates times and prices and see this delightful coastal heaven for yourself.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is James Scott, the Managing Director and Principal Designer at The Garden Company Hertfordshire

3 Ideas to Enhance Your Garden

While we are all looking forward to Covid restrictions being eased, many of us will probably still be spending a lot of time at home over the coming months. For those of us with gardens, it certainly seems that our outdoor space has become more important to us than ever. Here are 3 ideas aimed at helping you to make even more of your garden this year.

Water Features & Ponds
Water features and ponds are hard to beat for adding a focal point to a garden and enhancing the use of the space. A well-chosen water feature adds sound and light while bringing in beneficial wildlife too. Even a bird bath can make a huge difference. As nearly 70 percent of ponds have been lost from the UK countryside in the last century, water features and ponds are more important to wildlife than ever. Ponds develop fast because many of their inhabitants are highly mobile; within a short time after installation, your garden will attract birds, amphibians, insects, mammals and plenty of ‘mini-beasts’ you might never otherwise see.

Watching a pond attract wildlife is very rewarding


Fire Pits
Many of us have good memories of camping trips, with time spent sitting by the fire telling stories, enjoying tasty food and warming drinks. The good news is that if you add a fire pit to your garden, you don’t have to go far to recreate those memories. Possibly one of the best reasons to consider installing a fire pit is that it allows you to enjoy the seasons for longer. Since it offers both warmth and beauty, you will be able to enjoy your garden early in the spring season and later into autumn. There’s something about a fire pit that encourages great conversation too.

Fire pits create a social space for friends and family

Raised Beds and Herb Pots
Over recent years we have had more and more clients ask us about edible gardening. Pottering about in your own orderly set of raised beds before dinner and selecting a few home-grown herbs or vegetables can be a wonderful way to spend time outdoors. If there is no space for raised beds, easy-care herbs are also a natural fit for a vertical garden. All you need is a way to hang containers or contain soil on a vertical surface – for example, a ladder planter fixed against the wall. Even a single large container can be added as an accent piece, or several smaller pots grouped together in an attractive arrangement.

Raised beds can make gardening easier

Good luck with all your garden projects, big or small, this year. For more ideas, do browse our website here http://www.thegardenco.co.uk or follow me on Twitter @gardencomp