Gardeners’ Gathering

Recently on a cool, rain threatened autumnal day, I met with some colleagues at a local arboretum; a venue chosen specially for being away from our own regular haunts and much trodden garden workplaces. The group was essentially made up of gardens, parks and tree managers, who all held the simple aim of meeting, reconnecting and talking.

There’s nothing quite like a trip out to compare and contrast, and so for this gathering, there were plenty of visual treats to prompt discussion. Incredible foliage colours, new tree varieties to discover, unusual growth forms and fungi to puzzle over. We also made time, naturally, to test the recently refurbished café – why ever would we not?!

Placed in the fading days of autumn, the subdued light on that particularly overcast day set a calm, mellow tone that seemed perfect for an end-of-a-very-long-year stroll. Furthermore, being the last productive day of the week, there was an additional need for the day to be topped and tailed with emails and business as usual. Some were noticeably responding to issues back at base throughout the day.

The pointiest oak we ever did see….

At the foot of the day though, any melancholic moods were quickly swept away. Firstly as my lift arrived and we jumped straight into a much needed business catchup. Secondly, as we bumped into another colleague on arriving in the car park; the giggles started in earnest at that point. Then lastly, as the three of us were warmly greeted by the others already gathered around two tables in the cosy café.

Now, as casual as these gatherings might appear, something that always grips me is the blend and makeup of the individual folks within the group. All present had pretty much devoted their working lives to the horticultural world, as have I, but all are so completely different, working as they do in unique situations. There are some traits though that common to all, if existing in varying degrees: a love for plants; conservation minded; creative thinkers; entrepreneurial, heritage focused, nature protective and so on. They’re also, I must add: leaders of people, motivators, critical thinkers, strategists and much more.

I could easily expand those lists, but if further recognition is needed I can also confirm that between them, they hold some of the most prestigious horticultural positions in public heritage gardens, across three south midlands counties. Indeed, should we have to pay for the combined gardens management experience around that table, we wouldn’t get much change out of 250 years for the several who were present.

Needless to say, there was plenty to talk about. Nevertheless, whilst the conversation flowed across and around the table, I couldn’t help but picture each of their garden plots; knowing them very well having visited privately and professionally for more years than I dare remember. To that end, being conscious of not wanting to merely write this as minutes from an informal meeting, I thought it might be interesting to verbally paint their gardens for you; so do brace yourself for a swift garden time travelling experience!

Amongst the venues then, are those where their original development spanned the entire eighteenth century, with one particularly fine example fixed, as it were, in the formal early years of the period where refined formality and rigid geometry won the day. The tightest of tending and most careful preening greets me when I visit there but set amongst bee-pitted clay walls, smooth bowling lawns and flowery wilderness walks, it feels entirely appropriate and correct. We can stroll along gravelled walkways, touch real citrus fruits grown in a real orangery, focus on individual flowers in their rich glory, and even bowl on a green just like the historical sketches – tricorns optional of course.

Other plots from that same pivotal gardening century and represented in our gathering offer, both historically and now, a beautiful contradiction to that early century playground. These feature large serpentine lakes, wilderness walks for strolling amongst berries and shrubberies overhung with exotic trees. These garden plots, with at least two classic venues represented at our gathering, are altogether more discreet in their make up, and vast too, with blurred boundaries that leave people debating where the garden ends and its park begins; God bless the ha-ha.

But then, with those Georgian masterpieces often taking top billing, I bring balance, with two gardens represented whose glow from either side of the glorious eighteenth century try valiantly to steal the limelight. Between them, medieval stew ponds, time served topiary and extravagant terraces are juxtaposed with flowing flower borders, hidden corners and woodland walks. Rockeries, kitchen gardens, evocative sculptures, bog gardens and mirror pools are also perfectly posed between lime mortared walls speckled with time served vine eyes.

A mighty beech, but did it get a hug…?

These gardens, even with their vast parklands and countryside views where an imagination can wander, are intimate, protective, and atmospheric. Whilst their houses generally hold a moment in time, their gardens are positively alive and kicking, their borders continue growing, and their nature broadens. They offer countless places to pause, be it to sit in peace and let worries float away, to lean on a wall and breathe fresh air, or to simply stick your nose amongst the flowers. These gardens are much loved too.

Another garden, I have to say, challenges the very idea of a garden. That place offers long walks, and then some. There are vast lakes with islands, grottoes, ever-growing shrubberies and carefully composed vistas. Temples placed here and there, almost everywhere, hold hidden meanings. Many structures are still in active use, giving purpose and a destination to each garden spaces, whilst some are merely shells, each with a hauntingly beautiful character.

That place I have to say is vast, immense and hard to comprehend. It does though, despite its grandeur and obvious place in another time, hold something for the now. Like the others, it can transport you to a specific date in the past or the set of a period drama, but it’s also perfectly ready for the now. Whether for exercise or inspiration, for room to spread your wings, or to find one of countless spaces for reflection, this venue holds these in horse-drawn cart loads.

But there’s one more garden, the last I’ll mention for now, which holds all of those gardening periods in its grasp. If you were to peer through a time focussed virtual reality headset, if it were to exist, you would see Edwardian, Victorian, Georgian and Elizabethan layers woven tightly together. But importantly you would see striking interventions, modern designs if you will, that confidently land this garden in the twenty first century too.

This last garden has seen some hard times, I think it’s fair to say, but has been held together by care, devotion and continued focus. Some of its trees and land forms stretch back over four hundred years to a time when the river-side plot would hardly be considered a garden at all. Formality arrived in a huge way at one stage with raised walkways, fish ponds and pavilions which vied for space with farmed animals and flower pots. This of course, was largely swept away though and fashionably tamed for a while, in an attempt to restore a more natural setting. But, as is the way, that garden endured much change again when the flower favouring gardeners arrived and swished their brushes.

To think all of the gardens mentioned above represent but a small slice of the larger gardens cake available, and regardless of what triggers every visit, what is not lost to everyone involved in our gathering, is that all these places offer somewhere safe to connect, to engage, to be nurtured. What is not lost to me also, is that for each garden mentioned above there’s an incredible person who as well as being an expert in their field, is connected, engaged, and nurturing too.

I have and will always have a huge respect for the knowledge and experience that people like this hold. They’re managers and leaders, yes, but they are care-takers too, of places, heritage, the environment and of people. To them, every fingerprinted brick, carved walling stone, and every verdigris garden door hinge matters. Every garden apprentice who offers new hope and a safer future, matters. Every trained gardener interested to learn more, matters, and every volunteer and visitor, matters.

Walking and talking…

For me then, that day when we walked and talked amongst the trees, laughed and learnt amongst the yellowing leaves, was a delight. To be with these influential people and listen as they put an incredibly challenging year into perspective, was an education.

Whatever each of those folks took away from the gathering I dare not assume, but connecting, throwing ideas around, sharing experiences, was for me worth every minute – even the machinery chat! So whilst the rain threatened, it never actually fell, and whilst the year slowly rolls to a close, these gardening types are busy planning; not just for next year, but genuinely planning for the future generations who will visit and work in the places they hold so close.

To summarise our autumnal gathering, I’ll close by saying that whether it was over coffee, whilst strolling around the arboretum and especially during lunch, we talked. We chewed the fat, put it out there and aired some linen as we walked. Then, when all was said and done, we took away some seasonal nuggets of wisdom, and a renewed sense of belonging; or maybe that was just me…

Landscape Recuperation

I carried myself away for some rest and recuperation to an old English garden where, as I wandered with camera in hand, a flat-topped bench beckoned me to perch for a while. Each of the seat’s timbers were gently ridged along the grain, and within every little furrow a hint of green algae could be seen.

A black and white image of pool, parkland trees and passing clouds, with bright November sun beating down.
~

Previously for an hour or so I’d been zigzagging around a glorious garden that was falling radiantly towards winter. Yet as lovely as it was, I’d left the garden for a while and was heading for more natural spaces. The bench I happened across wasn’t the first, but it did seem to call me, so it would have been rude to walk on by.

So there I found myself positioned midway down a long and very straight path, the tips of my boots grounding me below the bench. What an exposed position I first thought, with a steep bank falling away behind me towards sheep nibbled fields and to my front, a large open pool stretching wide and long.

As I settled down I studied the scene more closely. To my foreground and beyond the grey gravel path a grassy margin softened and underlined the view, and beyond that the pool. Beyond that again at a comfortable distance from all humankind, squawking waterfowl filled the space with noise that carried across the water. Floating and flapping, flying about to escape pecking and skid-landing, they animated and enlivened the place.

Cool to say the least, was an early November breeze that repeatedly stroked the back of my neck. To the front though, broken occasionally with long shadows cast from passers by, the sun warmed me through. I could feel the heat of those rays on my face, the backs of my hands and legs, and it was super welcome.

After a few minutes, there was a long pause in people walking by, and I felt safe closing my eyes for a while in order to tune in to my breathing and the sounds around. When I surfaced a little while later, I noticed more clearly than before the brightness levels, a freshness to the breeze, and real warmth. That light and heat would vanish periodically as clouds swooshed by, changing the atmosphere in every second, yet out in that park at that time, I knew I had the right seat. Not one those cold metal benches back amongst the flower garden, as pretty as they were, but there on solid wood, in that place and in that moment. Simplicity, for me, often wins the day.

Speaking of that place around me, it held a picture wherever I turned my head. Some scenes were still full of foliage and vitality, some were dull, muddy and middling, whilst some displayed drama with trees baring their branches and readying for winter. All scenes however were intricate, offering depth, character, detail and presence, and were riddled with history and intrigue.

A stone’s throw away and growing in the grassy verge were butter yellow, pencil thick stems which had exploded months ago from a stooled willow shrub. To the rear and left of me, a large candy floss sized cluster of blood red leaves shivered in the midst of a head high mountain ash sapling, and much further away bronze leaves on a stressed parkland oak glowed, backlit by sunshine.

I am fortunate, I realise, in knowing that it was one of many landscape scenes that has filled my eyes over the years, they’re seemingly here, there and everywhere. Yet in our increasingly unstable world, I now feel that I may just have taken them for granted, for too long. As I sat there in that moment however, I realised that I couldn’t be more thankful.

I understood that the twisted trees that decorated the view would not be everlasting, and despite dropping acorns by the thousand this mast year, those oaks would not regenerate easily without help. Even the stout ash trees that lined the pool side walk were visibly failing with disease.

So whilst I sat there processing thoughts and minding my business, I couldn’t help but wonder if cupping my hand over my eyes was intended to screen sunshine in my eyes, or to momentarily block some of the issues that stared in my face. The landscape’s threats, be they to flora and fauna, or the historic fabric of the place itself, were inescapable.

Nevertheless, whilst I sat there absorbing that cleverly laid out picturesque scene, I realised that ‘having the moment’ was the very reason I’d ventured there in the first place. In real-time I understood the tension and frailty that existed in each of the three-sixty degrees around me, yet I knew that really, all was as well as could be.

On a personal note, what mattered then as I sat on that bench and matters still as I reflect, is the fact that those moments happened at all: the sun’s heat warming my skin, the chilly breeze, the cawing crows, quacking ducks, rattling leaves, crunchy gravel and clanging gates at the end of the path. Even muffled but violent engines of ascending passenger planes and cars in the distance.

The place, despite its historic pedigree and legal protections, aside from funding challenges and changing management; will continually change, adapt and evolve. The birds I watched playing, the mowing sheep and growing trees, even us people who occupied the space between; we shall all move on. It is all fine as we’re all just passing through, so we might as well pause awhile, grab a seat, take notice, and make the best of each moment.

Everywhere I listened, everywhere I sniffed and looked, I felt a professional connection, but more than that, I felt a personal, almost spiritual connection. Be it the soggy soil, the murky pool or the silvery clouds up over; I had made time to see, to smell and listen, and I feel every bit as connected now as a write these words as I did whilst rooted to that bench.

Today or tomorrow or maybe next week, you might find a place to connect too, and I wish you the the very best. 🌿

Landscape Recuperation, Gary Webb. 4th Nov 2022

Writing from my happy place.

Thanks for clicking on the link to ‘Writing from my happy place’. It’s been a while since I was last here with you, but I’m delighted to be back, and so glad you’ve joined me.

As said I haven’t blogged for a while because I’ve sort of been away with the garden faeries; I’d have mentioned this sooner was it not for the fear of judgement, or people losing faith in me. But here I am once again, back in the blogosphere and speaking openly – for better or for worse.

Whilst moving through the last few years it is fair to say that I’ve experienced a good deal of change, most notably in my working days, and gardening ways. I’m certainly not alone, as many others have experienced similar too, leading lots of people to reflect more, to refocus, and re-evaluate their situations – my head has been in that space too.

Many have held steady career courses and weathered these turbulent times with confidence, but many have not, and have looked for positive change in new situations. As you probably know, I sought change, and whilst my endeavours barely got out of second gear, I do believe that every step of the way made a lasting and positive difference – not only to each place, I trust, but to me personally. I certainly churned a lot of compost over the last few years!

On reflection though, I’m coming to realise that the last few years have been somewhat experimental for me, where subconsciously I might have simply needed a new focus. If only I’d figured this out sooner I may not have frustrated those around me, or those further afield who watched on in bewilderment.

Experimental or not, those years have certainly been engaging, and pretty taxing too, and I’ve met some fabulous people and spent time in the most incredible places – Indeed I’ve been very fortunate. It has though become harder in recent months to continue blogging with as much freedom as before, and my Gardening Ways posts have dwindled.

At this point though, having found a little more stability in my working days, I’ve started questioning what to do with my blog. Should I develop and adapt the posts, if so how? Shall I shift focus to allotment gardening, or pick up on my garden and parks consultancy work somehow? Or, has the blog run its course, and is it time to call it a day? Your thoughts are of course welcome.

It might not seem like a big issue to some, but I’ve poured an awful lot of time into this blog over the years. It’s frustrating then, that I’ve struggled to deal with not blogging so often over the last few months, but I can reassure that my work with Gardening Ways is not done yet.

The turning point, if it was one, was a week or so ago when a proverbial apple fell out of the tree, and I realised something fundamental to this whole blogging dilemma. I’ve therefore made time to produce this very different post, both to record the point where my blogging world pivots, and reason why. Apologies if you were expecting pretty floral pictures by the way…maybe next time!

Firstly, my shift this year from working in frontline horticulture to consulting has meant that I now physically experience far fewer melancholic sunrises or soul nourishing sunsets. I enjoyed no professional propagating for borders or plant sales in spring, and there were no topiary shapes to clip in summer. Next week, there will be no ‘work’ pumpkins to carve or bird feeders to make for events, and my annual mowing mileage has literally dropped off the chart! I’ve practically switched from garden deliverer, to garden influencer you could say.

To those ends, it would seem that the daily free delivery of experiences, or fuel that I previously used to stoke my creative blogging furnace, disappeared overnight in January. That sudden perceived loss of fuel led to my heavily preened garden Journal posts fading away like dying coals in the grate, and that’s caused some feeling of frustration.

Secondly, I have on the whole considered Gardening Ways to be a blogging venture only, somewhere to post much loved images and support them with text, and not anything more. I’d be the first to say that it was never a writing voyage, at least not in the traditional sense, it was a place to record, to relate, and to be present; and I needed it for some reason.

I will admit though, that at one point I do remember adjusting all my ‘social’ labels to that of gardener and garden writer, in the hope that somehow the label itself might evolve me into one. But, did I really expect myself to carry the notion forward when every day I’d return to the task of gardening itself, and every night my eyes would be tired and creativity diminished?

In any case, deep down did I really possess the words to shift from blogger to writer? Evidently I thought not, as I remember it wasn’t long before I deleted those labels as it felt fraudulent, and I’ve stayed away from such labels to this day.

Furthermore, I’d say that I haven’t classed myself a writer because, whilst I might have secretly harboured those ideas, did I ever seriously consider making them reality? More often I occupied myself by playing things safe, and focusing on being a better gardener.

I now realise that I’ve been missing something, not just blogging in its physical sense, of delivering messages on the theme of gardening, but all of the creative process. I’ve not exactly sat around doing nothing, but over the last few months I’ve missed those hours of editing and creating articles off the back of random images. I’ve also missed the nervous anticipation of hitting that publish button and exposing my words to the world.

So where’s all this preliminary talk leading us? Well, I’ve realised that garden writing is not a skill you’re born with, but one you develop; alongside skills for sparking creativity and editing. Obviously, some people seem naturally talented, as in any walk of life, but whilst I’m certainly not elevating myself too high, there is hope that with a little practice and tuition, I could get there. (Wherever ‘there’ is of course!)

I’ve recognised very recently that writing can be a planned, mechanical, creative process, so why this hasn’t struck me before I just don’t know. I mean, I have followed my own procedures and developed routes to a blog post, but I’d rarely say that my posts displayed real creativity, far from it. If anything, my blog writing processes might actually have suppressed it.

The trigger, which for the time being will stay under wraps, has made me realise that the behind-the-scenes creative process of writing itself; has driven me all along. Every photo or video clip I’ve snatched each day has also been part of that process, but aside from gardening itself, I’m never more engaged or in-the-moment than when I’m doing this – writing.

Every time I’ve sat down to write, sometimes out of desire, sometimes out of duty, the words roll like autumn leaves blowing across a lawn. Some will catch on a noticeable shrub here, others will roll to a lichen covered bench there, but most often they’ll assemble in a tidy-ish pile for collection, and distribution.

OK, so I can openly say that I’ve started more posts than I finished, and deleted more words than I’ve ever published, but I now understand that to be a normal part of the process. All this time I’ve cursed myself for not having the ability to evolve into a writer, and not understanding that it’s really a skill that can be developed, honed and improved.

Looking ahead, I’m not saying that articles will suddenly flow thick and fast, because in many ways I’m still getting to grips with where I am and where I want the blog to go; combined with the fact that I’m really seeing this post as a new beginning. Equally, I know I have quite a job ahead to break from the structure of my previous articles, a posting style that I’ve desperately wanted to change for a long while. Overall, if it matters to you at all, I can at least assure that I shall be working on my writing in the days ahead, and in the process I hope, figuring out who I am, and what I want to say.

So there you have it, these words might have received some editing, but I’ve spoke openly and honestly about where I’ve been, and why. I’ve not rushed it, although I might have overthought it somewhat, and I’ve enjoyed the process more this time. Let’s hope it doesn’t come back to haunt me.

I’ll come back soon, for sure, but not so soon as to force an article. I’ll be aiming to produce something that comes from my new found creative and happy place; and I can’t wait to see where the words take us. Who knows, maybe one day from my happy place, a book or magazine article might pop out; we shall just have to see.

Thanks for sticking with me through all of the above, I really do appreciate your time and equally, I’d really appreciate your thoughts and comments. Do feel free to DM me on Instagram or Twitter if that’s easier, but I’d love to hear from you either way.

Kind regards, Gary

Loving Gardens and Parklands

In a far corner of an old deer park I rest for a while beneath century-old oaks, perched amongst tussocky grass on a log with just enough movement to rock gently back and forth. As I settle a glittery turquoise dragonfly zigzags by.

After a while I close my eyes to ‘tune in’, first to grassy stalks that tickle my ankles, then to the coarse bark that will no doubt leave an impression, soon after though, to the gentle waves of warm breeze that pat my legs and cheeks. The aroma is, as I’d expect, carrying a distinct whiff of deer and sheep.

Alternative layers of sound now begin to present themselves. Engines, one from a small propeller plane buzzing whilst ascending from the nearby airfield, then another more distant roar from a jet passenger plane passing high above. Both though are eclipsed, to me at least, as I restore focus to the nearer sound of the breeze that is rushing over, around and past countless oak leaves in the tree tops overhead.

Clouds moving constantly towards the southwest provide distinct periods of lightness and shade, warming on the whole but occasionally less so. On today’s summer day it is sandals and shades, tomorrow, due soon enough it’ll be boots and scarves.

On this day though, I’m enjoying just a few minutes idling, just listening and looking; valuable moments of peace in an idyllic location. All moments sat on this uneven log are well-spent ones as they progressively calm, nurture and nourish my own personal inner being.

As I tune in to everything around, expectations on me and my world, for a few moments at least, diminish. Schedules, plans and priorities are subdued, ambitions and worldly goals are hidden, as the environment around me speaks ever louder. Even the interruptions of passing engines leave me feeling no: not me, not now, not today, I’m happy right here on this piece of wood.

I’ll return to that log, to those aromas and the ankle-tickling grass again this week during moments of remembrance. Closing my eyes will transport me back so that I can again listen to the trees and feel the sun’s warmth on my skin.

The value of managed landscapes is immense, and I urge anyone, if you’ve not already done so to find your log, your bench or place to park, relax and free your mind. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

❤️ Gardens and parklands…

A Gardener; to be or not to be?

Hello and welcome to my Gardening Ways blog, where this time I shine a light on being a gardener, a life in horticulture if you will. I’ve not written for a while, so without wanting to shower you with excuses, I’ll simply say that I’m here now, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the process of putting this post together, and that for someone, I hope it proves useful.

You might be familiar with the situation where you find a subject intriguing, so you read up to learn a little more about it, maybe through some magazines or via websites. Then, after your interest is piqued, you move to immerse yourself in the topic in order to fill up your knowledge bank. But somewhere along the way, when you’re feeling like you pretty much have it in the bag, you realise there’s an awful lot more to know. You might then feel as though regardless of how much you now try to absorb, you just can’t learn enough, there might even be bouts of imposter syndrome.

Horticulture, for me, has been like this. For anyone though, it might be an instantaneous fascination of a single plant or flower, or maybe a new responsibility of caring for a garden space. Whatever it is, if you are drawn into the world of plants, gardens and horticulture, be prepared for a subject that will both embrace you and unfold before you. Furthermore, should your interest nudge you to consider horticulture as a career, be aware that it’s as deep and broad a subject as any other, and if you stay the course it can offer a lifetime of learning, discovery and fulfilment.

I will say however, that those who do choose horticulture as a career path will not necessarily have an easy journey. Metaphorically speaking, there will be locked garden gates along the way, many doubters of your ability and worth, and sphinxes will sit besides the path posing challenging riddles for you to solve. Some of those gates will swing open and riddles will be solved, but as with all journeys there will be new distractions and opportunities as we progress. In short, I’m saying be prepared for a bumpy wheelbarrow ride!

A bright yellow Rudbeckia flower by Gary Webb ©

As with many other trades I’m sure, a working life in horticulture means that you will meet and learn from many inspiring individuals, and I think this is of prime importance for anyone’s journey. Key characters from my past, even from years ago stay fresh in my mind. I can sit here now and be transported to points where one fascinating person or another stood in a garden, waxing lyrical about the place and its qualities, or about a plant and its history, medicinal use or some other revealing aspect.

In my mind I can step back in time and stand before wise figures from the horticultural world, some indeed who have long since departed. They inspired me back then, and I was fully aware of it. Interestingly though, those people inspire me now, each person’s wisdom, calmness, excitable or focused character still today, feeding my spirit. Even those who miss named plants, or followed horticultural practices I might have considered out-of-date; still taught me lessons.

As you journey, many characters specifically sent for you will offer similar lessons. Whether it’s Monty Don delivering his Friday night tips for seed sowing, a teacher unraveling botanical science, or a guiding figure who sowed sunflower seeds with you as a child; almost every one of them will have a part to play in helping you reach your green ideals.

However we journey and whoever we encounter, our experiences will stick with us. Horticulture and gardening can embrace us, push us, carry and care for us too; plants putting food in our bellies, ointment on our skin, clothes on our backs and shelter over our heads. I won’t even get started on the wellbeing aspect of horticulture!

Personally, I approached this post having trodden, crunched, stomped, laboured and slipped my way along a good few garden, woodland and parkland paths. I feel I’ve served my time on finger-numbing brush-cutters, chipped teeth on wayward tree limbs, fallen out of shrubs, scrubbed too many spark plugs, and latterly have stared into the depths of far too many spreadsheets. However, I’ve also witnessed the most heart lifting sun rises and sets, and have held my breath when wildlife came close. I’ve worked in some of the most awe inspiring spaces, and I don’t know where to start when considering the plants (friends) I’ve met and brought into the world.

There is however much more for me yet, as when I cast my mind back to all the incredible places I’ve been and the wisdom filled people I’ve encountered, I still have a desire to experience more. I wouldn’t change most of what’s happened, but I do want to influence what is ahead; because there are so many wonderful plants, gardens, landscapes and people out there. I can only hope I have enough time left!

Naturally, it’s not all about taking risks as it might read above, but it is about considering, carefully, your route. Think about where or what you want to be doing further down the line, and if it’s hard to picture that, get yourself out to places for consideration. Sit on a garden bench and ask yourself if the place has, or could, hold enough diversity to keep your interest. Invite yourself or volunteer at a nursery to see if production horticulture could be your thing, or even try a short distance course to learn the ropes.

If you’re starting out or considering a career in horticulture, then I hope to have said a few words here that will be of use. I’d like to finish by saying the following about my own world of horticulture, give you my view of gardening if you’ll allow:

Do not in the least be put off by that breadth or depth I mention above, but be inspired by the diversity of options and the many layers. Explore as many paths as you can, as early as you can, be inquisitive and ask lots of questions. Consider specialising in particular plants or techniques yes, or being a generalist; and having complete confidence in that. But please don’t ever expect to know it all; just be prepared to learn a good deal, over a good deal of time, and keep an open, broad, mind.

Remember that it’s brilliant and inspirational to be someone who holds encyclopaedic knowledge, but it’s also ok not to know a plant name, not to know when to prune a particular shrub, or not to have visited that world famous garden.

Horticulture is so vast a subject and full of opportunity that it is enough to simply keep plodding and to hold a steady job, as it is to keep venturing; just remember that both routes can be enjoyed all the more if you retain an appetite for learning and discovery, and you stay prepared for change and adaptation.

To be, or not to be a gardener, the choice is yours!

Many thanks for reading to the end, if it’s triggered any questions, I’d be very happy to answer in the comments section, or you can message me on Twitter or Instagram.

Kind regards, Gary, Gardening Ways

@AllotofPotential News

News from our family allotment plot in rural Warwickshire.

I can’t believe it was last October when I proudly exclaimed that our family had taken possession of a half plot down at the local allotment site. Since then time has flown.

As I write today, despite much more on the plot that still needs doing, I am more than happy with the progress we’ve made. Our aim from day one was to take things steady, a strategy reinforced by numerous allotment holders who warmly welcomed us to the community, and we’ve generally stuck to that strategy.

One of our nectar-bank plants, good old fashioned red hot poker 🐝

We have, I’m proud to say stuck with a ‘green’ approach to allotment gardening, which is by far the best option, and not just for the fact that we’re growing plants for consumption. The allotment, you see, is a complete oasis for nature, and you just can’t fail to feel it from the moment you pass through the gates.

When last on-site, as my car rolled to a stop on the grassy patch beside the plot, a charm of goldfinches fled from a hedge and along the gravelly track. A little later as I dug over the pumpkin patch, a robin whistled from atop an allotment shed, crows cawed, and as I sat for a break, a fly buzzed briefly under the eaves of a shed, shortly before it was enveloped by a resident spider.

Green gardening, therefore, just has to be the way, and we look forward to mastering the use of mulches, of using green manures, of growing in peat-free compost, and most definitely; of not using pesticides or weed killers.

Wildlife pond being assembled on an allotment
Wildlife pond under construction! 🐸

To support our pest control, and I’m not even sure if we’re allowed to call slugs and snails ‘pests’ any more, we have dug-in a wildlife pond. It’s a little way from completion but its function, beyond the visual appeal is to offer a home to toads or frogs, or anything else that will keep the slime brigade at bay. At least that’s the plan.

The pond is a simple hole with a roughly level upper edge, lined with cardboard and a plastic pond liner. We added a few cans of water to weight the liner down, then we left it to fill naturally and find its own upper level. In due course, as the pond finds that level, I shall tidy the perimeter edge and plant around.

White Colleen potato flowers
Colleen’ potatoes flowering nicely 🥔

But what of the crops you may ask? Well, to be honest it would be nice to be harvesting more of our own food by now, but we have at least ‘sown the seeds’ you could say. Usefully, there were some remnant crops left from the previous plot holders such as parsnips, carrots and potatoes, and those of course were put to good use in the kitchen. But aside from that, it’s been enough, on this allotment voyage of discovery and clearance, to have broken and tamed some ground, and to have established a system for growing.

In respect of our own crops for this year, we have ‘Colleen’ first-early potatoes that are pretty much ready to dig now, and these will be followed by ‘Mayan Rose’, ‘British Queen’ (that variety seemed appropriate given the Jubilee!) and lastly some ‘Cara’. Hopefully then we’re good for spuds for the months ahead.

On a sour note, a few brassicas bought late last season from the bargain bench at the garden centre haven’t worked so well. We had just cleared our first patch of ground and so, after an impulse purchase, in they went. They established very nicely but eventually in the cool early spring, some cabbage aphids moved in under the covers. It was so cold that lady bird larvae weren’t really getting about, birds couldn’t reach them to keep the aphids in check, and so a good few specimens had to be pulled up. Lessons learned.

Slow but sure, the brassicas are coming… 🥬

The ladybirds however are now out in force I’m glad to say, and I’m reassured that going forward, we’re in with a fighting chance! How different it would be had I reached straight for some spray – I’d likely have knocked out the ladybirds too.

Elsewhere, we’ve direct sown carrots – two varieties, parsnips and leeks, and planted onion sets too, which are all getting away very nicely. All that’s needed is some delicate weeding in between to keep the competition down, and crossed fingers in hope that the newly resident hare doesn’t take a fancy!

Numerous other things are being grown on in pots and trays at home and will, as more allotment ground becomes available, be planted over the coming weeks. I’d love to say planted over the coming days, but whilst the ground isn’t quite ready yet, the growth from seed to planting-out stage has been painfully slow this spring, some crops even started again using different composts to remedy the perplexing situation.

Good progress but there’s still a lot of potential!

So there we have it, two thirds of the way through our first allotment year. We have two nectar-banks and a wildlife pond establishing, we’re halfway through turning a very dense compost bin, plot edges are defined, approximately 70% of the ground has been turned/weeded and most importantly, we are growing our own food!

Despite the occasional sore back, dried hands and blisters, despite time never really being easy to find; the satisfaction is real. The feeling that we’re investing in our health and wellbeing, not withstanding the increase in chocolate consumption and after allotment beers; is real. I’d thoroughly recommend it!

Until next time, all the very best, Gary (+ Ruth & Co.) @allotofpotential

My Woven Web

Hello and welcome back to my gardening ways blog. It has been a while since I last showed up, but many thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll find something to delight, entertain or connect with, be it a few moments pondering my weird take on a life in horticulture, or enjoyment of a few carefully selected seasonal images and notes.

If you know my blog, you’ll know the importance I place on images which contribute hugely to whichever piece I’m presenting. You’ll understand, that for the first time in I don’t know how long, I’m jumping straight into the writing, and the images will be randomly squeezed in afterwards. This isn’t due to a shortage of pictures by the way, but more related to my present state of mind. In the next few lines, all will become apparent, as they say!

Manipulated image of a gardener at work on an allotment.
A manipulated image of my good self at work on the allotment.

The different approach to this post is due to the strange horticultural path I feel I’m treading just now, balanced precariously as I am between a garden consultancy role, restoring an allotment, and establishing a new garden at home. (This lifestyle shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise if you know me at all!)

I don’t think I’m different to many other people, in as much that I’m inspired regularly by my surroundings and situations, and I’m increasingly driven to capture them in some way. To this end, I’m usually to be found snapping pictures of flowers, bees, beetles and anything garden-like, in fact anything ancient, artistic or horticulturally trivial that captures my attention. I’ll often lag behind on an outing, only to have to hurry to catch up because I got caught up taking some pictures!

Woolsthorpe Manor and Newton’s apple tree in full leaf, positioned behind a low wattle barrier
Another property on my patch, so to speak: Woolsthorpe Manor, with Newton’s apple tree.

In the last week alone, I’ve filmed clips of freshly shooting trees, grazing deer, potato planting, potting-up in the garden, dragonflies resting, and both wild flowers and roses swaying in the breeze. It’s all linked I think, yet makes my photo archive something of a random mix of visuals. You might experience a slither of the experience were you to scroll down my Instagram page!

The random nature of my imagery has become all the more varied since taking a major personal turn in direction towards the end of last year with, as mentioned previously: a new home, a new allotment and new job. I’ve always collected images of course, but now they’re from here, there, and seemingly everywhere!

A seedling Rowan tree in a pot
An important little seedling Rowan tree, its family line stretching back to a family garden two generations back.

However, despite the head-filling work days and remaining no-time-to-rest hours left over each week, I feel duty bound to record a post that in some ways will capture this moment in time for me; a time when some days deliver intense frustration or exhaustion, whilst other days can present moments of complete fascination, enlightened discovery and new levels of personal fulfilment. It’s hard to explain, bu oh what a woven web we weave.

If only I could stitch all the good moments together and edit out all the bad. If the whole journey could flow and not switch lanes every five minutes. If the rain only fell at night to refresh our gardens. It would be all perfect and life would be more enjoyable, right? Wrong? Who knows.

What I do know is that it’s usually a matter of balance, in as much that the challenging moments often make the special moments even more special; a case of yin and yang I guess.

Father and son studying tadpoles in the historic garden that is Painswick Rococo Garden.
A special moment studying tadpoles with my lad at Painswick Rococo Garden.

The main body of text in this post doesn’t therefore tell a story, or record key themes as my typical garden journal posts would, but hopefully, in the spirit of openness, lets you know where I’m at mentally. The images selected, therefore, whilst not themed to the post itself will nevertheless be chosen to indicate the random nature of the days I’m experiencing.

If none of it makes sense, or is hard to contemplate, rest assured that plants are still there every day in abundance. Physical gardening, whilst randomly placed, calls me regularly, keeps me active and keeps my thumbs green, and my mental engagement in the horticultural world has risen to new, infuriatingly brilliant levels. It’s all very busy, and all very fascinating!

Berrington Hall, Herefordshire
Berrington Hall, Herefordshire, acknowledged as ‘Capability’ Brown’s last landscape commission. Tomorrow I visit Croome in Worcestershire, also on my patch, & Brown’s first large scale project.

Putting all that heaviness aside, I do hope you’ve been enjoying all the growth that spring has brought. It feels as though we’re on summer’s doorstep now and its warmth is already wafting over our gardens.

I’ve enjoyed some catch-up sessions watching Chelsea Flower Show on TV, and despite my concerns over the whole shebang, I can’t help but be inspired by the creative people and entirety of the product; I hope you’ve managed to watch some or even visit the real thing?! (If you’re more of a Beechgrove fan, I’m right there with you too).

I’ll leave things there for now, but will in my closing words encourage you to stay positive, enjoy the flowers and keep in touch. Oh yes, and please do pass on the keys to a balanced lifestyle if you have them, I could do with unlocking its mysterious ways!

Kind regards
Gary

Garden Journal 8.4.22

Hello and welcome to my garden journal. It’s been a while, but I hope you’ll stick around for what I hope will be an interesting trot through my recent gardening ways.

You may remember that at the end of January, I was heading into a gardens and parks consultancy role for the National Trust, in the super-large Midlands and East region. This in effect means that for the first time in years, more years than I care to remember, I won’t have a ‘work’ garden to directly manage; which I’m still struggling to get to grips with to be fair.

Swirling patterns in stone balustrade at Upton House Warwickshire by Gary Webb
Stunning stonework at Upton House & Garden

In fact, the first question numerous people have asked during introductions has often been “How are you going to adapt to a ‘hands-off’ role?” Well, in all honesty it will have to remain a ‘suck it and see’ exercise, because if we don’t try new things or dip our toes in the water, if we don’t walk through the door when it opens; then how do we know if we’re in the right place? Only time will tell.

There is though a couple of tricks up my sleeve, which I hope will satisfy my thirst for physical, active gardening. The first, having taken over a new garden at home at the end of last summer, is brand new garden project that is pretty much a blank canvas.

Just taking a breather whilst enjoying some digging…

It is a bland, largely grass and clay-based plot I have to say, and with economics the way they are, it’s certainly not going to become an overnight show garden. But what an opportunity this little garden presents; such an opportunity that I’ve hardly dare touch it for months whilst I’ve pondered the options. I’ve studied the light and shade, and frost-pockets since day one, so at this point I’ve worked out where’s best for a seating area or two. I know where my potted and long suffering sun loving plants need to go, along with those that will be happier in the shade.

The most challenging aspect, which isn’t entirely unexpected in a new development I guess, is the soil. Well, when I say soil, I mean subsoil. From the moment I dug out the base for the shed, to the moment I planted a new sapling in the front garden, my concerns over the quality of the soil were confirmed.

Digging this lot into new borders will make all the difference, I hope… Let’s also hope it’s not also full of nasties…

However, if I’m to maintain my presence as a gardener, my lot is to work with what I have, and so this week arrived a bulk bag of well-rotted manure, of which 1/3rd is already part dug into a new border I’m working on. There’s a long way to go before I can crouch down and plant, but I’ve made a start, by investing in what matters most; the soil. Just watch the weeds grow now!

The other trick up my sleeve, so to speak, is of course our family allotment, which has given my veggie growing ambitions a new lease of life already. We took on the new allotment at the very same time as the new home garden last year, and we’ve all thoroughly enjoyed visiting on fair-weather days.

Sun set lighting up allotment sheds in Warwickshire. By Gary Webb
Sun setting on a productive session on the plot.

Our boys have been there with us most times, and have both dug holes. Well, to clarify, they’ve dug one hole each. Every time they visit, they dig a little more out of ‘their’ hole, and it quickly reached the point where they had to cover over said holes to make them safe whilst we were away. But they’re digging, my boys are actually enjoying digging! We just need to figure out what they can do next with each hole, so any suggestions would be happily received!

There’s a good deal to do yet before it becomes the productive oasis I’m envisioning, and I’m absolutely certain we’ll have lots of fails and disasters. But, and this has been a huge surprise to me and my better half, if we go on to have as many satisfying fresh air filled moments as we have thus far enjoyed; we’re in for an absolute treat.

Carrots & parsnips going in! 🤞🏼🥕🥕🥕

Don’t forget, when you’re a horticulturist and get yourself an allotment, it’s hard not to feel a touch of pressure. What I will say though is we, the royal ‘we’ that is, have already grown in confidence. Our first seeds were sown direct last weekend, and there’s a range of seedlings growing in the warmth of a growing frame at home; where I can keep a close eye on them. Can’t you tell I’m having a ball? Maybe I’ll be able to survive the day job after all!

Speaking of the day job, the adjustment has been quite a big deal I have to say, but without doubt, the best elements so far have been the opportunities I’ve had to meet fellow gardeners and tour their gardens. It’s already given me different perspectives and I’ve much more insight now to their working worlds. The organisation has grown hugely since I departed in 2008, and its work, its people, and their ambition is incredible.

The orangery (or maybe camellia 🤔) house at Belton House.

If there is a down side, it’s the good deal of time spent worshiping a laptop, which for someone more suited to praying to a potting bench, or anointing a freshly sharpened pair of pruners; takes some adjustment. It’s also made blogging pretty awkward, as the last thing you want is more screen time blogging after a day on a PC! But, and it’s a big but; I’ve had some brilliant hours away from the screen, and I’ve spent quality time with some very talented gardeners in some stunning gardens. Plus, I’ve hugged some INCREDIBLE trees! 🌳

OK, enough is enough, I know you need to get on and do things, or check Instagram or TikTok, so I’ll thank you now for your valuable time; I’m very grateful you stopped by. I’ll nip away if I may to continue establishing in my new role, to fork-out more couch grass at the allotment, and to smash my spade through solid clumps of drying clay in my home garden.

If you’d like to have a look at progress on our allotment, you can find us over on Instagram: @allotofpotential

Kind regards, Gary – Gardening Ways

Trees – Weathering the Storm.

Tall, broad, weeping or not, most people love trees, even if they fail to realise it. Trees texturise our world, from landscapes with twisted ancient groves, in tucked away valleys, to clipped street trees or standard fruit trees in a homely garden.

Trees grow, attract, and enrich life, they even produce the air that gives us life. Yet, as tough as trees are, if storm events have taught us anything, it is that trees are at risk and vulnerable.

Century old trees on the lakeside at Charlecote Park in Warwickshire, England, image by Gary Webb
Reflecting on earth’s incredible trees, here at Charlecote Park, Warwickshire.
© Gary Webb 2022

It is commonly taken that mature trees are solid and everlasting. Their roots will have spread far through the earth, having driven themselves between miniscule particles in every direction, anchoring every specimen firmly to its spot.

In many species, thick, ridged bark encloses and protects softer inner tissue within a trunk. Yet as we look higher, increasingly smoother and more flexible bark can be found cloaking branches, stems and twigs, where frequent breeze driven movement is guaranteed.

Firmly rooted and bank-binding yew tree roots at Upton House & Garden, Warwickshire.
Firmly rooted and bank-binding at Upton House & Garden, Warwickshire.
© Gary Webb 2022

Trees then, with their strong cores, space owning crowns and flexible tops are dynamic, strong and resilient. They’ve evolved to endure, to last, and to grow in number in most environments, indeed, some examples are proven to have lived for centuries.

But when storms touch down, I worry, for each and every unshielded champion. Decayed twigs will rain down for sure, inflexible branches will fracture and fall, to spear the soil or shatter upon the ground below.

Wind waves will rock stems and heave root-plates until long established roots are torn apart. Trees therefore, our constant companions are vulnerable, and once touched personally by a storm are rarely the same again.

Broken cedar tree branches after an overnight storm
Cedar wood damage after west winds blew.
© Gary Webb 2022

Seeing footage of trees snapping, shattering and toppling over recent days should leave an impression, as it has for many storm events in history. Having worked on many cleanup sessions where fallen wood lay strewn across wide areas, and where mud, sweat and tears were inseparable, I also feel for those who are tasked with the unenviable task of clearing away the remains.

Trees will always be at risk from storm events, that is a fact, and dealing with broken trees will always be a labour of love. But trees are, in the main, survivors. Like humans, they will in most cases find a way to endure and adapt, and it helps to take inspiration from this.

Centuries of history live on through this yew tree at Compton Verney, Warwickshire. It’s ridged bark like laughter lines on a mature face.
Centuries of history live on through this yew tree at Compton Verney, Warwickshire.
© Gary Webb 2022

Trees and people are interlinked, and we must continue to invest in them and support their survival; especially where we’ve made environments so challenging for them. We have been fed, clothed, housed and warmed by trees since the beginning of time, we have even been transported around the globe by them, and we should respect that.

If then we lose faith in our trees, if we begin to worry that repairing or replanting a tree isn’t worth the expense, worry or risk, then I’d urge us as a community to think again. We must especially preserve veteran and ancient trees carefully, for unlike buildings, which have the potential to rise again from the ashes, trees never can.

Shade giving trees at Charlecote Park, Warwickshire, positioned on high ground over looking the River Dene & water meadows.
Shade giving life giving trees at Charlecote Park, Warwickshire. Long may they thrive.
© Gary Webb 2022

Through any storm, irreplaceable, historically or botanically important specimens will fall, and their presence will be mourned by many. But in response, what should we do? How can we fill the vacant space that inevitably is left behind?

Practically, I suggest we look closer at the mechanics of any storm individually, and at each particular tree that has been impacted. I would also suggest looking to those trees nearby which survived the storm and ask questions of them: How did they weather the storm? Are replacements available in case they were to fall in future? Is there anything we can do to protect them? We must not just clear up and put the sorry event behind us, but learn from it.

There is much to learn from storms and the attention they bestow on our beloved trees. Survive them we must, but learn from the wreckage what we can before focusing on the new opportunities that will present themselves; for a new generation of life-giving companions.

Plant trees for your grand children, as they say, or plant trees for yourself. Whatever the reason; just keep on planting! 🌳🌳🌳.

Gary Webb,

Gardening Ways – a personal blog about plants and gardens.