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

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.

Garden Journal 6.2.22

Hello and welcome to my blog, if you have a few moments spare I hope you’ll stick around whilst I attempt to recall a few images and thoughts about my evolving world of gardening just now.

It has been a very peculiar two weeks I have to say, joining a brand new set of colleagues from across the country on day one of my new consultancy role. To say I have settled in might be stretching it a little, but I’m keeping up and from the outset have been given a very warm welcome.

There’s an awful lot to get my head around of course, but hopefully once I have properly understood the parameters around my role, I’ll feel more comfortable blogging about my work again. Having said that, I will refer to my new role in at least one of my memory jogging images below.

In the book corner, trying to categorise...
In the book corner, attempting to categorise…

My first image above comes with a sigh of relief, having finally regained my book collection from storage. Most of them have been boxed up for a year now due to a house move, and as such were piled high in a garage for a while, and then in a shed. Yes, all of my horticultural reference books, locked away out of sight, although not out of mind.

I don’t for a second think I’m unique but often, for one reason or another, I reach for a book to check facts, to gain perspective or trigger an idea. For them to be locked away for so long therefore has been something of a trial, almost as if a large part of my memory bank was down.

Next up is an image that is having to represent the first two weeks in my new role. OK, so it might not be one of my usual images of plants and gardens, but it’s no less relevant, and will be an important part of my work going forward which includes plant health and conservation.

It was taken during a week’s residential gathering with my new team, which coincided with my first week in post. In short, I’m standing in cleaned and disinfected boots, plus covers, and on regularly cleaned concrete. I was on location at biosecure plant centre, where I learned about important steps being taken to protect some of the most important plant collections in the country.

Rare plants, quarantined plants, difficult to propagate plants and most worryingly; “only one of its kind” sort of plants were discussed. Even being familiar with the type of work expected at a place like this, my eyes were truly opened to the challenges at this particular centre, which is essentially working to protect gardens from the growing threats of disease, pests and climate change.

I’ll say little more just now, but crikey what a place it was, with such an important role to play on behalf of our plants and gardens.

Moving on again, the following image was taken after a week of long days spent largely sitting down with a laptop; new days indeed. On Thursday evening, the weather was clear at the end of day and presented a much needed opportunity for a fresh air football kick-around with my eldest lad over at the park; in failing light.

Park Moon 🌙

The session held mutual benefits of course, and whilst the fresh air cleared my head, my attention became frequently drawn to the waxing crescent moon, which sat high above the all-weather pitches.

I know it’s not the best lunar shot you’ll ever see, but I’ve become more aware of the moon and its impact over the last few years and want to record it here. I’m a regular reader of Lia Leendertz’s Almanac, which serves as a good guide as to what the moon is up to, including offering gardening pointers as to what activity is best done in the garden during any given moon phase.

The Tudor Villagers Garden, Sulgrave Manor, where we began to work with moon planting.

Furthermore, a gardening buddy over on the gram ( @nutsaboutgardening ) has been posted some fabulous moon images of late, which warmly reminds me that I’m not the only gardener with a fascination of that big beautiful button in the sky.

In this moment, I’m also reminded of our efforts to establish moon planting as the norm for the Tudor Villagers Garden at Sulgrave Manor. (Pictured above). A modest start it might have been, but a concept I’m committed to learning more about and trialling over the coming years, and will be dabbling with over on the allotment this year.

Speaking of the allotment, after making a visit for the second weekend running, I’m glad to round off this weeks post with two shots and a very brief update from the plot.

We’re not set up for seed sowing as yet, but I have started to think about layout for the crops we’re intending to grow over the coming months. So far, after taking on the plot at the end of summer last year, we’ve weeded around and harvested a few veggies: potatoes, carrots, parsnips and some sprouts; all left, thankfully, by the previous plot holders.

Cardboard and weed sheeting, the battle continues!

We managed to clear enough ground in autumn so that we could plant some spring veg that were on offer at the garden centre. Then post Christmas we’ve continued to weed around the few remaining veggies and cleared more couch grass infested ground in anticipation of spring planting.

Yesterday we geared-up again and layed some large sheets of cardboard down, with a view to weakening the weed growth over the coming weeks. The cardboard didn’t go far, but the ground sheeting did, so in my book at least, we’ve layed foundations for some good battles going forward!

I’m certain that the weather will come to try us over the coming weeks, as around these parts especially, we haven’t yet experienced a winter to speak of. We shall though continue to move forward with the plot when we can, and if you are on Instagram, you’d be very welcome to follow our progress via @AllotofPotential.

Over at the allotment

So there we have it, two strange and fascinating weeks into a new hort’ role, some great progress over on the allotment, and a crescent of moon planting for good measure. Who knows what’s coming next!

All being well, I’ll be back on the blog within a fortnight, when hopefully both the allotment and my new role will be a little more established. Whatever you’re up to, I hope it includes loads of plants and fresh air!

Kind regards, Gary Webb, Gardening Ways.

Garden Journal 7.11.21

You are very welcome, to another garden journal entry at a time when winter looms large and that familiar autumn atmosphere surrounds and embraces us. The season’s leaves have been floating down for some while now to enrich our soils, berries and fruits have been dazzling us with their little balloons of brilliance, and spent flowers are decaying in their own special way. Isn’t it an exquisite time of year for nature and gardens?!

Bright red mountain ash berries hanging in clusters from the tree, with leafy background
Nature’s larder ready for winter shoppers

Allot-of-Potential

This post is the first in a new allotment themed category that I’m excited to be sharing to my Gardening Ways blog. The thread of posts will track progress on a new allotment plot we’ve taken on which will be tended by my partner in ‘grime’ Ruthie and myself, and our two boys if we can entice or bribe them to play an active part too – good luck with that one did someone say?

Allotment newbs..