Stepping carefully through frozen leaves so not to squish snowdrops, I ventured through vegetation to the river’s edge until it appeared – a view of a boathouse from across the water. I merely sought another perspective and to understand why there, and why built in such an unusual way?
Visible mostly by the crisp outlines of a tiled roof perched upon hefty, stripped bark tree trunk pillars, the recently restored boathouse was a subtle, historic and hidden gem. Indeed, in such a vast landscape dressed with attention seeking sculptures, formal gardens, ancient trees and deer herd, you would be forgiven for passing by this rustic shaded beauty unawares.
As it would have been inside the mind of its Georgian creator, this boathouse was a dream-like work of art. Rising from the four corners of its roof were precisely cut tiles that climbed towards flag and globe finials, rendered gold yet largely unseen from this angle, and mostly cast in shade. Between the ridges, scalloped, hand crafted slates added even more character to the already pretty house. There was something more to this structure though, as it felt like a part of something else, something bigger.
This new vista had proved a success, gifting me a hoped for view of the boat house from across the river. At this point along its route the water was a cloudy, gracefully passing mass, and just a few paces downstream, a portion would soon be scooped away for a special purpose. Through a picturesque stone arch and in contrast to the calming river, the stolen water raced and fell rapidly, flooding the area in atmospheric sound worthy of the wildest wilderness.
My gaze was held by the primary river though, patterned with a scene of shadows, trees and sky, even the crazy stick work of the boathouse itself was reflected in crisp perfection. Inverted, towering plane trees reached down into an alternate world of hope, holding a mirrored sun firmly between their branches. This long natural river scene however, with its stone arches and composed cascades, with its lofty trees and view framed by outgrown evergreen yew clumps – was a complete fabrication.
The boathouse – bespoke, the river – carved, the landform – manipulated, the archway stones – stacked, and the trees – very carefully selected, located, and pruned; the entire space originally created over two centuries ago had been designed. Yet the scene, aside from its exquisite boathouse and unusual stonework nearby, appeared so correct as could easily be mistaken for the work of nature itself.
Just a few moments on that river bank, and a few moments earlier touching the timber knots of the boathouse itself, was enough. Enough to feel the energy that flowed relentlessly from the sun, through every cell of those tall trees, along each grassy blade and inside the river itself. Enough to sense the respect, passion and dedication given by countless people in times past. Moments enough to comprehend and consider the broader creation.
So, to the spirit and creators and carers of that boathouse and its wider, wilder home, your thoughtful work and passion continues, living in the folks who patiently try to see, to understand and appreciate what went before. We can only imagine how it must have been, how it must have felt back in its prime. Of the modern day efforts though, we most earnestly hope you approve, whoever, or whatever you are.
An experience of a boathouse at Belton, Lincolnshire, by Gary Webb.
It was good to be there, enjoying the winter glow, and to be amongst the cooing, spilling, driving noise. Refreshing it was to be on my time and be out amongst people who also chose that park, that day. I drew comfort from seeing folks like me, and not like me, strolling and wheeling between the trees, benches, bins.
Cold may have tickled my exposed neck but the sun’s glow washed my face with warmth, and the chilly metal park bench grounded me to that place. Under the lumpy holly oak I sat with the brightest sun blaring through its low swaying branches, light flashing across waves of that choppy pond, transforming waterfowl into silhouettes.
Geese honked and gulls flapped wildly into the air towards anyone likely to scatter food, hoping morsels would fall within striking distance. At my feet speculative pigeons trod a winding route, also hoping for free food to arrive, styling it away when nothing appeared.
Noise from bustling nearby traffic was drowned, literally, by thick ribbons of water rising and falling from six fountains in the pond, each descending stream creating a disk of white water turbulence birds wisely avoided. Sights, smells, sounds; the whole embracing scene wrapped around me.
As I record those moments to read again, I know that I can be carried there again quicker than a glint on that water. When days to come grip me indoors or in traffic, these memories will loosen the grasp and revive me. ‘Twas a rest day, a peace day, a sit in the sun and take it all in day and you, like I can hold days like those in your heart.
Today, I embarked on an early morning school run thanks to a school bus that didn’t arrive. Despite the bright sunshine, temperatures were sub-zero, which encouraged a hasty car window de-icing session, followed by the hurried delivery of two youngsters, so Dad’s taxi could save the day. Thankfully, the frantic one way dash was followed by a steadier return trip across the hills as I headed back home, when I could at least have more time to take in the frozen panoramic landscape.
Descending the hill from the Fosseway in a car which had finally warmed, I emerged from a heavily wooded hillside to reveal a familiar view of my home village spread left to right, across a flat and very cold land. It was almost a scene from a Victorian Christmas card, where everyone was awakening from another chilly December night; icy rooftops and chimney stacks faced this way and that, occasional trees peeked above, and all was shrouded in the finest mist that faded as it rose high to a wide pastel blue sky.
Also, sat in the sky above the village, I was delighted to see December’s Cold Moon, which held a full and dominant if subtle position up high. I’m fascinated by the moon, and have been frustrated not to have spent more time across the last few nights taking in its full glory, especially as it’s the last full moon of the year. I was glad then, on this frosty morn, to still see my old friend who had hung around for breakfast before bidding farewell.
This cold snap, I might as well add, is all down to the moon, although I have little scientific evidence to prove it. Indeed I’d convinced myself as the moon waxed across the last few days, that the climate had gradually settled and calmed; at least it had across my locality. The depth and sharpness of the frost had increased, yes, but aside from that, the soothing effects were to be seen around as the moon made its presence felt.
Could I be imagining the moon’s impact, am I way off the mark, I ask myself? I’m not sure, but it often pays to keep an open mind I find. It’s just I seem to notice that whenever the full moon arrives and departs, the weather often seems to change. I really should start recording to test it out.
If you know me, you’ll know that I try hard in every situation to connect with the environment around me, although when I’m at home, in my ‘sanctuary’ as it were, I admit that my outlook is somewhat curtailed. There are no distance views from my windows to leafy landscapes or rolling hills, there are no woodlands or mountains, and I could hardly be more land-locked in this country if I tried – so sea views are way out of bounds. Not to be outdone however, when I am at home, I’m drawn, beyond the detail of my own garden to look up. I look up to the sky, and the perplexing universe beyond; up there has become the go-to place for my mind and curiosity to wander free.
Up there of course, beyond those cloud formations and viewed amongst the stars, the moon and its cycle never fails to draw my focus, not just for its scale, but for its impact on the earth and ourselves. It definitely affects my sleep although I’m not sure why, and is known to impact the environment too, something I’m attempting to get to grips with and understand. All things considered therefore, I confess here to being completely under the moon’s spell, and I’m happy, rightly or wrongly, to put the cool brilliance of the last few days firmly down to the moon.
Whatever the weather, and whatever the cause, this morning’s rushed road trip turned out to have a silvery lining after all. For one, it put me out amongst that village view, even if it were in a toasty car, and for two, it pushed me to consider more carefully the sugared fields and frozen hedgerows, the tufty roadside grass and even an obelisk’s bay leaves beside my parking space at home, which were frosted perfectly around their margins. Indeed, I was conjuring up words even before I sat down to write.
After all is said and done, the youngsters made their first lessons, the moon bid its goodbye, I paused to notice, and this little piece appeared to sit as a memory on my blog. Thanks for reading. Regards, Gary
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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. 🌿
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!