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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?!
It’s garden Journal time for me, so if you’ve found these words already, I hope you’ll stick around for another few minutes whilst I tell tales about my last two weeks in gardening. In this post I’ll be Feeling Autumn, I enjoy a Hidcote Booster, and I explain why my arms will be a touch achy for the next few weeks.
I don’t know how you’re finding things, but when I stop to consider the autumn season, being in the garden has felt a little bit weird for a while now. Allowing for the vagaries of plants that do what they want, when they want, things still feel odd. Maybe it’s just the mild seasonal weather at the moment, but some flowers seem to be later than usual, some trees are keeping their colours hidden, and some perennials want to keep on going – at least in my garden.
Hello and thanks for visiting my garden journal, a place for recording my gardening activity and tracking moments in gardens. This week I’m recognising a grand volunteer effort through raking the orchard, I’ve been corralling plants for growing at home, and have been soaking up some wonderful autumn light in observations.
Raking the Orchard
Gardening at work this summer, (Sulgrave Manor if you’re new to this blog,) has been something of a rollercoaster I have to say. Indeed, numerous factors seem to have combined to create a two steps forward one step back type of year – weather and Covid being the biggest of them for sure. Yet, I’ve been completely uplifted of late, and especially on our very successful and busy Heritage Open Day, by the growing visitor numbers and the many positive comments about how tidy and lovely the garden is.
The results in terms of garden presentation is in no short measure down to the regular attendance and dedication of the Sulgrave team – mostly volunteers, who’ve donated many years in some cases to the garden. Week in, week out, each individual arrives, giving up their valuable time to help us plant, prune and weed, and without them the garden would be but a slither of its excellent self.
Hello, and thanks for visiting my garden journal – a place for recording my gardening activity and tracking moments in gardens. This week two new gardens requiring a good deal of work enter my life, and I’m uplifted by visits to two great Northamptonshire gardens: Kelmarsh Hall and Coton Manor.
New Garden News!
I promised in this blog to bring news of two new gardens that have arrived from left of stage. Due to their gravity I’ll cover both ‘projects’ independently below but in short, the first of the gardens has arrived because I’ve moved home to a brand new house with a wonderful blank-canvas garden. Secondly, after waiting in the queue, I’ve landed myself a half-plot at the local allotments!
As you’d imagine, I’m spinning with ideas as to the many different ways both these plots can be developed, and not at all daunted by the work ahead. Okay, maybe I fibbed about the last part! Nevertheless, I’m fully aware of the opportunities these two plots offer to literally put roots down, permanently in some cases, in gardens for the benefit of my family and those around, and of course for my own self!
Fifty Percent Foliage
In the main, I have to say that we as a family, not just I have moved house. Therefore you’ll have to forgive my distance from social media over the last few weeks as there has been a good deal of box packing and stress and of living in the moment – you know how it goes. We were so excited to get the thumbs-up after numerous postponements, but whilst we’re now in, it’s all rather strange.
As I type (starting at 7:45am,) the reversing beeps of the builders tele-handler continues to sound a short distance from the house, the JCB’s bucket scrapes tarmac, and other finished houses around us sit empty, awaiting visits from landscapers before they can be ‘signed off’. Flooring throughout the house is yet to be laid, and we continue to battle with our telecom provider for a useable system. Yet, the garden we’ve acquired is FABULOUS!
The deal with our last rented house meant that I needed to remove planted borders and reinstate to what we found eight years ago. This of course resulted in many, many potted plants that have since spring been tucked away in corners here there and everywhere, awaiting their move in date too. I even borrowed a hidden corner of the work’s garden where I stored a few car loads! The result is that on our moving day, the final van load was still fifty percent foliage and terracotta!
Now, in terms of the garden, it’s planted and turfed to the front, and entirely turfed to the rear but for some access paving tight to the house wall. The front is tidy, as you’d expect, and planted blandly into nasty looking imported soil, again as you’d expect – but it will keep. In my head I’m already peeling back the turf and imagining a pretty tree. Maybe a cherry, no, maybe an apple to make the space pretty and productive. Maybe a Cornus kousa, or Himalayan birch, or even a Musa to buck the trend! Again, it will keep, there’s so much else to think about and there’s no need to be hasty.
The back garden though is where some real potential lives. After what seems like a lifetime of restrictive growing, on the home front at least, it feels like at least we have some real opportunities here to create a proper, personal space independent of all others. Things are too busy just now but I’m keen to get sketching, to play with the spaces, and to finally get some of my cherished plants into proper soil – although this may take some work too!
I very much look forward to sharing the garden’s development of course, along with the bone jarring graft that lies ahead! (It’s going to be a steady one for sure…)
Allot[ment] of Potential
The other great gardening story of my moment is the acquisition of a half plot at a very special site nearby; Wellesbourne Allotments. It’s a long established site on a relatively flat basin of land, with views over to rising ground that carries the Roman Fosseway – it’s really quite a special place.
I hesitated for too long to join the waiting list because, well, I spend most of my mental and physical energy in my work’s gardens. Last year however, in early spring when concerns about food shortages came to the fore, it felt like the right time to get onto the list (whilst also growing some extra supplies at home in containers). I was kept updated as to progress up the list but was genuinely surprised to get a call with an offer back in August, my reply of course being be a solid “Yes Please!”
I will spare you the details as to progress so far, but to be honest there has been frustratingly little. The day I collected the gate keys was a day before we went away for a week, and we’ve been moving house seemingly ever since. Still, we’ve moved onto the allotment so to speak, and have spent a couple of hours weed pulling around the previous tenants veggies in order to stop the weed seeds blowing across the other plots – not wanting to upset our neighbours who manage some very, very tidy plots!
More sessions are planned, and soon, but before I leave my allotment chat I just have to mention that whilst I have signed on the dotted line, our new allotment is very much a family venture – at least I hope it’s going to be! To that end my partners-in-crime Ruthie and the boys have already jumped in with the weeding, and we’ve even set up a dedicated Instagram account called AllotofPotential – and we’d love to connect with like minded folks to share our newfound love for allotmenteering!
I hope to post snippets of our allotment progress to my garden journal, and will likely create independent posts too if I can make the time. I’m sure we’ll be learning loads over the coming year as we take a sleeping, couch-grass infested plot through to a productive (hopefully) patch.
I was fortunate to escape my work’s garden this week for an educational team visit (with meetings I hastily add!) to two nearby properties – Kelmarsh Hall and Garden, and Coton Manor Garden. There was a good deal to see and many things were discussed of course, but looking back I realised that it was my first external works trip for two whole years. There have been webinars, online chats and such like, of course, but I’ve made no real opportunity to get out and talk garden’s with colleagues, and this needs to change!
Visiting gardens to compare and contrast and to discover and inspire is to many a jolly, as you’ll often hear, but of course it’s more than that. It fires the imagination, lights a spark, triggers thought processes and all that jazz! In those two gardens I rediscovered plants I hadn’t worked with before, I studied two widely different plant nursery situations and admired the gardeners who were toiling away in pretty hot conditions. I watched visitors flow through spaces, explored marketing and road tested garden interpretation. Planting combinations were poured over, early autumn borders were investigated and, I might have purchased a plant or two for my home plot.
My observation and discovery is that in my quest to push plants and gardens and their benefits out across the web, that somehow, mostly due to the pandemic I expect, I’ve missed out on some important experiences myself. I’ve lost the ‘out in the field’, mind expanding, logic challenging visits I previously enjoyed. They’re valuable, believe me, and it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of sharing time with like minded people. In the coming months therefore as ‘the situation’ eases, I certainly hope to repeat the experience and simply to get out more to benchmark!
On that note I’ll finish up now, as I know you’ll need to get on. Many thanks though for reaching the end of another of my garden journals. I do hope you’re enjoying some moments in the early autumn garden.
Hello and thanks for clicking the link to my garden journal. This week I’m not afraid to say it’s Tulip Mania!
When assembling my journal entries I tend to look back across images I’ve snapped since my last post, and right now as I pause to look back there’s one particular plant that features heavily in my photos file – Tulipa!
There has been a good deal of gardening activity completely unrelated to tulips of course, but for this journal entry I thought I’d focus completely on these little beauties that by sheer fortune have bounced back into my life over the last few years.
To track back just a little, in autumn 2019 I found myself planting many tulips in pots and borders for Rachel de Thame in her beautiful Cotswolds garden. It was a real treat being introduced to some lovely varieties, but more than that it was brilliant to see how they can work together when carefully selected by someone with a very keen eye. To say I learned a great deal would be something of an understatement!