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

My Woven Web

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kind regards
Gary

Garden Journal 8.4.22

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

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

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

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

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

Just taking a breather whilst enjoying some digging…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carrots & parsnips going in! 🤞🏼🥕🥕🥕

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kind regards, Gary – Gardening Ways

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 14.6.21

Hello and thanks for clicking the link to my garden journal. This week I’ve been potting-up, repotting in my home garden, and there’s a mention of a brief run out to Canons Ashby. Also, for my observation section this week I’ll be focussing on the longest day.

Gorgeous white lupin spires at Canons Ashby

Potting Up


I’ve written in recent weeks of spring flowers that have cheered us through a somewhat turbulent spring. Many of the plants I’m proud to say came about through my autumn efforts alongside the garden team at Sulgrave Manor. Time passes by quickly though, and so even before the spring flowers had reached their stride I was planning for their late-spring changeover.

Garden Journal 18.4.21

Hello and thanks for dropping in on my garden journal. This week I’ve my own update on Sulgrave Manor Gardening, an important Peat Free April message plus a little Home Gardening for the sarnie filling.

Sulgrave Manor Gardening


Writing in my garden journal last week I talked about the pre-opening rush that the garden team and I were going through to make sure all was looking good for the opening day on Wednesday. If you’re a gardener you’ll likely be very familiar with the thoughts and feelings that are very present in the run up to the big day.

Journal 28.2.21

And just like that it’s journal time, and as for last Sunday’s entry the weather has again brought huge change to my gardening week. It’s as if Mother Nature popped in on Thursday, waved a magic wand and said “let there be sunshine!”

Crocus flowering in my garden ☀️

It really does feel like spring has sprung if I’m honest but, (and there’s always a but) from a gardening perspective I wouldn’t get too used to these temperatures for they may very well be short lived. I’m certainly not wanting to pour water on these beautiful days though as they are so welcome, if only to prove to me that the growing season is actually happening – so I may just have to crawl out from under my rock and get used to it!

Journal 10.1.21

Hello and Happy New Year! Okay, so here I am at the end of week one 2021 with the first ‘Journal’ post of my revised blog format.

I’ll be creating this style of post every week going forward and shall look to include a handful of images grabbed during the week, with some supporting text to record my week of gardening ways, and hopefully to encourage yours!

This week has been a tough one to get my head around and not just because it’s the chilly first week of a new year. It is because, since the beginning of November, I’ve been furloughed for two days per week. This has now been extended through January.

Now, I’m a person that weighs up the pros and cons in any situation, and in the end I always plough on and keep things moving forward. This time however, and I don’t mind saying; it’s really challenging to get my head around things – especially now that schools are closed – if only I could clone myself!

Raising the Hedge

Welcome to my GardeningWays blog, where this week I shall attempt to give rise to the significantly trivial formal garden hedge.

Hedge trimmer resting on the hedge top between trimming sessions... at Sulgrave Manor in Northants
Hedge trimming underway at Sulgrave, although that blade can be tighter…

You see, we finally managed to make a start on trimming the yew hedges in the garden at Sulgrave Manor, and whilst there’s a long way yet to go, at least we’ve made a start.

In preparation, I found myself sharpening, and sharpening and sharpening the trimmer teeth, and whilst lost in the moment I started thinking about the formal hedge I was about to trim for the first time. I also began considering formal hedges in the wider world of gardening, and particularly about their reputation.