Friday, 7 December 2012

Christmas floristry

One of my favourite jobs at this time of year is the creation of winter floristry for each of the gardens I work in, this is not only my chance to give a little something back to the clients but also to help show that there is still floral interest out there. It’s amazing what even the barest garden has to over and with a little imagination it’s easy to bring some of this into the house for the festive period.

At this time of year it’s understandable that many people are not spending a huge amount of time in the garden, with the decreasing daylight and temperature to contend with it can be difficult for many to get their gardening fix. With a bit of home floristry however it’s possible to still feel like you’re still part of the outside world while allowing yourself the comfort of being inside, other than the collecting of plant material one doesn’t need to even step out the door.

My main focus at this time is the creation of Christmas wreaths, this is fairly easy to put together with the simplest of materials, ivy to form the ring and begin the basic foliar covering, holly for structure and depth of colour (plus berries if you’re lucky) and then whatever else you have to hand to build up foliage and interest. You’d be amazed at what the garden has to offer and don’t just look for live plants, seed heads are a welcome contrast to the green and bring a lightness of shape to the wreath too, I’ve even used oak apples before (galls produced by certain types of wasp).

I’ve included a few photographs of past wreaths and Christmas displays, have fun and be imaginative as you like.

Friday, 30 November 2012

The coming winter

I’ve just been out to the shop, not particularly interesting news in itself but it’s only seven o’clock in the evening and already the ground is starting to sparkle with the approaching frost. I know it’s December on Saturday and in no way should I be surprised by the falling temperature but after the year we’ve had it seems odd to have weather that actually matches the season. A warm winter last year followed by a short spring, wet summer and autumn make for an unsuspecting entrance to sudden frosts and freezing air.

In the garden it’s important to take the changing seasons seriously, now is the time to prepare the plants for a harsh few months whilst giving wildlife every chance to weather the winter and be ready for the spring next year. If we’re really going to be having the bitter cold the forecasters are currently predicting then certain steps need to be taken to ensure the garden is ready and able to survive it too.
For example, when cutting back herbaceous plants as I was today it’s a good idea to leave some of the old growth proud of the ground, say four or five inches worth should do it, this helps protect the younger leaves and buds sheltering down at soil level. I already have daffodils beginning to spear through the ground and rudbeckia sending out new leaves, the possibility of winter damage is high and will mean a stunted garden come next March when we’ll be beginning to look to the next display.
In most cases what’s good for the plants is also good for the wildlife, leaf litter left on the beds will helps insulate the soil and prevent frosts going too deep. True the beds need to be checked for too thick a leaf course and if you know you’ve cyclamen or similar trying to push through it’s advisable to give them a helping hand plus there will be slugs overwintering under the leaves but so will ground beetles, hedgehogs, frogs, toads, centipedes and all sorts of creatures we gardeners welcome come the warming spring sun.

Importantly when out and about at this time of year bear in mind that we could well be in for a tough, cold time ahead and though you may be spending a lot of it inside warm and cosy the garden will appreciate any help you can give.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Garden cowboys

There’s a sad and cautionary feel to the blog today, for this is the tale of men, trees and a nurtured garden who met one fateful day and didn’t get on.

There is a garden I’ve grown to know, after six years of tending the earth and plants I feel I was really starting to make a difference; and then the men turned up. I was away at the time but I knew they were coming to do the trees along the front drive, a mix of ash and sycamore between thirty and forty years old that had many limbs hanging precariously over both the drive and pavement. To be fair to them it’s a tricky site, a steep slope, crowded vegetation below and lots of ivy but little did I realise the drama that was to follow.

Earlier today I received a phone call from client to ask if I wanted any of the wood that had already been felled, during the conversation the feeling that all was not right soon began to take over. Upon further questioning I discovered that the ‘tree surgeons’ had done one day so far and were coming back to finish today but on top of this were also, to quote my client “making one hell of a mess”. It became apparent that these were not the experienced aboriculturists we’d been expecting. So after work I went to visit the garden and see what had been done so far.

Decimation. It was a wood massacre. Bits of tree lay everywhere, across beds and borders, cleaving parts of the hedge in two and just thrown into piles wherever handy regardless of whether plants were currently occupying that space or not. In one place all you could see was a mess of ivy and through that the huge bulk of two large two foot wide pieces of sycamore trunk, the last time I’d been there I know a rather beautiful holly (Ilex ‘Silver Queen’) had been growing there. It was the same all over the drive beds, plants had been trodden on, squashed, crushed, broken, smothered, etc.

The men have since 'done a runner' with the job half done.

I myself am still traumatised by it. The work I’d put in over the last six years ruined, I’m sure in a years’ time this may well have a silver lining, a chance to re-plan a difficult area and start again, but with Christmas so close and the pressure on to get all my gardens looking presentable for family visits and socialising I’d going to be hard pushed to have this area looking good again before early summer, let alone the end of next month.

Take from this what lessons you can. There are many garden jobs that people will say they can do for a quick cash in hand payout, all it takes is a van and chainsaw and you can legally call yourself a tree surgeon. It’s always worth checking for knowledge and experience, the courses and qualifications are there for a reason.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Orla and the art of gardening

As many of you know I have a delightful two year old daughter who is naturally the joyful companion of my days (and nights) though not as much as I would hope at times. Generally my gardening days start with Beanie and me getting up around seven and having between two and three hours before I have to leave for work, during which we’ll munch breakfast, share babble, roll around on the floor for a bit and try to find a balance between my tidying and her spreading toys far and wide.
Then off to lose myself in a garden for the day before heading home for the last couple of hours of her day, night time story and bedtime. As much as I love my gardening it can be a rather lonely day sometimes and even though the day generally passes quickly and enjoyably it’s always nice to find oneself on the train heading home. With this in mind I dropped down to four days a week a few months ago with one day of being a dad!
Every Thursday is now “take your child to work day” and I have to say she’s turning into a right fun gardener. I get a running commentary on what’s happening around me and it always amazes me how much I must be missing when she’s not there, a childs mind is the most amazing sponge and observer to the world. When gardening alone I never seem to notice the planes going over head or the dog barking in the distance, a point to the sky if a bird goes by, the delighted shout of CAT and the many signs for spiders, snails and bees.
Of course it’s not all pointing out the world I I’ve forgotten to acknowledge we also have games of gambolling on the lawn, carrying buckets of weeds to the compost, pushing the lawn mower and rides in the wheelbarrow.

Having a fresh mind with you is the way to rediscover a space you’ve come to know so well and therefore may not be seeing as well you once did. I think it was the child psychologist Alison Gopnik who said the difference between the adult and child mind was like a caterpillar to a butterfly only it was the adults that were the caterpillar chomping away at one thing whilst the childs mind flittered free. I’ve become so used to the garden space that I no longer notice much of the wildlife, I’ve forgotten how fun it is to just loll about on a lawn and more than anything I’ve forgotten how to explore the garden.
Follow an inquisitive child around a garden and suddenly you see the world anew, firstly there’s the obvious visual effect of being down at waist height can be a daunting perspective difference, spaces under overhanging shrubs becomes a cave to explore and trees to climb. The clever part is that by starting to garden from this toddlers view is an asset to the garden itself, the easiest job to do while also entertaining a hyperactive small human is spot weeding, and you wouldn’t believe the amount of annual weeds you’ll find under bushes. A well packed border with places for an inquiring mind to go hiding and crawling about will aid air flow between plants and give a more natural spacing, it also prompts one to look at raising canopies on large shrubs which in turn help show of the plant.
This is how I got into gardening, it wasn’t the first patch of my parents garden I got to tend that got me hooked, it was the chance to roll around and get muddy from a really early age, to find enjoyment in the honest earth and not to be frightened of the creatures I met there. Most of all it taught me that the best way to experience a garden is to get tactile with it, feel it between your fingers.

I’ll end by with this. Can it be a coincidence that a well pruned and healthy looking tree is also one of the best trees to climb? Stressed trees have too many branches and too much dead wood; a happy tree is generally open, airy and a good climbable frame. So next time you’re in the garden don’t forget to get childish, go on have a gambol.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Garden grooming

Those of you who follow me on twitter ( will no doubt have noticed that amongst all the random garden, science and knitting tweets, there has also cropped up something called Armpits4August. This, in its own words is “a month-long charity event for all women which aims to raise money and awareness of PCOS whilst challenging beauty norms and encouraging self-acceptance” and I heartily recommend checking it out.

You may well ask what this has to do with gardening but bear with me and you’ll see.

Armpits4August is challenging the belief that women should have to keep up a shaving/waxing/plucking/etc regime just to appear a certain way, that this is the norm and therefore anything other than this perfect view is seen as abnormal. This was in my mind today whilst I was scalping a lawn for a client and I realised how deep these views went. It’s not just ourselves we expect to be a certain way but our environment too, the level of personal grooming and the ‘rules’ that go with them are as old as we are and are mirrored in our houses and gardens. Whether it’s the elderly gentleman who always wears a shirt and tie with a perfectly edged straight lawn outside or the immaculately manicured young couple with lines of alliums grown in bold contrast to plum slate mulch and tight box edging, there are these rather overzealous guidelines we’re expect to follow. It’s not just hair that is frowned upon when it’s outside it’s defined area, but plants too.
Take one of my clients, she has a long lawn that over the years I’ve managed to creep some shape and interest into however she will not waver on how tightly mown she expects it, to the bone.
“It’s too short” I tell her “it’s scalping and damaging the grass”.
“It’ll grow back” is the answer I get.
The poor lawn is cropped tight because that’s what you’re supposed to do; in her view, no matter that it’s high maintenance and devoid of character. A ‘happy’ looking lawn to me is dark green, long enough to stick up through your toes and bend slightly when wet with dew, it has flowers and pollinators flitting round, it has life and is a joy to behold, this does not sit comfortably with what is generally accepted however. Most peoples definition of a good lawn is evenly coloured with no weeds and all the grass of the same length.
At another house an otherwise dull straight concrete path down the side of the garden had been brightened up over the year with my careful selective weeding of the edges so that come spring it was full of wild pansies, bugle, mini ferns and alyssum...or would have been if the client hadn’t come out one day and soaked the path in weed killer because her sister had told her it was untidy with plants growing alongside it. I nearly cried.
All too often I’ve had to explain that the best way to manage a difficult area in the garden is to grow what likes it there, it sounds crazy but you’d be amazed at how often people buy plants for an area because they like the plant regardless of the fact it doesn’t like it’s placement. Roses in heavy clay, ferns along a sun baked drive whilst at the same time being asked to remove plants that are doing well there because they’re regarded as weeds by the client. In all truth there are some plants which really are weeds and you don’t want growing in your garden, just as I look wrong with a moustache so marestail is never going to be a welcome sight amongst your borders.
But this doesn’t hold true with everything, if you’ve a barren piece of garden that constantly needs clearing just to remain boringly barren, might it not be more interesting to do a bit of selective weeding. If part of the garden doesn’t seem to favour some planting don’t attempt to force the wrong plants in just for the sake of appearance because in truth it’ll end up looking as out of place as a comb over in the wind.
So consider letting a part of your garden grow that you’ve never let go before, see what plants appear you might be surprised and with the time you save from tending it, make yourself a cuppa and look up

Saturday, 16 June 2012


June is here before we know it, finally we can say we’re into summer with winter a rapidly fading memory though let’s not forget that June is also a month of balance, before it’s out we’ll have had the longest day and midsummer. So it’ll no doubt be another classic British summer again meaning that we’ll more than likely be graced with days of rain and sun, a perfect weather soup for the garden while at the same time giving us chance to not only bask in hot blue skied days but also watch from the house as plants are watered and rain butts refilled.
What does June mean for the garden? Well it’ll be a time of rapid growth and constant attention to keep everything reasonably under control. I know in the past I’ve talked of how important it is to take time to potter and dwell in the garden but there also comes a time when gardeners need to set their minds and work steady. Weeds will be growing at a ferocious pace and the lawn will no doubt be spending time between rain sodden and sun baked, this is not a time for taking it overly easy, not when you can practically hear the garden growing. Having said that June is a wonderful month and there’s always time to stand still whilst enjoying a cuppa or two isn’t there?

Jobs this month:
Keep on top of the lawn; chances are it’ll be a weekly mow by now.
Consider any reseeding that need doing to the lawn.
Continue sowing cut and come again salad crops.
If not already done plant out annuals and bedding plants.
Feed and deadhead roses after flowering.
Prune shrubs that have finished flowering.
Any pots or newly planted trees and shrubs will need regular watering in hot weather.
Weed, weed and weed some more, many will be going to seed now so catch before they fall.
Stake any tall flowers that need it (foxglove, delphinium, hollyhock, etc).
With so much in flower it’s good to invest in a little floristry for the house too.
Some annuals or early flowering plants will be going to seed now, collect for sowing later.
Feed houseplants.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012


May is a time for sun, smelling the fresh cut lawn and feeling the garden getting into its stride. It’s also likely to be a busy month with plenty of planting out to be done and the now constant job of mowing the lawn and trying to keep up with the incessant weed growth. Obviously it’s also a time for lounging on aforementioned lawn and basking in the sun but then that’s the balance I guess. Cardiff had its fair share of rain last month and now with water butts brimming it’s time to feel the full blast of spring before it begins its slide into summer next month.
With the growing season now being well and truly under way many of us will now feel it’s finally safe to plant out our more annuals, order in plug plants and even give some of the house plants their summer airing. If you haven’t done it before I’d recommend trying the “Chelsea chop” this year, this is when plants such as Sedums are trimmed back before flowering to produce a stockier, stronger plant that’s less likely to collapse later in the year. Here in south Wales I find it’s best to do it earlier then the Chelsea flower show, tending to trim back in the start of May rather than midway through, I also do the same to my Crocosmia’s, they’ll look tatty for a while but soon recover.

Jobs this month:

Plant out annual bedding
Pinch out annuals to promote bushing out
Consider giving pots with bulbs in an overhaul whilst dormant
Feed roses and shrubs now actively growing
Depending on the weather make sure to keep pots and new plants well watered
Thin out fruit on overly abundant trees
Mulch beds to help maintain moisture and nutrients
Bring houseplants out for fresh air and a good dousing in rain
Look at potting up plants that are getting too pot bound
Prune early flowering shrubs
Keep on top of hedges and topiary, it doesn’t take long for plants to lose their shape
Make sure bonsai are ready for the coming year with a good feed and prune

Monday, 23 April 2012

Role models

Gardening is generally a solitary time for me, I head off to work in the morning and other than the occasional cup of tea and chat with a client my only companions are the thoughts rattling around in my head whilst I potter away amongst the plants or a family pet coming to check me out. Thankfully this is not the case when working at home and many a happy weekend has been spent with the whole family out enjoying the space and bringing fresh energy to the day.

This got me thinking of the people who are in some way a constant part of my gardening practice and without whom I may never have become the gardener I am.
I’d like to think we’re all gardeners in some way or other, however the following five people I’d like to introduce you to are rather special gardeners to me and make the natural world a finer place for their pottering.
The first is one of two men who first introduced me to the wonders that can be found in the natural world, my father, Stan Vigurs. As a role model he’s been part of my life the longest, as a child he let me play in the garden eating soil, digging holes and generally making a mess but discovering the joys of good honest grime in the process. He’s the man who took the family for walks in countryside, along cliff tops and through forests showing us in the process how to climb trees, make a blade of grass whistle shrill in the quiet air and generally muck about. There’s still nothing like the happiness I have when my dad, brother (more about him later) and I book a weekend away to scramble away like big kids up the side of a mountain somewhere in north Wales. I forever owe my dad for the introduction of camping to my life and can still recall early memories of sticking my head out of a tent into the night air, another world I wouldn’t have seen as a child heavy with dew and starlight. I could go on with tales of Scouts, fun in the garden and family holidays in the Forest of Dean but I have others to introduce you to so instead I’ll finish with the lesson of how to experience the outdoors properly. You’ll see wildlife a plenty if you sit quietly and patiently allowing yourself to become part of the environment rather than a stranger in it. On the other hand it’s important to get the balance and sometimes the environment calls for running around, splashing through puddles and making grass scream its summertime song across the landscape.

The next person is the second of the afore mentioned men, my uncle, Mike Hodgetts. Mike always had a fantastic garden, still does in fact. His planting ideas, lay out and use of colour is admirable, many a time I have to take my hat off to him and his garden creations made all the more impressive by the fact he’s colour blind. The garden we had at home was a nice garden don’t get me wrong but there’s something different about a gardeners’ garden, you know as soon as you walk into it. This is the first lesson he taught me, that you can still have a lawn with flowerbeds, trees and ponds but by adding a slight twist somehow make them so much more. That twist is of course knowledge and experience. I doubt I’ll ever be as good a gardener as my uncle, he’s been doing it for so much longer than I and has learnt through trial, error and the love of being out working the soil. Whenever we went to visit Mike and Marg one of the first thing my parents would do would be to wander around the garden with them, tea in hand enjoying the season and though I would generally be running around in the background I was always aware of the fact that as an adult you could apparently enjoy the garden by simply being in it.
The second lesson and possibly one of the most important in my life was that if I wanted to be a gardener I could. A little back story is needed here. After the time of life known to teenagers as the GCSEs I found myself in business school and not really feeling comfortable with how things were going. For some reason we were often sent into the city centre to do research or something (you can see my heart really wasn’t in it can’t you?), often Mike would take me out for lunch and during one of the subsequent conversations he mentioned how he’d wanted to be a gardener but had gone into banking instead and that if I wanted to do it as a job I should go for it. Thanks to him I left business school after the obligatory two years and strolled happy hearted into horticultural college where I stayed for the next three years and during my apprenticeship met the next man...

Edward Skinner. Ed was the deputy head gardener at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens when I first arrived, becoming head gardener in my second year there. Here was where I learnt about the world outside school, the world of plants and work colleagues, the world of gardening. Through plant idents and immersion in all the areas of the gardens the experience I had so craved started to soak in. Admittedly I probably wasn’t the best apprentice seeing as I still insisted on climbing trees and hiding from all the other gardeners there often under shrubs deep in the borders but he thankfully saw the potential in me and persevered.
Sadly I was only there for two years before I went off and started working for myself but thankfully he taught me well. I learnt that a lot of good gardening is not necessarily about knowing vast reams of plant names and facts but in the desire to get down and dirty with the garden, it’s in the soil under fingertips, the correct lifting and moving of plants, how to use secateurs properly, pruning cleanly and respecting the plants and garden.

The last two are worthy of blogs in their own right and I will in fact do so at a later date so for now I’d just give you a quick glimpse or them and their roles. The first is my dear brother, Leaf Vigurs. Everyone has someone who has helped make them who they are and without which life would have been decidedly duller, for me this person is Leaf. To describe all he’s taught me about the natural world and how best to immerse myself in it will take too long here but if I simply say as an older brother he has always been the role model I aspired to be most like. My tree climbing partner, a fellow soul to crash through undergrowth with, explore the delights of the garden wildlife and know that when you’re stood on a mountain top lost for words he’s stood next to you equally speechless.

Which can leave only one person, my darling and ever patient wife, Anna Mourant. How lucky am I to find someone else who though she may not always love the soil I traipse through the house or the hoards of plants I bring home at least tolerates it with a smile. Very often I feel as though I can experience the garden a new through her eyes, when she asks a question or has ideas I’d never have thought of it’s as though a fresh breeze has been brought in. When you spend so much time in any environment it’s easy to become complacent and no longer see the beauty in the mundane, Anna teaches me otherwise. In all my fourteen years of gardening I’ve pottered alongside many people, no one have I ever felt as relaxed with as Anna, she turns my weeds into wildflowers whenever we spend time in the garden together.

Saturday, 14 April 2012


April is on us before we realise, the garden is growing faster every day and the year is well and truly under way. That’s not to say there’s still not the risk of a late frost so if you can put off planting any tender bedding out for just a little longer you’ll should be able to avoid that danger, especially if you’re hardening the plants off outside during the day. Having said that we’ll also be getting the first real days of pure unadulterated sun, you know the kind, blue sky, occasional white cloud drifting by but never threatening rain, the birds will be singing loud and you’ll know it’s a day for being outside.
April for me is a month of balance, when summer is tangible whilst winters memory is still in the back of our minds, even with this year’s mild winter the dark mornings and evenings were a drag and haven’t been forgotten. Proper spring days are also the gardeners balance to all the time spent out in the rain and cold, it’s our chance to feel the sun on our backs and really immerse our senses in the smell of the warming soil with the sounds of the garden all around us. Often I’ll come away with grass or soil stuck to me after I’ve stuck my head in grass boxes or handfuls of compost just to really savour in that fresh smell.
There’s plenty to be doing in the garden this month and I’ve listed a few below but in truth the main thing is just to get out and enjoy being in the garden. It’s a fantastic time of year, there’s all of spring and summer ahead, if it’s a nice day have a potter and relish the feeling of the garden around you.

Jobs this month:

This is the month of the regular mow. Start the blades off high and lower to preferred height over time.
Many annual, vegetable, salad and herb seeds can be sown now.
Seedlings already up may benefit from pinching out to bush up growth.
If you want any houseplants out in the garden through summer, harden off through the month.
It’s also a good time to look at repotting any houseplants that are getting a little pot bound.
Look at tidying up hydrangeas. Remove faded flower heads and any dead stems.
Carefully turn compost heaps whilst watching out for wildlife (hedgehogs, bumblebees).
Keep an eye out in sheds and garages for the beginnings of wasp nests on ceiling or rafters.
Prune out old hellebore leaves and flower stalks.
Watch for new shoots breaking through when weeding and working on the beds.
Weed, weed, weed and weed. Nothing grows at the speed of weeds and the race has sadly begun.
Start setting up supports for tall herbaceous plants.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012


March always feels like the start of spring to me. No matter what the weather is doing bulbs are well and truly making their mark with many already opening into flower from the first snowdrops breaking the snowy confines of winter to the spring daffodils lighting up the garden on St.Davids day. This is most likely to be the month where we get our first real glimpse of the sunny days ahead, our first chance to be out in our t-shirts and feel the sun on our backs, the chance to spend a full day out and embrace the elements rather than wrapping up against them.
This is the month the garden starts its big push into the year. Ponds are bursting with frogspawn, the lawn is beginning to look like it needs a trim and if you’ve any ash trees near you there will be a million and one tiny sprouting ash seeds to find and weed out. Plus with the added daylight we’re now enjoying there’s even more chance to be out enjoying the garden even if it’s just having a quiet pootle round in the morning, tea in hand before heading off to work.

Jobs this month:
Finish planting of deciduous trees and shrubs.
Prune dogwoods and willows grown winter stem colour.
Look at rejuvenating herbaceous plants. Lifting and dividing any that have got too big.
Resist the temptation to rush out and buy tender bedding until the end of the month.
Check sheds and fences for repairs and consider any wood treatments on warmer days.
Give mower its maintenance checks and get ready for the first cut.
Raise blades on mower and cut at highest setting first.
Keep an eye out for emerging hedgehogs and if you’ve and strimming to do take extra care.
Any actively growing houseplants can start to be fed.
Now’s one of your last chances to prune the roses before the years growth takes over.
Check compost heaps. Now’s a good time to mulch beds and let the worms work it into the soil.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Guest blog from Leaf Vigurs

Becoming a gardener was an accident.

I have heard it said that there are no ‘It started here’ moments in life. I could grow nothing as a child and believed I could grow nothing. The few plants that came my way faded, and died. Always I mourned them and the belief became the truth. I stopped trying, forever devoted to my pencils, and thought no more about it.

I left home, life happened, I got lost. Home became a cold damp factory, where I lived with the pigeons, until even they disappeared. However I shared a small studio there with my friend, and his battered Monstera deliciosa, the humble cheese plant. I ignored it.

My friend was often unable to visit, lost in his own life. The cheese plant became more battered, leaves gradually died and fell. I barely noticed.

We faded together.

I do not remember the change. At some point, without even noticing it, I began to pour old drinks onto the shrunken root bowl. Cold tea, coffee dregs, ( so many coffee dregs), the occasional forgotten beer. The cheese plant could hardly be said to living, but it stopped dying too. We survived the longest coldest winter I had known and spring came. Irregular watering crept into our lives and one day a new leaf burst from a withered stem, bright green, smooth, full of promise.

My friend bought a house, and I rented a room off him. Our cheese plant went with us. I stopped giving it old tea and abandoned coffees and started watering it regularly. Other houseplants began to fill my room and I discovered that you could also feed them. Some I lost and again mourned but slowly the survivors began to thrive. They spilled from my room and collected on windowsills around the house, small eddies forming on tables and shelves. The cheese plant had to be moved to the living room as it grew, so I re-potted it with fresh compost and installed a florescent light on a timer. It thrived and touched the ceiling in delight.

My brother went to horticultural college and trained to become a gardener. We began to talk about gardening together, and from him my plant collection doubled. I realized that with a garden there was much more I could grow and planted my first apple tree.

When my brother moved to Wales I began mowing the lawn for an old client of his. Their garden was enormous…

I fell in love and moved to Essex. Looking for work more gardening jobs came my way. My clients were happy and I realized that I was happy. I learned a lot but not enough, so I went back to college and studied horticulture. My gardening business grew along with my enjoyment of my work.

Now there is not a day without some thought or action rooted in the garden. I watch the seasons turn and have learned patience. The gardens grow and breathe, and we feed each other.

I still visit my friend and Cheesy. He too is now a gardener and they are both well. If I visit in late summer I get free apples too.

Thursday, 23 February 2012


At this time of year it’s easy to find yourself looking out at the garden searching for that fresh verdant flush of new growth that tells you spring is coming, whilst at the same time forgetting that there is another source of plant life to keep our gardening side happy even closer to hand. Houseplants.

Houseplants seem to exist in a strange realm. Many avid gardeners I know are unfazed by plants as soon as they enter the home, suddenly they don’t really count in any true horticultural sense. Even those who quite like having them around rarely treat them with the same care and attention they give to plants in the garden. There’s a myth that runs among us, a myth that all houseplants are they same, that if they look poorly the best thing for them is more water, a myth that they are simply replaceable. It’s time to forget these myths and relearn about the joy of sharing our homes with a whole plethora of different plants.

As you may have no doubt guessed I’m a bit of a lover of my houseplants, as well as a bit of a collector (luckily I’ve an understanding family): at a rough estimate I’d say we had near a hundred plants in the house at the moment. Many of the larger specimens get to spend the summer outside where they get watered by the rain, warmed by the sun and add an element of the exotic to the garden, they also to put on a load of growth before I have to try and find a place inside for them in the winter.
It’s best remembered that the majority of houseplants are indoor for the simple reason that our climate is either too cold or too wet for them to be permanent features outside and therefore like it best in the light and erring on the dry side. It’s time for me to get on my soapbox again I’m afraid. Please stop overwatering your houseplants. I’m sure we can all think of a poor waiting room plant somewhere that has dust laden leaves and lives in shrunken crumbs of dry soil and this is what often springs to mind when one of our own seems to be suffering, plus we’ve the lessons learnt from the garden where watering can often help. However living in cold mud is even worse especially if it’s used to free draining soil and a tropical climate. So stop watering, if it starts to droop and the soil seems dry then give it a little to begin with rather than submerging in a bucket and forgetting about it until it’s time to dry it out again.

Houseplants are gloriously varied. They can live a long time with you as you move from house to house, I’ve a cheese plant that I took as a cutting from the parent that used to live in my folks back room when I was a child. The cutting itself is already fourteen years old and has been a fond companion to my live as a gardener. Another new addition to the household is an indoor lime which is a seventh cutting generation from one of Sigmund Freuds plants. I’ve a peyote grown from seed by a wonderful man now sadly passed away, that must be somewhere in its third decade already. An umbrella plant in the lounge I rescued from a skip thirteen years ago and it’s looking great. I could go on.

I heartily recommend discovering the world of indoor gardening. Get a spider plant baby from someone and get to know another life that will happily live alongside you for many years to come, it won’t judge you or badger you for food and when it finally gets tired and looks longingly at the compost heap you’ll have a whole heap of its plantlets to carry on the line and a house full of greenery all the year through.

So go on, give it a go and maybe next time I’ll tell you about all the good they do us physically and mentally. It’s a wonderful plant filled world out there, let’s bring some of it in.

Monday, 13 February 2012


It was a crisp winters day when leaving the house I spied a fellow gardener tired, gaunt and cold tottering across the lawn amongst the snowdrops. From a distance easily confused with a piece of fallen bark, up close a friendly snout and spiky back greeted me, this was no random gardener but a seasonal friend up way too early and suffering because of it.
After a quick check for injuries he was bundled up into my coat, secreted away in garden box, cosy on top of a hot water bottle and soon snuggling down into the fleecy depths of comfort. Now the joys of technology came into their own for this was my first proper close up encounter with a hedgehog but thankfully I have fine friends who I know to have a more informative grasp of Britains wild side. After a quick phone call to my Little Sampford sister she’d given me the low down on what to feed them and what not to and more importantly the number for South Wales Hedgehog helpline (02920 623985), they were then able to pass me onto a lovely lady called Amy at Cardiff Hedgehog Rescue (07590 293194) who took in rescued hedgehogs.

What followed was a very hasty tidying of the days work up to that point, this pretty much meant 5 minutes of chucking heaps of prunings behind the garage, tools quickly wiped down and popped back in potting shed before dash to train station with hedgehog still snuggled down in fleece lined hot water bottle box. It’s a good job I like the spiney gardeners as I was starting to miss my jacket by this point and now had a public transport jaunt across 10 miles of Cardiff from one side to the other, many a puzzled glance did I receive on that journey. A hairy, muddy man with his jacket in a box desperate to traverse a cold windy city with a little slug muncher secreted away, not your normal Wednesday encounter on the number 58 bus.
Thankfully I managed to complete the journey with minimal delays and the hedgehog was in the capable hands of Amy and her house of sleeping garden urchins before he knew what was happening. Renamed Zebedee he was soon taking in fluids and hopefully on his way to a happier year.

Sadly this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Zebedee had only been born the previous Autumn and hadn’t had chance to put on sufficient fat stores to reach the 600g he needed to be to get through hibernation. It’s likely he was already too dehydrated when I found him and was already in the process of organ failure with only a few more hours ahead, at least I was able to give him the chance for a comfy final few days.

Hedgehogs are amazing creatures, an invaluable friend to the gardener and we should cater for them more. It’ll only be about another month until they start waking and making their ways out into our gardens, so it’s time to take a bit more care with tidying up, be wary when using strimmers and putting forks into the undergrowth. Leave a water source out a ground level the birds will thank you too and if you’re really lucky a hedgehog might think your garden is good enough to set up home in.

Special thanks to Amy for all the work she puts in with countless hedgehogs every year, the natural worlds a better place because of it.

Thursday, 9 February 2012


February comes around before we know it. I find it a funny month in the sense it’s somehow caught between seasons not yet spring but at the same time not quite winter. Of course we’re still prone to snow and frosts but with the New Year retreating into a distant memory there’s already plenty of signs of the years growth ahead. Bulbs are often one of the first signals many of us will have seen of things to come, snowdrops and crocus being amongst the first to light our days with their flowers but with the milder winters we’ve been having these are often accompanied by daffodils which for me are a true spring flower.
A walk in our gardens this month is like tentative glimpses of a new sweet shop soon to open, ripening buds on trees, a freshening of green amongst the evergreens and lawn, flowering winter shrubs and longer days all add to the building excitement. Of course this is no reason to be blasé; February can easily be one of the coldest months and with the added element of a biting wind can make the outside seem quite hostile at times. However a well wrapped up gardener with hot tea to hand can always find things to do and with spring approaching there are certain jobs that’ll need completing before the month is out.

Jobs this month:
Final chance to prune apple trees and acers before the sap rises
Planting of roses
Mulching of beds though watch out for emerging bulbs
Keep an eye on camellias and be prepared to protect with fleece against sudden hard frosts
Prepare greenhouses for coming year, now’s a good time to clear out and fumigate
Watch out for newly planted plants being damaged by the wind
Sow your early peas, beans and carrots
Chit potatoes in well lit and frost proof room
Check lawns for winter compaction, avoid walking on if frost still present
Tender house plants should be examined to see how they’ve faired, watch for new growth appearing

Friday, 27 January 2012


It’s winter, the cold has finally descended on us and there’s just one question on your minds. What can I do with my glut of parsnips? Well here is a quick, simple and dare I say superb soup from those clever folks at Covent Garden, it’s so good that even my good wife who is an avid hater of parsnips likes it.
Maple roast parsnip soup:

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium parsnips, cut into lengths
2 tablespoons maple syrup
25g butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Steam the parsnips for 6 minutes until soft
Roast the parsnips (in the oil, preferably pre-heated) for 15 minutes until starting to colour.
Add the maple syrup and roast for a further 10-15 minutes until sticky and caramelised.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large pan and cook the onions and garlic until soft.
Add the flour and cook for a further minute.
Add the stock and roasted parsnips, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
Blend until smooth before returning to the pan, seasoning and allow to heat through before serving.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Plant encounters of the new kind

There are estimated to be around 400,000 flowering plant species currently catalogued on Earth, of these only a tiny fraction are grown in gardens and sadly most gardens tend to be highly repetitive in their choice. Now as much as I like roses, conifers and hydrangeas it can make a garden feel a little stagnant when all plants have been bought down the local B&Q or Homebase, this is of course one of the joys of independent nurseries.

I’ve lost track of how many species I’ve grown to know over the last 14 years of gardening and would probably be surprised at just how many it was, however as you would expect there’s always so much more to learn and I get a little buzz of excitement every time I come across a plant I’ve never seen before. Just imagine walking into someone’s house and discovering an animal that is completely different to what you know or one that is overly familiar but a completely different colour or size, it’s the same with plants, and with the addition of climate controlled greenhouses the possibility of growing unusual specimens is almost infinite.
I once heard of a man on the committee for a botanical gardens who expressed the view that “plants are boring” clearly he was in it for the prestige rather than horticultural love and obviously had never gone down into the glasshouses to marvel at the floral wonders contained therein.

Take for instance the humble
Hydnora africana,a parasitic plant which lives on the roots of Euphorbia’s in Africa and has a fruiting head worthy of The Little Shop of Horrors. This is a real plant created by nature and growing in the wild right now. Now I know it’s not something I’m likely to come across whilst pottering away in a garden in Cardiff but to know that the plant kingdom includes such wonders as this is a joy regardless.

To stay a little closer to home, there is wonder to be found even in the seasonal unfurling of a ferns frond or the yearly eruption of bulbs from their wintery dormancy. You’re probably saying now that these are nothing new and surely I’ve seen these things before; true but generally we look at them once they’ve done their active growing, we admire the fern in full leafy spread or the bulbs flowers open to the day rather than stopping to watch nature in motion.

Okay; to return to the joy of discovering new plants here then. This a relative of the Iris known as Dierama pulcherrimum and is able to be grown in most British gardens, commonly called Angels fishing rod it’s a beautiful graceful plant that grows in full sun to semi-shade and produces masses of fantastically bright flowers towards the end of summer when most plants are starting to dim.
It might not look as exotic as Hydnora but with an appearance somewhere between a foxglove and ornamental grass it stands out perfectly in its own right and is quite unlike many of the more well known garden plants.

The natural world is full of curios like these and though we will never come close to knowing them all we can at least keep an eye out for those that are surely around us all the time, if only we paid more attention to the surrounding world. It’s time to pull our heads out of our phones and mp3 players and see the beautiful and fascinating world we live in, from plants to insects to other people we’re all incredibly unique and mind-blowingly amazing.