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.