Wednesday, 30 November 2016


Cold. Finally, it's cold. Minus four or five most mornings, the frost never leaving the shadows of the day before being built upon the following night. Plants encrusted with ice crystals three days old. Soil so hard as to turn aside the fork and spade as though they were made of rubber. I walk the hills and fields as the ground crunches beneath my feet. The natural cycles of the years weather and seasons are integral to the smooth running of the rural landscape, habitats that have developed over hundreds of years are perfectly attuned to this. 
Living in cities most of my life this connection is lost but out in the country estates I now work you can feel the very earth beneath you breathe and drink as the seasons roll over its surface. To see a landscape like this bejeweled with giant frozen crystals formed over days of freezing conditions is to see a landscape in it's element and it's beautiful.

Monday, 27 June 2016


As a boy I was always terrified of spiders, the smallest money spider in my room would have me searching for the nearest person to evict it whilst I hid far from it. As I grew I slowly became bolder catching them in glasses to release outside and having a study whilst it was safely contained. It wasn't until I began my apprenticeship at eighteen that I finally managed to truly begin to quash my fear though.

You have no choice really when in the garden, you’re going to come across them often in situations where freaking out is not an option. I've had big black hairy spiders wander across my hand while carrying rocks I'm unable to quickly put down, orb spiders hanging off my dreads after walking through a web and on more than one occasion daddy longlegs actually step on my open eye! These are the kind of encounters that either kill or cure and thankfully they cured. I have now developed a true appreciation of these incredible creatures and with the help of a macro lens come to see them physically in ways I could never have hoped to before. The intricacy of silks and web building, the variety of species and patterning of bodies and the awareness they have of their surroundings. I've always thought of them as simple automata behaving purely like organic machines with no real knowledge of what's happening around them but being down at their level with a camera and getting to watch them watch you, the turn of a head to keep you in their sights, the slight repositioning of the body to allow it a clear exit it needs be.

I love sharing the garden with all manner of wildlife but for me spiders hold a true fascination and will always draw my gaze for a few moments of study and respect. Without them the world would be very different and to have them adding their spirit to the garden certainly makes it a more magical space.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016


There sits in a garden a monolith of times gone by, a great heft of wood, stone and metal, a cider press now looming ever present over the white border. Ivy, bramble and thistle have all tried to reclaim it but nowt stand a chance on something so hardened by time. The wood is as tough as the stone, the stone as much a part of the garden as the very soil it’s bedded down in and the metal fused into place linking wood to stone to garden.
The deeply fissured timbers form a base for new life as lichen and moss colonise, blending the press into the garden and drawing the garden deep into its grain.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016


When I worked in the city I was all for ornamental gardens and plants, even topiary on occasions. However now I have a garden that borrows a backdrop of wooden hillside and sprawling countryside this style of gardening no longer fits and therefore both myself and the garden now need to change our habits. For too long I worked but attempting to beat out the wild and unruly presence of nature and in its place crowbar in an entirely artificial creation of purely aesthetic design. In all truth there is never a better designer than nature, a hedgerow in spring is a delight to behold, a clump of foxgloves reclaiming a forest glade is a sight to behold and an abandoned quarry strewn with ferns a sight to make the even the best garden designer pack up their plans.
I now prefer to slowly rewild the garden, to allow nature a stronger control over what grows and where with just the right amount of selective planting and weeding going on. Looking to the countryside around me the years of cultivation are more than apparent, a landscape tamed by man and beast alike but with the wilds of before still keeping their presence heard.
On the wind blasted slopes of the peak district where sheep and rabbit join to crop the grass tight to the earth stately thistles stand tall and wild. The world around us looks good with a spot of rewilding.

Friday, 3 June 2016


I can remember from the earliest age always having a fascination with collecting pieces of nature. Not just the usual pretty features and shiny we seaside pebbles but anything that seemed to me capture a moment in natural life. A snapshot of what nature can do. A fragment if you will of natures perfection.
I think a great deal of this fascination and desire came from my older brother who was already well into the collecting and had a room full of dead insects, birds nests, shells, pieces of driftwood, etc. The chance to actually have a fragment of nature in your hand to study at your leisure still excites me.
This photo is from my little clock shelf in my car and contains garden find from the last two years. Bird skulls, sheeps teeth, a mummified newt and a rodents jaw jostle with swallows eggshells, tiny feathers and micro pieces of intricate lichen.
Nature, stunning as a whole, fascinating as a fragment.

Thursday, 2 June 2016


I’ve always admired oaks, as a child they were a joy to climb and you could always feel the history growing under your fingertips. To think that an acorn sprouting now may still be alive 900 years from now, how many hands and feet will it feel climbing through its branches in that time? Their strength stands out from any distance as soon as you see a mature oak in the landscape up can recognise it's shape and almost feel the bark tingling on your hands, the nearer one gets the greater the power and pure awesomeness of its life.
My desire for the end of my life is too buried with an oak planted on to of me so that my body can become part of something greater, something that stands not only in the landscape but also as part of it. It's roots reaching down deep, an organism of such magnitude that a mind as finite as ours can never truly grasp it's size. To stand at the base of an oak is to be embraced in its presence, is branches and roots stretching out far beyond us as we take our moments peace deep in the bosom of its strength.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016


There used to be a field kept cropped by sheep. It seemed devour of variety and color until one day the sheep left and didn't return. The field began to go wild, plants that had for so long hunkered down from the ruminants teeth now lifted their heads and Bataan to grow.
Sometimes after a days dusty digging and being snagged by roses I like to go for a ramble through the field and let my mind unravel. Now I spot wildflower aplenty, tree seedlings sprouting and beginning to reclaim the earth for the bordering woodland, seedheads already preparing the next generation and a constant bustling buzz on the air out insects and the predators they encourage.
After a slow amble through the grasses, swishing the blades as I walk, listening to the soft murmuring breeze I turn to look back and see this path. A brief memory layed down in physical form to show the meanderings of my mind expressed through the tread of my feet. Happily I walk on knowing there's always time to ramble.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016


Sometimes you have to search for the right capture sometimes it finds you. I had many ideas in my head when I first set the word "stillness" especially as I knew I had a day working the woods. Images of serene dappled woodland glades came to mind, perhaps a young leaf perfectly lit up by a ray of sunlight breaking through the canopy overhead. Sadly this was not to be. 

Walking down to the woods I came upon this poor bird and surely nothing captures stillness like the presence death brings with it. Working on the country and so arm in arm with nature you can't help but come across such moments but it's always a prompt for reflection. It's all to easy to become hardened to such occasions and in doing so forgetting the simple miracle that life is. Though this bird will never taste the air it will give life back to the garden as it slowly returns to the earth. Life to death to life, a moment of stillness caught in a fragile corpse and the gardener caught in a moment of stillnerss. 

Monday, 30 May 2016


The connection that exists between the garden and the surrounding landscape is a unique one. For many a city space this plays out as an opposing relationship where the garden is created as a way of shutting out the concrete world it is situated in but here in the countryside it is quite the opposite. When hills and trees loom ever present and in many places the only boundary is an old wire fence it's essential that the garden and landscape work together. My job as a gardener is not just to ensure the garden looks good but that it also sits right with the views outside of the cultivated borders and planted beds. Creating a balance between the tree life in a garden and the often much older and grander trees of the surrounding country so that the eye is carried seemingly seamlessly out to the horizon often far in the distance. To build a garden that not only fits in with the world around it but also exists in union with it.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Regal poultry

The photo challenge today was set to the word “regal”. It's always a pleasure to be forced to look at your own garden more closely especially when you also spend so much time in other people's, doing a photo challenge on a weekend is generally cause to look closer at home and today was no different. I considered a few possibilities for completing this, crowns of flowers or stately trees but in the end or chickens caught my eye.

This is one of our rescue chickens that lives in the corner of our garden, a flock of four in a run we can see from the house, pecking their way round and occasionally get let into the garden for an roam. They grub up pests and give my the most incredible soil for the garden, by constantly adding fresh soil from the garden to their run and taking out old I get this fantastic, dark, rich, crumbly earth by the barrow load to add to the beds.
They have to be watched of course or else seedlings are munched, compost bays kicked over the garden, crap left in the most inconvenient places and prize plants pecked apart but isn't that the way with all things? Gardening is about balance, there's goodness in bad times and crap to pick up after the perks.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

The Humble worm

I'm very much a solitary gardener, I never have music or radio whilst I work, on the odd occasions there's also someone else in the garden I tend to be tucked away in my own area quietly lost in thought and the moment. However thanks to modern technology I'm rarely alone whether that's the odd call from home or a random text conversation with a friend in still very much in touch with the outside world. One contact I am most thankful for is that of my brother, we have grown up always very close and though we now garden at opposite sides of the country we are still able to be in touch and compare our working days.
The smart phone has been a revelation to us with its capacity for camera work and internet access add this to the joint discovery of photography app Instagram and it's as though a while new work has been opened up. One side of this is a new set of photo challenges we have begun between us talking it in turns to choose a word we must then attempt to capture during our daily garden. My plan is to attempt to in some way document my discoveries through this blog and give an insight into nature through my personal perspective.

Today's word was chosen by me as “Humble “ and they don't come much humbler than the simple earthworm, a miracle of nature that tirelessly works the soil beneath our feet creating the very medium the garden grows from. Rarely thanked or even given more than a passing thought they are the reason our plants grow, the soil has structure and the detritus on the surface is dragged down and out of sight. Hats off to one of natures major powerhouses and next time you find one in the garden get down to its level watch how incredibly it works and whisper it a big thank you from us all.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Catching up with nature.

Stepping out into the garden each day the first job is always the surveying, the moment where you get your mind into the gear needed for the day's work ahead whether that's light weeding or heavy digging. Often it’s also the moment you have to set your mental blinkers so as to not lose your sight into distractions of landscape and job lists, it's all too easy to set out to do one job only to find yourself knee deep in a different border with a handful of weeds and no where to put them. So often we can get so caught up in creating the perfect garden that we can lose sight of simply enjoying the garden for what it is. Sometimes it can happen the other way round and the garden gets away from us. Nature waits for no person and after the mild winter this is especially so now, so many plants got an early start on growth and many never truly stopped from last year, roses still carried buds from the last season and the less said about the weeds the better.

There is a garden I work, spread over many acres that is not only getting ahead of me but in some areas starting to lap me, parts haven't been touched in years and the wilds of the surrounding countryside are reasserting their dominance. Where once there were beds with weeds there are now simply weeds with the occasional ornamental clinging on, weeds that climb, smother and suffocate out competing the carefully nurtured plants of past years. In a garden of this size I often find myself alongside these plants, feeling as though I too am being dragged back by the sheer scale of it all. Back in the day when it was first created there would have been a small army of full time gardeners, there's now just two of us there part time and I have to admit it's hard not to feel disheartened at times, not to look up and be completely overwhelmed by the task ahead.
The hardest part is knowing that this is just a blip and that though some borders may run away that doesn't mean they can't be caught up again at a later date, what's important is to focus and do the best you can, to bury your hands deep into the soil and garden. After all, that's why we do it.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Finding the earth within.

Since I was eighteen I've gardener professionally, since as early as I can remember I've had a connection with growing plants of my own, a life of greenery I feel I can cultivate and connect with. From my first collection of cacti as a boy to the old rockery in my parents garden, the adoption of forgotten house plants and during my apprenticeship regularly arriving home with a rucksack full of discard tired display plants. For near thirty years I've grown and tended plants trying to capture that state of nature I find so beautiful. I've built landscapes in back gardens,  turning the urban soil to produce something close to an oasis. My spare time would be spent tramping forest and hillside, mountain and country lanes before returning to the city and attempting to in some small way recreate the verdant creations in my head.

I love gardening. On a summer’s day there’s nothing like it. Or there hadn’t been until I moved to the outskirts of the Forest of Dean. Now I work in gardens measured in acres and set to a backdrop of the very state I've sought so long to emulate. It's not just gardens I get to work in, there’s woodland, a woodland, a small poorly managed plantation that needs drawing into a healthy balance and I realise now that gardening will never quite be the same again.

When I'm in the woods there's nothing else, everything is woodland and I realise what I was missing in the garden. When you work a wood you quickly come to realise it's all one thing, the soil is as part of the woodland as the trees, the fallen leaf playing as much a part as those still on the tree, one side the same as the other as though a coin. When you garden you garden plant by plant, border by border but there is none of that in the wood, when you work the soil in one part you effect the health of a tree in another. Most importantly and humbling when i work the woods i become part of it in a way I never can in a garden, the soil ingrained in my hand a sign of the exchange that's taken place. My blood and sweat now mingled with the woodlands living earth, my breath absorbed by the trees, head down my senses fill with the words of the wood, the talk of the rustling leaves, the smell of moist air, the taste of damp earth caught in the wind. I forget where I end feeling myself absorbed by the nature of nature, the air rising through the atmosphere the soil sinking ever down, myself as much a peg as the trees around me. All those years of garden cultivation a mere amateurish fumbling of nature, a yearning to recapture the connection I’d lost with the land, to feel a season because one’s truly in it, to know the soil as intimately as a close friend, to grasp how beautifully perfect nature is.

I am humbled.

Monday, 4 January 2016

The rotten ring.

It was a hot midsummers day and I was at one of my more random regular gardens and this was certainly turning out to be another regular random day there. It was a small narrow terraced city garden, planting down each side and a long patio through the middle and I was struck by the scent of death as soon as the front door opened; the smell only got stronger the further I went through the house. The lady living there at the time seemed to be unaware of the stench filled air but she did mention in passing that there seemed to be more flies than usual in the garden.

Stepping out into the garden I disturbed a cloud and I mean cloud of flies. The ground and air thronged with large black buzzing bodies and all around the edge of the patio grew a thick dense mass of fungal strands. A huge hairy rotting ring of bird seed. The woman who lived there had a thing for feeding the birds and went out daily to refill the feeders, if there was any feed left in them she simply tipped the seed on the ground for the birds as well. In a garden no bigger than 300ft square she had about 10 large feeders, that's a lot of excess seed to pour away especially in a city garden with limited bird life.

For two weeks during a typical British summer (a mix of rain and hot sun) she had dutifully feed the birds and ground, it didn't take long for the damp warm ground to become a fungus feeding ground rich in nutrients and spores. For five hours I cleared a two inch thick and three inch wide layer of rotting sinking bird food from a hot narrow garden whilst trying to explain to client why she might have been slightly over doing it on the supporting wildlife front.

There's a balance to every job and this certainly balanced out all the idyllic days of garden work.