How did you get in to gardening?
One of my grandmothers grew everything and anything she could and was a very no nonsense style gardener so I have fond memories of learning and growing with her but also my parents, who moved to a rural home when I was very young, turned a lot of the garden over to productive vegetable beds and as we were lucky enough to live round the prolific orchards and fields of Worcestershire I guess I was just always witness to growing and having that strong connection with the land so from the earliest age I just knew that I wanted to work with plants in some capacity.
I met some wonderful mentors along journey, notably a wonderful nursery man who I met when I was 13 years old and had the patience to teach me the art of watering, sowing seed, pricking out, and who let me loose on his customers who I loved to chat with and watch help them fall in love with the plants they were about to take home.
I studied horticulture at Pershore College, and then went straight into the industry working in research and development and then began to realise that I loved orchestrating the plants into schemes so went back to my studies and undertook a degree and postgraduate MA in Landscape Architecture. I have always combined practical gardening and learning those skills and how to work with plant with how best to show them off and get an aesthetic reward too so most of what I do now reflects that love I have for both aspects of gardening.
What are your gardening likes and dislikes?
I am happiest when outside and being productive so really like those tasks when you can see you’ve made a big difference and a lot to show for your time. The dislikes I guess would be those long, repetitive tasks like mowing or hedge trimming.
What are your most/least favourite plants?
Ask any gardener that and they all say they couldn’t choose a favourite and I am no different but the love of plants, like art, is rather personal and there are some plants you just have more affection or appreciation for perhaps because of the role they play. There are some hardworking favourites such as Geranium palmatum, Matteuccia struthiopteris and Clerodendron fargesii. If I had to choose a least favourite it would probably be the dwarf conifers, but to be honest this is largely thanks to how they have been used in gardens rather than the plants themselves.
What is your home garden like?
Work in progress would probably be the honest answer! In fairness we have created the structure by planting hedging and trees which have matured really well and give a series of spaces with their own personalities but we have had quite a few casualties in the last couple of winters and need to have a bit of reinvigoration of some areas. I think all gardens are like that though, you never quite get them finished and I see my personal garden as a series of experiments and exploration so it’s a constantly changing tapestry.
What do you do outside of The Beechgrove Garden?
I keep myself pretty busy on the work front with design clients, for private and public schemes in this country and abroad. I teach too, on the postgrad Landscape Architect course at Birmingham City University and am external examiner at Duchy College as well as Trustee of Capel Manor College. I have written a new book this year and nearly finishing another one as well as writing for several magazines. I give plenty of talks….basically there is a theme to everything I do and that’s educating, teaching passing on of knowledge that binds all activities and it’s something I really love to do – to see another person understand an aspect of gardening or unlock the mystery of why do we prune or fertilise and then know that they can pass that one is really rewarding.
In my spare time I have a passion for road cycling. I enjoy longer distance races and am always looking for that next challenge, this year it will be to cycle across the Pyrenees in six days and more locally Time Trialling, after that who knows?