Reflections on a Year of Change


“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”

Marcus Tullius Cicero (3 January, 106 BC – 7 December, 43 BC)

2017 in the life of The Frustrated Gardener will not be classified as a vintage year. It was no annus horribilis, but the happier moments were laced through with considerable sadness. It was, as we say in retail when we really mean difficult, bad or unappealing, a ‘challenging’ year.

I’m an optimist, and not one to dwell on the past, but as I reflect on the last twelve months I better appreciate the extent to which the year’s events have taken their toll. I have muddled through, but in the weeks and months ahead there’s a need to replenish my reserves of hope, confidence and ambition. The dawn of 2018 marks an opportunity to pick myself up, dust myself down and dream new dreams. I feel in my bones that it’s time to move on, and I’m excited to find out where the change takes me.



January began with me planting an excess of spring-flowering bulbs, and so it will be again in January 2018. I have at least twenty paper bags of tulips languishing in the garage and I am determined not to waste them. Those I planted 12 months ago grew and flowered perfectly well, if not a little later than the others. The window boxes I planted at the same time are still going strong, but could do with sprucing up in the spring. As I write, the evergreen foliage is peppered with Christmas roses and unstoppable Nemesia ‘Wisley Vanilla’. Meanwhile, I have given up tidying the garden this winter. A succession of storms and gales ensures any good work I do is immediately undone. Far more productive (and enjoyable) to read a new book or pour myself a G&T.



My gardening year kicked off in earnest with the RHS Early Spring Plant Fair, where I marvelled at the jaw-dropping prices being asked for the choicest snowdrops. Keeping my wallet firmly in my pocket as I mingled with genuine galanthophiles, I indulged in some new succulents and streptocarpus, all of which, I am delighted to report, are flourishing. I also reacquainted myself with gerberas, flowers which I usually associate with cafe tables, VW Beetles and naff bouquets purchased from supermarkets, but which are enjoying something of a revival thanks to careful hybridisation.



In March I visited Sissinghurst and The Salutation for the first time this year. Both gardens are undergoing gentle, considered changes. In the case of Sissinghurst it’s to revive the more relaxed and ebullient style cultivated by Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicholson, and in the case of The Salutation, to create a more jungly, exuberant setting for Steve Edney’s burgeoning collection of dahlias and plectranthus. On three occasions this year we were also given the opportunity to visit Steve’s own garden at Sweetbriar on the outskirts of Ash, a wonderful slice of tropics on the windswept plains of East Kent.



April and May were my most challenging months, although looking back at my post, one would not have thought so. I was carried along on a wave of brightly coloured tulips and buoyed by a visit to Great Dixter Spring Plant Fair, which was inspiring (and costly) as always.



My tulips were a triumph this year (pardon the horticultural pun), with T. ‘Slawa’, T. ‘Orange Dynasty’ and T. ‘Lasting Love’ among my new favourites.



The Chelsea Flower Show and a visit from Helen of Oz kept me smiling through the some of the darkest days of year. The decoration of the library was completed at the end of May, just a few weeks after I made The Watch House my permanent home. Alas, there is no more London garden. There remain all of my hostas and snowdrops, plants not at all suited to my seaside garden, but happily I am still able to visit them when I’m in town. The library, the design of which I planned to every last detail, is a joy, and a wonderful room for entertaining in.



The summer was defined by the constant filling of watering cans. Being at home full-time resulted in a proliferation of pots, which required hours of watering every day. Ontop of that we experienced very little rain in Thanet during the late spring and early summer. On occasion I was in the garden until well after dark, splashing water onto my parched plants. In the main garden the raised bed is becoming drier and drier as the trees grow larger. The whole bed needs digging up and replanting, a job which I have promised myself I will tackle in April or May. At some point in 2018 an irrigation system will become a necessity if I want to have any kind of life at all outside work.



Between them, RHS Chelsea, RHS Chatsworth and RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Shows provided material for more than 20 posts, although I’d have written three times more if I’d had the time. The very first RHS Chatsworth will be remembered for the appalling weather on press day which resulted in the evacuation of the floral marquees and eventually the entire site. I am looking forward to returning to all three shows in 2018, not just as a blogger and plant enthusiast, but also as a judge for the trade stands.



I had elected back in September 2016 not to open the garden for the National Garden Scheme and that turned out to be a good decision for me personally. I could not have managed it at the time and felt the garden lacked some of its usual verve. However, looking back at photographs now, I marvel at how much I did achieve, especially in the Gin and Tonic Garden, which is still very much in the ‘make do’ stage of development and will remain so until funds allow for it to be completely re-landscaped.



I am pleased to announce the garden will be open again in 2018. Details are already on the NGS website if you are someone who likes to plan ahead. Do please come along and say hello if you are in East Kent on August 4th or 5th.


September saw me in Cornwall, where I revisited The Eden Project, Heligan and Trengwainton, all gardens I’ve known and loved for many years. From that point onwards my posts started to become less frequent as my travel committments kicked in. I lost some of my appetite for staying up until the early hours to write, but also felt it was time to achieve a better balance between ‘doing’ and writing about doing. I guess this is something all bloggers grapple with from time to time.



At the end of my trip to Hong Kong and China I was able to squeeze in a visit to Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden, which really was a highlight for me this year. It was refreshing to enjoy such a lovely complex of open spaces in the urban jungle of Hong Kong, and interesting for me to learn more about Chinese gardens.



During November and December I was pimped out unashamedly by John Lewis as the face the forthcoming festivities, going by the alternative name of ‘Mr Christmas’. It was a lot of fun, but this year it kept me away from home rather more than I’d have liked. When I was in residence at The Watch House I was furiously planting bulbs and repairing various bits that had dropped off. Old houses set the pace, and this one travels very much faster than I can. One of many New Year’s Resolutions is to become handier around the house and do more jobs myself. Quite how that will happen I don’t know, but it’s good to have ambition!



Over the Christmas period my new library has come into its own. When the blinds are down and the fire is roaring, the lamps are lit and the Christmas tree lights are twinkly, there’s no place I’d rather be.

Returning to Cicero’s quote at the start of this post, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need”, I feel extremely fortunate to have both. However, I’d argue that one needs good friends and a loving family before either of those possessions can be of any satisfaction. My beloved sister and niece have been a particular source of strength and support to me this year, for which I am deeply grateful. Writing this blog has also been a font of joy, distraction, learning and communication with like-minded gardeners and plant lovers. Thank you for following, keeping in touch and encouraging me to keep going. I wish you all a very Happy New Year. TFG