If I had to sum up the business ethic in Thanet, I would describe it as entrepreneurial. Everywhere one looks someone is opening a cool new shop or niche restaurant, starting a micro brewery or launching an innovative new service. It’s one of the advantages of living in an area that’s still relatively affordable: things can succeed financially that might falter elsewhere. However, it’s not plain sailing. Consumers are not spending in the same ways they did five years ago, the local demographic is mixed and we exist on the very edge of England, closer to Ostend in Belgium than we are to London, as the crow flies. To succeed in Thanet you need vision, guts and determination by the bucket load.
Since its inception the Margate Mercury has thrown the spotlight on the talented folk who have contributed to our sister town’s 21st Century resurgence. This summer the team behind that magazine has turned its attention to Broadstairs, issuing the first ever edition of the Broadstairs Beacon just a couple of weeks ago. Through the magazine’s newspaper-style pages you’ll meet Justin and Annita, a couple who have turned a disused shelter and public toilets into a coffee addicts’ paradise; Simon and Corina, the saviours of Britain’s cutest cinema, ‘The Palace’; and Dave Melmoth, founder of a music and action-sports festival called ‘Wheels and Fins’. Somewhere towards the back you’ll find an article written by someone who’s yet to display their entrepreneurial side but has established strong roots in the town – yours truly. Here’s what I had to say:
“I’ve always felt I belonged by the sea. I enjoy the sense of space and constantly changing weather, as well as that certain shabbiness you get when the wind, rain and sun take it in turns to assert themselves on rock, brick and render. But the thing I love most is that the sea makes the land warmer, and for me as gardener that presents all manner of opportunities to grow unusual plants.
After moving from Reading to London for work, I found myself a bolthole in Broadstairs. I am not a city boy and I needed to escape, first at weekends and later permanently. I am an impulsive kind of guy and bought the first house I looked at on my first visit to Broadstairs: being a buyer for John Lewis I know to trust my instincts. The Watch House had atmosphere (my friends call it cosy) and a sunny courtyard cluttered with privies and a bomb shelter. That sufficed for a couple of years, but as I settled in I sensed I could make a lot more of the space. It’s a challenging situation since there are cellars running underneath the garden and hence no natural soil to grow in. On the advice of a garden designer I swept away the outbuildings and created beds generous enough to plant trees and shrubs. I’d spent a lot of time in America where everyone seemed to have an outdoor kitchen, so I decided to build one of my own. Although the first attempt wasn’t perfect it is one of the best things I ever invested in, after all, who wants to be stuck indoors cooking when the sun is shining?
My garden has evolved enormously as I’ve worked out what I can grow. In Thanet we are blessed with far more sunshine and much less rain than in the West Country where I grew up. Now I live on the edge in terms of plant hardiness, thinking nothing of testing out plants from as far afield as Brazil, Mexico, the Himalayas, California, Madagascar and New Zealand. If it’s new, unusual or difficult to grow, I want it. I started my blog, The Frustrated Gardener, to turbo charge my interest in plants and it’s worked – what was a passion is now bordering on an obsession.
Three years ago the opportunity to buy a neighbouring cottage came up. I leapt at it, so now I have another small courtyard, the ‘Gin & Tonic Garden’, so named because the garden catches the sun in the late afternoon and because I grow lots of G&T garnishes in there, especially rosemary, mint and cucamelons. I also created my pride and joy – a library for all my books on plants and gardening. I have hundreds, mostly collected from second hand bookshops. Cicero said “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need”. I agree to a point, but I’d have to add companionship, as without that I’d find my life a lot less rewarding. I am lucky that my partner and I share a keen interest in plants and books.
My latest acquisition is a large workshop that’s attached to my house. It was once the depot for a fleet of ice cream vans that plied the streets of Broadstairs selling Eldorado ice creams. I want to turn it into a winter garden, packed with ferns and lush vegetation hanging from the rafters. That’s the thing, living in the middle of Broadstairs; I’m hemmed in on every side, so I’m now looking upwards for new opportunities.”
The Watch House will be open on August 3rd and 4th from 12pm – 4pm in support of the National Gardens Scheme. Entry is £4 for adults and children are admitted free of charge. Well-behaved dogs are welcome. Teas will be served in the workshop (if I get it tidied up in time!). Owing to the jungly nature of the garden we ask that large bags are left at home or in the workshop to avoid damage to the plants. For further details click here. My plant list, which I’m in the process of updating to include hundreds of new introductions, can be found by clicking here.
The Broadstairs Beacon is available from numerous outlets around Broadstairs and I hope to have copies to pick up on open days. If neither of those options is open to you, you may read it online here.