“If one is going to tell a story with plants, it may as well be an adventure story.”
Plants have always been my passion. It’s alleged that Mesembryanthemum was the first word I spoke as a baby, although I think that’s more myth than reality. Nevertheless, my childhood was defined by plants and growing, experimenting with seeds and cuttings in my parents’ garden. I recall Rosa ‘Albertine’ and R. ‘Fragrant Cloud’, loganberries, Prunus ceracifera ‘Nigra’, African marigolds and the hedges of privet and escallonia as if I last saw them yesterday. In a small lean-to greenhouse, which smelt wonderfully of cedar, my father grew tomatoes.
My grandparents were probably my greatest inspiration. My paternal grandfather was a head gardener on a grand country estate and taught me how to force rhubarb, thin bunches of grapes, pollinate glasshouse peaches and grow asparagus. How many people have these skills to share nowadays?
On my mother’s side, my Grandma Pope was very modern in the 1970’s and 80’s, filling her Cornish garden with heathers, conifers, eucalypts and phormiums in informal island beds. The photograph below was taken some years after she passed away, when the garden was no longer maintained to her immaculate standards.
By the age of fourteen I had acquired a greenhouse, and took to filling the borders in my parents’ garden with a myriad of colourful annuals every summer. Dahlias, petunias, marigolds and nasturtiums were favourites along with mesembryanthemum, naturally. Those were the days. University followed, reading Landscape Management at Reading University. Here I specialised in the new ecological style of planting design, involving perennials which co-exist in naturalistic groups. From there I embarked on a very short career as a Landscape Architect. Finding the world of commercial landscaping involved the smallest palette of relatively dull plants I quickly became disillusioned. A new career in retail ensued, and I have never looked back.
I am lucky enough to garden two plots, one by the seaside in Broadstairs, Kent and another in Highgate, London. Our seaside garden was designed in partnership with Declan Buckley, a very talented landscape designer. In a space about 20x30ft we cram in as many tropical, or tropical-looking plants as possible. You can find out a lot more by looking at Our Coastal Garden and the associated plant list. The London plot is very much a work in progress, but getting there slowly. 2014 saw the creation of a raised bed in which we now grow vegetables. It’s a shady space which suits hostas and is home to a growing collection of hellebores and snowdrops.
In 2015 and 2016 we opened our garden in Broadstairs for the National Gardens Scheme, welcoming around 200 visitors each weekend. Meeting neighbours and garden lovers from further afield was the best part of the experience. We are taking a break in 2017 to complete the building work we started in 2016 following the purchase of a neighbouring cottage which came complete with courtyard and a small greenhouse. Twenty years after acquiring my first greenhouse, I am back under glass once again. One day, when budget allows, the new courtyard will be redesigned on an Islamic theme with olive trees, grasses and Mediterranean perennials.
Realising I was forgetting much that I had learnt about gardening and needing a hobby that would distract me from work, I took up writing this blog in June 2012. It has been everything I hoped it would be, connecting me once again to my great passion in life and to like-minded bloggers. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it. TFG.