“If one is going to tell a story with plants, it may as well be an adventure story.”
Plants have always been a passion. It’s alleged that ‘Mesembryanthemum‘ was the first word I spoke, although I think that’s more myth than reality. Nevertheless, my childhood was defined by plants and flowers, experimenting with seeds and cuttings in my parents’ garden in Plymouth. I recall roses ‘Albertine’, ‘Masquerade’ and ‘Fragrant Cloud’; juicy, hirsute loganberries; dark-leaved Prunus ceracifera ‘Nigra’; stiff and starchy African marigolds and pungent hedges of privet and escallonia. It’s as if I last brushed past them yesterday. In a small cedar-scented greenhouse, my father grew tomatoes: ‘Gardener’s Delight’ as I recall. Times have changed, but the tomatoes have never been bettered.
My grandparents were my greatest horticultural inspiration. My paternal grandfather, Dennis Cooper, was Head Gardener at a large country estate. He taught me how to force rhubarb, thin bunches of grapes, pollinate glasshouse peaches and grow asparagus. I was fortunate: how many people have these skills to share nowadays? What I remember most vividly are drifts of cheerful daffodils scattered through the grass beneath ancient apple trees. There, deep in the Buckinghamshire countryside, my love of narcissi and other bulbous plants began to grow.
On my mother’s side, my grandmother, Florence Pope, was a thoroughly modern ‘lady gardener’. Her children having flown the nest and my grandfather having passed away, she filled her Cornish garden with heathers, conifers, camellias, hydrangeas and phormiums. Her informal island beds were inspired by the likes of John Brookes and Alan Bloom; designers and plantsmen who elevated gardening to new levels in the 80’s and 90’s. The photograph below was taken some years after my grandmother passed away, when the garden was no longer maintained to her immaculate standards.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 (now near Bath) with a myriad of colourful annuals every summer. Dahlias, petunias, marigolds and nasturtiums were firm favourites, along with obligatory mesembryanthemums. I would spend hours each spring browsing seed catalogues, often choosing the newest, quirkiest varieties. That thirst for the new and usual has never been quenched, although I reach my limits when a flower is hybridised beyond recognition.
Whilst I relished the immediacy and vibrancy of annuals, over time I developed a taste for perennials. I discovered Hannay’s of Bath, a specialist nursery (now sadly defunct), and started to indulge in all sorts of plants, many of which were uncommon at the time. They included Inula magnifica (giant fleabane), Cephalaria gigantea (giant scabious), Phlomis russeliana (Turkish sage), Zauschneria californica (Californian fuchsia) and the very beautiful Antirrhinum sempervirens (silver snapdragon). Salvias were a speciality of Hannay’s’, and though I indulged, I cannot recall the varieties I purchased. I know that they did not survive long in the garden’s heavy clay soil, but the inula, cephalaria and phlomis survive to this very day.
University followed. I read Landscape Management at Reading, ultimately gaining a first class degree. My dissertation explored the ‘new’ ecological style of planting design, involving perennials which might co-exist in naturalistic groups. ‘Perennials and Their Garden Habitats’, a rather dry book by Richard Hansen and Friedrich Stahl, became my bible. I would not recommend it for bedside reading, but it’s a superb reference for identifying plants for specific growing conditions.
It was at the same time that I was introduced to the landscapes of Wolfgang Oehme and James van Sweden, and of Roberto Burle-Marx, three of my gardening heroes. Oehme and van Sweden popularised the ‘New American Garden’ style, characterised by vast, swathes of grasses and perennials – not mixed as in a prairie but in groups of a single variety. One can still find their book ‘Bold Romantic Gardens’ on Amazon and I heartily recommend it to anyone planning a new garden, whether it be large or small, town or country. Roberto Burke Marx was of a similar ilk , designing parks and gardens of unparalleled scale and artistry. In creating the largest of landscapes he considered every detail of a plant’s character and what it would lend to the overall design. He is probably best known for the two and a half-mile mosaic promenade which runs alongside Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro.
From university I embarked on a short career as a Landscape Architect in Wantage, Oxfordshire. Discovering that the world of commercial landscaping involved the smallest palette of relatively dull plants I quickly became disillusioned. Within the year I had been made redundant and after a few months of freelancing I decided enough was enough. A new career in retail ensued, and I have never looked back.
For a number of years my passion for plants and gardening lay dormant, although it never died. I made a small courtyard garden behind my first home in Reading, growing ferns, acers, camellias and woodland perennials. The soil was terrible and there was no sun after midday, but it kept my passion alive.
Having moved to London in 2005, the following year I decided to buy a weekend home on the Kent coast: I find cities claustrophobic and like to be beside the seaside. I knew nothing about the area, but on recommendation paid a visit to Broadstairs and bought the first and only property I looked at. It was called The Watch House. The story of how I created the garden, which I refer to as the Jungle Garden, can be found here. Ten years later I purchased an adjoining cottage and knocked through the following year, creating a library, garden room and two additional bedrooms in the process. These rooms are still collectively referred to as ‘next door’. The garden that came with the cottage is referred to as the Gin & Tonic Garden because the sun reaches the back door at 5pm, when a G&T is compulsory.
Since 2015 I have opened The Watch House for the National Gardens Scheme on the first weekend in August, and will do so again in 2020. Initially we welcomed around 200 visitors each time, rising to 440 in 2019. Meeting neighbours and garden lovers from further afield is the best part of the garden opening experience.
Moving forward to 2020, I live full-time in Broadstairs, commuting daily to London; a four-hour round-trip. I share my home and garden with my partner John (aka The Beau) and his two pedigree mongrels Max and Millie. Earlier this year we took on a large allotment plot just around the corner at Culmer’s Land. A new world of fruit and vegetable growing lays before us, and my adventures in gardening continue. TFG.
Lead Photo Credit – Marianne Majerus
122 comments On "About The Frustrated Gardener"
For your world garden tour, consider in the Washington, DC area: Dumbarton Oaks, Hillwood in DC and Glenstone in suburban MD.
Dear Daniel, so thrilled to find your blog. Do get in touch if you receive this. We look out towards your grandparents cottage at Liscombe and remember them with great affection,
all the best Nadine Bonsor
Hello! So wonderful to hear from you. What a lovely surprise. I have received your email so will reply to that shortly. All the best. Dan
Saw you on Gardeners World. I was impressed with your variety of plants in that small space. I love dahlias also.
Just seen your VT on gardeners world and absolutely love your garden. I am currently building/planting my own small garden and am looking for tree varieties. The trees in your courtyard are stunning and I would like to know the name/variety of them if possible? I know you named the one type, if you could let me know the others that would be super.
Hello there Chris. Many apologies for the delay in replying. I can recommend:
Pseudopanax chathamica (v slow growing)
Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. aspleniifolius
Laurus nobilis ‘Angustifolia’
I think all are available from Architectural Plants.
They are all evergreen trees so be mindful of shade, the amount of water they’ll take up and that they’ll drop their leaves in copious quantities throughout the summer. Drives me crazy now they are mature as they fall just when everything else is looking good. You might want a mix of evergreen and deciduous. Dan
Your gardens are outstanding. I have started gardening 10 years ago myself and believe me I know what it takes. But, at the end of the day, you get what you worked for – eye-watering gardens. Keep up the good work!
Really should have read this before I came to visit but hey, better late than never. Great I am now a follower
Cracking blog! We recently gave our garden a little bit of well-needed care. We recently moved in and the previous owners hadn’t touched it in 10 years. We spent the majority of lockdown outside, with the help of Wilfirs though when it came to our new gates and fences. I’m not too sure whereabouts you’re based but I highly recommend. Here’s there website https://www.wilfirs.co.uk/.
I was just wondering if you had a few suggestions on plants that would work well growing up a wooden fence. I was personally thinking maybe a couple of honeysuckles? But always open to some new ideas. Thank you.
Your UK leg of the tour should include the wonderful Broughton Grange, near Banbury: http://www.broughtongrange.com. Sadly not open this year, but a wonderfully unexpected surprise in the middle of farmland.
Thank you very much indeed Ali. At this rate my tour is going to be U.K. only so the more the merrier!
A wonderful blog about plants! I’m so glad I discovered it, Actually coincidental. But now I’m addicted to your messages and magnificent pictures.
Thank you very much.
Hi, do you have any idea how Ishihara made his multiple-sphere moss creation? What mosses, for instance? I have googled but could not find any information about how to imitate it.
Hello Kirsten. So the moss is Leucobryum glaucum, pincushion moss. There are people who sell this online for terrariums, bonsai etc. I would recommend securing in position with florist’s wire or soft aluminium wire, or even a glue gun if it’s just a temporary display Let me know how you get on. Dan
Thank you, FG. What a pain! The information I can glean from the internet indicates that the plant might not survive in my area (Zone 9, Northern California–I’ve been told that it’s not unlike Southeast England but I think we are warmer, and we got much less rain). I wonder if I could achieve the same effect with either Scotch or Irish moss (Sagina subulata ‘Aurea’; Arenaria Verna Aurea—or vice-versa, depending on the source) or with Scleranthus. I’m trying to get the same look in my garden, not in a display. We have a native moss here that grows wild, but trying to propagate it, hmm.. I think I’ve tumbled into another rabbit hole.
Ha! Maybe. Where I live in Kent it’s zone 9a/9b and we have a very dry climate compared to the rest of the U.K. You don’t see much moss or lichen here as you would in the West, which is literally dripping with moisture most of the time.
Sounds like you have a pioneering spirit so perhaps just experiment and see what works. I did have a cool shady corner in my garden once that might have been ideal, but you also need shelter from drying winds. Do you have any Japanese gardens or garden groups in your area that you could ask for advice? Dan
I am looking for advertising opportunities on behalf of my client. I have come across your site – frustratedgardener.com and it fits the demographic which my client is looking for.
My clients are looking for sponsored posts & guest posts. If you are interested, please let me know what pricing options you have available of your advertisements.
Thanks Sarah. At the current time I don’t accept sponsored posts or advertising. I choose to maintain my blog as a hobby for now. However, never say never! Dan
I think I must have lived there in this village in a past life, around 1650 or so. I guess also the grass is always greener, or the plants are always plantier. I’m at the shore in New Jersey, with sandy soil and hot humid summers. All these gardens on this tour have made my afternoon…thank you so much for sharing them and also for talking plants.
Dear Frustrated Gardener, Thanks for your post I came across today. I have a site called aroseisaroseisarose.com about my country garden in rural Australia. Yes, we do have distinct seasons away from the coast by the way. IMy area is in summer hot and dry ( although I have an abundance of underground water) and winter can be quite cold with morning heavy frosts. I enjoyed your blog and hearing about gardening in the UK and agree with your list of tips. I hope to read more in the future Thanks again Di
So heartwarming to see how gardening has been passed down through your family.
Gardening charity Thrive have created a resource for people to harness the power of gardening & nature to improve their mental health this autumn. It’s a wellbeing calendar with 28 short daily activities to enjoy. There’s nothing like interacting with nature to provide a boost!
I thought you might like to participate and spread the word so more people can identify this as something to take part in this autumn.
People can find out more and download their calendar for free at: http://www.thrive.org.uk/autumn
All the best,
What a fantastic blog, I’ve just come across it,
I needed some advice on planting daffodils now, and it popped up on a Google search!!
I shall know where to look now for advice.
Can I register anywhere for alerts etc ?
You don’t look frustrated at all:) I see you have many chops – interesting post. Keep it up. Thanks for sharing.
Hi! Am I missing the button to follow your blog? I don’t do the other ways listed ie. Pinterest, instagram etc. Really enjoyed what I have read so far. ( ps. I’m reading on a tablet not a computer screen)
Hi Audrey. I’m so sorry that you are having issues following my blog. We’re in the final stages of rebuilding it, so it’s possible the subscription box has disappeared in the process. I have re-added a box near the top on the right. Please try this and let me know if you’re still having issues. If they persist, come back in a couple of weeks (please, please!) and it will all be shiny and new.
Hello Dan! When I wrote my comment, a couple of boxes came up below the box. I clicked “notify me of new posts”. But I hadn’t seen that before I pressed “post comment”. 🙄 I can see the shiny new button for “follow”and will now go and deal with it. Many thanks and I look forward to seeing a wonderful garden grow and bloom.
The new site might be live by the middle of next week 👏 I really hope you will like it! Thanks for following Audrey.
Lovely blog! Dahlias showed me the path …
Greetings from Spain
I feel & share your love of gardening and all things growing….
I love your writing, photographs and joy – I find it so enriching to the spirit…..
But, being elderly and disabled, I can find fault with your rhetoric about online products. So, I have a lot of disappointments, cry at the despair of plants delivered dead or dying in dreadful packaging – but some items are fantastic! Glory be to the online distributors! They usually respond to a phone call, give ideas and help and generally love to solve your problems. I could not garden without these paeans of gardening. Some firms are absolutely ‘The Tops’ (especially those selling fertilisers, salts and all kinds of things horticultural, but most so love their plants and are generous enough to share their knowledge.
I can’t tell you how I look forward to your Grand Opening in April! To date, your ‘Frustrated Gardener’ post is a feast to read and wondered at… (One day, perhaps you can share the reason for that title???).
The future looks bright…. I applaud your business acumen in this wonderful sphere.
WISHING YOU THE GREATEST SUCCESS!!!
That is so kind of you Myra and thank you for representing a balanced view. It’s good to know that you’ve found your ‘in the know’ places and that they’ve provided excellent service.
I hope I can and will live up to everyone’s expectations. I don’t imagine things will be perfect from the off, but I will learn and get better and try never to be complacent. It’s such a gift to have people on my side and prepared to give feedback as well as encouragement. Have a lovely evening. Dan
Can you please tell me when is your garden open for public? and what is your address? i want to visit your garden this year.
Hi Nalini. We are not opening for the National Garden Scheme in 2022 but we hope to return in 2023. If we do any other openings you’ll hear about them here or on my social media accounts. Hopefully we’ll get to meet some day! Dan
Hi. We met on Tuesday evening at St Dunstan’s Horticultural Society meeting; great talk and full of amazing information! I am the person who asked afterwards how many Dahlias had the AGM and you replied 70 – 80. I visited the RHS AGM site and you may be surprised to know that the real number is a whopping 130. I really am curious to know what you think the point of the AGM is. It can’t be to help gardeners pick a variety suitable for their garden because there are too many varieties listed. What is it really? Richard
Hi Richard! That wasn’t me unless I have a doppelgänger!
The selection for an AGM is rigorous and they can be taken away as well as awarded. However many cultivars meet the standard get the award – there’s no set number. So, if 130 deserve it, 130 get it. It’s then up to gardeners to make their choice. In a genus as diverse as Dahlia that does not seem like an inordinate amount to me.
I hope you manage to track down the person you were taking to! Dan
Where have you gone? I haven’t seen a new video in months. I miss you!
I do apologise Donald. I’ve been a bit preoccupied with setting up my new business and watering my garden but I’ve started to get my studio back in order and hopefully there will be more videos soon. In the meantime you can find me on Instagram @thefrustratedgardener and also at dancoopergarden.com.