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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Joe Swift

I have lived in London my entire life and highly value the act of gardening as well as being surrounded by -and connected to -nature, plants and quality greenspace. I say quality because an area of grass to let the local dogs…. ‘exercise’….is not not reaching its full potential. I have designed and built umpteen gardens and am involved with community gardens, but my most recent design is also the most important to date. I’ve put my heart and soul into it. The Horatios garden I designed at Stoke Mandeville opened in September 2018 and is only going to get better as it matures. We have a fabulous head gardener Jacqui in place along with a team of willing and knowledgeable volunteers. The garden build was not cheap, we didn’t skimp, but it is a gift from the charity through incredible fundraising efforts, to the NHS as is its ongoing care.

Spinal injury patients previously spent extremely long periods stuck inside but now have somewhere to gather and spend extremely important times with family and friends away from the understandably sterile environment of the hospital. Plants and gardens aid recovery and are good for one’s soul; especially important during difficult times.

The garden is all one one level, it has private and more communal areas, an incredible garden building designed by Andrew Wells of 3W architecture complete with kitchen to shelter from the weather. It’s great for doing projects and therapies in. There’s a pond with moving water which adds another dimension and makes the garden feel cool and tranquil on a hot day. There’s even subtle garden lighting which means it can be used in the evenings and viewed from inside the wards when its dark.

The design has transformed what was an uninviting, impractical, exposed (to passers- by) and extremely underused space into an accessible, exciting well used garden packed full of plants for all seasons. Trees such as limes, winter flowering cherries, gingko and amelanchiers provide shade in summer as well as autumn and winter interest. Shrubs such as lonicera, sarcococca and climbing jasmines pump out sweet fragrance and in summer riotous perennials and grasses knit together to envelope the seating areas with plants, creating privacy and bringing in the butterflies and bees. As a garden designer there is nothing more rewarding than seeing a garden you’ve designed being used and enjoyed by those you’ve made it for and when those people and their families have been through life changing trauma, seeing the positive effects on their day to day life it makes it even more special.

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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Kevin Dowding

Kevin Dowding

Twists and Turns

As a young lad I used to love helping my Grandad both in his garden on his vegetable plot and renovating and making good our garden. I loved being outdoors, close to nature, learning endlessly and never doing the same thing twice. Wonderful!

Through secondary school little consideration was given to my garden; growing up and school studies took precedence, then University, starting my own family, and a career in finance: it was all more important… then the opportunity presented itself. An open day at a local college that I called in on through nosiness and that was me enrolled on a Horticulture course and goodbye to office work.

The quiet, mundane, unexciting world of gardening has so far taken me and my studies/work to Edinburgh and the Lothians, London, Northumberland, then back home to Cumbria. My last four and a half years has been as Forestry Senior at Center Parcs and more latterly the Interior Plants Senior Ranger. The variety of learning, challenges, achievements, seasonality, patience, satisfaction and fabulous friends I have encountered along the way has been extraordinary and must be a terrific bonus that not every industry or profession can boast nor match.

Now I’ve put my roots down and staying put for the foreseeable future. The full circle back to horticulture, planting design and husbandry under glass is where I started and where I have happily returned.  The following photo collages are one of the environments in which I work along with a selection of plants my team and I currently grow that are brightening everyone’s day.

The continual learning, refinement and development of the art of growing plants is a daily challenge and reward for me and is the driving force inspiring me to higher standards and thereby providing more interesting and better quality plants for our 9,000 weekly visitors to enjoy and marvel over

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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Sarah Wain

When it comes to cleaning glasshouses, the gardeners at West Dean Gardens take a deep breath and get stuck in. This is an annual task and it’s perhaps one of the least attractive in horticulture being cold, wet, tedious and repetitive in equal measure. However despite all that it’s a necessary one. I know I’m not selling it to you but glass is best cleaned each year to let in the light and scrubbing walls with soapy water helps to dislodge plant pests and diseases- all good horticultural practice. However with any luck you’ll have a lovely small glasshouse which is easy to clean in half a day so please don’t be daunted by these words! There’s no magic to cleaning just graft and the pay back for us is a collection of gleaming clean houses ready for another season.  Hoorah!

Before we start on the 13 Victorian glasshouses at West Dean, we prioritise the order in which we clean them as plants will have to be moved to another house before the cleaners move in. For us this is also the time to sort through plant collections ditching the worst plants and keeping the best for future use. While we are doing this we like to contemplate the changes that might be made in the following year’s displays and make plans.

Because of the amount of work all this involves we start re-potting in the New Year which is counter intuitive but there is a lot of potting to be done and it takes a lot of time so we can’t really wait until spring which is more suitable. Our warmer glasshouses nurture the newly potted plants and we are especially careful with watering- just enough but not too much until the plants are well established.  In the propagation house young plants live the life of Riley as not only are they cossetted with a heated mat to see them through colder weather, but they also have grow-lights to keep the young plants strong and sturdy. Talk about the Costa del West Dean!

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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Michael Perry

Blooming Tasty!

Wildflowers are brilliant for the bees, birds and butterflies- but did you know that some of them are good for you too….? I’ve picked out 5 wildflowers that are also EDIBLE, and can be used in salads, as decorations, however you creative you feel! Many can also be grown in large containers on the balcony or patio too, you don’t need half an acre to have a wildflower garden you know, and you can grow in raised beds for accessibility.

1. Forget-me-not (Myosotis arvensis)

My favourite little blue spring delight is actually edible you know! A beautiful way to decorate cupcakes and cheesecakes! I adore their powder blue colour, and the sprays would add something very different to salads, because the usual accent of colour is a red tomato- surprise everyone with BLUE!

2. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

You can eat your yarrow fresh or cooked, and it’s good for you too!! The ferny appearance of the foliage is a fun addition to salads, but do use them when young for the most tender of flavours. Yarrow has also been known to be used as a preservative for beer, and Achilles (where the name comes from) used the plant medicinally to heal the wounds of his soldiers!

3. Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

Whilst it’s often planted as cattle fodder, the foliage and flower are actually quite tasty to us humans too! The clover leaves can be added to a summer salad, as can the crested, pinky blooms! Red clover grow wild in many places around the worldwide: Native Americans used it as a salve for burns, whilst the Chinese used it as a tonic, and also burnt it as incense.

4. Mallow (Malva moschata)

So many parts of this wildflower are edible; from the leaves to the flowers to the seeds! The leaves are good for you, and bulk out summer salads very nicely, and are available from the spring too. The flowers taste mild, but their pink flower packs a punch. Lastly, the unripe seeds have a nutty taste and look like mini ‘cheeses’- what fun!

5. Cowslip (Primula veris)

You may have seen that Primroses are edible, well their cousin, the Cowslip, is too! They can make a nice tea, or even used to make cowslip wine! Flowers have been used for many years in salads, to decorate cakes, or been pickled! Next time you’re in the countryside you’re going to look at the hedgerow a whole lot differently!

Take a look at Michael’s website http://mrplantgeek.com