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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Sophia Cooper writing about herbs that cheer you up


Lavender is known to be helpful in headaches, skin irritations, and hair loss. It is often used in aromatherapy, owing to its marvelous smell. A refreshing cup of lavender tea is sure to lift your spirits.


Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm is a perennial herb of the mint family and is helpful in headaches, insomnia, and indigestion. It’s refreshing smell and taste make it a popular flavouring ingredient.



Basil’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties make it a healthy addition to your diet. It is often used as a garnish. Basil boosts the immune system and the gastrointestinal system. It is considered beneficial for eye, liver, and heart health.


Chamomile is known to boost immunity and cardiovascular health. Chamomile tea is quite popular, but it can be used for seasoning as well. Aside from its medicinal properties, they provide aesthetic value as well!

Herbs can be very beneficial for your well-being, provided they are used thoughtfully. One should not forget that herbs cannot overcome poor diet, toxic relationships, and lack of sleep and exercise. The herbs mentioned above are not only healthy but are easy to grow, as well. Gardening in itself is a fulfilling pursuit, and having a herb garden is bound to cheer you up!

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Simon Gibbins who started StrawBaleVegUK

. My name is Simon Gibbins. I have been strawbale gardening for over ten years now. We live
by the edge of the Viking Way in Lincolnshire. I got into this great method quite by chance. When we
moved into this house, luckily a massive garden came with it. It was completely overgrown and
untouched for years. With a lot of hard work, we got it to a manageable condition. Although my
family were all farmers from the lovely Lincolnshire Fens, my mother and father had decided to up
sticks and move to sunny Brighton, where my identical twin and I were born. I stayed there for some
twenty years and then moved back up country to Lincolnshire. So, although farming and gardening
was in my blood, I knew nothing. So, I read. A lot.
When my wife was young, she was involved in a serious car accident and injured her back. The
specialist at the time informed her that it would get worse as she got older. This was proving right.

And long periods bending in the garden cause serious pain. I started to look on the internet for a
more physically friendly way to garden. I found strawbale gardening from the States. I tried it for the
first year with mixed success and then started to really get into it and adapt it for our UK climate. It
really worked. As regards my wife, due to the height of the strawbales bending is at a minimum. You
can strawbale garden from the sitting position very easily. So, wheelchair users can really get into
this method. Plus, because you can put strawbales on any surface including concrete, its great for all
round wheelchair access. With strawbale gardening you see, you don’t need soil, so it follows that
you can have a fantastic garden almost anywhere.

I was having a well-earned pint in my local hostelry, when a pal suggested that maybe I start a
Facebook page on the subject. And so strawbaleveguk was born. I began to think that maybe there
was something worthwhile in this strawbale gardening method. I kept experimenting because an
essential part of the process is getting the bales to compost inside, fast. You do this by adding
differing quantities of water and a composting medium such as organic lawn feed. I designed a
maturing schedule over about seventeen days that suited our climate.
I secured a Virgin start-up loan and with the help of Lincoln University I produced a DVD on the
subject entitled The Strawbale Gardeners Handbook Vol 1. I believe the only one made specifically
for the UK climate. They also helped me put together a website www.strawbaleveg.co.ukI now visit groups with my workshop which is informative and great fun. I have grown many types of 

vegetables in strawbales including runner beans, sweetcorn, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, cabbages,
and many more. It is a very environmentally friendly way to grow vegetables as nothing is ever
wasted. When the strawbale is “tired” this can be up to two years later it makes first class compost.
Plus, a strawbale garden looks great. I now have many followers who advocate strawbale gardening,
I do hope that you will give it a grow. I now have a brand-new e-book that has been featured in
Kitchen Garden magazine. I am always available to help where I can. I can be reached through my
website www.strawbaleveg.co.uk simply go to the get in touch page.
I do hope this has been interesting and informative and encourages you to give it a grow.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Shake Islam a recipient of a Grant from Gardening for Disabled Trust Charity

Gardening for Disabled Trust Charity provided money for the raised beds in Shake Isalm’s new garden design.
I sat in silence at the doctors office, I’d just been diagnosed with an aggressive form of arthritis, I didn’t understand, I was young and in the peak of my years. Fast forward a few weeks and I was in my room, hadn’t left the house and was severely depressed and felt like life was over. I’d be pushed into resigning from work due to my health issues and I spent so long in my bedroom looking out, wishing things would be different.
I’d always look out at my garden and realised I could take control of my life again and not let this illness beat me. I had spent a lot of time and money on fixing the house up before I got unwell, and the garden was a mess. I wanted to be outside, safe and able to do something. The garden was my sanctuary, but messy and unsafe currently.
I spoke with doctors and support workers at the local authority who guided me towards the GDT. Applying was scary, I hadn’t asked for support but had no other option. The GDT were supportive, applying was simple and I was so grateful for the grant.
I have amazing friends and neighbours who helped enormously, and the design changed halfway as they felt they wanted to future proof the garden for me, should my condition worsen over time. I had to get a loan to complete the garden project but I am incredibly pleased with the end result. Two raised beds, two areas of artificial grass, blocked paved and tidied elsewhere. The lockdown would’ve affected my mental health but having my completed garden has helped more than I could have imagined. My outlook on life has changed, I am happier, grateful to everyone for their help, to GDT and feel lucky to still be alive. Planting up the beds and growing plants has been slow because of lockdown and the shops were shut but I am progressing and hopeful about what the future holds.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is James Miller, a Horticulturist at the Royal Horticultural Society

My Horticultural Story

I first became interested in plants and gardening at an early age. I would help my parents and grandparents in their gardens. Things that really inspired me as a child were growing plants from seed; vegetables and flowers, like snap dragons. Growing unusual plants quickly became a hobby. I would grow all sorts of unusual tropical fruits from seed; avocados, citrus, pomegranates and Lychees to name a few. I loved discovering interesting fruits or vegetables, with growing potential in greengrocers’ shops, whenever we visited China Town in London.

A family holiday to Cornwall, when I was ten years old, really enthused me and fuelled this interest. Seeing pineapples in the kitchen garden, tree ferns and bromeliads in the jungle at The Lost Gardens of Heligan, captivated my imagination as a child. Once home (with lots of plants), I started developing my patch of the garden into an exotic paradise. It is still flourishing to this day, with a chusan palm approaching three or four metres tall. I also planted other curiosities; like white mulberry, so that we could raise silk moth caterpillars.
In my mid-teens, I created an Asian inspired woodland garden, at the top of mum and dad’s garden. These experiences inspired me to do a work experience, at my local garden centre; Olivers Nurseries, when I was fifteen. I worked there seasonally and part-time whilst I studied my horticultural degree, at Writtle University College. After graduating, I took the journeyman root, working for the National Trust, Longwood Gardens in the USA, an Orchid Conservation Centre called APROVACA, in Panama and at Jerusalem Botanical Gardens.
I then settled into my current role, with the Royal Horticultural Society, as Horticulturalist (Horticultural Award), in the Alpine Team. Seeing alpines in the wild, in mountain environments really got me hooked. Whilst working at Wisley, I have had the opportunity to develop some exciting new planting schemes, helping select plants for the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM). I also created a new National Plant Collection of Astilbe, false goat’s beard, bred by nurseryman Georg Arends.

I passionately believe that plants and gardening can bring joy to everyone. People from all walks of life or any part of the world, can benefit from being able to watch something grow; whether that’s a trip to the local park, your garden, allotment or flat windowsill. No matter how much space you have, the enriching experience of nurturing plants and greenspaces brings relaxation and fulfilment to all.

My blog website https://jmwisbeymiller.wordpress.com/ and my Instagram is https://www.instagram.com/miller_jamesm/ 

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Bettina Sytner a Garden Designer at Chelsea Green

This blog is written in two parts. The first was in April and then the second in early August this year.

I had began writing a while ago before I became unwell, everything paused  and slowly came to a halt. I was at home, just recovering and planning my working schedule when the virus struck. Being Italian, my heart was broken each day by the news. And now it is here, I continued my isolation and, apart from a short early morning walk with my dog. My garden only contains two raised border and two shallow ones by the neighbouring fences, but it is my salvation and my haven. Clearing out winter’s debris, cleaning pots and mossy paving and checking the new shoots, and finally beginning re-potting last year’s plants and potting out the cuttings which have taken roots in tiny containers on the window sills .
The clematis are rapidly growing and canes are now in place to support them and shoots are encouraged to meander around and grow through shrubs and other climbers, so that there will be a succession of blooms. The roses are inspected each day, and even twice daily, and gently shaken to remove greenflies which are greedily feeding on the tender shoots – no need for spraying! 
Several small bedding plants have survived the winter and they only need a little pinch to tidy them, then a good clearing around them, a sprinkle of organic fertiliser and a topping of good compost. Not forgetting to water plants well, as the recent windy weather and now sunny and dry days are drying the soil a great deal. And the garden is ready for spring

Mid summer. It has been, and still is, a strange summer: hardly any rain , extreme temperatures, and Covid. But, for gardeners as for farmers, the unpredictability of the weather is quite normal, and we adapt and help plants adapting as much as we can, with more water and more protection.
Japanese anemones, dahlias, sedum, asters, cyclamen – to name a few – are all flowering with abandon, while most herbaceous borders have faded in the heat.

I have planted tomatoes, courgettes, peppers and herbs and the crop is amazing and abundant. However, there is a great deal of extra watering to be carried out, and feeding with good organic fertiliser. There are also, alas, many diseases around, primarily rust and fungus and mildew, which need to be kept under control with, again, organic methods where and when possible. And sadly the foliage of plants, shrubs and trees looks dry and scorched by the sun and the intense heat.
But it is also time to enjoy being in the garden during the evenings, looking at the stars and spotting meteor showers, and being grateful for the joys nature brings.

I have planted tomatoes, courgettes, peppers and herbs and the crop is amazing and abundant. However, there is a great deal of extra watering to be carried out, and feeding with good organic fertiliser. There are also, alas, many diseases around, primarily rust and fungus and mildew, which ned to be kept under control with, again, organic methods where and when possible. And sadly the foliage of plants, shrubs and trees looks dry and scorched by the sun and the intense heat.
But it is also time to enjoy being in the garden during the evenings, looking at the stars and spotting meteor showers, and being grateful for the joys nature brings.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Connor Smith, a Horticulturist at The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

It will be of no surprise that an attractive plant has been found in this particular genus. One in which has been so highly regarded by the garden, the country and indeed the world. Rhododendron has seamlessly found a home in many of our hearts. In all the countries I have lived in, I am always asked about our sophisticated Scottish counterparts who scour for prized Rhododendron.
During a post-Christmas amble through the garden I decided to venture into the glasshouses; Pigs & blankets, turkey included. A safe haven within the warmth of the collection and less strenuous activity post-Christmas. Despite being based at the botanics for a few years now I always seem to find something new, hidden to me previously through inexperienced eyes or brought into focus when showing off. This day was no different.
Rhododendron himantodes was practically eye level when immersed within the cloud forests of Borneo. Tucked into a nearby tree the plant poked perfectly out catching my attention. The narrow strap foliage was complemented beautifully with an explosion of white flowers in the upper half of the plant. However, it was the back of the flowers which caught my eye. The backs matched my complexion, pasty white with freckles. The leopard print patterning permeated through the back of the flower, diffusing into the floral performance.

The backs of the flowers are painted with freckles

A close up of the inner markings

The unopened bud and the long strap like leaves

It would not be fair to mention this plant without paying tribute to the collector. The late George Argent who collected it in Sarawak, Malaysia, 1978. This plant resides in the Montane Tropics glasshouse at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Nigel Payne, a Horticultural and Landscape Professional.

Horticulture – Pass it on Blog

I was 17 and desperate for a job. At the time my older brother worked for the local council in the parks department and suggested that I apply for a job there. The council? No thank you, I have more ambition than that? However, in reality, I had no choice.  I submitted my job application and waited to hear back from them. Within two weeks, I started work as a nurseryman working in the council glasshouses, helping to grow plants for the parks and gardens throughout the borough. 

Within a number of days my line manager asked a question that would change and steer my career to this day: “Would you like to go to college and get some qualifications?” I was 17 of course not! I had only left school the previous year and didn’t fancy going back into a classroom. He continued “It would mean you would be at college every Thursday instead of coming to work”. Every Thursday off work? “Yes absolutely” I replied. The following September I embarked on my City & Guilds Amenity Horticulture course at Oaklands College in St Albans.

The Councils glasshouses

At the end of the academic year I passed the course with flying colours but more importantly I had loved every minute of it. Horticulture almost seemed to come naturally to me. Hey, I could make a career of this I thought? At the time no one in the council had ever chosen to progress further than the first year of college but with the council’s agreement I pushed on and three years later I had passed all the exams. With some further management qualifications, I went on to work for some of the country’s largest horticultural maintenance businesses.
Horticulture has given me the opportunity to develop a career that has brought enjoyment and reward as well as professional and personal growth. It is an industry that can offer many successes to those that join its ranks, with its diverse and long term opportunities and the obvious health and wellbeing benefits.
But for myself, my biggest joy has been that it has allowed me to pass on my skills, knowledge and life experience to others who have then gone on to achieve and succeed. Developing the teams and the people around me has been my biggest horticultural success and ensures that the next generation are well equipped to be the future of our industry. It doesn’t matter if you garden for leisure or professionally, do something worthwhile and ‘PASS IT ON’.

Starting to Plan Your Dream Garden by Primethorpe Paving

It’s many a homeowner’s dream to create the perfect garden space to go along with their dream home. A professionally landscaped garden can act as an extra room for the home and even add to the value of the property – but the scale of the project can often come as a surprise. Many internal design projects are straight forward in comparison. 

While it might be tricky to select the perfect wallpaper for your snug, it’s easy enough to get it applied once it is selected. Even for projects as large as a kitchen, once you have designed and chosen your dream kitchen, getting it installed by a reputable company is often only as painful as being without your kitchen for the duration. 

But landscaping your garden is an entirely different type of project affected by all sorts of variables that wouldn’t affect an internal project, such as weather or your local soil type. On top of this, the scale of the problems that can occur if the job is done to a poor standard can end up costing you thousands in the long run, so this is a project that you need to be ready to put a lot of effort into before committing to it.

Starting to Plan

It’s incredibly important that you know what you want your finished project to look like. Getting a garden rebuild isn’t like choosing what hairstyle you want at your next appointment. If you haven’t planned or designed your space properly, you are going to be disappointed and the mistakes are incredibly expensive to fix. The level of detail you want to go into doesn’t matter. You can get by with a rough drawing, or you can render a full 3D model with precise detail. Both approaches serve a purpose, but the important thing is you do something. 

If the first time you are planning your project is when you sit down with your professional landscaper, it’s going to be a confusing conversation for everyone involved and the chances are you are going to end up with something you are not sure you want. A good professional is worth their weight in gold, but they aren’t going to magic a design from your own mind onto the paper for you. Preparation is essential in order to give them something to work with. 

Quick Note: It’s important to remain flexible with your designs. You may have to compromise on a few things in order to make it work, but a clear idea of your ultimate goal is a great place to work from.

Design Goals

The first decision you need to make is to set the direction for the rest of the design. What kind of space to you want to create? 

  • Do you want to create a private space to get lost in?
  • Do you want to design a space perfect for entertaining?
  • Do you need a manageable space that’s easy to maintain? 
  • What about a child friendly garden? 

The answers to all these questions are really important and will help you to plan the rest of the space effectively. Gardens for entertaining need more open spaces and flat surfaces; private gardens need tall plants and narrow pathways. If you know you want to entertain guests, but you design a garden with no patio space, you are going to be very disappointed in the result no matter the quality of craftsmanship. 

Make sure you decide early the main function and purpose of your dream garden, so the remainder of the design stage is focused on those key points. Once you’ve decided on the purpose of the new space, you can move onto the physical design and make-up of the space.

Marking the Perimeter

Once you’ve decided on the purpose and function of your dream space, it’s time to begin planning how it is going to look. The easiest way to do this is to create a flat drawing outlining how you want to divide the space up. You should use a scale drawing of your space as a reference. You can simply get this from google maps – by using their new ‘measure distance’ feature you can easily mark out your garden on google and get all the accurate measurements before transferring these onto paper. We recommend using gridded paper such as graph paper, or even squared paper designed for maths workbooks! 

This helps you keep your drawing to scale and allow you to really visualize the result much more accurately than a rough drawing. Mark out the perimeter using the squared paper to help keep it to scale. Remember to also include the position of your house, as well as ensuring any doors/windows are marked on the drawing also. These will come in handy later and allow you properly place paths and divide up your garden. Once the perimeter is drawn up accurately, you can begin to mark out the contents of your space.

Planning the Contents of Your Garden

This is finally where you can flex your creative muscles. Once you’ve accurately outlined the perimeter, it’s time to decide on the layout of your space and what it’s going to contain. This will completely depend on the desired purpose of your garden. As a rule, remember: Wide, open spaces are better for entertaining & lots of smaller nooks are better for a private, mindful space. 

  • Entertaining spaces are going to need larger spaces for patio areas and garden furniture. Maybe space for a day bed? 
  • More quaint spaces for you to enjoy on your own are going to need narrow paths, plenty of plants and high fences.

Spend lots of time thinking about exactly what you want from your space. Tweak and tweak and tweak! You want the overall layout to be perfect before moving onto any next stages. If you have this part nailed, it’s going to make working with your professional landscaper frictionless. Your professional will be able to advise on how realistic your vision is and give you an estimate on how much it is likely to cost. 

Remember to be flexible – your perfect design may not always be possible so keep an open mind to avoid disappointment.

In Conclusion – You should have a clear picture now

This isn’t designed to be an exhaustive guide of how to get your garden renovated – but it should give a very clear idea of how to begin to visualise what you want your new garden to look like. By following all these steps, you should be ready to seek out a professional to help you complete your project.

Going to a pro without a clear idea is like going to a hairdresser without knowing what you want. You could end up with something you are disappointed with, with no way to rectify it. But this is simply a much more expensive mistake to make than a haircut. So follow these steps and you should be good to go!

Written by Kelsey Brace at Primethorpe Paving

This Weeks Guest Blogger is Guy Watts, the Co-owner and Managing Director of Architectural Plants

Architectural Plants refers to plants with shape and form. This comes naturally to some plants and some need it thrust upon them and that’s where we come in.

Natural Form: 

Sequoidendron giganteum (Giant redwood) has a naturally architectural form and we love them. They require little to no work to keep their statuesque form – clear their lower branches when they’re 15 years or older and that’s it. We all know redwoods for their spongy red bark and massive scale but the foliage is also incredibly tactile. The very Mediterranean Pinus pinea  holds its shape in a similar way.

Thrusting Form: 

We like adding drama to a garden with Trachycarpus wagnerianus . Use the common bread knife to cut the hairy bark away, layer by layer, and reveal the shiny, coppery striped bark beneath. It’s a labour of love but well worth the effort. For the more maverick gardener we recommend burning the stem with a blow torch and rubbing with a wire brush to remove all of the fibrous growth left. Keep the hose handy and prepare for fireworks, it’s horticulture at its wildest.

We are especially good at transforming the common shrub into something particularly beautiful. Remove the lower foliage with secateurs to uncover the hidden structure below. With shears shape the top and level off the bottom. If well-proportioned it should look like an open parachute. Getting the right proportions is essential.

To find out more on the subject visit our website and / or our nursery. We also offer tours and courses or if you want to leave it to the experts we can come and do any of the above for you as part of our Creative Maintenance Service.

Stane Street, Pulborough, West Sussex, RH20 1DJ

01798 879213

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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Alison Hepworth

I am the regional manager covering Kent Surrey and London for the WFGA. There are 18 regional managers covering the length and breadth of the UK.

The WFGA is a registered charity, founded by women in 1899 concerned by the lack of education and employment opportunities for woman working on the land.

These days, the scheme is open to men and women looking to change careers or develop their horticultural knowledge. Alongside workshops and skill days, it operates a trainee scheme called WRAGs which has propelled many trainees to successful careers in horticulture. Currently we work with around 170 gardens across the United Kingdom. The majority have a WRAGs trainee, and there are many more hoping for a placement.

It is a brilliant scheme and I should know: it changed my life. This is my story:

I joined the police in 1986. This photo shows me sitting on a World War II Hermann Bomb weighing 2,200lb in 1987, which was unearthed by construction workers in Bermondsey, London. It was one of the largest types of bombs the Germans dropped on Britain during the Blitz. I was 21 years old.

I spent 30 happy years in the police, spending the last 11 years as a Detective inspector on a murder squad in South London before retiring in 2017. It was definitely time for a change.

I had always loved gardening and decided to do an RHS level 2 gardening course at Hever Castle. There I heard about the amazing, life-changing, WRAG scheme. I learnt that trainees are placed in a garden and trained by the head gardener or owner for two days week for 12 months and paid the national living wage.

I signed up and was very lucky to get a place within six months in a garden originally designed by the renowned horticulturalist Sir Harold Hillier. Significant features of the Hillier garden remain including box parterres, yew hedges, terracing and signature plants including Scots pine and camellias.

My first day of training was in February 2018. It was freezing cold and, by the end of the day, I was exhausted and barely able to move! Gradually my body got used to the physical work as I learnt about the garden throughout the seasons. The scheme ensures that trainees cover a variety of topics including pruning, pest disease and weed control, soil cultivation, propagation, and management of herbaceous borders. I was taught by two gardeners Helen McCready and Serena Crighton-Stuart. Both were very patient with me, guiding carefully at all times, even letting me loose on box balls which I tried very hard not to turn into a cube. Here is a picture of me pruning Jasminum. Probably just as risky as sitting on the bomb!

The year flew by and I was lucky enough to be taken on by the garden owners. I now work there two days a week. In addition, I was also employed by the WFGA as a regional manager. The garden has also taken on a new WRAGS trainee and plan to take more in future years.

The moral of my story is never be afraid to take a leap of faith. I left the police not knowing what I was going to do next, afraid of all the spare time I would have. Now I am occupied pretty much all of the time and have met some fantastic and interesting people along the way.

If you would like to join the WFGA and the WRAGS then the following link will give you all the information. We are also always on the lookout for extra gardens to place our growing list of hard-working and enthusiastic trainees.


A potted history of the WFGA

Originally, membership was open to anyone connected in any way with the land, in farming, gardening and allied industries, or those with a keen interest in these matters. Many of the founder members were professional women working in education, gardening, farming and small holdings.

At the outbreak of the First World War, a founder member Louisa Wilkins realised that there would be a shortage of labour on the land and the Women’s National Land Service Corps was launched offering work placements to women, both rural and urban. This movement was so successful that it soon outgrew a small voluntary organisation and was taken up by the Government and the first Women’s Land Army was born.

Between the wars there were difficult years of recession and the Association worked hard to improve the working conditions and status of women in land work and to open up employment opportunities to qualified trainees. The first training scheme in practical skills was set up during the Second World War giving valuable service to those seeking to work on the land. A Garden Apprentice Scheme for school leavers was set – this led to the development of Government Youth Training Schemes.

In 1993 the Association, established the ‘Women Returners to Amenity Gardening Scheme’. Designed to offer ‘returners’ who were considering a career in horticulture, training in practical gardening skills, within private and public gardens throughout the United Kingdom.

In 2014 the name was changed to reflect the change in the type of applicants applying – Work and Retrain As a Gardener Scheme.’