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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Kelly-Jane Leach

Why gardening?

When I was asked to write a blog for Gardening for Disabled Trust, I admit that so many ideas were going through my head. I could write about the current season, my favourite thing to grow or what I suffer with and my struggles with gardening. However, after talking to a few friends about where to start, I decided that it’s not really about what I grow, but why.

My abilities can vary from day to day. It’s a lottery. So why would I continue to carry on lifestyle and hobby that’s so physically exhausting? It’s a question that I am asked a lot and it’s pretty frustrating because it’s always said by non-gardeners in a derogatory manner.

There are other sides to gardening than plonking seeds in a pot and waiting for them to grow. You’d think that gardening would lead to a solitary lifestyle and some tree hugging here and there but it’s deeper than that. It becomes part of your values in life. You realise your plants are important because life is important. It gives you purpose, meaning and a sense of achievement.

I have an allotment in Hertfordshire and the best piece of advice I was ever given was to listen and respect those who had been there a long time. Yes, we all have our own way of doing things but there I was with a new born baby, one gardening fork and one spade which were both donated, and a huge pile of weeds which had been unattended for around three years. I needed help. It’s overwhelming at first but the first thing you learn about any kind of gardening is that patience is your friend. A skill that is easily transferred into your day to day life, and one that has helped me immensely.

My family, friends and plot neighbours helped me get set up and for that I am forever thankful as I wouldn’t be where I am and who I am today. I have no importance on this Earth whatsoever but I now provide for my family in a way I felt like I failed to by becoming unwell. It’s not always about constantly digging all the time. I’d never even used a power tool but there I was last week using my plot neighbour’s circular saw to cut timber.

I grow because I love to provide my friends and family something they couldn’t buy in the supermarket. Most of the people I know have never heard of a cucamelon or borage and when I can whack that in a G&T when they come to mine, they’re forever fascinated I grew it and I knew what to do with it and it always strikes conversation. I am completely self-taught at this point however my absolute love for it has made me want to pursue this further and see where it goes. I have no plans or specialties; I just know that when someone asks me how to grow something or asks for my advice, it fills my heart with more joy and love for this world than ever before as someone else wants to start putting seeds into the rapidly deteriorating earth that needs us more than ever before to restore it.

I have communicated and met with a large number of amateur and professional gardeners through socialising. Whether that be social media or through the allotment itself but gardening has no bias. It doesn’t judge you; it doesn’t expect anything from you. You do what you can within your own abilities. Disability or not – we all have our physical limits. Age, gender, sexuality, race, ability – whatever it is – there’s absolutely no bias.

Over just a few years, I am becoming greener, more environmentally aware, I’ve reduced my waste and make sure I avoid products that are non-recyclable, I’ve met friends who are all different and are the best and most welcoming people I know. I like to think that I now provide a little more for wildlife whether it’s planting edible flowers I know a myriad of insects and bees will enjoy but are also edible for me too if I decide. You get to watch beautiful wildlife and also battle with it. The birds eat my currants every year and somehow, they find a way.

It’s not just about growing food. It’s a social life or the sanity to you need. It’s fresh air, nature, unbiased friends and a community. You make gardening what you want it to be. If you want to grow show onions or giant pumpkins then do it! Do what you can within your own abilities which is very easy to say and hard to put into practice. It won’t come overnight but I can guarantee you that it will be with you forever and be life changing. From planting cress in an eggshell to planting your first tomatoes; they’re not too dissimilar. It’s not just about growing my own food anymore. It’s not really about providing. It’s about producing food I can’t buy, meeting other human beings without judgement, the community you create because of it, the wildlife and the robin that always visits you when you’re digging, the sense of purpose and self-achievement, and finally, you just being you. And that is the part that matters most.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Anthony Henn a Director at Garden on a Roll – Designer Garden Borders Delivered to your Door


Our garden project for Jonathan Coggan Paralympian rugby player

One of the main challenges for a garden designer is that you must always consider the needs of the client first then create the best design possible around these requirements. I want my gardens to be a sanctuary for people and wildlife but of course be practical too.

When I was asked to help design and build a wheelchair accessible garden for Jonathan Coggan, I wanted it to look like a wonderful garden but also be totally wheelchair friendly, as I believe a garden should also work for friends and family who come to visit. This philosophy makes even more sense when selling the property as it should appeal to all potential buyers.

The Brief:

  • Easy maintenance
  • Wheelchair accessible
  • Raised beds for Herbs and Veg
  • Colourful borders
  • Wildlife-friendly
  • Large patio areas for entertaining
  • Hot tub

The design:

I wanted to create a free-flowing design with lots of paths and access around the space. The positioning of the raised beds for veg and herbs was important as they needed to be sited in a sunny spot but look nice too.

The patio areas needed to be generous, ideally with some spots in the sun others in shade. The Hot Tub was a requirement so we found a location that felt right and was private, this was sunk into the new terrace for easy access.

The results:

The garden took approximately 6 weeks to complete including relaying the existing main lawn and creating the artificial grass lawn around the existing trees.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Colin Moat co-owner with his wife of Pineview Plants and Chair of Plant Fair Roadshow

Pineview Plants: Germination and Growth

In fairness it was one of those germinations that took quite some time to break dormancy. Like many people, I was influenced by my parents, my Dad being a roses and veg man, with my Mum more about fruit and flowers. In fairness, like most kids I wasn’t terribly useful, I’d trail along to the allotments and tried, generally unsuccessfully, to set light to a pile of weeds which were too green and with too much soil clinging to the roots. My Dad probably thought it was worth the price of a box of matches to have a bit of peace and quiet! My memories of our flower garden are still quite vivid, even after nearly 60 years, with bearded iris, being Mum’s pride and joy (her favourite was Lily of the Valley though, which I still grow, and offer about 9 different varieties at the nursery). Unfortunately my Mum died when I was 14 so there was a bit of disruption to my horticultural evolvement.

It wasn’t until my twenties, when I’d put my own roots down that my propagating urges re-emerged. But, with offspring of my own to nurture, I had to make do with sowing seeds, of, as was fashionable at the time, many annuals, and vegetables. Importantly, I also joined the Alpine Garden Society, for their amazing seed list, containing thousands of plant seeds, many of which, I’d never heard of. A few years on there was an emerging interest in fuchsia’s and many cuttings started to be taken. About this time my wife had a job working for a major nursery, who also supplied some of the largest high street retailers. A number of these plants came back unsold, and after a bit of negotiation, I was able to ‘recycle’ these at local boot fairs. This, however, was very hit and miss, the plants needed a lot of TLC and whilst it didn’t last very long, it proved a catalyst for things to come. An important lesson learnt was not to try selling plants at boot fairs!

All during this time I had a ‘proper’ job in financial services, which provided a certain flexibility of working hours, with most of the advising part taking place in the evenings, and it allowed me time during the day. A major part of that time was spent in the garden, but a seismic change happened when my Dad purchased a 12’ x 8’ greenhouse for me. My fuchsia acquisition and production accelerated, at its height reaching 200 varieties. With a minimum of 3 cuttings each, potting and housing became a bit problematic, but worse was to come, my first encounter with (but not my last)….VINE WEEVIL! That finished fuchsia’s for me, mainly I think as It coincided with joining the Hardy Plant Society, and finding the local Kent Group had a members plant sales table! Not only that, but they positively encouraged members to bring along suitable offerings, and they just took a small percentage of the sale. This was the turning point for me, I found myself quite shortly (on reflection, with almost indecent haste) on the committee and, excitingly, in charge of the members sales table. The major downside was the group didn’t have indoor meeting during the Summer, so lots of plants weren’t on offer. I put forward the suggestion that we ought to have plant fairs during the summer, perhaps held at members with larger gardens? This definitely accelerated my plant production, the combination of access to interesting and unusual (and affordable) plants from HPS members gardens, a growing ability to propagate these, and the opportunity to sell, had coincided. In my ‘proper’ job, I constantly ran over figures in my mind to try and make this passion a financially viable proposition, but I was a good enough (by then an Independent Financial Adviser in my own company) to assess that it was extremely unlikely to produce enough income to fund a mortgage, especially in the area where we lived.

The other factor, which experience had taught me, is with horticulture, you are completely in the hands of factors outside of your control like the weather. Not just in terms of the growing of plants, but also the selling of them. Droughts and hose pipe bans, on one side, and rain, snow or wind at plant fairs on the other. I thought there was a danger that I would fall out of love, with the vocation I most enjoyed. At the turn of the millennium my ‘proper’ job enabled me to move to a property which gave me more room to grow, from a garden that was 25m x 8m, I now had ¾ of an acre, and I moved 3 transit loads of plants to it, plus my ‘Dad’s’ greenhouse, and added another of a similar size. What I hadn’t quite taken into account was that a garden of that size, also needed maintenance too, and my ‘proper’ job had developed into a ‘PROPER’ job!

So when a plant fair came around there a lot of late evenings spent tidying, staking and generally prettifying. I learnt, mainly from my fellow nurseries, (by this time my fledgling nursery had a name Pineview Plants, named after our house, Genius!) that presentation was important too. I looked up to people like Jenny Maillard of Usual and Unusual plants, who, if my stand didn’t look up to scratch, gave it a quick organisation! Observation of what was being offered and bought also taught me lessons and gave me ideas. From my sales background I learnt not to undersell my plants, if you don’t value your product, you can’t expect it of other people. Having spent most of my working life in an office, I had been dragged, kicking and screaming, into being familiar with a computer. I was able to teach myself how to print labels, and more importantly pictures for labels! Silly as this sounds now, this was a major transformation, with the added use of a laminator these then were re-usable! This small change probably saved me about 3 hours a night, before every plant fair, writing out display labels! It also meant I could sell plants, that weren’t in flower, they didn’t sell as well as the plants that were, but you were still able to turn over stock.

By this time I had got to know people in our new village a bit more, and after making a few enquiries about 12 years ago, I was offered the use of a Polytunnel on a neighbouring farm, it was the last one of a whole field of about 30, but had been abandoned due to being too shady. However, it was ideal for my shade loving plants, the range of which had steadily expanded. There was a water source and a shed with electricity nearby, so with an industrial sized hopper and a pond pump, I was able to water my plants.  This gave me space to lay out the plants and keep them looking good, and I definitely felt we had moved on. In a reorganisation on the farm last year, the nursery has subsequently moved to much more accessible location, but with all the associated upheaval. Normal service is nearly resumed!

In 2012 I was able to take a gradual retirement from my ‘Proper’ job, and indulged in expanding and improving the range of plants I offered. It has enabled me to act as Co-ordinator for the HPS Kent Group’s display in the Great Pavilion at RHS Chelsea, in 2015. In addition, I have put on displays at the RHS Orchid and Early Spring Show at Westminster, earning Silver medals. In 2018 I chaired a RHS Roundtable for assessment for Awards of Garden Merit for Epimedium, and currently act as an assessor, for the RHS Sanguisorba and Persicaria trials at Wisley. I love working in Horticulture!

Colin Moat runs Pineview Plants in partnership with his wife Cindy, please see their flyer below for a list of events they will be attending this year, their website contains plant lists that gives a flavour of some of the plants he has to offer www.pineviewplants.co.uk

He is also Chair and event coordinator for Plant Fairs Roadshow www.plant-fairs.co.uk

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Nicki Conlon, a gardener from Sussex who writes as Makinggardens on Twitter and Instagram

Too many Houseplants?

How many is too many Houseplants? At last count I had over 70! Maybe that’s not enough…

I have been gardening outdoor for many a year, yet I am reasonably new to Houseplants. Like my love of gardening, I am sure I have inherited my new found love for houseplants from my Mum. AKA my font of all garden and houseplant knowledge.

I can still remember a trip with my Mum over thirty years ago (eek!) to a garden centre. She purchased a Rubber Plant – Ficus elastica. This character has to be up there with easy care houseplants. A bit of bright indirect light, not too much water and it’s really happy.

I can also remember as a child helping to care for the plant by washing its leaves. What fun! I am sure there were more interesting things I could have been doing, but I loved it.

My Mum still has the plant to this day. I am now the proud owner of a full sized plant from a cutting my Mum started from the original plant all those years ago.

Mother plant and Child to the left, with an Aspidistra friend, who is actually older than me!

At my first house, I only had one windowsill in the kitchen that was viable for growing. This was used for growing herbs for cooking. The rest of the the house was dark with not a lot of space.

When I moved to my current house, I had so much more light and space to play with. It seemed rude not to decorate with plants. I had already planned and started work on the garden outside. On a trip to a certain Swedish furniture store, I happened upon their houseplant section. An Areca palm and that old favourite of the 70’s Monstera deliciosa aka Swiss Cheese Plant came home with me. Actually two Monstera came home and so it began….

Next I wanted to learn as much about houseplants as I could. I devoured every houseplant book I could find. Alongside the marvellous gardening community on social media, there is also a thriving houseplant community. What a joy to see so many beautiful houseplants that I want,  no need!

For many reasons houseplants have had a revival in popularity over the last few years. The selection and places to buy from have improved immensely.

With this great new selection, and the power of social media to promote their beauty, and how to care for them – even gardeners and non gardeners alike are being won over by houseplants.

They are such a joy to have inside, especially in the grey wet days of winter.

Here are just a few of my favourites:

Fittiona – Nerve Plant – another cutting from my Mum. Also used in terrariums and bottle gardens. As long as it doesn’t dry out, it’s happy even when not enclosed.

Aloe Vera- So useful! As a bonus it’s doesn’t need much water being from the succulent family.

Calathea– Another purchase from the Swedish Shop. Just look at those leaves! It’s fascinating how this plant, also called the prayer plant closes up at night.

Ponytail Palm – Beaucarnea recurvata – Take a look at this rockstar what hair! Even my Husband who doesn’t care about plants thinks it’s very cool.

With the joy they bring and the huge variety, I’ve concluded there is no such thing as too many houseplants.

Nicki has gardened for many years in Sussex. You can find Nicki at https://twitter.com/makinggardens and https://instagram.com/makinggardens

This Week’s Guest Blogger is James Godfrey-Faussett the founder of Wild Urban Spaces

The Native Forest.

We all understand and feel the need to plant trees. But if we switched our attention to planting forests, then we could repair the damage we have done, realign the environment and ultimately guarantee our future.

The key is to plant native forests, but why is native so important?  Native trees are the ones that have been here in the UK since the last ice age, that’s around 7000 years ago!

As such these tree have taken the time to adapt to their environment and biology. Nature knows which are the most suitable trees to grow in each environment. These trees also provide the suitable homes for all the other levels of life. The biology is correct and harmonious for the insects and these other levels of life.

If we just left them too it, all would be well.

The problems came when man, as far back as the Bronze Age, introduced non-native species. Non-native trees are not properly adapted to the biology they are forced to grow in. This causes disease, imbalance and low levels of biodiversity.

A great example is the English Oak (native) verses the London Plane (non native). The Oak provides a habitat for at least 360 different species of insect. The London Plane provides a home for less than 3 species!

So native works for a reason. If we then up scale this to the forest, native is vitally important too. The trees in a natural native forest will grow in harmony, complimenting each other and preforming different roles.  The Oak, Ash and Hawthorn ,for example, always used to grow together as they created a synergy of growth between them.

Biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem is the long-term result.

We should look to plant native forests, it’s not hard and is hugely rewarding for us, the environment and future generations.

This is basis of what we do at Wild Urban Spaces – creating rapid growth, low maintenance native forests in any environment.

For further information please go to www.wildurbanspaces.com

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Jason Stevens the Chief Executive Officer at Veterans’ Growth Charity

For me, I accidentally fell in love with gardening. I didn’t set out on a horticulture career, I set out on life with no plan. I joined the Army at 18 and my military career took off. I was lucky to travel the world and see lots of things in places others would love to, but I have also travelled to places I would not wish on my worst enemy!

I had a great career with lots of ups and downs but my biggest down was in 2016 when I received a medical discharge from the Army. I suffered a Bi-lateral stroke which has left me with no feeling in my left hand side, ataxia on my right and my hearing has been affected. When it happened I was a mess. Unable to walk for a long time (still struggling now), I was torn away from my military family and sent to a military hospital. My treatment was going ok but I kept being drawn to the hospital garden and to Carol, who worked there and was encouraging patients to try horticulture.

I loved it, I felt good being outdoors again putting all my pent up aggression into the heavy jobs in the garden and then making a space I could just chill out in and relax and enjoy the surroundings. Towards the end of my time I even spent two days a week at a local golf club working with the grounds maintenance team. Working in the garden I felt like me again.

I left the hospital and received a letter in the post saying I was no longer needed or wanted in the army as I was unable to complete my job to the standard required. While I accepted this, I was going backwards and hating everything in life. Just getting out of bed was a hassle and so was looking for work, especially when I had been advised there was nothing I could really do that would be suitable given my injuries. I fell into a spiral of despondency and just started to give up.

My fiancée Sarah grabbed me by the hand and fought relentlessly to get me the help I needed. It turned out I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and after getting a diagnosis I began to get the help I needed. I have regular therapy sessions and continue to keep my hand in with horticulture. Having a brilliant garden designer and horticulturist as a fiancée has helped me stay up-to-date and informed about all things garden-related.

In November 2018, I decided to set up Veterans’ Growth, a charity working with veterans from the tri-services who suffer with mental health issues. Bearing in mind my own struggle to get help, I  wanted to provide treatment and support to veterans who are unable to access help and support from the NHS or other charitable organisations. Given how much I benefitted from horticulture, I wanted to pass this opportunity on to others too, so the charity provides a programme of horticultural therapy to every veteran in the UK who’s interested in taking part.

I have to say that losing a family like the Army was hard but I have landed on my feet in horticulture. The industry has taken me in and been immensely supportive, everyone from gardening greats to amazing designers, from growers to product suppliers. I feel like I’ve found a new family and they’ve made me feel at home. The phenomenal support for www.veteransgrowth.org has further enforced my conviction that I am doing the right thing and I hope to bring many Veterans into the welcoming world of horticulture.

Please follow our new journey on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

If you think you can assist or offer any donations of equipment or funds please send me a message on Jason@veteransgrowth.org or donate on our JustGiving page. https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/veterans-growth?utm_term=d9z8bDwEv

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Flick Seton – Chairman of Gardening for Disabled Trust

”Thank you so much for supporting us in 2019!
We are so grateful to you for your support in 2019: we hope you enjoyed our lectures and lunches, our plant fair and open gardens, our talks and our weekly expert blogs on our website (which themselves form a treasure-trove of gardening expertise).
We appreciate every single one of your donations and contributions and purchases, which together have meant that we have awarded grants totalling almost £50,000 in 2019: and helped over 800 people – from as far apart as Truro & the Isle of Lewis, from Neath to Norwich – to get back into their gardens and re-discover that unique and special joy which is gardening.  On behalf of our clients and the Gardening for Disabled Trust, Thank you.’’

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Geoffrey Juden

Personally I believe that a garden is in all people’s mind, whether a pot plant or an old mattress in the yard, we all have our perceptions.   The general thought of gardening is that we attend an outside area that we are able to derive pleasure from, some have a gravel area with patio planters, others a garden as we all understand, flower beds or vegetable beds, maybe both. However what we are all aware of is the climate emergency, how the environment responds, therefore it must be up to every one of us to understand what we can as individuals achieve.

I am in the fortunate position to be the chairman of The East London Garden Society, have been for some years now, so I will explain a passion of the communities in East London, what they wish to attain.

When approached with a development in Shoreditch, near Liverpool Street Station, a public realm was to be for the local community, but whether ignorance or not being to hold a brief, the design group had decided what the community should have, not what the community wanted.  This approach was doomed to failure, The East London Garden Society was requested to become involved, looking at the remit, Shoreditch was compromised with very poor air quality, the new development would make it worse, it was therefore decided to have as much vegetation atop the redundant rail viaduct, there being also a community interpretive part to the public realm/community park.  The largest Forest Garden in Europe was born.

Taking five years for the developers to understand what a forest garden was, indeed to agree the concept, a lot of work was involved.  Once we had all agreed on the way forward, a colleague mentioned, a further expanse for nature in the area, the redundant viaduct ventured a further 2 miles, which in turn led to many parks and gardens along the route.  The River Thames was greeted at many exits.  We had found a five mile stretch from Hackney, through Tower Hamlets to Newham, all London boroughs, a nature playground for children of all ages, disability friendly.  The Great eastern Parks Route encompasses a nature reserve, a bird sanctuary, a forest garden, much more.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Camilla Anderson

There are so many wonderful historic gardens to visit in England that picking only one to write about has been a challenge. I have chosen Mottisfont, near Romsey in Hampshire, a romantic house and garden which lies beside the River Test.

As it’s only twenty minutes from where I live, I often pop in there when I’m at home and whatever the season, there’s always something to see: hamamelis and daphne in the Winter Garden, carpets of bulbs in the Spring, in June old fashioned roses in the Walled Garden and as summer slips into Autumn, the magnificent reds and golds of the trees. Mottisfont belongs to the National Trust and as well as a shop, there are two places to have coffee and lots of areas to explore around the estate. Most of the grounds are accessible by wheelchair with the paths surfaced with a mixture of stone and clay which can be uneven in places. The paths in the Walled Garden are narrower but still wide enough for a wheelchair. Paths through the meadow walk are rougher and can become boggy in wet weather.
And now to its history. Mottisfont is first mentioned in the Domesday Book when it belonged to William the Conqueror but by the end of the twelfth century it was owned by William Briwere who founded a Priory of Augustinian monks here c.1201. Pilgrims would stop at Mottisfont on their way to Winchester to worship a relic, said to be the finger of St John the Baptist. [A recent music installation in the grounds called ‘Pilgrim’ has come across some technical difficulties but hopefully will soon be up and running]. The Priory was disbanded during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and in 1536 was given to Sir William Sandys, 1st Baron Sandys; he was also Lord Chamberlain to Henry VIII. Sandys transformed the priory buildings into a house centred around two courtyards with two wings either side of the existing church nave. [The sacristy and cellarium can be seen on the lower ground floor and last time I visited the area was filled with the magical sound of Gregorian chants.]

The Sandys’ fortune dipped in seventeenth century and William, 6th Lord Sandys sold his other house, The Vyne, [also owned by the National Trust] making Mottisfont his principal home. The 8th Lord Sandys had no children and on his death in 1684, the property was inherited by Sandys’ nephew Sir John Mill; the barony became extinct. Sir John’s second son, Richard, succeeded his father in 1706 and remodelled the Tudor house to virtually how it is today. Mottisfont remained in the Mill family until the nineteenth century but by 1922 the house was empty and it was not rescued until 1934 when Mottisfont was bought by Gilbert and Maud Russell. They began the restoration of the house and appointed Rex Whistler to decorate the gothic room with a spectacular trompe l’oeil echoing Mottisfont’s medieval past. [On your visit, ask the volunteer to point out where Whistler painted: ‘I was painting this Ermine curtain when Britain declared war on the Nazi tyrants. Sunday September 3rd. R.W.’ Sadly, Whistler was killed in action, 18thJuly, 1944.] Gilbert Russell died in 1942 and in 1957 Mrs Russell gave Mottisfont to the National Trust although she continued to live in the house until 1972.
Although records of c1340 describe the gardens at Mottisfont, the Russells used a garden plan of 1724 for the restoration of the garden. They commissioned several garden designers to reflect the different periods of the house’s history. Norah Lindsay designed a box-edged knot-garden in front of the house taking her inspiration from a piece of Tudor glass which has since been lost while Geoffrey Jellicoe created the pleached lime walk to the north of Mottisfont to echo the medieval priory’s cloister.

In the Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, 1980, an article records a lecture chaired by Sylvia Crowe, of a discussion between Graham Stuart Thomas (who designed the rose garden in the Walled Garden) and Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe. Sir Geoffrey had returned to the garden after thirty years:
I looked at my own work and I came to the conclusion that it was forgivable. I think it fitted in with the beautiful building at Mottisfont, with its glorious Gothic and early Renaissance facades. One had to suppress one’s ego and I think it is true that at Mottisfont the fact that one did reduce one’s ego to very simple lines (it is not easily done, it took an awful lot of working out) and seeing all the clipped hedges and so forth and the long terrace that I made, I think it is modest enough in the historic context. You see, when a place has got powerful ethos like Mottisfont, you have got to respect it with every line that you do.

Thomas’s words are more practical and modest, saying that all he had to do at Mottisfont was put the roses ‘in order’ as there was already in place ‘a surrounding wall, box hedges, a fountain, a pool and sentinel yews’.

If you have enjoyed reading this article and would like to find out more about historic gardens in England, then sign up to my blog which contains everything from garden news to book reviews and exhibitions: https://blog.visitgardens.co.uk/ or visit my website: https://www.visitgardens.co.uk/ where you’ll find more about the history of gardens and photographs.
Camilla Anderson
Garden Historian
Pinterest: visitgardens
Instagram: visitgardens

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Charles Dowding

No dig by Charles Dowding

Charles Dowding by Heather Edwards

What is the no dig method of gardening?

No dig is a simple and easy method, which perhaps is why it has struggled to be taken seriously, until recently.

Charles’ no dig market garden in September 2019, 1000 square metres of beds. Use the same approach for one bed or 100 beds

There are three key facets.

1 Soil is undisturbed so its organisms can work and multiply

Most soil already has structure for plant roots to grow, nutrients to feed plants, and is full of growth-enabling organisms. Billions of fungal threads, nematodes and earthworms, to name a few, are being helpful right under our feet, mostly out of sight. We need to help them to help us.

You have already started no dig without knowing! Since the last time you dug or tilled or forked your soil, it has been healing itself, with networks of fungi and recreation of a stable structure. With no dig you simply and literally build on that.

2 Organisms are fed with organic matter on the surface, as in nature but faster

Allow soil to work its magic. Nutrients become available when needed by plants, through a combination of air and soil temperatures being high enough for photosynthesis to happen. Roots  ask fungi for food and moisture, and fungi work best when undisturbed, hence you see stronger growth in no dig soil.

Homeacres no dig garden 29th October, and no compost or feeds have been applied for ten months, showing how nutrients are available all the time without using fertilisers

3 Plant feeding is about biology (fungi etc) more than chemistry (nutrients/minerals)

No dig increases the ability of plants to find food. Compost mulches serve as a rapid source of food for soil organisms and enhance their activity, hence improving soil structure. In damp climates, compost is best for mulching as it affords no habitat for slugs.

Why is no dig beneficial?

In three words: speed, ease and productivity.

For example, you can plant into a new bed created on weeds, on the same day, see https://youtu.be/OIojWdJz0RE

Note that beds with new compost often want treading down to firm the compost.

Problems diminish and gardening becomes easier, in particular because weeds grow less, since their healing properties are not needed by healthy soil.

  • Soil is lively, structured and does not stick to your boots
  • You can walk on your beds, thanks to soil’s firm but open structure.
  • No dig means no compaction layers caused by damage from cultivations: no compaction means no fermentations due to anaerobic conditions, no fermentation’s mean no alcohol produced, and no alcohol means fewer slugs – this explanation thanks to Elaine Ingham.

Feeding soil organisms by mulching with old cow manure (compost) on newly planted garlic Oct

Grow more from less – keep paths narrow and avoid wooden sides where possible

No dig uses less compost than an equivalent area dug, because no carbon is lost from cultivation, and active soil life increases fertility.

How can gardeners adopt the method organically without risk of invasive weeds?

In a word, mulch.

This means covering weeds to deprive them of light, so that new weed growth is futile because it happens in darkness and cannot feed existing weed roots. Eventually they die completely, see this video https://youtu.be/Mmv2zGfhG8w for more.

However only in the first year do you need to use light-excluding mulches such as cardboard and polythene, to kill perennial weeds. This saves much time, in all subsequent years.

By September, on ground that was full of weeds in April, these Uchiki Kuri squash have grown well through cardboard and a little manure on top

I have many times completely and easily eradicated couch/twitch grass (Elymus repens) within a year.

  1. If I cover weeds with polythene, how do I know when they are dead?
  2. Best method is to lift the polythene and check for recent growth: it will be white or pale yellow stems. If you see lots of them, best leave the polythene in place because weed roots still have sufficient reserves in their roots to continue growing.

Please click on the following link to watch a video about starting no dig


  1. Why does no dig mean less weeding?
  2. Less weeds germinate in undisturbed soil, and compost mulches on the surface make it easy to pull weeds or to run a hoe through the surface. Light hoeing and raking is fine, usually the top 3cm/1in which is your surface mulch of compost.

Use a dibber or trowel to create holes for new plants.

  1. Does no dig work to control marestail and other perennial weeds?
  2. From the many reports I hear, gardeners who don’t disturb soil have more success for less effort in reducing marestail (equisetum), compared to gardeners who dig.

Whatever weeds you have, mulching rather than attempting to dig out every root means soil grows it less. Why? If only soil could talk… like all organisms, it’s happier when not disturbed.

What are three small things you think all new gardeners should know?

1 Feed the soil not the plants

2 Simple, easy methods are not lazy but clever

3 Do your homework on best sowing and harvest times for all your food plants.

New summer planting of lettuce after clearing onions, with no bed preparation or compost added

What advice do you have for people with limited outdoor space but who want to get green fingers?

  • Start with a pot or box on or in a window, sow a few salad seeds (fast to harvest), and buy a few plants as well for rapid results.
  • Plant a potato in spring in a small bag or bucket of compost, it’s fun but the leaves need space to grow!
  • Make one small bed, even say 1.2 square metres (4ft) and pack it full of say multipurpose compost. Sow or plant in that, and keep it full with new plants all the time, as soon as gaps appear.

1 Bed of 1.2×2.3m in May with first plantings of beetroot, lettuce, onions, fennel, carrots and peas for shoots

2 Same bed in October with harvests of second or third plantings: radish, celery, leek, radicchio, beetroot and chard

  • Don’t use any synthetic fertilisers or chemicals, they are bad for soil life.
  • Buy some mesh to keep pests off, perhaps also some fleece (30gsm thickness) to warm early plantings in spring.
  • No dig is great for flowers and ornamental plants: fewer weeds, gorgeous blooms.


One of Charles’ no dig flower borders in July, Homeacres in Somerset

End result is you have more time for productive  rather than routine work, plants are healthier, you harvest more food per square metre and your garden glows with health..