I run my own gardening
business and work with many people who have physical or mental difficulties. I
am constantly thinking about how I can make gardening easier for people, which
plants can be chosen to give maximum joy but require minimum maintenance and
how can I help keep people enjoying gardening independently at their home rather
than feeling overwhelmed with jobs.
Daily life stresses, bereavement, ailments and disabilities all bring their own challenges but whatever your situation an hour or two spent outside can work wonders for morale, reduce anxiety and lift spirits. Green therapy. Seeing a job through to completion is immensely satisfying and evokes a sense of pride.
Soil contains Mycobacterium vaccae, which releases
natural anti-depressants serotonin and dopamine so getting our hands dirty can
genuinely improve our mental health and make us feel more positive.
Gardening offers a great
distraction from everyday life, a few hours spent outdoors can work wonders. It
allows us a little breathing space away from issues that may be troubling us,
focuses the mind and gives purpose and hope for the future from the anticipation
of what will grow.
Try and keep gardening fun
and not a chore. If certain elements of the garden begin to stress you out then
change them. Gardens are forever evolving and need to develop to meet your
For example cut down on the
number of pots you have or consolidate small pots into larger as this stops the
soil drying out so fast. Small pots are rather needy for food and water.
Watering can feel an arduous
task so make life easy for yourself, choose drought tolerant plants like pelargoniums,
sempervivum, sedums or cactus for in a conservatory or windowsill. These
independent plants thrive on neglect. You can enjoy their foliage or blooms
with minimum input.
But if you love sowing seeds
and potting on then plant at a height you can work at. If you have back trouble
or cannot kneel then resist planting at soil level where you would have to bend
down; try waist height raised beds. It’s your garden so ensure you can access
Direct sow seed where you wish them to grow. This cuts down on the time
consuming task of nurturing seedlings through each stage till they are finally
transplanted out. Try Eschscholzia
poppy), calendula, cosmos, cornflowers, marigold, nigella
(Love-in-a-mist), Phacelia tanacetifolia (Purple Tansy)
Digitalis (foxgloves), poppies or
Cut down on weeding, use
groundcover such as hardy geraniums, vinca or hardy herbs to cover bare soil
and smother weeds.
Lasagne plant bulbs at
different depths in pots to get a successional display of blooms from winter
through to summer. Try crocus, muscari, fritillaria, narcissus, tulips and
alliums. All super easy to grow and provides months of colour.
If you are feeling lonely or
isolated then ring a friend, get them round for a cuppa and a gardening
Join a local gardening club.
Meet up with like-minded people and discuss what is going on in your garden. If
you are physically unable to garden yourself then go to the gardening talks.
Get inspired by the professionals and learn about plants. You can always hire a
gardener to come and help implement your new ideas.
Little did I know when I
start out on my horticultural path that an over riding factor of gardening
would be friendship. Over the years I have become great friends with the people
I work for. And it is a two-way street, putting the world to rights whilst
pulling weeds can be incredibly therapeutic. It can provide the platform to
express how we feel whereas we may not be able to find the words whilst stuck
within four walls.
Gardens are so personal and
bring such joy. They are an extension of our personalities and provide respite
from the stresses and toils of modern life. So get outdoors and inhale all the
scent, sights and sounds of nature and get gardening!
A sniff of aromatic sage leaves, a few snips of garlic chives, a dusting of fennel pollen… giving everyone the chance to experience – and taste – the power of herbs first hand is what a community herb garden is all about. And it just so happens that the garden I help to run is situated on a roundabout.
It may seem an unlikely situation, but it is not your average car-choked traffic feature. And the team of volunteers who help to keep the herbs happy and the litter at bay know that what they do brings joy – and free herbs – to the local population.
The Rothsay community herb garden sits at the junction of two residential roads in Bedford, a town of roughly 80,000 people situated around 50 miles north of London. The streets are lined with Victorian houses and mature trees, and the roundabout itself is larger and greener than you’d expect, with a diameter of around 40m (130ft).
Within it there are two large beds that make up the herb garden, filled with herbs of every shape and size, from creeping thyme and clumps of mint to mounds of purple sage and the towering elacampne (Inula helenium). All the plants have some value as herbs: some culinary, some medicinal. Paths intersect the roundabout so there’s plenty of passing foot traffic, and there’s an open invitation to everyone to harvest whatever herbs they need from the plot.
Regular maintenance sessions bring together a small group of local volunteers all willing to help maintain the garden, weeding and pruning sessions are full of chat on the local news and the odd passerby will stop to admire our handiwork.
Communication is a key part of the herb garden’s success. A noticeboard that helps local people understand the purpose of the garden and identify the individual herbs. Annual open days provide a chance for people to find out more about the garden and what they can do with the herbs in it: one of my jobs has been to give a talk which always garners lots of questions: it’s always surprising how some useful herbs are so unknown and under-appreciated.
The garden was set up a decade ago by Zero Carbon Castle, a local community group inspired by the Transition town movement, which fosters grassroots, eco-friendly community projects. The town council, who owns the roundabout, gave permission for the garden and helped pay for herb plug plants used by around 20 local people as they planted up the garden for the first time.
Ten years on, and although Zero Carbon Castle has since fizzled out as an organisation, the herb garden has gone on nonetheless, managed by a small team of local people, including me. The volunteer crew may have changed its personnel a little over the years, but the aim remains the same: providing something beautiful for people to look at, providing locally grown herbs for the community.It has been entirely self-funded for the past seven years.
It’s not always easy: I popped down to mow the grass around the beds the other day and within a couple of minutes I’d collected an empty sandwich carton; one nitrous oxide canister; a few cigarette butts; and a blizzard of sweet wrappers. Litter is probably our biggest problem, but by tackling it regularly, the space stays well looked after, which reminds people that it’s anything but a dumping ground. Whole plants have been dug up on occasion, and a few dogs wander between the herbs from time to time.
Bedford is a multicultural community, so there are sometimes language barriers that can cause confusion: signs in Italian and Polish as well as English help to explain that while people are welcome to snip away at any herbs they want to take home, digging up whole plants is not allowed. There are two benches on the roundabout that attract people stopping for a rest and a chat, but also act as gathering places for late night drinkers and those taking drugs (which explains the nitrous oxide canisters). That said, the vast majority of people respect the space.
There is no source of water nearby so the planting has to be drought-resistant: bark mulch helps to keep the moisture in, but during prolonged dry spells we carry out emergency watering, transporting containers of water from a local resident’s outside tap to the herb beds.
A largely organic approach means that we can help rather than harm what’s a surprisingly wildlife-rich area, with owls hooting from the trees at night, hedgehogs snuffling for insects amid the herb beds, and bats circle above on warm summer nights. Not bad for a roundabout, really.
Six tough herbs for community spaces
The stands of feathery, deep red foliage make it a wonderfully pretty plant for a herb garden, but its delicate looks belie the fact that, given the right setting, this herb is tough as old boots, naturalising along railway sidings and road verges wherever there’s a patch of sun and a scarping of poor soil. Pollinators such as hoverflies love the acid yellow umbels of the flowers, and it self-seeds around given the chance: just let any artful interlopers remain and pull up any seedlings that turn up out of bounds. A mix of bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’) can look particularly striking mixed with regular green herb fennel (Foeniculum vulgare).
I have a love-hate relationship with this plant: on one hand, it’s one of the most easily recognisable and widely-used herbs there is, valuable for everything from teas and salads to cocktails and garnishes. It’s also extremely tough and tolerant. But boy, does it spread. We have several different mint species and cultivars in the garden, but keep them under close control, and aren’t afraid to remove huge clumps every maintenance session to keep it in bounds. There are dozens of stunning mints to choose from: my favourites are chocolate mint, and mojito mint (Mentha x villosa), a ruffled-leaf mint that makes the perfect cocktail. ‘Eau de Cologne’ is marvellous as an addition to a hot bath.
This plant (Latin name Helichrysum italicum) is worth it just for the incredibly aromatic smell it pumps out on a hot day, although it also makes a good addition to the colours and textures of a herb garden: nursery Architectural Plants calls it a ‘shapely grey blob’ which is a little like damning with feint praise, but you get the idea. Its yellow flowers also attracts huge numbers of pollinators, and I cut springs of the silvery-grey foliage for use in vases and make aromatic herb wreaths out of it, too. Some education is required to show people that this isn’t the plant to use to flavour your curries: that plant, Murraya koenigii, is too tender to survive in temperate locations over winter.
Lavender has the whole package: aroma, flowers, and a surprisingly wide repertoire in the kitchen; I use it for everything from baking to barbecue marinades. Lavender looks great as a low boundary hedge to a community herb garden (try the compact cultivar ‘Miss Muffet’ if you want a really low hedge), or dot it throughout the garden to bring the bees in: its evergreen foliage also provides added interest in winter. English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is the most hardy species, perfect for planting in beds; French lavender (Lavandula stoechas) is bet planted in containers that can be moved or protected as temperatures drop. Lavender’s only vice is becoming leggy and sparse after a few seasons, so treat it as a shortlived perennial, taking cuttings to raise as new plants.
The seed of this biennial herb is reputed to be difficult to germinate, and there are many tips and tricks to get it to sprout. The strange irony is that once planted in a herb garden, it will self seed around very happily and provide you with many a plant for selling or sharing. If you have several plants, cut all but one down before it sets seed but after it flowers (it’s another pollinator magnet) if you don’t want it spreading all over the place. I love flat leaf parsley (Petroselinum crispum neapolitanum) most, and love the huge-leaved variety ‘Gigante d’Italia’, whereas other swear by the curly (Petroselinum crispum), or butcher’s parsley as my mother calls it, has its place – for one thing it’s generally hardier than Italian parsley: it may even be due for a revival.
I think of chives (Allium schoenoprasum) as the perfect herb garden plant because pretty much everyone recognises it, and very few people object to its flavour. Plus it produces stunning lollipop like flowers every June and can thrive in all sorts of soils and situations from heavy clay to an unirrigated green roof. If you want to be a bit more adventurous, its relative garlic chives aka Chinese chives (Allium tuberosum), with flat strappy leaves and white flowers makes a useful addition.
Saturday, 13th July for Gardening for Disabled Trust.
Court Lodge, Bodium, TN32 5UJfrom10.30 until 4.00pm
Teas, coffee, cake and Rodda’s Cream Teas.
A sense of panic has been slowly pervading this household over the past few weeks. In the depths of winter, after a couple of gin and tonics, it seemed a warming thought that summer would eventually come and we would share our garden with others in aid of charity. The reality is now beginning to bite. In six weeks, garden enthusiasts will hopefully be queuing at the gate and paying money to see what in my darkest moments is a bomb site strewn with weeds. We have agreed to open our garden to the public to raise funds for St. Michael’s Hospice and for the Gardening for Disabled Trust. We have actually done this before, but it’s rather like having a baby….somehow you block out memories of the pain and happily only remember the good bits. I had conveniently forgotten the work involved and the sleepless nights fretting about gaps in borders and rampant bindweed.
first asked a few years ago my immediate reaction was “absolutely NO”…our
garden is not nearly good enough….we have no specialist plants or water features
and what design there is has had to fit in what was already there. But the very
persuasive and charming lady from the Hospice reassured me that it wasn’t like
the NGS (which has very high
standards)…and that people are curious, or actually just plain nosey, and love
to see other peoples gardens, in fact they quite like to see other peoples
weeds and messy little corners….it gives them a lift in a schadenfreude kind of
way. We are lucky to have a fabulous view over Bodiam Castle and to the east
along the Rother Valley…I rely on this as the main attraction….or distraction.
and gardening are my passion and it is immensely rewarding to share the fruits
of labour with others for a good cause. It has the added advantage for an
innate procrastinator, of forcing one to plan ahead, keeping up to date with
all the chores and constantly thinking of where improvements could be made.
life started for me growing sweet peas on a London balcony. We moved here to
East Sussex 27 years ago in the depths of winter. The comparatively large
garden looked neat and tidy, if a little bare. We knew we had to mow the lawn,
although a new mower was stolen within 2 weeks of our arrival. But spring came
and a wonderful garden appeared, lush borders full of colour and unfamiliar
plants. However, we did not understand the dynamics of herbaceous borders and
the amount of care required. Within a few years some plants had grown enormous,
and others had completely disappeared; the whole lot held together by a mass of
tangled bindweed and dandelions. Sorting out the beds was a steep learning
curve but eventually we learnt the mysteries of digging, dividing and staking.
main interest has always been vegetables, they are rather more controllable and
there is nothing more heartening than finding something to cook at the last
minute after failing to plan ahead for the evening meal. It is also immensely
satisfying to cut out shelf life, food miles, and all the chemicals. At this
time of year asparagus to plate, covered in butter, in under 15 minutes is
heaven, and freshly dug leeks in the winter almost as satisfying.
am a list person, and lists of jobs for the garden are no exception. The “Pre
Open Garden Countdown List” started in the autumn. It went something like this….
Make a list
seeds. The only seeds I sow in the
autumn are sweet peas, on October 6th (my birthday)
catalogues again, order more seeds
cuttings. This is an exciting and satisfying way to obtain more plants, for
free. Some of the ones that work well for me are lavender, artemesia (Powys
Castle) Argyranthemum (Jamaica Primrose)
any structural work needed and get it done early. (We did decide that it was
time that the greenhouse was renovated, but unfortunately that slipped and
won’t be done until the week after the open garden)
the front of the house will have to wait another year….or two.
catalogues again, order more seeds
early. I invested in a heated propagation mat a few years ago which makes life
very exciting. This year I am growing
some unusual beans…Borlotto Lamon and the purple climbing French bean,
Blauhilde. I am also trying a new tomato called Black Sea Man which is supposed
to have very good flavour.
control early, especially the drive and paths. Repeat every 3-4 weeks.
Keep on top
of mowing, edging and watering (check weather forecast daily)
plant supports before plants start to fall over, about 2nd/3rd
a Chelsea Chop at the end of May. Hopefully this should delay some of the
flowering until the open garden in July.
helpers for on the day, cake donors, scone makers. A wonderful outfit called
“Rodda’s Good deeds” who make Cornish Clotted Cream are donating clotted cream
and Tiptree Jam.
tea urn, crockery, tables and chairs…gazebo?
plants needed for the plant stall, as well for church coffee morning, and village boot fair.
Feed…this was a useful tip I heard on Gardener’s Question Time to encourage a
weekly habit. Unfortunately I have only managed it once so far this season.
slug damage. Coffee grounds scattered around the base of plants seem to work
for a while, beer traps are effective and I often resort to hand picking slugs
off at night by the light of a torch. I enjoy feeding them to the chickens.
badger damage, fill holes with soil and grass-seed. This year seems to have
been a bumper year for leather jackets and chafers… Michelin meals for badgers.
mole hills. After a nightmare last year, so far this year there have been very
few. I invested in some special French Putange mole traps which worked very
well but thick gloves are essential to avoid broken fingers. Thank goodness we
don’t have deer or wild boar……yet.
Vow never to
read another seed catalogue
list goes on a bit. Nearer the time it gets more specific…
edging, final weed
areas that might be dangerous….remember the greenhouse?… swimming pool… or
unsightly…the compost heap…behind the old pig sty
not all of these jobs are completed….the day arrives…you take a deep breath and
resolve that people will have to accept us as we are…and pray for good weather.
did occur to me that after all the hard work, neatly trimmed edges, swept
paths, weedless beds, neatly trimmed lawn, all over in one day…why not open for
a second day whilst it is still looking good and double the donation? So this
is what we are doing.
Tuesday, July 9th for St.Michael’s Hospice. 10.30-4.00pm
£5.00 entrance. Teas, coffee, cake, and lunch.
Saturday, 13th July for Gardening for Disabled Trust. 10.30-4.00pm
entrance. Teas, coffee, cake and Rodda’s Cream Teas.
come and visit us but please don’t point out the bindweed.
Garden Opening gives all the hard work a genuine sense of purpose and it is a great privilege to share nature and man’s wonders with our visitors and raise a little money for good causes.
Fursdon House and Gardens, Cadbury, Exeter, Devon.
The gardens of Fursdon House will be open on Wednesday 19th June 2pm-5pm and the money raised from the entry to the garden on that day will be donated to Gardening for Disabled Trust Charity
The History of Fursdon House by Catriona Fursdon
The Fursdon family have lived in this place since 1259 – so we have our 760th anniversary this year!
David and I came to Fursdon in 1979 to take over the running of the house and the estate from John Fursdon, David’s uncle. We were newly married and had no clue about running a big house or a farming estate that was sadly rather rundown. Through a combination of misfortunes Fursdon was not in a good state of repair. We were lucky enough to have some wonderful mature trees, great views and a fabulous framework for a garden but it had been sadly neglected for many years. We had no money and no gardening knowledge – so the whole thing was a steep learning curve!
However, with the enthusiasm of youth we set about a restoration project that has been ongoing for the last 40 years. We are so grateful to friends and family who helped in those early days of keeping nettles and brambles at bay and a sense of humour intact. Mostly! We’ve had professional advice from friends with horticultural expertise and I (Catriona) attended a Royal Horticultural Society course a few years ago – so slowly but surely we made inroads into the garden which has been open to the public along with the manor house since 1982.
As confidence in the garden grew we started opening it to visitors even on days when the house was not open. And the biggest difference in the last few years has been the introduction of Katie who shares her flair for colour and horticultural design with us. Katie grows plants from seed in her own greenhouse thus adding a far wider range of flowers and shrubs than we’ve previously been able to have. She has made the gardens around the house into a very special place that visitors tell me is inspiring and uplifting. We are thrilled to benefit from her enthusiasm and expertise.
If visitors are feeling energetic, they can take a stroll to the Meadow Garden, a wilder area which we began to restore in 2009, with the creation of a pond and wildflower areas. Work in the garden never stops and we don’t pretend that it’s perfect – but we derive huge pleasure from giving visitors the chance to experience this historic and special place.
It’s only right that Katie should have her say too:
I started working at Fursdon six years ago, when I was asked to help create and care for a Cutting Garden – growing flowers to be cut for the house, tea room, and holiday accommodation. It was an offer I couldn’t turn down!
A few years later, in October 2017, I was asked to take care of the main garden that surrounds Fursdon House, including rejuvenating and replanting some of the flowerbeds and borders that were becoming tired. The creative side of gardening is what I love most of all – combining colour and texture with plants and flowers provides endless possibilities and fun!
This season has been so rewarding; watching all the new planting mature, and I love to see visitors enjoying it too, and finding inspiration for their own gardens. It’s lovely setting to work in. Fursdon is such a friendly, welcoming place, and I like to think the garden is too!
Relaxed, informal planting throughout the garden provides plenty of colour and interest through the seasons, and we very much encourage wildlife – visitors often comment on how alive the garden is with birdsong and buzzing bees. I love the tranquillity – and the fantastic views over beautiful Devon countryside at almost every turn are a real treat too. I just need to remind myself to look up and out of the borders every now and again… especially during the frantic month of May!!
Fursdon is a special place indeed. I’m a lucky gardener.
General information about Fursdon by Becky Smith:
Our gardens and Coach Hall tearoom are open on Bank Holiday Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from Easter to the end of September, 2pm to 5pm.
We run relaxed and informative tours of the family home on all Bank Holiday Mondays, and Wednesdays and Thursdays in June, July and August (2.30pm and 3.30pm) and as part of this tour, visitors are delighted to take a look around our small family museum in which we display family costumes and other precious artefacts.
We are delighted to welcome groups to visit the house and gardens by arrangement – we have hosted numerous local WI’s, Historical Societies, Book Clubs and other groups – and we are very happy to open the tearoom for groups so that they can enjoy tea and cake either before or after they have explored!
We also have special open days where monies raised from the garden entry is given to various charities. This year, 2019, we are open for the National Garden Scheme on Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th June, Hospiscare on Wednesday 12th June and of course, the Gardening for Disabled Trust Charity on Wednesday 19th June (all 2pm-5pm – house, garden and tearoom open).
The Coach Hall tearoom has become somewhat legendary for its delicious home-made scones and variety of cakes, lovingly baked and served by Kashy. We believe that no visit to Devon is complete without a proper Devon cream tea – freshly baked scones served with lashings of clotted cream under delicious strawberry jam accompanied by a perfectly brewed cup of tea! We have lovely outdoor seating for when the sun is shining and a warming log fire in the Coach Hall for the chillier days.
And of course, if you feel like you might like to treat yourself to a longer visit, we also have accommodation on the estate, where you can escape the demands of ordinary life and relax in the heart of stunning mid Devon. Fantastic Fursdon Cottage is available all year and has its own terraced garden – perfect for families, friends or couples – and dogs are welcome to stay in the cottage too! Also, until the end of June 2019, we have 2 beautiful and stylish apartments on the first floor of Fursdon House – the Park Wing and the Garden Wing – which offer lovely historical features and up to date style, colour and comfort.
If you would like to know anything further about the House, gardens or accommodation (or how Kashy makes such superb apple cake!), please contact us on 01392 860860 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Our website is www.fursdon.co.uk and there you will find pictures and more information about all that we do here.
We hope you have enjoyed reading our blog and we would be delighted to welcome you to Fursdon in the future!
Catriona, David, Katie, Becky and team
some of the photos by Guy Harrop
I tumbled into a love of gardening in my middle age, finally escaping London to buy a house
in a mediaeval town in the High Weald of Kent. The walled garden that came with it is not large, nor tiny, but just the right size for someone happy to make their own mistakes, with one long, sunny border, several square beds in dappled shade and a scruffy greenhouse tucked in the corner. I had volunteered for the rangers at Sissinghurst Castle, tackling tough, woodland tasks, but little in the way of gardening, so I applied to help one day a week at the renowned Great Dixter, to see if I could improve my skills. This was a life-changer, indeed. Under the patient eyes of a team of young and talented gardeners, led with infectious charisma by Fergus Garrett, I did my utmost not to kill anything and absorb everything, though failed, probably, on both counts. My modest garden began to flourish. A sense of wonder set in, an appreciation of when and where to plant and a keenness to be daring;
inhabiting Dixter was to exist, however briefly, in a masterpiece and my dreams were full of colour and shapes for nights after each visit. My iPhone filled with photos of plants, idents of plants, wish-lists of plants, plants, plants.
And then disaster struck, or seemed to. A year into volunteering, I damaged my Achilles tendon and was off my feet for weeks, unable to really dig and heft about for months. Impossibly worse, just as I recovered in time for Christmas 2018, I found an undeniable, egg-shaped invader lurking deep in my left breast and by early January was informed that it was indeed a cancer and of the aggressive bent, so I would be forced to go through six rounds of chemotherapy, then surgery and radio therapy, stretching far into the Autumn and recuperation beyond. Almost a year swallowed up before my eyes on only January 2nd . Of course, the immediate fallout had little to do with gardening; priorities are what they are when you have two boys and a husband and a working life to try to protect, though I did find
myself googling “gardening during chemotherapy” in the days that followed and being told by my sensible MacMillan nurse that the risk of infection was likely too high, given the bashing my immune system would take. I shrugged it off; what did the garden matter, in the scheme of life and death. A flurry of invasive tests bludgeoned Winter, Valentine’s Day marked the beginning of chemo, but, by March, Spring was clamouring at the door and I gazed at my neglected borders, shocked to feel such despair. The Honesty, Sweet Rocket, Snapdragons, Calendula and so much more I had sown the previous year for planting out, were busting out of their pots, weeds of every ilk were taking possession of the beds and my plans to build on anything I had learned at Dixter seemed as laughable as returning to life
before the diagnosis. Some start had to be made.
It seemed my garden did matter, a great deal, especially on the worst days of chemo, when hours shrank to monotonous shifts between nausea, indescribable fatigue, or worst of all, dank depression. At first, merely going outside seemed a stretch, the Spring chill and unfinished tasks an unwelcome weight; but looking became everything. One of the best
things about gardening is that there is always a subtle difference to be made; a snip here, a weed pulled there, a handful of seeds scattered, all add up to a visible difference and a sense of achievement. I reopened my seed box and began to dream again, pulling out one packet a day and sowing just a few, wrapped up against the cold and possible scratches in my little
potting station. Walking out to water the greenhouse anchored my days and in the third week of every regime, as toxicity lifted, I found a surge of energy to plant out whatever I could, often late by weeks, but with a sense of delicious victory. My 49th birthday brought stout presents of gauntlet gloves and a long-handled weed tickler as well as a desire to involve my
menfolk in what had been a rather private, even prickly obsession. Deep holes were dug for two white climbing roses over an ivy-clad arch, inspired by one of my favourite photographs of Dixter, a project which I had put off, endlessly, for no good reason. Seeing these beauties in place, already scrambling for height and for life itself, feels like a promise to the future I
am determined to be part of.
So, the cycle of sowing, potting on and planting out flows into Summer, albeit much more sedately than I had in mind and with weeds merrily filling the gaps. In May, I find myself halfway through treatment, calmer than where I began and philosophical, thanks, to be sure, to my lovely family, the incredible NHS, but, not least,
because in every corner of the garden, life my own hands have pressed into the soil, prevails.
As Gretta, my Mum got older she adapted her gardening to fit her abilities. She had built huge waist-high raised beds which she filled with spring bulbs and summer bedding. She could potter out there without bending or digging and she kept that going every year. Her front door area was a mass of pots which she painted in primary colours, also filled with spring bulbs and then summer bedding. Her pots were a famous landmark and she kept them going till the day she moved out just before her 100th birthday.
Mum at around 93 yrs old in front of her raised bed full of spring bulbs
Another photo showing the raised bed
This is Mum and me with her front door pots taken when she was mid 90s. She loved pots as they were so much easier to garden with, as long as she found someone strong to move them about. She also found watering them very relaxing and therapeutic.
Now in a Residential Home she is still gardening at 103 yrs old. Here are her pots from last summer.
More colourful pots from last summer. As you can see, she loves colour in everything she has.
Colourful containers she planted up last summer for the front entrance to the Residential Home. She persuaded the Manager to pay for it all too.
The point I want to make for all your readers is that if you have gardening in your blood and you have the urge to do it, then hopefully one can find a way to garden in some way whatever one’s age or infirmity. Even with a walking frame she waters the pots when they need it and she brings blooms into the communal areas for everyone to enjoy.
I inherited her love of gardening later in life, at around 40 yrs old and three years ago started my blog at londoncottagegarden.com which is another way to bring the joy of gardening into your life by sharing the passion with others.
Philip Oostenbrink is the Head Gardener at Canterbury Gardens who was instrumental in ensuring that Gardening for Disabled Trust Charity was included as a beneficiary of the Open Gardens on May 25th and 26th May 2019.
Gardening in a historic environment
Four years ago I became Head Gardener at Canterbury Cathedral. Before I had the interview I imagined that the planting schemes would be quite traditional, but even when I walked around during the interview I discovered a whole array of unusual plants, Japanese gardens and tropical borders. When I told The Dean how surprised I was to find all this on a 1500 year old site he explained to me that although the building was not changing much and mainly preserved and restored, he felt the gardens should change and go along with the times. Sometimes when I do a tour through the gardens I tell this story and not long ago a lady exclaimed it should be more traditional and the gardens should be resembling the gardens as they were during Monastic times. If we did that though, we would have skipped about 700 years of history because even before the first church was built on the Canterbury grounds in 597 AD there was a Royal Palace on that spot which no doubt had its own gardens and orchards.
One project we are doing at the moment is creating a collection of Magnolia. These Magnolia have a local provenance. They are bred by Amos Pickard who had a nursery near Canterbury from the 1960s-1980s. He bred 23 different Magnolias and we are hoping to get all of these together and planted around the Cathedral grounds. Obtaining these plants is difficult and shows the importance of the conservation of garden plants as some of them are very difficult to get and some of them may already be lost completely. Once we have a sufficient amount of plants we will apply for National Collection status with Plant Heritage. It will also be our aim to redistribute any spare plants/cuttings so they are less likely to disappear. After all if you can give 5 people a Pickard Magnolia it is more likely for them to be preserved for the future than if there is only one around.
So this is how on an ancient site we extend important conservation work to the plant world and not just the buildings.
Under the National Garden Scheme Canterbury Cathedral Gardens are open on 25th and 26th May 2019. Please come along and support this Open Garden as Gardening for Disabled Trust Charity, Perennial and NGS will benefit from a donation from the entry fee
Archdeaconry 19 The Precincts 22 The Precincts The Deanery 15 The Precincts will be open to the public
Added attractions include a new plant fair incorporating specialist nurseries with unusual plants for sale. Cathedral Gardeners’ herb stall. Home-made refreshments. Dover Beekeepers’ Association, up close and personal opportunity with Birds of Prey and unique access to Bastion Chapel. Classic cars on Green Court
It is a wonderful opportunity to visit and enjoy the private gardens within the historic precincts of Canterbury Cathedral. The Deanery Garden with scented roses, kitchen garden, unusual trees and wild fowl enclosure; the Archdeaconry includes the ancient mulberry tree, contrasting traditional and modern planting and now both a Japanese and New World influence. Other gardens offer sweeping herbaceous banks, delightful enclosed spaces, and areas planted to attract and support wildlife. Step back in time and see the herb garden, which shows the use of herbs grown for many purposes in the Middle Ages. The walled Memorial Garden has wonderful wisteria, formal roses, mixed borders and the stone war memorial at its centre, and the hidden Bastion Chapel in the city wall. A garden planted in the Friends’ name surrounds the Buffs’ statue.
The gardens of Canterbury Cathedral comprise not only of the private gardens but also the public gardens of the Precincts, including the Friends’ garden. Lovingly cared for by the Cathedral Gardening Team, the private gardens are quite diverse; from the large open spaces of the Deanery, with fruit and vegetables, showing off the Dean’s love of roses, bulbs and blossom to the small garden of No. 19, with its medlar tree and blue & white border set in the shadow of the Cathedral itself. The Archdeaconry has a slightly more formal structure, with standard roses and a quiet area with a Japanese influence, whilst the front paving is lush with well-loved hostas and beginning to reflect the New Zealand roots of the Archdeacon. No. 22, has a ‘secret’ garden to the rear with a stone water feature and gazebo and No. 15, the home of our Canon Missioner has deep herbaceous borders with the lawn crowned by the magnificent Copper Beech . Apart from the 5 residential gardens, the Precincts offers the Memorial Garden, Water Tower Garden, Friends’ Garden and of course our Medicinal Herb Garden. In this garden you will find a collection of herbs relied upon for their properties through the centuries – which are now linked to our copy of Gerard’s Herbal from 1597. An extra treat is the Lattergate garden, part of the historic King’s School. All of these gardens are set against the magnificent backdrop of the Cathedral itself. Should you wish to stay overnight, B & B is often available at the Cathedral Lodge which is within the Cathedral Precincts. For accommodation contact 01227 865350 or www.canterburycathedrallodge.org.
Gardening for Disabled Trust Charity was lucky enough to catch up with Philip Oostenbrink the Head Gardener at Canterbury Cathedral, who is busy preparing for the open days. His top tips of what to look out for include :- Deanery: the garden is over 1,000 years old and features on the first ever plan of the Precincts. A large tree of heaven Ailanthus altissima stands at the end of the lawn.
No 15 garden: a lot of work has been done in there since Canon Nick (now Dean of Salisbury) left last September. The woodland walk has been planted up with more unusual trees and ornamental shrubs have been replaced with Kent Cobnuts to give more of a native woodland feel. The lower bank is still in development as an infestation of bindweed and ground elder needs to be addressed before new plants go in
Archdeaconry: a rare variegated Geranium maccrrorrhizum ‘Variegatum’ can be found at the end of the lawn, under the Pittosporum.
No 19: an espallier gooseberry was planted along the metal fence.
No 22: The lawn has been extended and new borders planted on the right hand side as you walk in to make the feel of the garden flow better.
Information Saturday 25th May 2019 11:00 – 17:00 Sunday 26th May 2019 14:00 – 17:00 Refreshments: Light refreshments on Green Court. Entry Info: Sat 25 May general precinct & gardens entry £17. Precinct pass holder £5 garden entry. Sun 26 May £5 garden entry (no precinct charge). Refreshments in aid of nominated charities.
Admission: Adult: £5.00 Child: Free
Please note – on Saturday, in addition to £5 admission, precinct charges apply. On Sunday there are no precinct charges
Gardening for Disabled Trust Charity will be manning a stand at the Open Gardens so please pop along and see us. We would like to convey our thanks to everyone at Canterbury Cathedral who has been involved in choosing our Charity as a beneficiary, we really appreciate it.
Everything that I do and understand about
my garden changed radically when I discovered forest gardening in 2005. I was amazed to learn that there was a way of
gardening that meant I would have less work to do which would save me time,
whilst at the same time giving me something to eat all year round and
which would also be attractive and hospitable to wildlife.
There are three key factors to making such
a layered structure
perennial edible and functional
plants – otherwise known as an ecological guild or a polyculture
simulating and then
facilitating an ecosystem
A forest garden captures the maximum
sunlight by making use of trees, bushes, shrubs and herbaceous plants growing
close together in layers – as you might find on the edge of a woodland. It depends on the space available but the
crucial thing is to make use of what you have choosing from
a tall tree canopy
medium height trees, bushes,
herbaceous plants up to about 3
lower level / ground cover plants
root crops and plants with deep
a climbing layer
Polycultures of perennial edible and
plants to attract bees and
plants to host a range of
insects that keep ‘pests’ at bay
plants to fix nitrogen
plants to draw up minerals from
lower layers of soil and make them available to the
I tend to use the word polyculture to
describe this way of planting. There are
innumerable possibilities for combining plants with the different functions
listed above into a polyculture so I will give some examples based on my own
garden in Wales. This is on an exposed
somewhat wet and windy site with heavy clay soil and a lot of stones! The plants that grow here do so without
complaint (or I wouldn’t have them) and look after themselves year on
year. In other parts of the country with
different weather and soil etc you can choose plants that are suited to those
My garden is not large and my polycultures
are clustered round a range of small fruit trees and bushes. My basic ‘template’ for this is to include
the following plants:
fruit trees – apple, pear,
plum, gage, cherry
fruit bushes – red, white and
blackcurrants, jostaberry, gooseberry, blackberry, raspberry, wineberry
perennial green vegetables such
as Daubenton’s kale, Taunton Deane kale, good King Henry
self seeding leafy greens –
lamb’s lettuce, land cress
deep rooted and tuberous
perennial vegetables – skirret, scorzonera, salsify, oca, Jerusalem artichoke,
perennial and self seeding
flowers – calendula, love in a mist, cowslips, forget me nots, poppies,
creeping Jenny, lady’s mantle, nasturtiums
nitrogen fixing plants – annual
peas and beans, perennial earth nut pea and vetches
climbing plants – blue sausage
fruit, akebia quinata, Caucasian spinach.
This can be as simple or as complicated as
you like – from one small fruit tree with chives, lamb’s lettuce, good King
Henry, thyme, calendula and dwarf peas planted beneath it – to the twenty two
small trees I have with all of the above and more.
The pictures below show what this looks
like in practice:
This spring time photograph shows a
whitecurrant in flower that sent on to bear several pounds of fruit. There is a gooseberry bush and sweet cicely
to the right and a mixture of lavender, fennel, forget me not, mint, salsify,
dandelion and land cress (yellow flowers) in front of the bushes. There are literally thousands of tiny flowers
blooming in the garden from spring through to late summer and these are crucial
to making it a haven for bees and other pollinators. The closely packed vegetation also means the
ground is shaded and protected from what sun there is (!) and also from heavy
rain. There is also plenty of habitat
for beneficial insects like spiders and beetles.
Jerusalem artichokes at the back with a
mixture of early summer flowering plants – self sown foxgloves, astrantia
(because I like it), mint for the kitchen and thyme for the bees.
This is a Welsh apple tree – Trwyn Mochyn –
taken in late summer and surrounded by annual self seeding nasturtiums that
virtually engulf it, there are also a range of alliums and herbs that have been
temporarily engulfed – but not harmed by the nasturtiums.
Taunton Deane kale – a hardy kale that
grows large but is easy to care for, ie it looks after itself!
A wider view of the polyculture patches
showing how all the plants mix in together and grow very enthusiastically.
This garden is indeed very low maintenance
– I cut back some of the plants that die back in the late autumn, but leave a
lot for their seeds and structure for over wintering birds and insects and then
do another round just before the spring bursts out. In between I cut back or take out any plants
that are not working with the rest, but much more time is occupied by
harvesting the produce!
From early spring onwards there are so many
bees in the garden that it seems to buzz most of the day, there are butterflies
a-plenty and all sorts of insects that I cannot identify but which are all an
integral part of this local ecosystem.
Birds nest in the hedges and feed from the bushes and plants, there are
hedgehogs, mice, shrews, rabbits, frogs (even when there was no pond) and
although they are present the slugs are not a problem and I don’t need to take
any action to keep their numbers down.
When I began this style of gardening I was
able to complete the ‘normal’ gardening tasks without a problem but as time has
gone by I find I have much less energy and stamina than before and would not be
able to garden as I once did, even if I wanted to. However I love doing things this way, it
makes my life enjoyable and puts good healthy food on the table whilst also
benefitting the local wildlife and looking lovely too. What more can I ask for?
More detailed information about the method of growing edible polycultures can be found both in my book “Edible Perennial Gardening” and on my blog “gardens of delight”. I am also happy to answer any gardener’s individual questions sent by email to email@example.com.
Two other interesting websites are Incredible Vegetables run by Mandy Barber and Julien Skinner in Devon and The Backyard Larder by Alison Tinsdale. Both of these have information about all sorts of unusual and perennial vegetables and also sell them. http://www.incrediblevegetables.co.uk
As Head Gardener at Osborne I’m often looking for period plants (ones which were available before Queen Victoria’s death in 1901) or specific varieties from the archives, to help create more interest in the garden. I had a vague memory that one of Queen Victoria’s favourite plants was the violet, so I decided to do some research.
Aged 14, Victoria wrote in her journal on the 30th March 1834, ‘Mamma gave me two very pretty little china baskets with violets, and some pretty buttons.’ This is the first entry in a lifetime of keeping her detailed diaries where she specifically mentions violets. Overall there are 105 references to violets in her journals, with many referring to picking ‘primroses and violets’ especially at Osborne.
Violets and their uses
Violets were clearly a favourite with Victoria throughout her life, but they were popular for a very long time before she brought them to the forefront of fashion.
The first records describing the use of violets in Europe are from ancient Greece where they seem to be used for medicinal purposes. They were associated with the Virgin Mary in Christian tradition, had a symbolic meaning with humility and were also used in garlands. During the Tudor period herbalists mention the plant being good for treating headaches, depression and constipation as well as being a good strewing herb. It’s around this time that the name ‘Sweet Violet’ starts to be used, referring to the sweet smell given by the flowers of Viola odorata, a native plant of the UK and much of Europe.
By the 18th century violets were being used to enhance toiletries and perfumes, and were grown commercially in France and the UK. Due to their exceptional scent, Sweet and Parma violets were commonly sold as small posies, or nosegays, to help cope with the noxious smells of large cities. They were also worn as buttonholes or in hat bands.
Sir Joseph Banks, the famous plant collector and unofficial director of Kew Gardens under King George III, cultivated 300 pots of Parma violets at his garden in Isleworth in 1816 but it is really towards the middle of the century that violet production and popularity hit its peak.
A very Victorian flower
With their love of attaching meaning to flowers Victorians regarded violets as a symbol for modesty and fidelity, due to the plants habit of holding its flowers in a low nodding deferential manner. The phrase ‘shrinking violet’, first coined by the English poet Leigh Hunt in 1820, was popularised during the Victorian era and reflected the plants qualities of modesty and shyness on people.
By the 1880’s around 6 million violet bunches were being sold annually in Paris and exported as far afield as Russia. Queen Victoria spent many holidays on the French Riviera, especially late in her life, and often visited during the spring when the violets would be in bloom.
‘As I was coming down the hill in the pony chair, little children from the village gave me bunches of violets, primroses and other wild flowers,’ she wrote during her visit to the French Riviera in April 1885. With the queen’s endorsement, both the French Riviera and violets grew their fashionable status.
From the late 19th century violets had a slow but steady decline in popularity. The perfume industry began to use ionone, a molecule that has a violet fragrance which was isolated from the roots of Iris germanica var. florentina. The violet leaf midge, Dasineura affinis, became a considerable pest of and changes in the employment market in the twentieth century made commercial growing of these plants uneconomical.
At the same time, the large stately homes that had collections of the harder to grow Parma violet struggled to keep their estates going. Several very cold winters in the mid 20th century were harsh for the plants and anyway, fashion was changing. By the end of the 1950’s the fashion for violets and their commercial worth had all but disappeared, and many of the cultivars raised in the previous three centuries now seem to have been lost.
Violets you can see at Osborne this spring
Today, violets have a small but dedicated following – including here at Osborne.
Our archives aren’t comprehensive but there are plenty of mentions of picking violets, sending violets to friends and acquaintances and odd references of violets that must have been grown in the gardens.
In February 1874 Victoria recorded in her journal ‘The snow drops, violets and wall flowers so pretty, in the garden at the Swiss cottage’. In January 1882 (also when visiting Swiss cottage) she mentioned ‘Many violets out, smelling so sweet, and many little roses,’ which considering the time of year could be referring to potted plants that have been forced by the gardeners. There are also many other mentions of the wild violets growing around the estate.
We have replenished our stocks of violets recently with five Parma violet cultivars and four Sweet violets. They are displayed in the cold frame in the walled garden through the winter and early spring to fill a gap in the flowering season.
Violet varieties being grown at Osborne
Viola ‘Swanley White’, raised in 1880, white double flowers with slight blue tints, synonymous with Viola ‘Conte di Brazza’. This cultivar won the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) First Class Certificate in 1883.
Viola ‘Duchesse de Parme’, raised in 1870, pale lavender blue flowers, very prolific and easy to grow.
Viola ‘Lady Hume Campbell’, raised in 1875, lavender mauve flowers, synonymous with Viola ‘Gloire d’Angoulême’ and one of the varieties grown at Windsor Castle in Queen Victoria’s reign.
Viola ‘Marie Louise’, raised in 1865 but could well be older, deep lavender blue flowers and another of the cultivars grown at Windsor Castle in Queen Victoria’s reign.
Viola ‘Neapolitan’, possible the original Parma violet and in cultivation for at least 400 years, pale silvery lavender flowers, long flowering period.
Viola ‘Swanley White’
Viola ‘Baronness de Rothschild’, raised in 1894, synonymous with Viola ‘Baronne Alice de Rothschild’ a lady who showed Queen Victoria her garden when on holiday in Grasse in 1891, large violet blue flowers borne on long stems, early flowering.
Viola ‘John Raddenbury’, raised in 1895, medium sized pale blue flowers, often used for cut flower production, named after the first director of Melbourne Botanic garden.
Viola ‘Koningin Charlotte’, raised in 1900, very sweetly scented, blue upward facing flowers, long flowering season from August to early spring.
Viola ‘Princess of Wales’, raised in 1889, large violet blue flowers on long stems, the most popular commercially grown cut flower, another of the cultivars grown at Windsor Castle in Queen Victoria’s reign and awarded the RHS Award of Merit in 1895
As a young child, and with no television in the house, I preferred being outside. Ours was a large overgrown Victorian garden where ground elder ruled, complete with mature fruit trees, veg plot, derelict greenhouse and potting shed. With five kids in the family, we were each given an area of our own to nurture, and that’s where my passion for gardening began!
An interest in plants and nature led me to work on a tree and shrub nursery before studying for a degree in horticulture and entering the world of gardening journalism. For me gardening has become so much more than a hobby, but my family garden is where it started all those years ago.
I’ve always known that gardening means different things to different people, but research from around the world has now confirmed something many gardeners already know – gardening really is good for you!
Not only are gardens great places to relax, but just being in or looking out onto gardens and green spaces has been shown to relieve stress, improving wellbeing and creativity. By creating a beautiful garden outside your own back door you’ll have a personal sanctuary to step out into, and somewhere to grow healthy food, welcome in wildlife, and spend time with family and friends.
Gardening has many benefits for your health and wellbeing. These include providing exercise and staying active, relieving stress, grounding and connecting with nature, enjoying and sharing your garden with others – all helping to feed your mind, body and soul.
It’s a creative, rewarding and productive pastime, with opportunities to learn new skills, find out about exciting new plants, share ideas and make new friends. All these have a positive and restorative affect on mental and physical health, keeping mind and body active, whatever your age.
In fact, gardening has be described as the Natural Health Service, as doctors recognise the numerous benefits gardening brings without the need for costly therapies and drugs, with their unwelcome side effects.
GROW YOUR OWN
For instance, eating well can start by growing your own organic homegrown crops – all part of the ‘5 a day’ we all need to provide nutrients, health-boosting vitamins and minerals, and essential phytochemicals that help protect our bodies against disease. Herbs not only add wonderful flavours to our home cooking and teas, but bring many health benefits too.
Crops can be grown in even the smallest of spaces, providing the reward of picking fresh produce you’ve raised yourself. Combine these with colourful plants and fragrant flowers and any outdoor space will be transformed to become a truly sensory experience, giving you somewhere relaxing to sit or a vibrant space to socialise and entertain with family and friends.
AT ONE WITH NATURE
By choosing the right plants we can design gardens that encourage birds, bees, butterflies and other wildlife to drop in for food, water and shelter, or even take up residence. Many beneficial insects and creatures also feed on garden pests too, controlling them naturally without the need to spray with harmful pesticides.
Developing an all-year-round wildlife-friendly garden satisfies our own creativity and feeling of achievement, bringing us outdoors and closer to nature to reduce stress and improve our wellbeing. Contact with plants and the soil also enhances our health and boosts the immune system, too.
NEW GARDEN CENTRE PROMOTION
‘Gardening is Good For You’ is the theme of a new monthly plant promotion I have developed for the Horticultural Trades Association. Starting in January 2019, different topics related to gardening for health and wellbeing will be highlighted each month, so check out you local garden centres to see if they are involved.
Adam Pasco is an experienced gardener, lecturer and consultant living in Peterborough. As the former editor of BBC Gardeners’ World magazine, Waitrose Garden, Garden News and Garden Answers magazines he has worked on a variety of gardening television programmes, books, magazines, websites and newspapers during his 36 years as a gardening journalist.
He has twice been crowned ‘Editor of the Year’ by the British Society of Magazine Editors, and been awarded ‘Practical Journalist of the Year’ by the Garden Media Guild.
Adam is currently working with the HTA on a new monthly garden centre promotion for 2019/20 on the theme ‘Gardening is Good For You’ promoting the health and wellbeing benefits of gardening.