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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Joe Swift

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

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

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

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

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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Kevin Dowding

Kevin Dowding

Twists and Turns

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

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

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

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

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

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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Sarah Wain

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

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

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

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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Michael Perry

Blooming Tasty!

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

1. Forget-me-not (Myosotis arvensis)

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

2. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

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

3. Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

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

4. Mallow (Malva moschata)

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

5. Cowslip (Primula veris)

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

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

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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Michael Valentine

Gardening: The escape from my thoughts

Growing up with anxiety disorders, it was a rare occasion for me to find peace in my life.  No matter where I went or what I did, my thoughts would follow and taunt me.  However, being in the garden was the one consistent place I could retreat to and experience peace in my life.

My first panic attack that I can remember was when I was five years old.  It was probably more memorable as it resulted in my arms crashing through a glass door.  The kind of experience a young child would not forget.

To explain what a panic attack is, the best definition I can think of is “fear beyond fear”.  A panic attack is the greatest amount of fear that a person can experience in any given moment.

During most of my younger years my anxiety disorders mainly manifested as generalized anxiety.  Which essentially consisted of being in a heightened state of nervousness and worry, with a haze of fear cast over just about every thought I had and influencing almost every experience I was part of.

On the property that I grew up on there was always a vegetable garden.  Years earlier my grandfather had what could be considered a small farm on this very property.  He raised rabbits and chickens, grew crops and had a variety of fruit trees.  He loved his fruit trees.

Unfortunately, he passed away when I was quite young.  But the legacy that he left would certainly play a huge role in my life in many ways.

Since I was a young boy, every spring my mother and I would venture out into the yard to plant a vegetable garden.  I would be responsible for turning the dirt and then one by one plant the seedlings ever so gently.  Followed by the daily chores of weeding, watering and nurturing the little seedlings all the way through till harvest.

Later, as I became older, I realized that while out in the garden I did not have higher levels of anxiety.  Many times, in fact, while in the garden it felt as if my anxiety had disappeared altogether.  I did not understand why or how that could be, but it certainly was a welcome reprieve from my suffering.  More so in my later teens when my anxiety disorders had escalated and turned into phobias, and panic disorder was beginning to set in.

Since learning the recovery process, what I found out is that all anxiety lives in the future.  You see all anxiety, regardless of the specific cause or fear, begins with a single thought; a “what if” thought that is projected to a specific situation sometime in the future.

Recovery from anxiety disorders is essentially being able to “look away” from our fear and change our focus away from the “what if” thoughts to something that is not frightening to us.

This is what was happening to me while I was in the garden; my attention was taken away from my “what if” thoughts and I was focused on the plants I was caring for.  This allowed my levels of anxiety to become lower, and in many cases disappear completely for short periods of time.

In order to create full recovery, I used behavior modification to create a new emotional response to my specific triggers.  With this approach, we condition ourselves to be able to look away from our fear and not believe the “what if” thoughts that cause higher levels of anxiety.  Essentially being able to manage our thoughts and therefore stabilizing our emotional state.

Looking back over the years, there were certainly some very dark days in my life.  But the one constant joy that I had was being in the garden.

Some people say everything happens for a reason, I don’t know if I can completely agree with that.  However, when I consider my own journey, its difficult for me to dispute that statement.  Obviously, the person I am today is a culmination of all my experiences.  And the argument can be made that all those experiences happened for a reason.

Even now, after creating full recovery from anxiety disorders and living an unrestricted life; each spring I find myself out in the garden, turning dirt.

Currently I have devoted my efforts to helping other people create recovery for themselves.  Ten years ago, I completed my certification training within the program where I created recovery myself.  After being employed by the treatment center for several years running anxiety & phobia specific workshops and a weekly support group, I went on my own to spread the program through varies methods.  Recently I’ve created an online system that includes a video series, podcast, community forum and a blog; all in effort to help reach others that are in need of support & guidance.  http://www.anxietypath.com

I thank the people behind the Gardening For Disabled charity for giving me this opportunity to share my story.

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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Andrew Fisher Tomlin

Andrew Fisher Tomlin

The power of a day in the garden

I’m not particularly nostalgic and I often feel that many of my childhood memories have come from the tales my sister tells of what I got up to but I do have a few very clear memories that, I think, put me on the path to where I am today.

Those memories are very clearly of helping my Dad in one of his three allotment plots that we got to in a 5-minute bike ride. Often on a Sunday morning when a good roast was calling we’d cycle up to the allotment where Dad was already there working. We’d help him dig up potatoes which were like treasure, pull up carrots and pick runner beans. Once we got older we were allowed to pick fruit for Chivers Farms in the village during the summer holidays. And of course there was a garden at home that my Mum tended too with an apple tree for climbing and plum trees around the corner to harvest for free.

I often think that my passion for gardening comes from not just my childhood but also that I like my food and my Mum taught me to cook. It’s as important a skill as gardening and perhaps these days we could all take a lesson from this. And today even though my mortgage is paid from working in gardens I still enjoy a day in my own garden.

In our business we design community gardens for vision impairment, for dementia and with young people, a huge range of ages and abilities. I see the power that both active gardening and passive enjoyment of a garden brings. When I get home and go out for half an hour to do some gardening, and then find it’s three hours later and its gone dark, when I put my feet up and look at what I’ve achieved I still get as big a buzz out of a garden as I did digging up the treasure of potatoes all those years ago.

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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Quentin Stark

Quentin Stark

Quentin Stark is the Head Gardener at Hole Park Gardens, Kent http://www.holepark.com

He is also the Plant Doctor for Plant Fairs Roadshow http://www.plant-fairs.co.uk

There is a Snowdrop and Plant Fair Roadshow on Sunday 10th February 2019 at Hole Park from 11am until 3 pm

One of my Favourite Plants

There are over twenty species of Cyclamen, growing across Southern Europe, West Asia and Northern Africa.

I was introduced to the tender florist Cyclamen persicum as a young boy by my mother. It wasn’t until I was working at Savill Gardens I met the charming hardy species in the woodland garden. I was lucky to move to my current job which was five minutes from the former specialist Cyclamen nursery Tile Barn. The nearest thing to Cyclamen heaven.

It is some of these hardy species that I want to mention next.

Cyclamen repandum

Cyclamen repandum one of the lesser known species and is definitely a woodland plant, as its foliage is less leathery than its cousins Cyclamen hederifolium and C. coum. Its leaves have a well-defined hastate pattern outlined in silver. The foliage comes up in spring with the arrival of warmer days to come, followed soon by the long elegant slightly twisting magenta petals.

Cyclamen repandum

Cyclamen  purpurescens

This Cyclamen is more of a challenge to grow well out in the garden, as it prefers a continental climate. It is worth trying by planting deeply in a humus shady spot, as this species flowers from June to October with pale pink to carmine and rarely white flowers with the most delightful sweet scent like violets, the best scent of any Cyclamen. It is in leaf almost all year around with heart to kidney shaped leaves that vary in colour from glossy green to entirely pewter coloured, usually has a hastate pattern highlighted in cream, silver or pewter

Cyclamen purpurescens

Cyclamen hederifolium

To me the end of hazy days of summer and the coming mellow fruitfulness of Autumn is signified with the appearance with the first blooms of the most accommodating and long-lived Cyclamen species.

Cyclamen hederifolium

Cyclamen hederifolium is one of the most common species grown, with its butterfly-like blooms that come in shades of rose-pink or white before the leaves, make their appearance. The foliage gives an added bonus to the beauty and another reason to grow these small hardy plants. These leathery leaves with hastate mark in the centre of the leaf, and marbled with shades of green, pewter and silver give rise to almost limitless patterns.

These pictures show the bank opposite my back door, on which Cyclamen hederifolium has appeared over the last 18 years and I’ve not planted one of them, so how did they come to be there?

The seeds of Cyclamen have a sweet coating on them and this is desirable to mice and ants. They collected the seeds from plants in other parts of my garden removed the sweet coating and left the seeds in their runs which seems to be a great place for germination.

Cyclamen coum

Cyclamen coum

Cyclamen coum arrives in winter it’s kidney shaped leaves fully expanded. These leaves like the autumn flowering C. hederifolium have a central hastate marking and can be as variable. The flowers are dumpy compared to other species of Cyclamen, I think this gives them a charm of their own. This delightful species starts to flower in December and continues well into February, with a range of colour from pure white through hints and shades of pink to carmine. This is my favourite species as it gives the most welcome colour in the depth of winter.

To find out more about these wonderful charming plants, the book by Christopher Grey-Wilson, Cyclamen A guide for gardeners, horticulturists and botanists. It has everything you need to know about growing Cyclamen.

The Cyclamen society is great to group to join to further your knowledge and increase your plants through their seed scheme.

‘I know of no other genus whose plants flower out of doors every day of the year. I know of no other genus with one or more species coming into bloom or growth, peaking or going dormant at every season.’ Nancy Goodwin

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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Ian Scroggy

Ian W. Scroggy HNDH

Ian Scroggy works with his parents running Bali-Hai Mail Order Nursery.

SLUGS NO MORE!!!!

I have been experimenting with different controls to prevent Slug and Snail damage to our Hosta stock on the nursery.  I tried the usual beer traps or milk traps worked to a certain extent but only worked in a small area around the traps.

Hair clippings, egg shells, sharp grit, soot with little success if the slugs want to eat they will go over them.

Garlic extract now this is the one that gave the best results plus with added benefits.

The Garlic Recipe

You will need

2 Large Garlic bulbs Romanian Red is the best

Blender

2 pints of water

saucepan

Cloth to strain mixture

dark coloured bottle

 Get two large Garlic bulbs place in a blender.  Once finely crushed add contents to two pints of boiling water, let it boil for 2-3 minutes or until the garlic looks like it is blanched.  Let it cool best to do this outside it does smell a bit.  As soon as it is cooled get an old pair of stockings and place them over the saucepan and drain off the liquid into a dark plastic bottle the stockings help to filter out the small garlic pieces. Or pour into ice cube tray and freeze the concentrate. Now you have a concentrated liquid of garlic.  With this liquid put two tablespoons into your watering can, or two ice cubes, about two gallon size or 10 litres and with a fine spray rose on your watering can water this over the leaves of your hostas best to do it in later afternoon after the strong midday sun has passed over.  Spray your plants every 14 days during active growth i.e. from the first shoots starting to emerge to late August-September.

 I have found this mixture can be bought ready made called “Garlic Barrier”  if you search online you will find it.  As it is totally organic it does no harm to the air or soil it actually improves the vigour of the Hostas and gives the leaves a good sheen which also helps build up good root systems as if the leaves are healthy they are able to produce more food to put back into their roots therefore producing more “eyes” so your plants will bulk up better.  It also means you do not have to spray nasty chemicals so much only if you get a sudden outbreak of mildew or botrytis that you would need to spray with a fungicide.  Yes I still use commercial grade slug pellets especially before the plants start to emerge as the garlic only works on the foliage, it leaves the leaves a nasty taste for the slugs they will bypass them for a hosta not treated with garlic.  With slug pellets I only have to use 80% less than I did before I started using garlic so that is a marked improvement.

 Try making your own garlic spray and just do one or two plants to start with so as you can see the difference with the Hostas that you sprayed and ones you left alone.  Within a month you will see a good difference.  I know the smell puts people off making their own but it is worth it I can assure you.  Make sure when spraying the plants that the leaves are dry so as the spray will stay on the leaves and the liquid will dry on thus giving the protection.  I only spray every 14 days but weekly would be even better.  “Garlic Barrier” also do a granule form that you can mix in with the compost I tried this on 100 pots of Hostas but did not get the same results as I got from the liquid sprays but this was only a small scale trial it might work for you and there is hardly any smell of the granules

Bali-Hai Mail Order Nursery http://www.mailorderplants4me.com

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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Tom Hart Dyke

My Gardening Journey!

By Tom Hart Dyke 

Curator  of The World Garden at Lullingstone Castle, Kent

Portrait of Tom Hart Dyke, Award Winning Plant Expert. Writer, Author, Television Presenter, Adventurer. Commissioned by: Mary Dawson http://www.dfmanagement.tv[/caption]

My passion for horticulture started from a young age, my influential and much loved Granny ‘Crac’ gave me a packet of carrot seeds at the age of three and from then on, I was captivated by plants!  Orchids were my first love and fascination; I would often persuade Granny after school to help me scour the long grass of our local golf course in search of wild orchid beauties. After I graduated from Sparsholt College my sense of adventure grew stronger and I followed my plant hunters dream of travelling the world to seek out rare orchids and plants.

Phragmipedum Orchid in the Orchid House at Lullingstone Castle. Photo Credit: Alan Graham

I’ve had some extremely exciting horticulturally endowed trips over my green filled lifetime. It’s been an absolute privilege following in the deep rooted traditions of plant hunters of past and present, travelling to the far flung corners of our green globe, risking life and limb in pursuit of some of the world’s most awe-inspiring plants. My travelling jaunts have taken me to places from the high endemism filled volcanic archipelago of both The Canary Islands & Cape Verde Islands, to down under in Tasmania, seed collecting for the Royal Horticultural Society & Kent Garden’s Trust.

You simply can’t beat observing plants in their native habitat to improve your plant husbandry back home. However not all my plant hunting trips have gone so ‘horticulturally swimmingly’. On March the 16th 2000, whilst Orchid hunting in the rainforest endowed Darien Gap, a friend and I found ourselves on the receiving end of an AK-47 stuck to our temples and were held hostage for 9-months before being released! On 16th June, during my Colombian kidnap ordeal, I opened my diary and began plans for my ‘World Garden’ which would contain plants from around the globe planted in their respective continents of origin. My vision for The World Garden was finally born on Easter Saturday 2005, all made possible by the support of family, friends and the community.  Each year we welcome so many visitors, sharing and inspiring new plant hunters, although I still manage to find time to go travelling to add to my never ending plant collection!

Tom Hart Dyke, Curator of The World Garden at Lullingstone Castle, Kent

www.lullingstonecastle.co.uk

Aerial Photograph of Lullingstone Castle by Stephen Sangster
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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Sarah Owen-Hughes

A Career in Joy

Sarah Owen-Hughes at Tromso Botanic Garden

Gardening is a joyous activity. Whether inhaling the wet earth smell of promise when lifting the first potatoes to being passed a glimmer of optimism in a tissue-wrapped cutting, it is something that brings out the kindness and generosity of strangers, and a deeper closeness with friends who also share the love.

It is a love that changes every day, and one can never, ever learn enough. In a single week I can receive a text stating ‘My neighbour is cutting down their pear tree. Stop it.’; find a bag of golden quinces on my doorstep; visit a leading local horticultural research facility and arrange to travel to Spain with some students on an Erasmus Aquaponics project. It is a career or hobby that constantly enriches, even on the wettest and coldest days.

And yet horticulture is facing a recruitment crisis. The RHS Horticulture Matters report in 2014 found that 72% of surveyed businesses struggled to fill skilled vacancies (RHS, 2014). NFU Horticulture board chair Ali Capper recently identified a 29% shortage in the labour market, with fears that this will only increase as we negotiate the movement of labour post Brexit (HortWeek, 2018). I had a message from a former student recently about forestry work in Canada, where he told me that he could place up to 250 young people with arboriculture qualifications. This is an international issue.

I was also reading recently about the increase in mental health conditions in young adults, partially identified as being caused by societal pressures to succeed, and it struck me that horticulture could be part of a solution. Instead of directing them to financially ruinous degrees with the pressure of a high-income job at the end, why not teach youngsters to pursue a career in joy? I don’t want to say of my children “They work too hard” when they are older. I want to say, “They love their job”.

Creating Secret Gardens at the Deershed Festival.

Imagine leaving home every morning to visit different farms, nurseries and garden centres as a Plant Health Inspector; working with a team to grow and harvest microgreens or medicinal herbs in an LED facility; developing legislation with the government Pesticides authority; designing and building a garden for a local school, training to be a botanical artist or teaching students about the miracle of seeds breaking their dormancy? These are all jobs that former students have gone on to do, and nothing gives me greater joy than hearing where they are in the world and how much they love their lives. And let’s dismiss the idea that horticulture is only a low paid career for low skilled people – the Head of Gardens at the Eden Project is being advertised at £55k, which is hardly a job for someone who is “too thick to be an electrician” (former student, undated).

The next time you watch a cyclamen flowerhead spiral its way back down to the ground to deposit its seed, or you feel the crunch of dry leaves underfoot as you walk to the shed, please, please share the joy. Tell a child or a young adult about how that makes you feel, let them into the secret. It is a joy that will sustain them for the rest of their lives.

Installing a sedum roof at home

Sarah Owen-Hughes, MCIoH, Horticulture Lecturer, Askham Bryan College, York. Sarah is the External Examiner for the Horticulture degree programmes at the Eden Project, Cornwall & Kirkley Hall, Northumberland.

https://www.rhs.org.uk/Education-Learning/PDF/Training/1016-RHS-Hort-Careers-Brochure-V8.pdf

https://www.hortweek.com/labour-crisis-update-bad-shortage-season/fresh-produce/article/1497170