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


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


Lemon Balm

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horticulture – Pass it on Blog

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

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

The Councils glasshouses

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

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

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

Natural Form: 

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

Thrusting Form: 

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

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

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

Stane Street, Pulborough, West Sussex, RH20 1DJ

01798 879213

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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Alison Hepworth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A potted history of the WFGA

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

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

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

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

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

This Weeks Guest Blogger is Connor Smith, a Horticulturist at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

Seeds are phenomenal structures which have adapted incredible ways to disperse. One of the of the most eye catching seed pods in the garden at this time of year are the long, drooping blue fingers of Decaisnea insignis. The common name “Dead Man’s Fingers” originates from the supposed similarity of the fruit or ‘fruitlet’ feeling like a cold human finger.

These exotic fruits are in the Lardizabalaceae family, a rather small family of mostly climbers. Decaisnea insignis is native to China, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar with a small population in India. It grows at a range of altitudes and has a respectable hardiness of around -15C. It is a popular ornamental plant. Specimens can be seen in the Chinese Hillside and the west of the Rock Garden.

Now the exciting bit. The unusual seeds intrigued me when peeled open they reveal an odd translucent pulp which is surrounding the small flat black seeds. It reminded me of a jelly snake sweets you would purchase as a child. The pulp is edible although I did not find it particularly inviting to try i did, tasting of melon/ cucumber. The inner seed of the seed pod was also covered in a fascinating mosaic patterning.

Inside the seed

The small flat black seeds

A rather incredible pattern in the inners of the seed pod

Now the question, why did this plant evolve to have these incredible blue fruits and what animal dispersed it? The lure of edible pulp meant it must be an animal of some sort. A bird would be a valid option but red is the normal colour of attraction and plants know this. Many of the birds i looked at (Birds of China; Birds of the Himalaya) were very small and the 7-12 cm long fruit would present a big problem.

Why blue? Blue is rather scare in the plant kingdom, we have some familiar examples in the garden of Mahonia species, Vaccinium, Viburnum and Clerodendron trichotomum var. fargesii with its large red sepals. But it is still a relatively unusual trait to adopt, even more so in tropical parts of the world.

Interestingly when opening the fruit it did split like a banana which had a similar type of reward inside. A deal of dexterity would be required to open the fruit which i had almost failed at when I attempted opening it the first time. Sure enough, after some research it is reported in ‘Dispersal of Plants’ (RBGE Library FCVV) that some tropical trees with blueish fruits – Elaeocarpus, Symplocos fasciculatus & Eugenia acuminatissima have drupes dispersed by bats and monkeys. I then later found a paper on the dietary profile of the Snub nosed Monkey (Rhinopithecus spp.) which confirmed Decaisnea insignis in the diet.

However this still does not explain the need for the blue colour. Monkeys see just like us and don’t require an attractive blue colour to attract them in. Decaisnea insignis has previously been spilt into two distinct species with Decaisnea fargesii having yellow to green fruit.

We may have just not found the true missing link in this Decaisnea insignis partnership or I fear we may have lost this pair forever.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Alexander Herbert

Our Blogger this week is Alexander Herbert from Archery Edge who is based in the USA so Tim Reeves who is in the UK has written the introduction for us just because our gardens in the UK tend to be smaller and crossbows may be unsuitable to use in them.

“Personally I would recommend people use a light (not powerful) traditional bow and arrows, bought from a reputable specialist shop after having taken a beginners course with a local club to learn the basics. A good shop won’t sell inappropriate gear to a customer. 
In a good sized garden or one neighbouring arable fields a crossbow could be used, but it’s easy to miss a target and lose bolts (arrows) safety is important when using any bow and arrows. 
At my various clubs, I have shot with various people with disabilities, so as mentioned archery is inclusive. For example one lady used a wheelchair and shot a compound bow, another chap had a prosthetic leg below the knee, another had PTSD, and others were old, struggled with arthritis, and one chap also took part in the transplant games. So give archery a go” 
Tim Reeves

Alexander Herbert writes If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, then you should make the most of it. There are many things you can do in a garden, from gardening to various different outdoor sports.

One sport that most gardens can accommodate is archery – the sport of using a bow to shoot arrows to hit a target. It’s a very inclusive sport that pretty much anybody can take part in – so keep reading for some tips on how you can play archery in your garden.


Archery can be an expensive sport, so it’s best to start out with the bare necessities. Luckily, there are some things you can do yourself to enhance the game.

The first step to having archery fun in your garden is getting the equipment. If you’re a beginner, there’s no point buying expensive equipment – you may not end up liking the sport (unlikely, but still a possibility), or you might want to build up your skills before splashing the cash.

Crossbow + Arrows

The main thing you need is a crossbow. A crossbow can set you back anything from $15 to $2000 – it all depends on the brand, quality, and the specs. If you’re a beginner, it’s best to get a crossbow that’s easy to operate – the lighter the better.

Some of the easiest crossbows to operate are pistol crossbows – they’re generally lightweight and they require a lot less effort to cock, but they tend to be less powerful.

Most crossbows tend to come with arrows, but if not, be sure the arrows you purchase are compatible with your choice of crossbow.

Crossbows are great for people who have disabilities because some of them have self-cocking devices and require less physical strength to use.


Targets tend to be cheaper than crossbows, but can still set you back a few dollars. If you have the time, it may be worth making your own target.

To make your own target, just fill a woven bag with plants or sawdust, tape it together, and paint a bullseye. This can be hung from your fence, or trees – and adjusted to match the height most convenient for you.

If you don’t fancy making your own, you can purchase one from your local archery supplies store, or online. If you’re purchasing one online, it’s best to get a durable target that can withstand the elements.

Getting Started

There are some things you should consider before you get shooting. At the end of the day, crossbows are weapons – and should be treated as such.

Make sure that the area around the target doesn’t have any valuables or animals nearby – you don’t want the target right next to the birdfeeder, as that won’t end well.

It’s probably best to make sure your next-door neighbors aren’t sunbathing in the garden next door too! Consider positioning your target at the end of your garden – especially if it backs up onto private land, woods, or fields.

Now you have the necessities, it’s time to start shooting some arrows!

Remember, stay safe and be aware of your surroundings.

Happy shooting!


This Week’s Guest Blogger is Lou Nicholls

Lou Nicholls is Head Gardener at Ulting Wick Garden and a Blogger that has worked in Horticulture for over 20 years. She gives talks around the country on Organic, vegetable growing and Ornamental plants and is a member of the Garden Media Guild and the Professional Gardeners Guild.

Twitter: @loujnicholls


To Peat or not to Peat?

I’ll make this short, don’t use Peat!

But why not? When it’s been successfully used for generations why change?

The answers is because you don’t need to, in the past we’ve used it for convenience. It’s lighter than loam and has better moisture retentive capabilities and that’s where its benefits end. However over the last 25 years various companies with an eye to the future, climate change, habitat loss and just generally caring about the environment and sustainability, have developed various Peat free composts that do exactly the same job without long term impact into our Peat wetlands.

Gardeners aren’t the most significant consumers of Peat I’ll grant you but it’s our attitudes that change the world as well as our actions. By rejecting Peat in your compost you are making a small but important stand to companies. It’s our pressure, our buying habits that change how companies work.

I’ve never used Peat in my professional career, I worked for Garden Organic and at that point Peat free was just starting to become an option. Since then the options available to the home gardener are so varied and easily available there is literally no reason to use Peat. You can even buy Vegan compost these days! That’s right Vegan, this is a brilliant example of how for the first time in history consumers are leading manufacturers in what they want to see and use as opposed to the other way round.

Peat wetlands are home to sundews, marsh violets and many species of wild orchids, plants that can’t grow anywhere else. This is an area we really can make a difference to and very quickly, by allowing water to re-flood peat wetlands the damage done by draining it can be quickly reversed.

So take a moment to check the bag of compost you’re thinking of picking up, make sure it says Peat free and know that in your own small way you are helping to save the planet.

I recommend in random order and in no way an indication of preference!

Dalefoot – their peat free range is excellent and has great moisture retention capabilities. They have also introduced a vegan compost.
Melcourt – They now have a reusable compost bag for people trying to avoid single use plastic.
New horizon – they do a lovely John Innis loam based compost now too.
Marshalls – recently introduced a peat free compost for vegetable growing.
T&M – Launched their own brand at the garden press event this spring which I haven’t yet tried but I’m sure will be of a good quality.
Fertile fibre – has a coir based range and has been producing for a decent amount of time.