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

Lavender

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


My Horticultural Story


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

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


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

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

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

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

The backs of the flowers are painted with freckles

A close up of the inner markings

The unopened bud and the long strap like leaves

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

Starting to Plan Your Dream Garden by Primethorpe Paving

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

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

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

Starting to Plan

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

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

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

Design Goals

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

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

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

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

Marking the Perimeter

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

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

Planning the Contents of Your Garden

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

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

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

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

In Conclusion – You should have a clear picture now

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

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

Written by Kelsey Brace at Primethorpe Paving

This 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.

www.wfga.org.uk

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 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

This week’s Guest Blogger is John Harrison

John Harrison with a home grown cauliflower


John Harrison has been gardening for over 40 years now. As well as writing for magazines and newspapers he’s the author of 8 books including the best selling Vegetable Growing Month by Month. He can be found online at www.allotment-garden.org

The Right Way to Garden

If you ask three gardeners a growing question you’re likely to get four answers at least. Which one is right? Well they all could be. The thing is there’s no perfect way to garden. 


Chemical vs Organic
The big argument in gardening used to be between scientific growing and the muck and magic school, chemical versus organic if you will. Both systems, correctly applied, can produce great plants and crops. Neither system is perfect. 
Chemical growing where the soil is treated just as an inert medium to hold fertilisers is arguably unsustainable. It can be damaging to soil ecosystems and the general environment. Organic systems can work well but if the soil becomes depleted or a pest appears in large numbers, plant growth will be checked and crop yields reduced.

To Dig or Not to Dig?
The modern gardening discussion that has superseded the organic debate is whether to dig over the ground or not. Traditional gardening emphasised the importance of double digging or at least annual single digging to produce the optimum conditions for plants to grow in.
No-dig growers put their effort into making compost and applying it in thick layers on the soil’s surface instead of tilling the soil. Once again, both systems can grow great plants.

Traditional Digging
No Dig Growing

The real question: ‘What is the right way to grow for me?’ I could go on with examples of diametrically opposed methods of gardening but I think I’ve made the point. The question gardeners need to ask isn’t ‘What is the right way to grow?’ but ‘What is the right way to grow for me?’
Never mind slavishly following systems and methods that others have laid down.  We’re all different in the amounts of time and energy we have. Our soils vary and our climate varies. London’s climate has more in common with the Mediterranean than Scotland. 
Yes, lets grow organically, it’s better for the planet, but accept that sometimes a judicious application of a chemical fertiliser can rescue a failing plant. No dig growing often works well but with some soils, like a heavy clay, traditional double digging is – in my opinion – a better way to get the soil in good heart and keep it there.
Pick and choose from all the ideas out there in books and on the web, try things out but don’t be afraid to change your ways if they fail. Eventually you’ll find the right way for you to garden.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Mike Rogers

A Plot Robin

A Good Cause

I was delighted to be asked if I would write a blog post for the charity which I’ve only recently been supporting. One of my few regrets has been not having a garden so when I reached sixty and semi-retired I took on a half-plot allotment just a few minutes walk from home. That was eleven years ago and has proved to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. As well as soft fruit and vegetables I grow plenty of flowers which include pot marigolds (my favourite flowers), cosmos and sunflowers. I’m happy to see wildlife on the plot such as bees, butterflies and foxes, and it’s always uplifting to have a robin keep me company when I’m digging. Above all it’s the overall pleasure I get be it plotting or pottering, and I’m thankful that I’m still reasonably fit and healthy enough to enjoy the plot as I do. That even applies on the dreariest winter’s day when all I do is have a quick round before heading home to do some armchair gardening, browsing through seed catalogues with a cup of tea and a biscuit or two. 

Flighty’s Plot

I’m a longtime regular blogger and my Flighty’s plot blog is mostly about the plot from when I took it on. One way I support the charity is by showing it’s logo on my blog as a link to this website. I also follow the charity on Twitter where I’m Sofaflyer . I support this good cause because of it’s aims, and I greatly admire that it’s entirely run by volunteers. Gardening for Disabled has been celebrating it’s fiftieth birthday this year and I hope that it continues to celebrate many more. Mike Rogers – allotmenteer, armchair gardener, blogger and sofa flying book buff.

visit flightplot.wordpress.com

Pot Marigolds -Flighty’s Favourites

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Carolyn Dunster

Carolyn Dunster

How to prolong the flower season by cutting flowers for fresh arrangements, drying flowers for permanent arrangements and harvesting seed for resowing.

One of the best things about growing your own flowers in a small urban space is a chance to reap a multitude of rewards for your initial investment and endeavour. For the price of a packet of seeds – let’s say some brightly coloured opium poppies (Papaver somniferum) – a bag of compost and either a single large pot or some smaller sized containers – you will be able to grow enough flowers to pick for you home over the summer and arrange with other blooms and foliage stems in hand-tied posies. You can prolong the life of your cut flowers in a vase by searing the stems once they have been cut and ensuring that the water stays clean and free from any bacteria. I do this by refreshing the water daily and adding a teaspoon of bleach. If the water turns green and murky your flowers will have no chance of survival. If you leave some of the poppy flower heads to die off and dry on the stems of the plant they will turn into the most beautiful seed heads which are a work of art in themselves. These can be picked for use in dried winter arrangements that will last all season and look fantastic in a winter wreath or a pine swag wired on with some small fruits such as clementines and sprigs of holly. Finally, to get more bang for your buck the seed heads will contain pockets of hundreds of tiny seeds. Nature’s generous bounty is a no-cost payback. You will know when the seeds are ripe if you gently shake the seed head and can hear them rattle. You need to collect them before they disperse naturally if you want to sow them in a certain space or you can allow them to do their own thing and you will have a lovely surprise when you find your poppies growing up in unexpected places the following year. If for some reason you don’t want them in a particular position then just remove the seedling as it appears. For collecting and storing seed use a sharp pair of secateurs and snip off the head. Put the whole thing in a paper envelope or bag and label straight away. Do not seal them but leave in a cool dry space for a couple of days during which time the seeds will disperse naturally. Remove the casing and clean off any chaff and store them in jam jars until it is time to sow. As they are hardy annual flowers you can risk sowing opium poppies outdoors in the autumn before the ground gets too cold. This is the way to steal a march on the flowering season. If you sow half your seeds at this time of year they will put on a certain amount of growth and you will get some bushy foliage appearing before the plants become dormant as winter sets in. As soon as the weather warms up again they will come back to life and you will have an early crop of flowers. Plant the rest of your seeds in the spring once the soil is warm enough and daylight hours have started to stretch and you will get you second crop of flowers following on from the first thus giving you plenty to pick from early summer onwards. For more ideas and what to buy visit www.urban-flowers.co.uk.