Wisdom from Wisley

WP_20160503_11_22_23_ProOne of the things I love about RHS Gardens Wisley is that no matter how many buggies you have to fight through, no matter what is going on within the RHS’s management, the plants just keep performing and the gardeners just keep gardening. Although I worked there for two years, these days I don’t get to visit very often, and so I was looking for inspiration when we broke the long journey from Kent to Shropshire there yesterday.

Model Veg now has an area devoted to the plant suggestions of James Wong, presumably as a result of his work with the RHS on Grow for Flavour. It was good to see some edible flowers in there – violas – including a lovely deep crimson one (sorry, I couldn’t find a label!). At the opposite end of the garden is a little potager area, which is a brilliant example of how even a small veg-growing bed can be made to look interesting and attractive.


WP_20160503_11_24_13_ProI’ve never subscribed to the idea of growing edibles in amongst ornamentals, it offends my organising sensibilities. However, there’s no reason why veg-growing has to look boring. Even straight rows have their own beauty, especially if you put some thought in to the height, colour, shape and textures of the plants that will be next to each other. In this bed, perhaps 4m by 2m, a single wigwam was in the middle, with diagonal lines then dividing the bed into triangles.

Mario, the gardener responsible for Model Veg, had used broad beans (‘Robin Hood’) and a deep red lettuce (‘Pigale’ – definitely one I’ll be making a note of) to mark the lines. Obviously it’s early in the season still, but the labels show that the triangles will be filled with beetroot (‘Cardeal’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’) and potatoes (‘Arran Pilot’), with marigolds as well – both edible and good for attracting beneficial insects. I’m not sure what will go up the wigwam – sweet peas perhaps, climbing beans, or even climbing courgettes and cucumbers are all possibilities! Overall the effect was very good, and will hopefully inspire visitors to be imaginative with their veg plantings.

Grow your own Cake

Well, it’s out! The new book – link to the amazon site opposite, though I would encourage you of course to support your local bookshop if you have one – is finally here. Grow your own Cake – no, not the wheat before you ask, just lots of lovely fruit, veg, herbs and flowers with which you can bake some delicious treats – is a book of 50 recipes and lots of growing information, so even if you’ve never baked or grown before, you should be able to rustle up something pretty good in the garden and the kitchen with the book at your side. I’ve been thrilled with the response on the blogs and reviews in magazines, and would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their kind words.


Grow it. Bake it. Eat it!

Practising what I preach


Gardening at this time of year is, for me, about appreciating the garden and landscape in its bare beauty, and about the anticipation of things to come. It is, for example, a great time to plant bare root trees, as I am here – a persimmon ‘Fuyu’ in one of my lovely new Yorkshire Flowerpot Co pots.

Nowhere is the anticipation more obvious than in the thunk of the seed catalogues as they fall on the mat (I like to keep things old-school – it’s harder to swipe and scroll with a cup of tea in hand than it is to thumb the pages). Garden writers everywhere will be exhorting you to try this or that variety this year, or to plant something new. The catalogues seduce you with their colourful photos, almost neon in intensity compared with the January landscape of browns and muddy greens. It is so, so easy to carried away with armchair ambition, to think that this year you will miraculously have 30 hours in the day and therefore loads of time to do all this. You won’t.

I know, this sounds counter-intuitive coming from someone who makes their living encouraging people to garden. But I would rather you successfully grew a few pots of herbs on the windowsill than have those herbs wilt and die from neglect as you desperately battle to keep the weeds from invading everything on your new allotment, coming home shattered and hating the very prospect of gardening.

To novice gardeners I say start small and build from there. A few pots, a small patch of ground. Keep it simple and achievable. To all other gardeners, myself included, BE REALISTIC. How much time will you actually have? Know what works well in your garden or allotment, and only add a couple of new crops a year. Do you really need 10 varieties of sweetcorn this year?

I give this advice all the time – in articles, books and to anyone who asks. Do I practice what I preach? Rarely. There’s a pile of seed catalogues waiting for me – I’m off.