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.

My garden – the story so far


(I was going to head this post with a photo of the garden at the moment, but it’s just too wet and depressing, so here’s one of some cheering winter sunshine in the country instead).


It is one of life’s ironies that the tied accommodation provided to Head Gardeners on large estates have themselves either very little, or very poor gardens. Perhaps when they were built the owners reasoned that the gardeners should be putting all their creative energies into the estate, not their own garden, or perhaps they thought that it would be a busman’s holiday to have to come home and maintain a large garden having just spent all day doing just that.

Whatever the reason, in both the last house we had and our new one, we’ve not been blessed with gardens with a lot of (decent) soil. My husband, the head gardener, allows me free rein over our own garden for as he says, he has 30+ acres to play with. Perhaps the owners were on to something after all.

In our new(ish) garden I get a west-facing courtyard of about 15m by 7m. Most of it is paved, but a small section off one end was gravelled when we arrived, and we’ve since dug that up and put in some soil for a bed. It’s herbs and a few fruit bushes at the moment, but I’ll be changing things around over the next few months once my new raised beds arrive. Otherwise, there’s a Clematis armandii in a planting pit that grows up over the railings. There was a matching one the other side of the gate but the dog did for that. At the far ends of the railings we’ve put evergreen honeysuckles to go a little way towards masking the smell of the stables which we overlook!

On the wall at the other end are two pyracanthas, which weren’t trained on the wall when we arrived and had grown all bent and twisted, sprawling over the paving like a student on a freshers’ week bender. I sobered them up and straightened them out, and they are now neatly trained into espaliers, where their white blossoms and red/orange fruit will bring colour to the spring and winter, and food for the birds.  I’m hoping they will eventually look like those in a front garden in York that I used to walk past on my way to work: thick green caterpillars of neatly trimmed foliage, a formal edge to a (hopefully) frothily beautiful productive paradise.


Book news

I’m thrilled to be able to announce my new book, Grow Your Own Cake, will be out in March! Published by Frances Lincoln – see the link on my homepage for more details (though I would urge you to then actually buy it in your local bookshop) – and with gorgeous photos by Jason Ingram, it’s all about growing fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers that you can then bake with. There are 50 recipes and growing information on all the crops you’ll need to bake them, such as pea cheesecake (a savoury dish, before you get too worried), chocolate and thyme tarts, cranberry bread, tomato cupcakes and of course all the classics such as apple pie, carrot cake and beetroot brownies. I hope you like it!