Gardening is a political act… Don’t do it in a bubble.


Garden,  April 2017

Henk Gerrritsen was a brilliant garden designer who never got to see his full potential. His gardens are about the battle between man and nature; a battle that man should enjoy losing. In his gardens he lets weeds takeover: Hogweed; Bindweed and Hemlock… because their beauty and their terrifying triphid-like features mesmerized him …I would have loved to meet him… A bold, brave man who was ahead of his time.

The other day I attended a gardening course taught by a well-known old skool gardening guru… I knew she wasn’t organic or eco… but nothing quite prepared me for the utter ignorance and exclusion of all things environmental. This was gardening in a bubble and, to my horror; the middle class and middle-aged audience were lapping it up. I felt as if I was in some sickening seventies time warp as a woman with a variegated Cornus that was suffering on the edge of a riverbank (that often flooded) was told to give it a “good feed…some meat and two veg… Nothing organic… Lots of nitrogen.”…My inner “swampy’ took up arms and wailed like a banshee demanding a justice my British politeness was unable to dispense.

So, I bunked off the rest of the class and walked back to the car through the churchyard….IMG_1528

Once my blood pressure was restored by the primroses I spent the rest of the journey home having imaginary out-quipping conversations.

Here’s a breakdown of my argument:

A Cornus is a dogwood – a native shrub that grows by riverbeds and in our hedgerows, it is often grown for its colourful stems. Firstly, I have a problem with variegation. Variegation is an anomaly in a plant, it normally occurs because the plant has genetically mutated and then the nursery trade grows it on as a cultivar…. Variegation immediately puts stress onto a plant as its leaves have less green chlorophyll to photosynthesize and get energy with. By keeping a variegated leaved plant you will always be fighting nature’s instinct to revert back AND you will have to feed it (AND it looks wrong). –What’s the point?

Nitrogen is needed by all plants in order to grow and thrive. It is very soluble, and so, when crop yield is low or an area of land has poor soil or has been flooded, it is normally the nitrogen that has gone from the soil. But what makes nitrogen “work” is the bacteria in the soil that process or “fix” atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia, which plants need in order to grow. Fertilizers used by the agricultural and horticultural industries tend to be liquid feeds containing Nitrogen. The problem is that we try and make every bit of soil “work’ and we are all using too much fertilizer and nitrogen (often because we aren’t giving our bacteria a fighting chance in the soil to produce more)… Because the nitrogen is soluble, the excess is running off the land into our watercourses causing huge amounts of devastating pollution and contributing greatly to climate change.

Of course, one woman feeding or not feeding Growmore to her Cornus isn’t going to change the world, but, I am desperate that she and all the gardeners like her understand the consequences of what they are doing when they ’manage’ their land or “break” the ecosystem by intervention. We are all responsible for our own little plots in this great beautiful planet of ours…. And that means educating ourselves on what is within them and what reactions your actions will create…

I don’t pretend to have all the answers… or to be an eco-paragon of virtue. What I would like to do is make you raise your head from your herbaceous border and vegetable bed and look around you… what you do and how you do it has consequences… good and bad and indifferent… what if you could make your garden a living metaphor for how the earth could be if we respected it? How much more beautiful would it be then?


Garden,  April 2017 (first year after completion)

Potting Shed Tips: When Wildlife gardening goes wrong



The Potting Shed, Feb 2017

Welcome to my new feature… A once a month garden musing that is purely practical and intended to help solve gardening problems… My very own GQT (as one of my best daydreams is imaging myself on the panel bossily letting my pearls of wisdom dazzle everyone with their brilliance).

img_2978This feature has sprung from the conversations that I have (mostly at the school gates) when people ask me: How do I get rid of pernicous weeds? What do I do about fungus on a tree? etc etc…(Yep – I am a regular Monty Don in my parts – without the corduroy).


Today’s musing is about wildlife in your garden that doesn’t seem to understand that it’s your garden and you don’t want it digging up or eaten… Firstly, let me come clean: I generally don’t have a lot of sympathy with this complaint and can sometimes get on a soapbox and retort with one of my favourite diatribes about co-existing with wildlife and the planet belonging to all creatures…


The robin who follows me around the garden, Feb 2017

And I honestly do practice what I preach (a regular tree-hugger!). Within the bounds of our garden are the most enormous badger sett; several rabbit warrens; a stoat; two pairs of tawny owls; bats; a grass snake; slow worms; frogs; toads; squirrels galore; moles; voles; rats; mice and loads of birds (not to mention the insects). These animals do damage – you can’t get away from it. But, I LOVE the fact that these creatures have found a home in my garden, – what a privilege it is to share this beautiful space with them. However, whilst on my wildlife odyssey, I have, like all gardeners, had moments of utter desolation when a squirrel with the munchies destroyed a week of work… so, this is what I’ve learnt…

The most damage comes from the rabbits that, particularly at this time of year, are hungry and like to dig up turf and plants (to eat the roots) and also do a lot of damage to young trees and saplings by stripping them of bark when the sap is rising. My tips if you have rabbit problems are as follows.

  1. Plant choice: they tend to avoid Euphorbia and other poisonous/irritant plants; spiky foliage and plants with aromatic foliage. They will always go for new fresh growth, so, protect these plants from Feb-May.
  2. If the problem is really bad, let bigger animals (foxes and badgers) into the garden or let a big dog wee freely around the garden and this can deter them.

If there is a hit list of destructive wildlife, then the squirrel must be near the top. If your bulbs are being dug up, then, it is almost certainly squirrels. Sometimes, the squirrels aren’t actually interested in your bulbs, they’re interested in finding their stash of nuts…. there’s not a lot to be done about that. Top tips are:


Woodland garden, All the green shoots are spring bulbs, the moles digs in here, but, nothing else disturbs the bulbs.

  1. Don’t plant under nut or fruit trees (like I did – doh!!)… That’s asking for trouble.
  2. Plant loads more than you need and count on a 40 percent loss rate.
  3. Try to plant native bulbs (snowdrop, bluebell and daffodil), they tend not to be interested in these.
  4. The bulbs that they seem to like are crocus and scillia bulbs that are planted close to the surface and don’t smell noxious. I have interplanted my bulbs with smelly alliums and they’ve left them alone.
  5. Please please please don’t put down chilli or any poisons…. this just means that all the wildlife suffers and it can be pretty horrible. Also, you’ll have to reapply it everyday for it to be effective.

If, like me you like tulips, try growing them in pots instead.

Badgers seem to get blamed for a lot of the damage in gardens. They are actually very shy animals and they tend not to come close to humans if they can help it. They can do alot of damage in a garden as they can dig at a ferocious rate. They have caused a landslide on the railway meadow when the ground above their sett gave-way. But, the hedge has carried on growing!

Top tips for badgers:

  1. In my experience badgers only tend to dig for food in gardens during the winter months. At other times of the year I tend not to see them in the garden unless my garden has a glut of chaffer grubs or leather jackets. Tip: look out for gluts of grubs or worms and be aware that they attract badgers. If you want to get rid of the glut, spray area with water and cover with back polythene overnight, the larvae will be on the surface of the lawn the next morning.
  2. The Badgers in my garden live on the railway line meadow and tend to stay in the meadow and not venture into the garden. They dig a lot on the meadow and make a lot of mess in the winter. However, so far this has worked to the meadows advantage – clearing areas and promoting new growth, they also seem to help with seed dispersal. In the summer (when the meadow is about 80-150cm high) they don’t dig at all… I think that the tall grass puts them off. Tip: grow your bulbs in tall grass rather than in the border and have “wild” meadow areas in the lawn.
  3. I have planted a lot of bulbs in the nuttery by the badger sett, but, have had no casualties at all…. This might be because I have only used native bulbs (apparently badgers don’t like daffodils or bluebells). Or, it might be because I have used Ransoms in amongst the bulbs (apparently they don’t like the onion smell).
  4. I fully expected the badgers to eat the Camassia bulbs that I planted…. (the native Americans used to grow them as a crop they’re so tasty), but, they’ve left them alone. This might be because of the alliums, or, it might be because they are in gravel (though given the rate they dig through ballast on the railway line I doubt it).
  5. Keep your lawn small and aerated and in tip-top condition (without using pesticides or herbicides). This will discourage insect larvae.

Badgers do a lot of damage, but, there are many advantages to having them in a garden. They put off a lot of other pests, in particular moles and rats. They are great if you have an area of meadow or tall wild grass. But, best of all, you can get up at 5 or 6 in the morning and watch them snuffling for worms whilst their cubs play fight, – a blissful scene.


Hamamelis int. “diane”