An army of volunteers keep the horticulture industry afloat. Let’s recognise their contribution, argues Robbie Blackhall-Miles
I am a volunteer. For the past three and a half years I have had the pleasure and privilege to write this blog and it has given me so many wonderful things. I have had the opportunity to be a voice for all kinds of horticultural issues, I have asked questions that where difficult to answer and I have had the tremendous opportunity to put my thoughts and feelings about the garden industry and plant conservation into the public realm. I have done it voluntarily; from the very outset, that was my decision. I had been desperate to reach a much larger audience with my horticultural musings and Jane Perrone, my editor, said OK.
People’s reactions to finding out that I volunteer have been varied from “What? I can’t believe they aren’t paying you!” to “Wow, what a commitment”. The reality is though that I am not alone. I am one of very, very many within horticulture that give up their time, energy and, sometimes, money for the love of what we do.
If you want to get rid of a really stubborn weed you could use that dark magic known as glyphosate. But should Tom Smart feel so guilty about pulling out the spray bottle?
Recently, I’ve enjoyed reading Alys Fowler’s solutions on how to beat weeds. Like all gardeners, I love to see my garden storm into life in spring: you can almost hear the garden growing. Alliums, lupins, and columbines are all smiling into flower.
However, watching dandelions and couch grass jump through my borders can be frustrating. Weeds are the ninjas of the gardening world; they seem to appear overnight and without warning. Suddenly, they pull back their masks and they’re flowering and spreading seed everywhere. If you’re not careful, you’ll soon be surrounded.
Many people’s response to the thought of growing fruit in their garden is “I haven’t got room”, “the birds will eat it before I do”, “I’d rather grow flowers because they’re prettier”, or “it’s a bit too tricky”. Well, they’re wrong. And they’re missing out. Here’s why.
It’s perfectly possible for a beginner to successfully grow a good crop of apples, pears, plums, cherries, figs, apricots, peaches, nectarines, raspberries, grapes, kiwi berries, blackberries, blueberries, currants, gooseberries, and strawberries in a small space.
It may be cheap and cheerful, but a picnic bench can give people a personal stake in an outdoor space, argues Emily Mangles
A park bench is for reading a book, resting halfway up a hill, or contemplating the view. A picnic table, meanwhile, can be the place for a meeting, a spot to host a party, or even just somewhere to eat your lunch with relative ease and comfort. More than this, they can involve a community in their space and give them a personal stake in it. If this sounds like fanciful, highfalutin stuff, then let me tell you about one picnic bench in particular.
One day a picnic table appeared outside Pembroke House, a community space in Walworth, south London. It had been left over from a nearby party which had spilled onto the grass outside. Mike Wilson, Pembroke House’s manager, tells me that shortly after the table arrived, things began to happen: “Dog walkers who had passed each other every day without speaking started to sit down at the table for a chat. People waiting for events in Pembroke House to start would sit down to wait together.” After seeing what a difference it made, the bench’s original owner decided to leave it there for everyone to use.
Kim Stoddart on the new projects fostering a fun connection with the natural world for children and teenagers
I had an interest in the great outdoors from a very young age. I can remember as a child watching mesmerised as hundreds of baby spiders emerged and spread themselves bravely across a web. I wanted to grow veg but my parents didn’t know how, so I threw carrot seeds in the ground recklessly, hoping for the best. While I tried to fit in as best I could at school, my apparently not-very-cool interest withered - until my late twenties, when I began dabbling with growing veg in my back garden.
Even now, nudging into my forties, I still regularly hear people say “you’re a gardener? Aren’t you too young to be doing that?” While I increasingly enjoy hearing the words; “aren’t you too young?”, the idea that “this” should only be enjoyed by an older generation both amuses and grates.
What will British gardens look like in 20 years’ time? Robbie Blackhall-Miles finds some clues at the Chelsea flower show
It hit me like a smack in the face. This year’s RHS Chelsea flower show was quite blatant in showcasing the effects of climate change; you may not have noticed though. Most people visiting the show or tuning into the BBC coverage were homed in on the increasingly more naturalistic planting style, the reduced number of large show gardens and the amazing lupins.
However, the increasing temperatures that our planet is experiencing are catching up with us gardeners. While the changes may be subtle in our own gardens, when you see them distilled and condensed, as I did at the world’s greatest flower show, the dawning realisation that they are real comes as quite a shock.
From prehistoric plants to a murder mystery garden, Tom Smart picks out the highlights at Gardening Scotland
The beginning of June is an important time for Scottish gardeners – the risk of frost has passed, early salads are ready for harvest, and flowers fill the borders. It also marks one of the most main events in the Scottish horticultural calendar: Gardening Scotland. Each year the Royal Highland Centre, just next to Edinburgh Airport, becomes the epicentre for Scottish gardening.
I decided to bring along a manically destructive toddler with an interest in touching sharp or unstable objects. If I was going to attend a gardening show, I thought, why not add an element of danger?
I’ve just wandered into my vegetable garden and picked a bowlful of lush salad leaves for lunch. They’re growing alongside a double row of spring cabbages which look equally plump and verdant. There are two good reasons for this perfect, palatable growth – moisture and shade.
So often we choose what fruit, veg and herbs to grow at home simply because of what we like to eat. That is absolutely the right reason, but why is so little emphasis put on their growing preferences? Scan any bookshop shelf and the gardening section is rich with titles on plants for shade, drought-resistant gardening and shrubs for troublesome clay soils. It’s been imprinted upon our brains to ask what an ornamental plant’s growing requirements are (you wouldn’t think to grow rhododendrons on chalky soil) but shouldn’t we treat veg in the same way?
Quiet Garden Movement host Tina Jefferies reflects on the benefits of opening up her garden to visitors seeking a chance to connect with nature
Tuning in to the quiet of a garden is a powerful antidote to a noisy, busy life. For many years of my working life, I have supported people with heavy commitments and pressured lives. Offering them the quiet of a peaceful natural environment can encourage people to de-stress, step back, and focus on new perspectives.
In 2011, a friend suggested that what I was doing with my garden was akin to what the Quiet Garden Movement had being doing in the UK since 1992: I decided to find out more. Member hosts of the movement make their gardens available through the year for restful, reflective refreshment and warm hospitality. Realising my garden needn’t be manicured, of sizeable acreage, or clinging to an isolated hillside, my Sanctum Quiet Garden became affiliated to this wonderful network of special gardens in June of the same year.