Published Press articles
Dawn has written for a range of publications including the Guardian, Telegraph, The Garden and Junior, always addressing her favourite subjects - garden design and children's gardening.
Below are a sample of some of her articles.
Cambridge Independent Column (June 2018)
When people know you're a gardener, every social event turns into some sort of question time. I'm sure doctors have it worse. I mean no-one's trying to show me their bunion or 'an irritating rash that just won't go' but the queries still come thick and fast.
Wisteria is a popular one and, in case you wondered, yes, it does need very careful training or it will climb to the top of your chimney in about half an hour no I wouldn't plant one unless it was on a west facing wall, yes you need to prune it twice a year and no, I wouldn't grow one in a pot. There. That’s that covered.
The other one is about when to prune box. I'm not actually sure if people really want to now the answer of if it's simply a chance to get all Carry On Up The Garden with questions about 'trimming my bush'. However, giving them the benefit of the doubt the answer I usually give is 'Derby Day' and then again in late August.
Of course that is a total lie. Everyone knows the real answer about when to prune box hedging is 'just before you need to show off your garden'. In fact it's very similar to spring cleaning, which my eldest brother accurately relabelled 'parent cleaning' as it was always tied to the arrival of the people rather than the season.
I have just proved my own point by spending a chunk of Monday taking the hedge trimmer to the box which lines the edges of all six of my ornamental raised beds. Because yes, I am hosting the start of our village’s Open Garden Safari on Friday and I need my garden to up its game.
My 12-year-old son eyed the machinery with interest, obviously keen to have a go, but I am not falling for that one. You see my father does the same thing. "I'll do that for you" sounds incredibly generous. Indeed it looks very generous as he crafts and cajoles the messy hedges and topiary into geometric masterpieces.
And then he'll hand you back the hedge trimmer with a self-satisfied look. "All done!"
"NO IT IS NOT!" is what I silently scream in my head. And why? Because for every hour he has spent cutting the hedges I will spend two clearing up the mess. If you didn't already know, box leaves are pretty small, bright green and get everywhere. And I mean everywhere.
And so now I do it myself because I have a fool proof technique. I use a sheet.
It's a well worn item. For a start it's peach-coloured which clearly dates it as a relic from my mid-80s unfortunate 'grey and pastel' phase of interior design. After years as a 'guest sheet if desperate', it was moved down the pecking order to 'paint sheet' and finally landed up in the shed only to be reborn as a 'hedge helper'.
It is the perfect solution. I stick one long edge under the base of the hedge and let the rest stretch out to catch stray clippings. It works just as effectively around box balls as the material is flexible enough to mould to any shape. And when you're done you simply fold in the long edges to capture the cuttings, roll it up to an easy to lift ball and then unroll it over the compost or in the green bin.
Not that I'm going to explain this at a drinks party any time soon. 'Derby Day and late August' is a far quicker answer and allows me to carry on my fascinating conversation with the doctor.
Cambridge Independent Column (March 2017)
You might have already noticed that I am a 'just in time' kind of gardener. I like this term. It sounds more like a streamlined process that avoids waste rather than what it really is: me on the verge of being late for everything.
This month is no exception as I am currently rushing through orders for bare rooted plants. I'm sure the erudite readers of the Cambridge Independent know exactly what 'bare rooted' plants are but just in case you want to test me, these are plants sent out in their dormant winter state with no soil around their roots. They're easier and cheaper to ship, are usually less pricey as a result and, best of all in my opinion, tend to establish better when they're planted.
The trouble is, unlike plants in containers, these aren't available all year round. Obviously, they wake up when spring has sprung and need to be somewhere other than in a giant jiffy bag so the clock is ticking. Thankfully I just about have time to get in my orders - which is lucky as a couple of community orchards are banking on it.
You see fruit trees are perfect bare rooted candidates. Although you can often find a decent selection of container grown trees at your local garden centre, the range really opens up when you can have them posted to you in bare root form. My own order is with a charity based in Norfolk: The East of England Apples and Orchards Project or EEAOP (www.applesandorchards.org.uk). This is a not-for-profit company that specialises in preserving some of the varieties of apple, plum, pear and cherry trees local to the seven counties in the area - including Cambridgeshire.
It's an initiative I love on many levels. First it's saving heritage fruit trees that otherwise might disappear. As our taste buds are reconditioned to the universal sweetness of Pink Lady or the ubiquitous Victoria plums, we are in danger of missing out on a fruit smorgasbord that offers far more variety and interest.
And from a growing perspective, why not choose trees that you know have thrived in your part of the country for years; the ones that not only tolerate our drier conditions and particular soil types, but actually welcome them?
And then of course there are the names. There is nothing more splendid than baking a Cottenham Seedling, stewing a Jolly Miller, or nibbling on a Thoday’s Quarrenden. And for anyone harbouring anti-aristocratic tendencies, you could even slice up Lady Hollendale or Lord Peckover for tea.
Of course, we won't be in apple-picking mode for a few years. Most of the plants I'm ordering will be 1 year old whips (long sticks with roots to the untrained eye) but that's part of the magic of these orchards. We will ahve children from Crosshall Junior School planting these out one year and then watching as they grow from season to season. Within a few short years, with some care and pruning by the students themselves, we will be able to have Apple Days just like the EEAOP have themselves.
The second orchard will be in my own village - on a piece of land which was once the cemetery behind the long-since demolished Baptist Chapel but that still serves as a Garden of Rest. The local community will be planting and caring for the trees - and hopefully enjoying the produce in years to come. Just as long as I remember to get this order in of course...
Cambridge Independent Column (Feb 2017)
I am constantly adding to my mental list of 'jobs I could never do'. Despite the odd random addition like ' Donald Trump's press secretary' the bulk of the roles are basically anything that involves getting up early, or facing extreme cold.
The first is policed by my family who, having suffered my moods all day after an enforced early start, voted collectively to never allow my out of bed before 7am. The second is trickier. I am after all a 'garden designer' and gardens have an annoying habit of being a wee bit chilly at this time of year.
Of course I have tried to work around this. Firstly, let's face it, garden designers are at the 'precious snowflake' end of the horticulture industry. Much of my work can be undertaken in a well-heated office, sipping tea, eating flapjacks and listening to Bat Out of Hell (Meatloaf being my go-to designing soundtrack).
Then, of course, there is plenty that can be learnt about an outside space without venturing outdoors. Views of a garden from the house are an important consideration so that has to be part of my initial site visit. And when I really can't put off the trip outside in sub zero temperatures, there are always my trusted thermal wellies and woolly hat.
But then I remember gardening isn't just my job - it's my hobby. And sometimes even my route to sanity. So I also have to find a way quench my horticultural thirst when it's a bleak February day and the garden is as appealing as wintery skinny dip.
Thankfully, I have window sills.
In fact I think February should officially become the Widow Sill Gardening Month. It really is the perfect environment to dabble with growing and sowing without ever needing to leave the warmth of the house.
Sometimes the effort is minimal. For example it's a space to plonk my small terracotta pots planted with Iris reticulata back in autumn. As soon as they feel the heat they're tricked into thinking it's 'showtime' and flinging open their petals. Best of all I have about 20 pots to hand so I can keep swapping them over as each first batch finishes flowering.
Equally, you can lift the odd bunch of snowdrops and place them in pots to create an indoor show. Even better, if you do this from congested groups you can separate and replant the lifted bunch to new spots in the garden when they've gone over.
And if, like me, your greenhouse is unheated, then window sill propagation is a good way to start off tender crops that need a bit of warmth. Cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet peppers and basil all benefit from a bit of heat to kick start them into action and plug in windowsill propagators are an easy and low-cost way to do this. Okay, so they don't look as pretty as pots of irises but hey, you can't have it all.
The window sill is also a great place to start off crops with kids. Over the years the children and I have created miniature farms complete with lollypop stick fences and tiny rows of microleaves. These are simply vegetables and herbs which can be harvested at seedling stage. There are loads you can try from basil and broccoli, to sorrel and spinach.
Best of all these crops are the perfect 'sampling size' for fussy kids to cope with. Even better, you can harvest them in a couple of weeks which means, if they pass the taste test, you have time to start off the full size crops outdoors, just when the weather starts to warm up.
Garden Answers - Design Solutions: Side Return (March 2017)
he Victorian age gave us many garden innovations, from domestic greenhouses to lawnmowers. However their horticultural gifts weren't always so helpful. By creating street after street of terraced housing their legacy would challenge generations of urban gardeners: the pesky side return.
With buildings looming on three sides, these narrow spaces are inevitably gloomy and homeowners are often tempted to swallow up the return as part of an extension, use it for outdoor storage or simply view it as little more than a pathway to somewhere better.
Fortunately, there is another way! With clever planting and imaginative landscaping, a dark strip of land can become an attractive view from multiple windows as well as a useful addition of outdoor living space. After all, if the Victorians taught us anything it was to be inventive.
Read the full article here.
Garden Answers - Design Solutions: Sloping Garden (May 2017)
Garden designers respond to steep slopes the same way plumbers react to bathroom renovations: with a sharp intake of breath and a knowing shake of the head. Yes, we can sort it, but it's not going to come cheap.
The fact is slopes are tricky; you can’t serve dinner on a sloping patio table, position a shed or playhouse on an incline or sit comfortably on a bench when gravity sends you hurtling to one end.
Inevitably at least some of the space will need terracing to create one or two flat areas. This is likely to involve heavy machinery or retaining walls and probably both. And then there’s the issue of drainage: water will be coming down this slope and, if heading towards the house, or behind a retaining structure, will need diverting or channelling somewhere more useful than your front room.
On the other hand, a sloping garden automatically creates an interesting perspective. Whether it rises from the ground in front of you or drops away towards the furthest boundary it adds drama and movement to your garden that those of us with flat terrain quite envy.
Read the full article here.