Published Press articles

Cambridge Independent Column (June 2017)

I have decided to cut out my cutting garden.

It was a nice idea but if I'm being brutally honest it was the concept more than the reality that appealed. I had visions of myself as Lady Grantham, swanning around with a trug full of blooms before popping by to remind cook that the archbishop is expected for dinner and he has a penchant for quails' eggs.

In truth the only bishop that has come near my home is in dahlia form and dinner is more likely to be fish fingers, buy hey, a woman can daydream can't she?

And what of my cutting garden? Well it's a jolly impressive thing for spring bulb season but I struggle to find room for the cascades of tulips and daffodils that come wave, after wave, out of the ground. And any annuals I try to nurture are swallowed up in their youth by the legions of snails that emerge from my box hedging on night-time raids.

So I'm taking a hard decision and culling all but one of my six beds - this houses the wood anemones that are a perennial delight and last far longer than anything else I planted to fill my vases.

I should be sad but I'm not. You see the simple truth is my entire garden functions as a cutting garden - I just seem to have forgotten this. What's more, cutting from my main borders provides flowers for the house but doesn’t leave a desert of hacked stems in its wake. In fact I can fill several jugs and you would be hard pushed to see where my secateurs had been.

My 'integrated cutting garden' provides almost all I can really need.Firstly I have foliage. This is vital, as anyone trying to balance a flower arrangement will tell you. My own favourite material for this is cotinus or one of the larger heucheras for a purple backdrop, ferns such as Polistichum setiferum for a woodland feel, Arum italicum for two tone leaves and a dramatic shape, Solomon's seal for arching elegance or Alchemilla mollis for a frothy green effect. Not surprisingly, these plants all provide a useful backdrop in the borders themselves so it's no hardship to give them space in a garden.

And I'm hardly short of blossoms themselves. I have a range of tulips and alliums which are so happy in my soil they politely increase in number rather than rot away. Although cutting them pretty much ends their garden lives, there are enough to sacrifice a few and still guarantee a garden display the next year. However there are plenty of perennials prepared to fill a vase too. Geranium magnificum is a showstopper for a short month but its less showy relative Geranium phaeum provides a longer lasting alternative. And foxgloves aren't around for long but you only need one to take a woodland arrangement to a striking new level.

Later in the year, hotter colours show up - Rudbekia 'Goldsturm' is a beautiful rich yellow and I wouldn't be without my new favourite crocosumia - 'George Davison'.

Then there is the indispensable perennial wallflower - Erysimum Bowles Mauve - in bloom eleven months of the year in my garden and a striking purple that can lift any arrangement.

Oh, and I forgot to mention my echinops, purple loosestrife, aquilegias, perennial cornflowers, thalictrum, astrantias, honeysuckle, roses, lavender, purple sage, and catmint.

In fact why on earth did I bother with a cutting garden at all? Maybe I should use the space to raise quails instead. After all, I wouldn't want to disappoint the archbishop

Garden Answers - Design Solutions: Jungle Garden (Nov 2017)

We might not have the hot and humid climate of a tropical rainforest, but it is still possible to conjure up a jungle-inspired design in a British back garden. Set the tone with bamboo or rattan furniture as well as log paths: the materials to hand in a tropical landscape. However if you want longer lasting features you can go for imitation or synthetic versions which are better able to survive our cold and wet weather.

But the most vital element by far is the planting. A lush tropical feel demands large leaves and lots of them. Thankfully many exotic looking plants are hardy enough to withstand our climate. In filling your borders it is also worth making sure you have evergreens aplenty so your carefully layered beds not denuded in winter.

Colour is less important to the overall look, but you can inject some with shade tolerant species, or by adding splashes of flowering plants in more open areas. If these are grown in pots, you can even introduce some truly exotic species that can then be overwintered in a conservatory or greenhouse.

Read the full article here.

Cambridge Independent Column (Dec 2017)

I spent a few worrying minutes yesterday trapped under a particularly magnificent ten foot tall Norway Spruce.

At the time the thought briefly passed through my mind that this would be an ironic way to meet my end: one of the biggest fans of the festive season squashed to death by a Christmas tree.

Thankfully, someone came to my aid and the tree - and myself - were stood upright again, but it did get me thinking about Christmas trees - and not just as a potential form of early demise.

In particular I was wondering what sort of tree a gardener ought to have. I mean, let's face it, we gardeners are horticultural snobs and I've seen many pull a slight face at the idea of artificial versions.

Personally, I disagree but then this is mostly governed by my practical side. You see, as a lover of all things Christmas, I insist that the tree goes up on December 1st. Unfortunately, cut trees are very like cut flowers, and, although you can prolong them by giving plenty of water to the stem - or rather trunk - they're basically doing an incredibly long 'death scene' for the entire month. What may look and smell glorious on December 1st will probably have lost its glossy good looks - and an awful lot of needles - before the first present is unwrapped.

My husband was a little miffed when I first insisted on an artificial tree. "But it doesn’t smell like Christmas" was his primary moan - and he has a point. As I lay pinned to the ground by my Norway Spruce I have to say it added a delightful pine freshness to my impending doom.

In fact it was my other half's nagging that eventually led me, about five years ago to invest in a second tree. As I already had a six foot tall artificial version by the fire, I thought an equally tall 'real' version on the other side of the room would be a little weird and lead to a 'who wore it better' style comparison that I didn't want to put the poor trees through.

Instead, I bought a three-foot tall potted version. This has a number of advantages. It fits perfectly onto one of our round side tables which lifted it off the ground and away from the destructiveness of both small children and puppies - both of which I have had to deal with in the past. It's in a weighty pot already so there's no need to either buy a tree stand - or spend yet more time and effort trying to hide that same tree stand from view. It's not had its life cut short by festive fellers, so you don't suffer the 'prolonged dying' effect. And finally, it can be used again and again (which, with all the other Christmas expenses, makes this is particularly attractive option).

Of course, you do need to make some efforts with it because like all container-based trees, it's a good idea to repot it each year. I usually do this in very early spring - pulling the tree from its terracotta container, loosening the compost from around the roots ,and then placing back in the pot and refilling around with fresh compost. You can use a mixture of ericaceous and standard - or even John Innes no. 3 for added stability, but I've not found mine too fussy. What can help is adding a little slow release fertiliser, to keep your tree supplied with nutrients for longer.

In fact the only downside is that most of these potted versions are not 'dwarf' but rather 'young' trees which means they've got quite a bit of growing to do. The repotting of mine lasted for about four years before it simply grew too large and just 'lopping a bit off the top' no longer allowed it to fit in the room.

At this point, what do you do? Well, the only real option, beyond mulching it, is to plant it outside. However this is only a temporary solution. There are houses all around the country whose gardens never see the light of day as they're dominated by forty foot ex-Christmas trees. In fact the wisest course may be to plant it out but then make sure you 'harvest' it as a cut tree when it reaches a manageable height... which from recent experiences I would say is probably 'nine foot or under'.

Happy Christmas!

Cambridge Independent Column (May 2018)

"I'm really sorry Dawn, but I have to admit I hate gardening"

So said a friend of mine last weekend as we stood chatting - ironically, as it happened, in a beautiful garden. Another mutual friend nodded vigorously in agreement "Oh yes, me too!"

This has been bothering me ever since.

For a bit of background, I should point out that we are all of a similar age - mid to late 40s - which is perhaps still on the 'young' side. I don't mean in general of course - I'm not deluded - but in gardening terms it's traditionally been in your 50s that you suddenly start to show an interest in Gardeners’ World and begin to debate the correct way to prune roses.

Equally it’s not that I expect everyone to love horticulture as I do, but, as my mother would say, "hate is a strong word."

On further questioning it seems to be the workload that gets them down. They don't look on their garden as a place to relax, but instead as just another long list of jobs to be completed.

And I do understand this, but it really isn't impossible to turn it around. My own garden looks incredibly high maintenance, but it's actually quite easy to look after.

The beds are so stuffed full of plants that there is little space for weeds to grab hold. When I do spot one it's usually already well past my knees but actually the odd large weed is far easier to remove than hundreds of small ones.

Then there is the mulching. Amazingly a layer of organic matter spread over our beds in march will stop the vast majority of weeds seeding and also, by trapping in the moisture, means I can escape the job of watering for the rest of the season. Except for the pesky pots of course but that's what irrigation systems - or small children - are for.

I've also lapsed in my organic principles in the last couple of years and now spray my paths and drive with a barrier weedkiller once or twice a season. I feel a profound sense of middle class guilt but this was trumped by the memory of hour after hour of hand weeding I used to suffer.

But my garden-hating friends were probably most put off by the lawn, and I can sympathise. At this time of year, you can almost see the thing growing back before you've put away the lawnmower. Indeed in recent years I've often had to continue to cut it throughout the winter too.

The good news is there are ways around this labour-intensive task. First you could swap it out for artificial turf. No, don't look at me in horror. These products have come on leaps and bounds in the past couple of decades. We're no longer talking about the stuff you see veg displayed on at the greengrocers. Instead, they actually look pretty realistic. And, best of all, no cutting needed - just the occasional brush.

Some people also recommend letting the lawn grow long - embracing the 'wild' look. Sadly whilst I think this can work away from the house in a large and sunny area, most of the time you will simply be left with something that looks like a weedy overgrown lawn in summer, and a patchy, scalped wasteland after it's early autumn cut. Not ideal.

Personally I'm not rushing to either solution. I'm still holding out for a Trevor.

I should explain. Trevor, is not a man. Rather he is a robotic mower that I have been coveting.

I'm not sure why I called it Trevor. It just sounded like the name of a reliable chap. Someone who won't let you down, or moan about a repetitive task. In fact Trevor is stoical. He knows when a job needs doing and he will simply get on with it. And yes, I do spend too much time talking to myself, but let's gloss over that for now.

I have watched 'Trevor' at work many times. He is often busying himself when I pass on my dog walks. His workplace is a large front lawn of a bungalow in my village and there he toils, crisscrossing the space at seemingly random angles, but these are not random at all. No, Trevor is clever too. He's worked out the most efficient way to get that lawn mown, and what's more, he'll get it done however often it needs it.

So this is what I will be adding to my Christmas list. And what I will be recommending to my friends as well. Because I think, once you have sat on a garden bench, glass of wine in hand, and watched Trevor at work, you will never be able to hate gardening again.

Garden Answers - Design Solutions: Wildlife Friendly (Sept 2016)

"Whenever we fall behind with outdoor maintenance, wildlife gardening is a great excuse. “You don’t want to be too tidy – it’s not wildlife friendly!” is a handy phrase to trot out when the grass hasn’t been mown, the weeds run rampant or the compost heap lies unturned. But there’s no reason why a garden can’t be elegant, beautiful and tamed as well as being a home and haven to a huge range of creatures, it just takes a little thought."

Read full article here.

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