Out of my pottingshed- again …..

Regular readers will know, I live a peaceful life. I’m happiest in my potting shed. I work as a garden designer so most days are spent with plants. It doesn’t sound exciting, but it suits my nature, and I’m happy.


I’m always surprised when opportunities come along- taking me out of my comfort zone. I’m even more surprised at myself when I say yes!

Two years ago, out of the blue, a producer from  BBC local radio phoned  and asked me to talk about  work. I’d designed some school gardens and was working with a charity to create  a garden for disabled children.

A week later I found myself at the studios of BBC Radio Leicester, chatting on the Ben Jackson afternoon show. There were a few moments of panic when I learned it would be live- and I’d have to talk for an hour. But luckily- being radio- no one could see my knees shaking.

Despite feeling like a fish out of water, and going completely blank, I survived the ordeal. And then I was really amazed when they asked me to join the gardeners question time team on Radio Leicester’s Down to Earth programme. I am more of a listener than a talker, but it’s a lot of fun. There’s laughter and support from the more experienced members on the team.

Here’s  a link to a recent programme. Whizz past the news to 06.00 on the timeline:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04qg2v6

I’m telling you this to encourage you to ring up your local radio station and tell them about YOUR work- whatever it is. They have space to fill- every day! And they want to hear from you. It doesn’t have to be work. It can be a hobby. Or you might want to promote an event, or perhaps open gardens. It’s an opportunity you might not have thought about. And a little gentle encouragement might be all you need…..

Be brave- and remember, If I can do it, so can you. And you never know where it might lead. This week I went along to the Garden Press Event in London to report on the latest plants, seeds and growing techniques. I’ll share a link to the programme when it’s out on the BBC website. And more photos next time.

Ring up- and  please let me know how you get on.


I love  blue hyacinths, planted last October, and scenting the potting shed today


I’ve propped up the Carnegie white hyacinths with hazel twigs

Pottingshed shed window. I have to really tear myself away from my garden.

Thanks for reading.

#Snowdrop love, at Easton Walled Gardens

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In celebration of Valentine’s Day, I’m sharing my photos of Britain’s most romantic garden renovation project.  Easton Walled Gardens.

There was once a magnificent mansion at the top of this flight of stone steps. The orangery windows looked over the glorious gardens below.

Franklin D Roosevelt, visiting the gardens on his honeymoon tour, described them as “A dream of Nirvana- almost too good to be true.” Sadly, the house  was demolished in 1951 and the gardens slowly abandoned. The gatehouse only survived when the bulldozer broke down. The gardens were lost under brambles and tree saplings.

Strolling around today, there’s a feeling of walking in the footsteps of those who lived and worked there in its heyday.

A stone bridge has been restored and leads to the great yew tunnel- which survived the neglect and abandonment.


Sheets of snowdrops lay dormant under the brambles. Just waiting to bloom again. There’s a fairytale feel to the place.  A Sleeping Beauty garden, lost and re-discovered.


And really, only love could have saved this garden. Ursula Cholmeley,  whose family lived at Easton for 400 years, has poured love, energy, passion, and time into the renovation project.  Work, started in 2001, continues today. And it’s a triumph. The “lost gardens of Easton” have been rescued and revived.


What’s your most romantic garden?  How will you be celebrating Valentine’s Day?

Click on the highlighted words for more information

Easton Walled Gardens   just off the A1 near Grantham in Lincolnshire, is open until 19th February for snowdrops.

Buy Snowdrops from Easton by post

Events calendar
Courses/ workshops at Easton
Sweet peas at Easton

#snowdrops. Out of Hibernation-for Hodsock Press Day 

img_9173All winter I’ve found a kind of sanctuary in the potting shed. There’s a deep peaceful silence. A protection from the cold. A place to think. I can plot the progress of the seasons from the pottingshed window. Just now I can see gaunt willows bordering the pond. They look like charcoal drawings. I think of my farming ancestors who would have lopped the willows to make sheepfolds at this time of year.


I’m fascinated by old farming almanacs. My grandmother used to read them and occasionally I’d hear talk of Imbolc and Candlemas, mentioned in the first week of February. Imbolc meaning lambs milk or the start of the lambing season. And Brigantia, the Celtic female deity of light, St Brigid in the Christian tradition, calling  us to celebrate the sun – halfway on its advance from winter solstice to the spring equinox.

I map the progress of winter through the pottingshed  windows, watching the angle of the sunlight as it hits the huge table where I work.

Suddenly there’s a day -usually in the second week of February – when I notice the light has returned to the garden.  There’s a shaft of sunlight that shines through the side window like a wake up signal for spring. A kind of sundial for the seasons.


It’s a signal for me to reconnect with the world and leave the pottingshed behind.


So I make my annual pilgrimage to Hodsock Priory- accompanied by my Mum, as always.  And it is a place of pure magic. I stand in wonder under a 500 year old oak- the same age as the  brick tower gatehouse.

We call Hodsock the Chelsea of the snowdrop season. This is the first of many gardens Mum and I will visit over the coming weeks. We are lucky, and grateful, to be invited to the annual press day and enjoy a guided tour of the garden.


The woodland walk makes the heart sing.  Pyramid-pruned beech trees flank each side of the path. Such a simple idea, and it works, adding interest without being too formal.


Pools of colour from the Cyclamen Coum look  as bright as stained glass windows in the sunshine.


This Garrya Elliptica wrapped around the corner of the house always puts on a stunning display. It has every right to be called the silk tassel bush. We all decide it’s the best we have seen.

Wintersweet   or Chimonanthus Praecox. Glorious Scent  is as much a special feature of the garden as snowdrops. I particularly love  the winter honeysuckle walk. Lonicera Fragrantissima has  such tiny, almost translucent flowers  A delicious treat for the senses.


We take a new tour around the house and underground tunnels, and emerge in the dry moat. This is a view of  the house I haven’t  seen before.


We find an inviting side door to the tower. Amazing to think this stone and brickwork has been here for 500 years.


Before setting off for home we find  Narcissus Cedric Morris along a bank in front of the house. Such a cheerful sight for mid February.

There’s a  plant sale at the entrance to the cafe. I treat myself to this beautiful hellebore, Harvington Yellow. I’m drawn to the  dark eye in the centre. Such a beauty.  I shall plant it in front of my pottingshed  to remind me of  our visit.


And on the pottingshed window to welcome me home- there’s a pot of snowdrops I bought at Hodsock last year. They are just the common Galanthus Nivalis. But I like them just as much as all the fancy  named varieties. They suit the humble setting.

Hodsock Priory is open every day until March 5th.

End of the Month View

Taking photos for the end of the month view was  bit of a struggle. We garden on a windswept ridge. A  wonderful viewing point  for the surrounding countryside. Disasterous for tender plants- and for taking photos. Everything was a blur as Storm Doris  hit the garden.

The snowdrops opened today, about a week earlier than last year. Temperatures for January varied between -6 degrees and 14 degrees. It’s caused many winter flowering plants to open early. I  just hope we don’t get a cold spell now to damage the flowers.


This is my “Hodsock Priory ” corner. I always buy a little pot of snowdrops at the open gardens we visit. It’s a nice reminder of a lovely day out. Mum and I are going to the famous snowdrop press day next week. We call it the Chelsea of the snowdrop season. For us it marks the end of our winter hibernation, and the start of lots of lovely snowdrop garden trips out.  Hodsock opens from 4th Feb to 5th March, 10am to 4pm. Click on the link for more information. The gardens are full of wonderful scented plants. A real treat for the senses. –

The Easton Walled Garden snowdrops are cheering up the pottingshed window. Easton, just off the A1 near Grantham, opens 11th to 19th Feb, 11am to 4pm. A wonderful place for a winter walk. I can highly  recomend the little cafe where there’s home made cake and tea. Mum and I have spent many happy hours there. And I was lucky enough to work for Easton  last winter, writing newspaper and magazine articles.  I had no trouble finding nice things to say about this historic garden and the renovation work that has saved it for future generations of visitors to enjoy. It’s such an inspiring place. 


These Elwesii snowdrops have been in flower since the beginning of January. They have long stems  and last well in water. I’ve been picking them for jam jar posies for the house.


Mum and I bought these cyclamen from Hodsock plant sales a few years ago. They seem really happy in the leafmould in the wild garden. We just buy one pot every time we visit. They soon build up into lovely display. So cheerful at this time of the year.


Finally, the yellow aconites have got going. I’ve been trying for years to get these to grow. They love a good mulch of leaf mould. 


I bought some hellebores from Ashwood Nurseries years ago. This one is a seedling from the original plants. It flowers from  mid January in a shady spot.


I’ve been picking  Phlomis fruiticosa foliage all winter for flower arrangements. The leaves look sugar frosted all year round. 


The star of the front garden in winter is this dogwood, Cornus Westonbirt. Brightens even the gloomiest day. 

Thanks to Helen for hosting this meme. Why not go over and see what’s looking good in Helen’s end of the month view. 

#Perennial Party…..Taking a piece of my garden with me.

I don’t travel well. I’m much happier surrounded by familiar sights and sounds. I’ve become accustomed to green fields and birdsong.  My favourite place is the potting shed. A quiet, peaceful haven- shared with a cheeky robin. The scent of potted Carnegie white hyacinths and creamy Paperwhite narcissi wafts around. I’m reluctant to leave….

But I need to travel to London. So after much fussing with packing and checking train times and tickets, at least 50 times,  I set off for the unfamiliar.

Just at the garden gate, I see some violets in flower.   Nearby, the first snowdrops are in bud. There’s a primrose poking through the leafmould. And there’s a tiny hellebore flower wearing a hat of  compressed beech leaves. The leaves have protected the plant and forced the flowers into early growth.

So I pick a few flowers and gather them into a tiny posy. I wrap them in dark green gutta tape  to lock in moisture. I twirl around some string, add some lavender from the potting shed table, and set off for London- carrying a tiny piece of my garden with me. A talisman. A kind of amulet. Protection against the noise, hustle and bustle.


Propped up on the flip-down table on the train, the scent from the violets is a welcome reminder of home. I look about to see if anyone else is bothered by the noise and diesel fumes. They don’t seem to notice.


I’d forgotten that snowdrops have a strong honey scent. The flowers start to open as we travel along. These are   Galanthus elwesii, the first to flower in my garden.


The hellebore is called Jacob. It’s a  strong, healthy variety. Dependable and hardy. The violets and primroses arrived  as seedlings from my grandfather’s garden. I have happy memories of grandad Foulds arriving each Sunday with a little piece of his garden; a cutting, a seedling, or division. He loved walking around the plot, pointing out the weeds, giving advice on growing veg and cut flowers. After we had  pottered in the greenhouse and orchard, he’d settle down in a cosy armchair with home-made cake and tea. Such memories are a comfort, brought back to life by these few flowers.


And this is the place I’m travelling to. The Barbican conservatory, for the annual party for Perennial. I’m a fish out of water. A country mouse. But I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone to support a charity that is dedicated to helping all people who work in horticulture.  I’ve been lucky enough to make my living from horticulture for this past 20 years, and I care about the gardeners, contractors and tree surgeons I work with. Perennial provides a “lifebelt” to anyone in a crisis. Advice, help and financial support, for anyone of any age.


The auction featuring luxury holidays and events  raised more than £11,000, and there were raffle prizes too. It’s the most hectic and noisy event I’ve ever attended. But I’m glad I’ve pushed myself out of my little potting shed. The chance to support a valued charity, and see friends from all over the country, has been worth it.


Looking in the pink are from left to right  Fran SuermondtTanya BatkinPerennial’s Laura Garnett,  host James Alexander-Sinclair,   writers Naomi Slade , Alison Levey, and in front, Barbara Segall.

Do you have a favourite charity to support? Do you ever carry a piece of your garden with you on your travels? What measures do you take to cope when you are stepping outside of your comfort zone? I’d love to hear your news and views. 

Read more about Perennial here.

WordlessWednesday. Walled garden doors 

Found at the National Trust’s Calke Abbey. We love the panel sides. Someone took a pride in this job. It’s right next to the Orangery, which dates back to 1777.

 How many gardeners have walked through this doorway into the walled kitchen garden over the past 250  or so years. It’s good to stop and ponder as we close one door on 2016 and think about opening new doors in 2017. 

Day 20 of my #AdventCalendar for gardeners- a visit to Calke Abbey. 

Mossy roofed potting shed in the walled garden at  the national Trust’s Calke Abbey. There’s a tiny bed in there for the garden boy whose job it was to keep the greenhouse boilers stoked. Alison and I have started a tradition to walk the gardens in the week before Christmas, and reflect on what life was like for the gardeners. Then there’s a food fair in the old riding school where we sample local honey, Leicestershire cheese, home made fudge and chocolates- and we stock up for the festive season. It’s rather a wonderful tradition to have started. 



The walled kitchen garden is looking beautifully tidy. The beds are mulched and weeded.  All set for the spring sowing season. Quite a cheerful sight to behold.


It’s nice to find something new in a favourite- much visited garden. This area was being excavated last time we stopped by.  What treasures  were under the mounds of earth, we wondered.  It looks like a boiler for the hypocaust heated wall. Isn’t it amazing it’s still here. And the beautiful  brick floor is still intact.


We mooched in the peach house. I think this blue paint  is my all-time favourite colour. I’d love to paint my potting shed the same hue. It reminds me of the Mediterranean.




We peered through the misty  peach house  windows. In the summer these open right up. There are deckchairs to sit and gaze at the wild flowers and waist high grass.


View of the peach house /orangery  from the church. We spotted these glorious giant white-painted cloches. And coveted them! 


A few ancient espalier  fruit trees  remain in the walled garden. We love their mossy-covered boughs. 


We hadn’t noticed this door in the walled garden before. In summer there’s so much to see. But in winter,  we notice the bare bones of the garden and home in on  wonderful details like this.

We’ve never seen the sheep grazing right to the house before. We like this seasonal change. The sheep set a scene that could easily grace any Christmas card. We just need some snow to complete the picture. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed my tour of Calke Abbey and the kitchen gardens. Do you have a garden that you love to visit as often as you can? Do you find new treasures each time you visit? Thanks for stopping by, and please feel free to comment- so I know I’m not just talking to myself.