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  • As the RHS shows come to an end with celebrities seen at Chelsea, beautiful scenes at Hampton Court and we are just about saturated with Summer gardening magazines and a few TV shows, I continue to wonder why we don’t see or hear of hard working, knowledgable horticulturalists doing great things across the UK. From community gardening, volunteering, providing learning to those with disabilities and doing a great job maintaining gardens from estates to a city back garden. Why don’t we see those people? Real grass roots gardening?

     

    Fortunately, I get to rub shoulders with many great people who work so hard in charities, community gardens, private gardens and those whose hands are rough, backs are knackered and knees are bust. Those who do gardening. 

     

    A good friend of mine works at the Beyond The Wall project in Thornham Magna transforming an unkempt garden into something really special on a ridiculously low budget. It’s hard work, perhaps frustrating and on occasion probably back breaking but the proof of hard work and dedication is in the changes that have been made since September last year. Beyond the Wall works with people over 16 who have disabilities ensuring everyone has a fulfilling life, building confidence and enjoying all that the outdoors can provide and in just a few months the project has already been improved considerably by my friend.

     

    Heard of them? Probably not. Because projects like Beyond the Wall and the incredible people who work there are not celebrated on TV, even though they are at the heart of gardening. 

     

    Garden and flower shows inspire us and can be really enjoyable, but nothing inspires me more than a grass roots gardener. 

     

    For more photos click HERE 

     

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    As a gardener, there is always a new gadget or tool on the market. Maybe even new gardening clothes and accessories. It’s hard to resist the temptation to upgrade every tool in the shed, especially when visiting garden and flower shows where there are always some super new tools available. I was trying to think of the one tool I use most - Spade? Fork? Hand trowel? Hard to decide and most definitely depends on the time of the year. At the moment I seem to have a hoe attached to my arm!

     

    However, the one piece of gardening equipment that I do use all year no matter what the weather is my wheelbarrow. I’ve had one on the allotment and it gets over worked, over loaded and under respected. So by the time the wheel collapsed and I couldn't get my barrow full of manure down the path to the plot, I knew it was time to take my old friend to the tip and treat myself to a new one. 

     

    I really needed that wheelbarrow and with little time to actually go shopping to find one, I ordered one online from www.ffx.co.uk I choose myself a nice new Sealey wheelbarrow that you can see HERE. It arrived two days later in the most enormous box and we put it together in no time. 

     

    I cannot tell you how pleased I am with it. Strong and sturdy, I think this one will stand the test of time (at least a lot longer than my last). For a little bit of fun, we filmed my first try of the wheelbarrow and you can watch the short video HERE.

     

    Now I know some of you are thinking - why on earth am I so happy about my new wheelbarrow…because I am a gardener thats why! 

     

     

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    In the midst of the controversial RHS Chelsea best in show garden winner, I popped along to Notcutts in Norwich yesterday to take a look at their own on site show garden. It got me thinking…

     

    There are many flower and garden shows. I love them all, in all of their splendour whether pretentious, fun or a bit more gritty. The often controversial judging is great for getting people talking and the celebrities hanging out at Chelsea is all good profile raising for the industry (despite the moaning from some about how they probably never set foot in a garden all year). Garden and flower shows are there to inspire and provoke the imagination, it gets us talking, its on TV and even if you really don’t understand why the judges didn’t award your favourite garden a gold or you don’t see the reason behind the best in show choice - to design and build a show garden is this mammoth task of serious hard work and expense. The expert teams work together to make these amazing gardens happen in a seriously short space of time and there absolutely are things we can take from the shows and make happen in our own spaces…yes there are…seriously! 

     

    However, there does need to be some reality involved here. As we wander around the show gardens delighting in the fantastic planting, making notes of colours and themes and not daring to ask questions (because we don’t want anyone to know that we don't understand how to prune roses - heaven forbid), we need to see something that can be achieved in our own gardens, on our patios and driveways. It can be for some, overwhelmingly intimidating and often pompous. That’s where local shows definitely play a hugely underrated part on the gardening scene. One local show for me is The Sandringham Flower Show. Yep, the Royally owned land where designers, colleges, schools and exhibitors set up for a fun day of gardening in July. We all queue up, eat ice cream with our hats on and have an all round jolly nice day. As nice as Chelsea. Better than Chelsea. Why? Because we can relate to it. We dare ask questions, we admire the really very excellent show gardens with a touch of ‘yes you can totally do this in your garden’ and we all go home feeling shattered but with a head full of ideas that can actually be implemented and sometimes on a shoestring at that.

     

    Other shows such as RHS Hampton Court and BBC Gardeners World are also pretty good contenders for the reality check shows. Can’t resist joining in the masses with a Pimms at Hampton and I have left with a car full of plants from GWL, always feeling happy with the day having taken in a dose of the obscure and curious along with some utter madness that I simply cant interpret with any stretch of the imagination along with the colourful and perfectly achievable ideas floating around.

     

    So I was pretty surprised to see the Notcutts show garden in Norwich. What was I thinking it would be like before I got there? Small, an in your face attempt at promoting plants for sale perhaps? It wasn’t either. It was incredibly impressive and mostly achievable. And yes, the plants in the garden are for sale at Notcutts, but we can forgive them for being innovative in their approach to encourage and inspire us to buy plants.

     

    It’s a large space with a walkway straight down the middle and some lovely pleached trees above. To the left a beautiful border of perennials from one of my favourites Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ planted perfectly with Salvia ‘Caradonna’ to Grasses, Delphinum’s and Penstemon. There is also a little fun spotted in the lovely design with some Bacopa planted on the edges of borders full of Hydrangeas and Rhododendrons. Bacopa is usually planted around the edges of my hanging baskets and never at the front of a border but maybe I’ll try it this year. Along to the back a little seating area looking out across the garden, perfect for a moment to take it all in. The shady corner is lined with Tree Ferns and logs for walking, bark chip for ground cover and the odd blast of colour. Plus you’ll find box balls & Acers. All in one space and it looks superb!

     

    On the other side is a rather stunning and clever large table planted up with herbs along with tea cups of succulents. It’s actually a lovely water feature, with water running right through the middle, off the end and down into the stones below. Even that seems achievable at home after seeing this show garden.

     

    I definitely recommend a trip to Notcutts in Norwich to take a look at the show garden, I think it will surprise you! Of course, the cafe is a temptation as well…plus the garden accessories…oh and the lovely indoor plant section…and there’s sweets…did I mention the plants?

     

    Most of all, enjoy any garden show you go to, don’t be scared to ask questions and take home some inspiration. You can totally do it!

     

    For more photos of the show garden have a look at my Facebook page HERE and see the slideshow on YouTube HERE

     

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    I've blogged about Stody Lodge Gardens before when I visited for Mustard TV last year. It was stunning, even though when I visited the Azaleas and Rhododendrons that Stody is best known for weren't quite in bloom. My visit at the weekend was perfectly timed to see the awesomely glorious display which truly does take your breath away. I have not seen anything like it before, it's something very special. 

    Stody Lodge Gardens are generously opened up to the public on a few days throughout the year to help local charities and run other events. My support of The Benjamin Foundation took me and hundreds more to visit this time. 

    As I am sure you all know by now, my favourite style of planting is a mass of flouncy blooms in a bundle of extremely bright colours and that is exactly what I found at Stody. The Azalea Walk is a bundle of fun with a perfectly planted selection of colourful blooms all under planted with pretty bluebells - and the fragrance! Amazing. You might imagine that the colours clash but they don't. They are meant to be.

    Across the perfect lawn with borders full of more Azaleas and Rhododendrons and the odd Magnolia there is a woodland walk the other side of the road. Its a clever transition from the grand lodge, bright borders and neat edges to a space where the eye is relaxed and you least expect what is to come. 

    A step into the Azalea water garden may take you by surprise. The colour, the back drop the winding paths within a bowl of beauty to a lake with stunning reflections seen in the ripples of the water is both serene and riotous all in one bundle of Norfolk class. 

    What could be better after a walk around a beautiful garden than tea and cake? On this open day The Benjamin Foundation took over the running of refreshments and it was all expertly done at that! The cake continuously kept flowing and the queue for drinks was constant. It was super to see such a great amount of support for a well deserved charity. The team at TBF work so hard with enthiusiasm to help young people who really need it. 

    I hope if you visited the garden the enjoyment was as much as mine and if you werent able to make it, check out the list of other dates the gardens will be open for various charities this year HERE

    Please also check out The Benjamin Foundation HERE and help out in any way you can.

    Find more photos on my FACEBOOK page.

     

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    Sometimes on my travels I stumble across a hidden gem. It could be an undiscovered plantsmans garden or a remarkable allotment full of heritage plants to the bigger, more well known gardens such as the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens and RHS gardens such as Kew and Wisley. But none are more fantastic than a community garden.

    A few years back I filmed a piece for Mustard TV at Grapes Hill Community Garden in Norwich. I had no idea where it was, didnt see it through the busy Grapes Hill traffic and never imagined it would be the urban haven it turned out to be.

    From scultures and art to wildflowers, fruit tress (including a beautiful Apricot tree) and raised beds rented to the community, Grapes Hill Garden is a real hub for the community. 

    So, I am excited to now be involved with the team at Grapes Hill to organise some workshops and events through-out the year. After the success of the recent Nature in the Garden Day (photos HERE), there will be lots more going on through-out the year! So keep an eye out on the FACEBOOK page to see if there is something you are interested in (I am sure there will be)!

    Pop along to visit the garden if you can. Its open all day and is a lovely place just to sit and read, taking time out of a busy schedule. If you'd like to get your hands dirty and learn about gardening whilst helping out the group of fantastic volunteers who run the garden, pop along to one of the Sunday afternoon volunteer days (there is cake involved). 

    It's community gardens like these that can benefit the community in so very many ways. The community keep it running and in return the garden provides a whole host of benefits to us - the community. 

    If you would like to use the garden for an event or activity, please get in touch! 

    http://www.grapeshillcommunitygarden.org

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    My favourite week of the year - whilst gardening is in my life every week of the year - 10th to 16th April is a week of encouraging new gardeners to grow. My favourite task! Mustard TV, as always, have fully embraced the gardening theme with a whole week of horticultural going on’s through out the week. 

     

    I spent time filming with some of our fantastic Norfolk green fingers including Strangers Hall Museum where Christine - expert volunteer - showed us the history of plants with medicinal uses. Then on to my favourite community garden, Grapes Hill, where Richard enthusiastically talked about the benefits of community gardening for all. It is a great place to learn and get social!

     

    Us gardeners are always banging on about the benefits of gardening for children so I was really interested to pop along to the Edith Cavell Academy in Norwich where trainee teachers were learning how to include plant science in the school day through the RHS Campaign for School Gardening. From there I met Peter at Thorncroft Clematis - I mean - who doesn't like Clematis!? Finishing up at the coolest of all nurseries, Urban Jungle Plants in Costessey where surrounded by a jungle of plants, Liz inspired us to do something a little different with our gardens. Not to be missed!

     

    So, catch Mustard TV every Monday to Thursday next week at 6.30pm and then repeated again at 8.30pm to catch a glimpse and on Friday a whole half an hour show from 6.30pm (repeated again at 8.30pm) on gardening! See all of my visits especially filmed to get you out in the garden over the weekend for National Gardening Week

     

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    Sometimes I feel like the luckiest girl in the world! Recently I travelled over to Dubai and then on to Sydney where I mainly toured gardens and landscapes for a few weeks. I did skip the Dubai miracle garden, whilst I am sure it is stunning, a whole bunch of Begonia’s, Petunias’s and Geraniums wasn't on the schedule this time. 

     

    If you visit Sydney, the Royal Botanic Garden is not to be missed and neither will it be missed since it's prime position just by the Opera House. There are points where the feeling of peace and relaxation with stunning views is actually quite overwhelming (and no it wasn't jet lag). You can simply walk along the waters edge and view the gardens from the pathway but exploring deeper into the gardens opens an imaginative and fascinating world of plants. Plus - its free! Just the way nature should be. From Rhododendrons to the stunning Silk Floss Tree, a Dry Garden, an Oriental Garden to a Fernery, Palmhouse and exhibitions there is so much to treat the senses. All with the backdrop of tall Sydney city buildings. Its a perfect combination of how we can live a modern city life with nature working hand in hand. 

     

    One garden I hadn't visited on my last trip to Sydney was the Chinese Garden of Friendship. I’d heard how extraordinary it is so I was excited to discover a new haven in the City. Just on the edge of China Town in Darling Harbour I wasn't really sure what to expect - apart from the obvious. Even the entrance hides what’s to come and the tall walls on approach show only the tree tops towering above. Creating that sense of exploration in visitors, there isn’t any point in the garden where you can see the whole garden but at every twist and turn there is something exceptional to admire. From beautiful waterfalls to bamboo, willows and pretty pavilions to just simply sit and relax. There is little noise from the City, whilst it can be heard, the trees and nature provide natural soundproofing and the sense of pure tranquility the garden takes you far away from normal daily life to deep within yourself. Thats what nature does. It’s good for the soul. 

     

    Another smaller spot to note is the Barangaroo Nature Reserve. Sitting on the edge of a new development at the other end of Darling Harbour down towards Dawes Points. There is a walk/run track and cycling path running along the water with a stargazer lawn, benches amongst jungle like planting to admire the views and enormous sandstone rocks making the area look beautifully in keeping with the spot. It's a lovely walk if you are heading out for a coffee.

     

    My conclusion - Sydney is a great example of how to do nature in the city seamlessly.

     

     

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    Another beautiful garden visit for me last week just as the Snowdrops, Crocus, Aconites and Hellebores are in bloom. Chestnut Farm in West Beckham has an absolutely beautiful show of colour with yellow aconites carpeting a woodland area at the front of the house - a lovely welcome! The surprise is to the rear of the property which clearly shows the owners have a love for gardening and have evolved the gardens over 50 years to be a Galanthrophiles (snowdrop lover) heaven. 

     

    From our common snowdrop to the more unusual varieties such as ‘Trumps’ and ‘Spindlestone Surprise’ there are many to spot, along with the stunning colours of Crocus and a back drop of many trees. The Hankerchief Tree being my favourite, the seedheads are stunning! It’s great to see many of the Snowdrops labelled as well which is incredibly helpful. Pathways have been created to help with ease of foot and the Snowdrop circles are almost magical. 

     

    Mr & Mrs Wilson are happy to welcome visitors any time of the year as long as you pre-arrange but they are also open for the NGS Open Days on Sunday 5 March (11am - 4pm), Monday 29 May, Sunday 9 July (11am - 5pm) for only £5 each and free for children. 

     

    For more information check out the NGS website HERE.

     

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    I’ve always known that gardening is good for humans. It’s been my place of quiet therapy for as long as I can remember. In times of sadness, in times of reflection, in times of looking towards the future and in times when I just really had to get the manure forked in! So to me the idea that horticulture can provide therapy isn’t new. It’s just a fact. 

     

    In order to really understand why and how it helps us I decided to delve a bit deeper with THIVE who provide social and therapeutic horticulture (STH) to those with with disabilities, mental health issues, isolated, disadvantaged and vulnerable. It felt to me like just saying it can help isn't enough, fully understanding ‘how’ and ‘why’ is the key to connecting people to horticulture to make a difference.

     

    I used to live in London and commute daily to work about 15 years ago and I always looked at everyone, dressed mainly in black hurrying to work just like a swarm of ants with the grey buildings towering above into the sky. I always noted the lack of greenery and craved my weekends back in Norfolk. My journey down to Regents Park, was no different. Just plain rushed without a sniff of nature apart from the odd Buddleja growing at the side of train tracks.

     

    Thankfully the workshop introduction to STH was in the middle of peaceful Regents Park and we cracked on with what both STH and THRIVE are all about. Run by Dr. Sean Morrissey, with the most sublime Scottish accent which was therapeutic in itself, Sean was both knowledgeable and passionate for THRIVE and its mission. We were given packs of information and notes on where to find free downloads on STH. We started with an introduction from everyone on the course, at which point I felt already humbled. From a dementia nurse to a retired doctor, a school teacher, artist working with vulnerable people, probation officer, a landscape designer and fashionista turned pursuit of the meaningful, here I sat with absolutely no knowledge of how to ‘care’ for anyone. I just have my love of gardening. 

     

    We learnt that research shows the first 6 months of engagement in STH shows great benefit to individuals and plateaus at 2 years. This is particularly relevant for Doctors prescribing horticulture as a way of helping patients with mental health issues. The question remains at 2 years - does progression need to be seen? Is it that this level then just needs to be maintained?

     

    We were posed questions on situations such as a visually impaired gardener wanting to sow carrots in a straight line and to be able to thin out appropriately. What would we suggest? Knots in rope, raised beds, wooden guides - many more options than one would think!

     

    The continuous topic of teaching horticulture in school is, as ever, important because this in itself could help with improved mental health, not just skills for the industry. Something which I am on a mission to push forward. 

     

    Amongst many other points and activities including potting a primrose with our eyes closed and a walk to an urban allotment plot, we discussed ‘presence theory’ and how nurturing a poorly plant to life is a great analysis of us nurturing each other and why gardening is important. There were questions surrounding what the term ‘therapist’ actually means. All agreed perhaps ‘practitioner’ is more appropriate. I had been thinking about that a lot. I am not a therapist, I would prefer to provide the space to let nature be that quiet, unspoken therapy to us all. After all, we are nature aren't we?

     

    To take a look at my YouTube vlog from the workshop day chlick HERE

     

    For more information on THRIVE go to their webiste at: www.thrive.org.uk

     

     

     

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    When you go about your everyday life and drive the kids to school or get on your bike to work…do you notice what’s going on around you? Do you see the thousands of Crocus popping up through grass verges and stunning Poppies on roundabouts? Whilst nature does it’s thing, a great deal of what makes our cities, towns and villages so pretty and great for wildlife is down to some incredible communities coming together to make it all happen. From Halstead to Filby and Norwich to Leighton Linslade competing in categories including best floral hotel, cemetery and different size villages and towns. It’s hard work for the dedicated entrants but exceptionally rewarding, exciting and an endless journey of learning and fun. 

     

    I am so privileged to now be a Trustee of Anglia in Bloom, working with the team of volunteers who plan, organise and judge our fabulous communities across the region. Each are winners in their own right contributing to making our spaces beautiful, providing essential help to wildlife and bringing communities together. I’m looking forward to sprucing up the Anglia in Bloom website and catching you all on social media to spread news and information. 

     

    If you are thinking of entering Anglia in Bloom this year or in the future, get in touch! The team at AIB will be happy to guide you through the process and you could just be picked to represent our region in RHS Britain in Bloom!

     

    Good luck to everyone - let’s make 2017 a great year for Anglia in Bloom.

     

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