You have a number of jobs but what would you describe as your main role?
I always say I’m a gardener – that’s my priority and whatever I do in the media links to gardening.
How did you get into gardening?
There are several things really. I’d stay with my grandparents and uncle at Stockton Bury Gardens during the school holidays and saw the garden being created. My parents were brilliant, buying me a greenhouse when I was about seven. I also thought horticulture would impress a boy at school! I used to play at a house called Van and I remember helping with NGS openings when I was at primary school. All play a part in my passion for gardening
What career pathway have you taken?
Very twisted! I left school at sixteen and was sent to live at Stockton Bury with my grandparents before I went to work with their cousin, John Treasure, at Burford House Gardens, who taught me all the basics of gardening. I then went very reluctantly to Sparsholt College, signing up to the shortest possible course (interior landscaping) before realising this wasn’t for me and that college was really good fun! I stayed for another 2-3 years studying decorative horticulture. I then went to a parks department as a greenkeeper, worked in a garden centre and eventually went to work for one of my lecturers who became the editor of a gardening magazine – despite having no journalism qualifications at all. Since then, I’ve carried on being involved in magazines [becoming editor of The English Garden], running a garden shop, lectured at horticultural college but always working in horticulture. Horticulture is so many different things – all so exciting and varied. I wouldn’t want to be in any other sector.
What is your current role?
I am very fortunate as I’m working for my uncles at Stockton Bury Gardens as a gardener and writing freelance as a garden writer. Stockton Bury Gardens is very much a family business, created by my uncle over the last 40 years at the heart of a family-run mixed farm. Some days I help on the farm but I am very much the gardener. It is 4 acres and we don’t employ anyone else – just me and my uncles – although we do occasionally have help one day a week (before the current situation), Jim to mow the lawn and another family member comes to help cut down in the autumn. It is very much a family team with no volunteers. The tip is to garden throughout the winter so there is more time during the rest of the year for my other projects.
What is your favourite part of Stockton Bury?
That’s difficult as it depends on the time of year and my mood. During the lockdown, it has been the dingle garden which is at the far end of the garden in a disused quarry: it is a water garden and woodland area. It is so quiet with lots of wildlife.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m due to give a talk for the local hospice using Zoom and I love doing podcasts [Fresh from the Pod for Candide]. I recently interviewed Simon Lycett, the celebrity florist, for the podcast which was on my wish list. My priority at the moment is sharing the garden as widely as possible using social media and other platforms as we are still closed to encourage people to visit when we do open. I’m worried that a lot of people who have taken up gardening [during the lockdown] might drift away so I want to do something to keep people interested.
Do you have any particular career aspirations?
There’s always things I’d like to do. I’d like to get more involved with the RHS as I thoroughly enjoy being a RHS judge – I’ve learnt so much and met some wonderful people. I would love to write another book [after the recent publication of Diary of a Modern Country Gardener] but I need to be desperate to do it – I couldn’t write something I was told to write. I love speaking in public and would like to do more talks, interviews, and show compering: I’m really missing that this year.
What gardens have inspired you?
There are so many! I’ve seen so many when I was working as an editor – not all in person but lots of photographs as it was very much a desk-bound job. There are a number in Hampshire like Houghton Lodge which is a walled garden with a romantic feel and Longstock Park Water Garden which is stunning. I love Sissinghurst for the story behind it and Great Dixter because of the combination of house and garden.
Has anyone inspired you?
My students when I was a lecturer at Kingston Maurward College.
What three plants or related tools would you take with you to a deserted island?
Definitely my folding pruning saw to cut wood and possibly gut a fish! Mint as I’m paranoid about teeth brushing and potatoes as they are so versatile – during the lockdown, I’ve realised you can do loads of things with potatoes.
Do you have any advice to anyone thinking of or just entering horticulture as a career?
The most important thing in life is to know what you want to do, stick to it and do anything connected to it. Experiment, volunteer, keep going.
You’re co-chair of the Garden Media Guild – can you tell us a little about it?
The Garden Media Guild is a group of people in the media world who are trying to share their passion for horticulture.
Is there anything about you that might surprise people?
I’m fascinated about star signs – I don’t know much about them but it is a great way of finding connections with people. Secretly, I would love to be a chat show host!
With thanks to Bruce Langridge and Will Ritchie of National Botanic Garden of Wales for question format and original podcast idea