Growing up in the countryside, I’ve been around gardens and gardening since I was a child, and have my own productive organic garden, where I grow fruit, vegetables and useful plants all year round, as well as decorative perennials, native and ornamental species. I also believe in gardening with wildlife in mind, selecting species which will attract and support birds, bees, butterflies and other wild creatures.
Many people have asked why I chose to work under the name of The Common Gardener. “But you’re quite posh,” some have said. My reply is that the name reflects the fact that I live on a common, and whilst I’ve had plenty of formal artistic and horticultural training, my approach to design draws on years of being a practical gardener too. This isn’t something I’m ashamed of, as it has taught me the best ways of caring for the soil, how plants grow, and the most effective ways of combining them in a design. However lovely a scheme may appear, and however skillfully the hard landscaping elements may have been designed, it won’t work long term unless the plants are in the environment and situation they like best.
So I believe that creating a beautiful garden is all about working with nature, the soil and setting, using creativity, intuition and common sense. I’m constantly amazed by the colours, textures and forms of plants, selecting them for their suitability in a given environment, and the ability to give all year interest, colour and structure.
It’s also really important to have a working knowledge of hard landscaping and materials, as well as all the less glamorous elements which can influence a good design, such as levels, soakaways, damp proof courses and building regulations. With a grandfather who was an architect, and a father who was a Chartered Surveyor, I couldn’t really avoid this, and am very grateful for the background experience this has given me.
For planting inspiration, I value the work of Beth Chatto, Piet Oudolf and Dan Pearson, and the moments of genius which can be found in ordinary gardens everywhere. On a purely practical level, Lawrence D. Hills is my gardening hero, for his dedication, enthusiasm, research work and faith in organic growing. I also love the architectural minimalism of artists such as Thomas Church.
The gardening books I would take on my desert island are the latest edition of the RHS ‘A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants’, Michael King and Piet Oudolf’s ‘Gardening With Grasses’, Bill Mollison’s ‘An Introduction to Permaculture’, Lawrence D. Hills’ ‘Organic Gardening’ and Mrs M Grieve’s ‘A Modern Herbal’.
Of course, in addition to all this reading matter I’d need a pair of secateurs, a Swiss army knife and masses of paper, paint and watercolour pencils.
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