So it has been a while since I have paid any attention to my blog site and I can only apologise to readers that may have returned hoping for another look into the window of paradise to see how my garden has changed through time. I say “My garden”, but for those readers that have read my bio, they will know that I am in fact a self-employed gardener and that this is a garden I look after on behalf of a client who extends his gratitude by allowing me to improve it as time moves forward. It would be very fitting for me to name it ‘The Manor’. ‘The Manor’ is approximately 2 acres and has over 24 sections that need to be maintained regularly including plants that until recently I would have had no clue how to look after. I would expect that many people out there spend money on having there garden re-designed and built, only to find that 1-2 years on they are struggling to retain its aesthetic appeal. Some plants grow extremely big over time and what fitted perfectly at the time of renovation can look out of place when fully mature. You may be asking, “How do we know what to prune/cut and when to do it if we do not know the names of the plant/s or their habitat or environmental requirements”? “How do we know when is the safest time to move a plant from its original location somewhere else and if it will do as well in its new position, and what can I do to improve all of the odds in my favour”?
Up until 2009 I had no real previous gardening experience other than time spent attending my allotment growing vegetables. This snowballed out of all proportion very quickly when I offered to maintain someone else’s garden and although now I have reduced the amount of clients I look after I make a healthy living through my business called ‘The Lone Gardener’ which operates specifically in Hertfordshire at the present time. The type of clients I try to attract are people who have gardens that are ⅓ acre or larger and looking for a horticulturist with expertise in plants, soil and nutrients to tend perennial borders and maintain shrubs, however I also do all the usual activities one would expect necessary in maintaining a garden. Unlike other organisations I can tailor make an arrangement which involves attending to your garden and focussing on where you NEED the help rather than filling time with unskilled activities like ‘mowing lawns’ therefore helping you to get value for money. If I were to label myself as a gardener ‘Soft Landscaping Gardener’ would be more specific and although I do not undertake Hard Landscaping, Tree Surgery, Fencing, etc I still have a very extensive contact list of reliable service providers whenever they are needed.
Despite what we hear from various organisations and the Prime Minister David Cameron (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/9209497/Gardening-is-not-just-for-drop-outs-says-Alan-Titchmarsh.html) I believe gardening is a skill that needs to be learnt through understanding the science behind why things happen and what we can do to improve our environment to help plants in order to reduce the necessity to control pests and disease and the best way to learn this is to take a course towards a qualification in horticulture. As the population rises around the world some of us are ignorant to the problems this will cause including the strong possibility that food shortages will be a realistic issue in the next 30-50 years. Various scientists are working in the field of research to help prevent this from happening and although this sounds irrelevant to gardening a scientist of this nature would need a very good background of horticulture and/or soil science and both scientist and gardener would share the view towards an ethos of sustainability and the benefits of working ‘with nature’ rather than against it.
Since starting out in 2009 I have spent a lot of blood, sweat and tears not just in the physical sense of work experience improving the aesthetic pleasure of various gardens, but also in educating myself through college and now university to build a level of confidence in understanding and knowing why something in the garden isn’t working properly and what can be done to change that.
My education began at http://www.shuttleworth.ac.uk/our_courses/horticulture.aspx in September 2009 when I began a course to obtain my RHS Level 2 Certificate in Horticulture. This was a very interesting course and it would be worth adding that the mix of people extended from 18 year olds to a 55 year old. I completed the course with a pass in June 2010 and felt a lot more confident in looking after ‘The Manor’ with renewed vigour, and my energy was focussed towards how I could improve it. After 15 months away from education and various areas of success and failure I knew that I had to get back to studying and decided (with the help of my client) that in September 2011 I would begin a Foundation Degree in Horticulture and Garden Design at Moulton College in Northamptonshire http://www.moulton.ac.uk/ in association with University of Northampton. This is usually a 2 year course full-time with the option of increasing the duration by a year on completion to raise it the level of degree to BA status, however myself and 12 others opted for a part-time approach over 3 years to take into consideration family or work commitments. This would involve another 2 years if we were to include the BA option. Fundamentally the course has been so useful to me as a mature student studying part-time as it has allowed me to continue with my business whilst improving my qualifications and prospects towards new paths that may take me to a more scientific role/career in the future. The lecturing staff are all extremely knowledgeable in their chosen fields, the resources available to aid research are extensive, the support to help people who are not use to this level of academia are available, in all honesty given that I never showed much previous respect towards education the whole experience has pushed me beyond my limits and it is truly a pleasure for me to be a student and work as a gardener, so different to any previous combination of training/employment I may have had before.
So why now ?
So part of the reason I have returned to blogging after a year out is that part of my Degree relies upon a period of industrial work experience. As I am self-employed I feel it would be beneficial to keep a record of events over the next 9 months at in order to use them as a point of reference when writing up assignments concerning my industrial experience as I will be carrying this out at my place of work which is ‘The Manor’. I will be informing you the readers of what I am doing on a weekly basis and where possible documenting my experiences with pictures and links to other research material which confirm why I have chosen to carry out a prescribed action.
At the moment I am constructing a huge Polytunnel at ‘The Manor’ in the hope that I can be more pro-active in the field of regeneration, propagating through leaf, root and stem cuttings and germination of seeds and I also plan to try various experiments e.g. feeding plants with different rates of nutrients to see how they react. As you will see from previous blogs ‘The Manor’ is extremely large and needs a consistent 40 hours minimum a week especially through Summer to maintain it to its full potential, but over time I have been able to reduce labour in various areas by using weed suppressant covered with mulch or just changing the general plant selection to plants that require less maintenance. Over the coming weeks I will be covering all sections of the garden to give you the readers the general feel of the place, the potential, some of my previous achievements and also expectations for the future.
I will try to keep you the general public entertained making the blogs as interesting as possible and should you have any questions in regard to anything I do or horticultural challenges that you face at the moment or any local (Hertfordshire) business enquiries I will always respond to any comments left. Thank you for your time.