I love growing an online community and when I see a chance to introduce someone to a wider audience I usually jump at it. I follow Hugh on Twitter (@Horti_Hugo) for his insights into the gardening world. This year I got all caught up in his Dahlia Wars and have followed the development of his potager garden with keen interest. I thought by chatting with Hugh, I could inspire some of you to get out into your garden this weekend.
Question 1: Some of my readers may not know a lot about the gardening world. Could you tell us a little about how you got started in gardening and where that interest originated from?
I’m passionate about plants and gardening. Yes, it’s as simple as that. Since my mid-teens, in the 1980’s, when I first encountered horticulture through working in a nursery, which was open to the public, I was bitten by the gardening bug. Looking, listening & learning. Absorbing all that I could about plants, their native habitats, growing conditions, how to grow them, what to do with them, etc.
So many people would come in to ask questions and talk plants and gardening, and I would regularly hear them say you are so lucky working at what you’re passionate about. More than a few times older retired people would say ‘I worked for 40 years behind a desk, and all I got was this lousy watch. If I could do it again, I would do what you’re doing and work at what I love’.
I spent 20 years working in gardening and horticulture either full time or part time with great people, whom even now, many years on, I still am in contact with. During these years I studied horticulture, initially a certificate course in college and then the three-year diploma course in the Botanic Gardens, which was amazing as I was surrounded by plants and people with lots of knowledge.
Unfortunately, having to support a young family has meant my professional career has moved away from the horticultural industry. I still am very much involved though, through delivering garden talks, some gardening classes and more recently in the social media world, particularly on Twitter.
Question 2: You have been documenting the evolution of your potager garden. Can you tell us how you designed it and why you chose a potager style?
Ha! Yes, great question. Sometimes I think it chose me, in other words, as I’m mad about growing plants and flowers, growing vegetables was something that needed to accommodate this need, I think the ‘potager’ name fitted best, although I’m sure potager purists would completely disagree. To sum up my style … anywhere in my garden there are vegetables, flowers and plants of interest are not far away … Lol
Question 3: For someone who wants to start growing their own food do you have any tips or advice?
Yes, definitely do! Learning to grow your own food is a road to travel, rather than a destination to reach. Along this road each of us have amazing successes and dramatic failures. Build your resilience by celebrating the success and simply talk and discuss what didn’t work with others so you’ll learn for next time. For me with some plants or crops, I’ve simply learned to ‘fail better’ on my path to success ! Start out on your journey with simple things like planting some strawberries or lettuce in a tub, a few peas from seed or trying some onions from sets are almost always a success. Tomatoes, potatoes and raspberries are nearly always a success too. Of course use good compost and look after the soil. If you look after the soil, the soil will look after the plants.
Question 4: I know from trying to work with our garden here that there are times it just feels like Mother Nature has decided she doesn’t like you anymore and it’s personal. What was your lowest point with the potager and how did you overcome that to the wonderful space it is now?
Oh golly. Sometimes it’s us that are the invaders. Mother Nature was there first! My most recent endeavour was to tame the lower end of the potager. It was such a jumble of weeds, old raspberry canes and anything else you could think of. I sketched out a plan of what I was looking for, did some research on how best to go about revamping the area and then set to it. A low(ish) point was putting in hours of work and realising I didn’t really make a dent in what needed to be done. After a little more research I simply changed tact. I marked out the area in beds and paths, removed woody material, roughly churned the soil and then simply covered the rest with black builders plastic for 6-8 months to smother out weeds, after laying some straw and manure over the beds. Worked a treat. The following May the beds were mostly weed free and the soil relatively easy to work.
Question 5: How do you manage your time to stay on top of your garden?
Lists. And lots of them. I have effectively four different gardens on this one site. Each of them I place different levels of importance. And then I work from there. As old Fred used to say, ‘a gardeners work is never done’. It’s not about having everything done the whole time. It’s having the most important tasks done within your current time, and then planning the next tasks. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t, that’s part of the fun!
Question 6: What does gardening mean to you?
This a great question, which I could write essays on, so I’ll try to distil it down to a paragraph. There’s a term I like to use now and again ‘gardenfulness’. It’s a play on the term of ‘mindfulness’, bringing all the elements of this to your garden environment, being present, enjoying what you’re doing, being in a flow state when working with soil and plants, allowing creativity to blossom (pun intended… Lol), etc. At times gardening means this to me. Other times it’s the very practical aspects of growing your own food as naturally as possible, getting stuck in and doing what needs to be done.
Question 7: What surprising lessons have you learned along the way?
After being involved with plants and gardens for more that 30 years, in one way or another, there has been many many lessons, some very pleasant and somewhere I’ve received a good kicking. One of my lessons has been to source good information on new things I’m growing, mostly this is from books, sometimes through good social media contacts, and stick to what’s recommended, to begin with.
Another lesson I learned when hauling manure as a young lad, for my dad or grand parents, was to give as much goodness to the soil as possible, this will be repaid through the plants.
And patience is a lesson I’m constantly learning. Sometimes it’s just not meant to be, no matter how hard you try.
Question 8: How has the online gardening community made a difference to you as a gardener?
It’s just great to connect with like minded people. When I first came across social media, I found there was a lot of negative narration and people criticising and wasn’t so sure about it. I remember at one point making a conscious decision to start spreading the positive word on gardening, how easy it can be and how we can make mistakes and recover from it. It’s what I do now, showing the joy of gardening, and the failures too. Thankfully the positives far out weigh the negatives … Lol
Question 9: What does the future hold for Hugh?
Well, I’m in year five and a half of a seven-year journey in this place, so naturally savouring each of the moments here, with one eye on the future Horti Hugo growing place. I’m regularly on Twitter, every two to three weeks on Periscope, monthly on YouTube, and then there’s the written blog too … Lol. As the saying goes, watch this space …