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Sages and Gurus / Double Digging
« Last post by Marie Shallcross on February 03, 2019, 06:13:28 pm »
Double Digging

Double digging is a method of deep soil preparation in which the soil is loosened to a depth of 60 cm (2 feet) or two times the length of a spade’s blade. The blade length as a measurement is also referred to as a “spit”. This soil is then improved, by adding organic matter, and possibly grit.

Whilst double digging is labour intensive, it is a less exhausting method of soil preparation than triple digging. This is where the soil is excavated to three times the spade depth. The Victorians were great ones for cultivating the soil and used to refer to double digging as ‘bastard trenching’ being an inferior method of introducing organic material to improve the soil when compared to triple digging.

There is of course, the whole dig / no-dig argument. It is often possible to create what is effectively a new border on top of the old soil rather than double digging. No-dig gardening is eminently suited to cultivating flowers, vegetables and fruit in raised beds. It is a subject I’ll re-visit in another article.

But most people when faced with borders in their garden or an allotment, will want to make use of what soil is there already and improve it. Learning about soil preparation and how to dig properly with the correct tools for you and your garden is an early part of the Plews Basic Gardening course.

Where the borders or allotment have been cultivated and organic matter added on a regular basis, even if not for a couple of years, single digging is usually sufficient. The principle of digging out a trench and adding compost is fundamentally the same for both single digging and double digging.

Whilst many ‘old school’ gardeners will be conversant with the whole double digging process, there are many gardeners who have never had the opportunity or need to carry out a gardening task which is centuries old. The following method is for them.

Soil preparation where double digging is required or advisable -

•   cultivating soil in new gardens, where the builders may not have left much top soil
•   where there is a heavy, unworkable clay soil
•   where nutrients need to be added by incorporating organic matter at root level rather than as a mulch
•   creating new borders; perhaps in an area that has been lawn
•   if planning an orchard or even a few fruit trees planted together in one area a good deep layer of top soil is useful
•   where there are invasive, perennial weeds such as bindweed or ground elder; as it’s a more thorough weeding operation than digging them up individually
•   on an allotment, where it hasn’t been cultivated for a while
•   regenerating a perennial or mixed herbaceous flower border

Advantages of soil preparation using double digging: -

•   It increases the amount of space in the soil for air and water, which in turn improves plants growth
•   Soil structure is improved, especially when compost or manure are added
•   It encourages earthworms and the activities of soil microbes
•   It breaks up soil crusts and hard pans, and increases the speed that water that can seep into the soil
•   Used with enough organic fertilizer, it helps the soil retain water and nutrients

These advantages are the same for single digging if organic matter / compost is added.

Tools needed

•   hoe
•   digging fork
•   rake
•   digging spade
•   wheelbarrow/s
•   tarpaulin or similar to put soil onto.

Method for Soil Preparation by double digging and adding organic matter

NB: Do not mix the topsoil and subsoil.

The difference should be fairly obvious – top soil is generally darker in colour than sub soil as it has more nutrients.

•   Hoe off any annual weeds; if any perennial weeds will lift out easily with the hoe then remove those too.
•   Dig a narrow trench, across the width of the bed, about 30 cm (1 foot) wide, and about 1 spit/ 1 spade blade / 10” deep (you may or may not be able to see the subsoil)
•   Remove any perennial weeds as you dig. These can be composted separately on site in a sealed container. If allowed to dry out and die, they can be added to the compost bin. Or turned into a liquid feed. Alternatively, hot compost on or off site. Invasive weeds such as Japanese Knotweed have specific requirements for disposal.
•   Set aside the topsoil you have dug out, either onto the tarpaulin or in the wheelbarrow; you will need it later. 
•   Using the digging fork, loosen the soil/subsoil along the bottom of your first trench to a depth of another 10-12”, ie the length of the fork tines/ prongs.
•   Now add some compost to cover the base forking/ mixing it in lightly.
•   Dig another trench next to the first, in-filling the first trench with this soil; mixing in some more compost as you go.
•   Continue this process until you have finished/ reach to the end of your border. You will notice that the level of the topsoil has been raised up from all the organic material being incorporated, as well as through breaking up the subsoil.
•   You will have an empty trench at the end of the bed. Add compost as above, then bring the topsoil you set aside and put it into this trench.
•   Lightly rake over the border when done, to level the soil.

Weeds seeds will probably germinate within a few days, hoe these off. Repeat as necessary until ready for planting. If any perennial weeds appear, dig out.

Two weeks is the usual time to leave a newly prepared bed before planting. This gives time for the weeds to be dealt with as above, for the worms and micro-organisms to start working their magic and for the soil level to settle.

I have to say, although it is hard work, there is something distinctly satisfying about soil preparation by double digging. There is a visible result in all that turned over soil that can be quite beautiful when caught by the late afternoon sun.

Not that I dig everywhere; I’m also very fond of no-dig gardening in its various forms!

Marie Shallcross
Plews Garden Design
Sages and Gurus / Crop Rotation – Growing Methods for Gardeners
« Last post by Marie Shallcross on February 03, 2019, 06:12:27 pm »
Crop Rotation – Growing Methods for Gardeners

Crop Rotation: – what is it? Do you need to use it for the crops in your kitchen garden or vegetable patch? Or is it only relevant for farms and large estates?

In order to ascertain whether crop rotation is right for your productive plot, we first need to look at what it is. A whistle-stop tour to its historical background will help with the pros and ocns.

Britain and Europe in the Middle Ages

Crop Rotation is a phrase which you may have first heard during a history lesson at school.
It is a method of cultivation used to improve soil fertility and plant health and therefore crop yields. Crops are grouped and grown according to their family.

The Medieval field system worked on a 3-course system of rotation. By Medieval, I’m referring to the approximate period 900 – 1400. Open fields were farmed as strips rather than whole fields. In other words, each tenant (freeholder or villein) had a certain acreage of land, but it was split up among different parts of the larger fields.

3-course Crop Rotation

           Field 1                   Field 2                   Field 3
Year 1   wheat or oats           field beans or peas     fallow
Year 2   field beans or peas   fallow                   wheat or oats
Year 3   fallow                   wheat or oats           field beans or peas

When left fallow in the third year for cattle and livestock were grazed on the field. The resultant manure helped improve the soil, as did the inclusion of peas and beans – a leguminous crop which helped fix nitrogen in the soil. Nitrogen is one of the three major plant nutrients.

Britain in the 18th Century

The farming and crop rotation breakthrough came in the early eighteenth century with the development of a 4-course rotation farming system. Viscount Townshend is credited with introducing this new method of crop rotation on his farms.

4-course Crop Rotation

           Field 1   Field 2   Field 3   Field 4
Year 1   Wheat   Clover   Oats or barley   Turnips
Year 2   Clover   Oats or barley   Turnips   Wheat
Year 3   Oats or barley   Turnips   Wheat   Clover
Year 4   Turnips    Wheat   Clover   Oats or barley

The benefits were mainly that animals could be grazed two years out of four, thereby increasing the fertility of the land.

Although a 4-course rotation farming system had been pioneered in sixteenth century Belgium, it was the take up of the system by the British combined with other agricultural related inventions and processes that led to the Agrarian Revolution. It is generally accepted that the Agrarian, or Agricultural, Revolution in Britain began a fundamental change which formed the driving force that became the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century.

Agriculture, Walled Kitchen Gardens and the Cottage Garden

One of the aspects of crop rotation which can be overlooked is that it started out as an agricultural system based on a monoculture; ie, one crop was grown per field. With the rise of the large, separate walled kitchen garden, which in Britain was from the sixteenth century, crop rotation became domesticated.

These kitchen gardens could be anything from 1 acre to 9 acres in size. This includes the external gardens that surrounded the walls but were still part of the overall kitchen garden. Dividing the garden into sections made planning, growing and harvesting much easier tasks. The quantities of food produced were large. They had to be sufficient to feed a large household, possibly 25 – 80 people, year-round.

The crops grown began to change as grazing cattle in a walled kitchen garden was most definitely not on the head gardener’s list!

Down a few social notches, the cottage garden food crops changed far more slowly. For example, potatoes weren’t a staple in English cottage gardens until some 200 years after their introduction into the country.

However, whilst the crops growing differed, the method of growing tended to be the same for the majority of hardy crops. By the nineteenth century, crop rotation had become the normal way in which vegetables were organised and grown in the field, walled kitchen garden, cottage garden, allotment and suburban gardens. As part of this system, vegetables and a great deal of fruit were grown in rows. These rows ran north to south across the plot.

How the System of Crop Rotation Works
Major concerns when growing the same family of vegetables year after year in the same patch of soil is that this monoculture system will cause: -

•   The build-up of disease specific to that family of vegetables. For example, club root in brassicas.
•   A less fertile soil, as even with manuring / fertilising annually, the same nutrients will be taken out, leaving the chemical constituency of the soil unbalanced. This in turn can lead to disease.

It may feel complicated to get the system of crop rotation right. But so long as the following are known, you have the basis to succeed: -
•   What type of soil you have
•   Your garden or allotment’s micro-climate
•   Which vegetables (and to a certain degree fruit) fit into which family groups

A 3 or 4-course rotation is the most usual to have as it is fairly simple. It is of course possible to sub-divide the plant family groups and make a 6 or 8 course rotation plan.

Including an extra, separate, bed for perennial vegetables is part of the vegetable garden plan, but not part of the rotation cycle. It is critical to make a plan of the four or more areas that are being used, and to keep up that record over the years.

It may help to imagine crop rotation providing a mixed diet for your garden or your clients’ garden, just as the fruit and vegetables grown provide a mixed diet for you.

Crop Rotation – Planning

There are two ways of approaching the grouping of your crops. They could be grouped according to their family or according to their cultivation needs. The two things aren’t always the same. Easiest to explain with an example for each.

3-course rotation grouped by family
           Bed 1   Bed 2   Bed 3
Year 1   Brassicas    Roots   Legumes
Year 2   Roots    Legumes   Brassicas
Year 3   Legumes    Brassicas    Roots

Example plants for each group: -

•   Cabbage
•   Brussels sprout
•   Broccoli

•   Beetroots
•   Carrots
•   Parsnips
•   Potatoes (which are a tuber)

•   Peas
•   Runner beans
•   Broad beans
•   But also leeks, onions and tomatoes – which are not actually legumes

A 4-course rotation could have the onion family or potatoes in a separate bed
And we haven’t decided where to put the courgettes…

3-course rotation grouped by cultivation needs

Using the table as above, and using the same title for each of the groups, we get this as an example: -

•   Cabbage
•   Brussels sprout
•   Broccoli
•   Turnip
•   Chinese cabbage
•   Kale
•   Kohl rabi

•   Beetroots
•   Carrots
•   Parsnips
•   Potatoes
•   Swiss chard
•   Leeks
•   Onion

Legumes and ‘fruit’ vegetables
•   Peas
•   Beans – Runner, Broad, etc
•   Tomatoes
•   Aubergines
•   Summer Squash, eg Courgette
•   Cucumber
•   Winter Squash, eg Pumpkin

Using the “similar cultivation” method can be easier to manage in a smaller area. It works on the basis that, for example, whilst potatoes and tomatoes are the same family, tomatoes need less nitrogen and more potassium. Potatoes are also a good crop for breaking up new ground; tomatoes are not.

What else do you need to know?

Hopefully this brief outline has helped clarify crop rotation for you. Getting to grips with it does take planning, and keeping records is a sticking point for many gardeners. If you feel a couple of bespoke gardening lessons from Plews would help with getting your garden planning and vegetable garden organised, do please get in touch.

Crop rotation can be used with any of the following cultivation methods: -

•   Growing in rows
•   Raised beds
•   Square foot gardening
•   Deep beds
•   Lasagne gardening
•   No-dig gardening

Read “Growing Methods for Gardeners” (which you can also find on Allandscapers) for explanation of these. If the thought of crop rotation and planning and record keeping feels far too organised for you, there are other methods of cultivation, Three Sisters, for example.

I leave you with two important thoughts. Which are valid whether you’re growing for your own use or designing a kitchen garden for a client: -
•   grow what you would like to eat
•   if space or time is tight, then grow interesting fruit and vegetables that are best eaten fresh and/ or those that cost a lot

Marie Shallcross
Plews Garden Design
Sages and Gurus / An Introduction to Woodland Habitats for Gardens
« Last post by Marie Shallcross on February 03, 2019, 06:09:06 pm »
An Introduction to Woodland Habitats for Gardens
In the article “Creating Small Wildlife Habitats in Your Garden” (which you can also find on Allandscapers) Woodland habitats was one of those wildlife gardening possibilities which were mentioned.
In this article, I am focusing on the woodland range of wildlife habitats for the smaller scale of an ‘average’ domestic garden. That is, as compared to a nature reserve or a smallholding. However, much of what I suggest would be also be possible to carry out on part of an allotment or a community garden.

The habitats and planting discussed occur in or are suitable for Great Britain and Ireland as this the climate and country I know best. Many of these comments and suggestions are also relevant for similar habitats in other temperate zones. What you should be aware of is that the flora and fauna may be slightly different when looking for native and naturalised species. Where necessary, refer to a local guide for your area.

Firstly, a recap on ‘wildlife habitats’, ‘your garden’ and ‘woodland habitats’.

Wildlife Habitats

There are four main types of wildlife habitats within the British Isles. They are: -

•   Woodland Habitats
•   Wetland Habitats
•   Grassland Habitats
•   Rockland Habitats
As we saw in “Creating Small Wildlife Habitats in Your Garden” they each have subdivisions.

Your Garden

Private, or domestic, gardens in Britain currently (2019) cover a larger area than all the National Nature Reserves put together.

The size of domestic garden under consideration here is kept small on purpose. It makes it easier to imagine creating a woodland habitat in a garden. For larger gardens, consider a particular area which may be suitable.

An average sized suburban garden varies across the country, but I’m going to suggest a size to aid visualisation. This is less than a quarter of an acre, say about 25-foot wide by 90-foot long. Which is about the same size, although a different shape, to a doubles tennis court.

Urban, or city gardens, have specific issues, but much of this information is still relevant. Having created more than a few wildlife friendly city gardens over the years, do get in touch if you’d like me to help you with an urban woodland garden.

Woodland Habitats

There are four sub-sections to woodland habitats in temperate climates.
•   Natural or unmanaged woodland
•   Managed woodland
•   Woodland edge
•   Hedgerows

Naturally enough, trees feature strongly in a woodland habitat. Trees, including both individual specimens and small woodland are able to provide to a garden: -

•   an ornamental aesthetic – it looks pretty
•   a productive, edible element, for example, fruit trees
•   cooling shade for humans, pets, flora and fauna
•   an environment for wildlife to thrive in
•   a carbon sink, ie absorbing and retaining carbon from the atmosphere
•   a play opportunity for your children, for example, tree house

Woodland Habitats in Your Garden

Natural or Unmanaged Woodland

Natural woodland is also known as unmanaged as these are environments which are left largely untouched. The tree cover will generally be broad-leafed, deciduous in lowland Britain. Native conifers are likely to form a part of the species present in moorland and upland regions.

True natural woodland is a difficult one to reproduce. It’s more likely that you would find this type of woodland when you purchased the land. If you want to create this woodland, you’ll first need to do is check out the local woods. This is to ascertain the native species which are local to your area. Ideally, you would need to do this monthly over the course of a year to gain a full picture

For your own natural woodland habitat, you will need to be prepared for adverse comments. Some visitors will see mess, not nature.

You will need mature trees, a small copse or group. Preferably include an Oak tree, Quercus robur, which supports over 280 insect species, plus birds and other wildlife. Depending on your soil type, other good woodland trees for an unmanaged woodland could be Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) Elder (Sambucus nigra) Holly (Ilex aquifolium).

Lower layers of vegetation need to be included. Shrubs, for example, Brambles (Rubus fruticosus). Also ground cover and native climbers such as Ivy (Hedera helix).

Leaf mould and dead wood (not neatly stacked!) should be left on the woodland floor. This provides a habitat for various insects, beetles and small mammals.

Ideally, you would avoid walking through your woodland too often as it might disturb some of the wildlife. This possibly makes it more a labour of love than an integral part of your garden.

Managed woodland

Managed woodland has been a part of rural life for hundreds of years. It is possible to see traces of previously managed woodland when you’re out walking in the country. Coppiced Beech trees (Fagus sylvatica) are a common sight. You know they were managed in the past, as Beech naturally has a single trunk.

Coppicing is where trees are coppiced, ie pruned, near the base of their main trunk. This encourages new growth of multiple trunks and light to the woodland floor, enabling a wider selection of species to thrive. The coppiced wood is used for fencing, furniture, fuel.

It is a system which would work well as part of a small managed woodland in your garden. Choose trees which can be coppiced such as Hazel (Corylus avellane) Alder (Alnus glutinosa) Pussy Willow (Salix caprea). Also shrubs such as Dogwood (Cornus sibirica) to give you brightly coloured stems in winter.

Of course, you don’t have to coppice your managed woodland. Properly maintained, there are many trees which would be suitable.

You could even have just one tree. Seriously. If that’s all there’s room for, because you have a small garden or would like to include other wildlife habitats, then have a single tree. Plant lower levels of flowers and vegetation to create a small woodland. Try spring flowering bulbs and small perennial flowering woodland plants. For example -

•   Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non scripta)
•   Wood anemones (Anemone nemerosa)
•   Primrose (Primula vulgaris)
•   Violets, Viola oderata (scented sweet violet), Viola riviniana (dog violet).

These flowers are nearly all spring flowering, when the branches of the deciduous trees are bare of leaf. This allows the maximum light to reach the small plants.

Managed Woodland - Forest Gardening

Forest Gardening or agroforestry is a sustainable perennial system to grow food crops in a manner that mimics a deciduous forest.

If you wanted to grow your own fruit as well as having pretty flowers and providing a woodland habitat, it could be an option. An option that does require careful planning to work well but should be fairly low on maintenance requirements once established.

Woodland Edge

This style or type of woodland habitat is possible to accomplish even in tiny gardens. Consider the vertical spaces in your garden. Then think of -

•   Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) scented flowers May – July, red berries in the autumn
•   Dog Rose (Rosa canina) scented pink flowers in June - July
•   Clematis (Clematis vitalba) also known as travellers’ joy, fluffy seeds heads
•   Ivy, evergreen and bears shiny black berries over winter
•   Bramble, edible berries from mid-August

Woodland edge is an excellent choice of woodland habitat if you already have native deciduous trees in your garden. Planting an understorey of shrubs and small perennials will soon transform the space.

If you do not have existing trees, with careful planning you could add some in and make a garden feature with a difference. Have climbers on a wall or fence, a narrow bark path to walk along next to this with small trees on the other side of the path. There’s lots of scope for small and large gardens and spaces within gardens.


The last of our Woodland habitats in your garden. Again, it is a suitable style for nearly all sizes of garden.

An existing hedge may already offer the makings of a native hedgerow. What species is the hedge? Suitable native species include Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) and Yew (Taxus baccata), both common hedging plants.

Turning your current hedge into a habitat may be as simple as adding in a few more plants that are wildlife friendly. For example, Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) and Dog rose.

Hedges can be boundaries around or partitions within your garden. Making a wildlife friendly hedge is easy. Depending on the eventual height, density of growth and whether you need it as a security barrier will affect your choice of plants.

You will need to maintain your hedge in a wildlife friendly manner. Remember: -
•   the nesting season
•   flowers for pollen
•   edible berries
•   seed heads
•   hibernating insects and mammals

A thought to finish on:
The woodland environment is a natural one for Great Britain and Ireland. Left uncultivated, the majority of the land would quickly revert to natural woodland.

Marie Shallcross
Plews Garden Design
Head and Senior Gardeners / 'Event Ready' – Opening To The Public
« Last post by Alan Sargent on July 18, 2018, 10:18:12 pm »

I have had the privilege of acting as Consultant to several large gardens over the past few years, helping to develop the sites into becoming more ‘commercial’ or profitable/less expensive to run through a host of different, yet related, methods.

Not simply by improving efficiency, but by providing a raft of proposals and solutions to a wide variety of problems. I believe that my experiences both as Head Gardener to a large ‘commercial’ Estate (Goodwood) famed for several annual major events, combined with over thirty years of creating Show Gardens as a Designer and Builder of (mainly) RHS Medal winning gardens since 1982 (over sixty in total) has given me a unique insight into the world of Open Gardens.

The relationship between creating Show Gardens and improving commercial viability for Estate Gardens may be not obvious at first site. When you consider the logic and logistics involved in both, it becomes clearer. The disciplines within the Build Team, the ability to work efficiently and in a timely manner, all working together to produce something that is both crowd pleasing and attractive each year is one of the major benefits for any Landscape Contractor Company.

This team spirit becomes part of the lifeblood of the whole company even during normal working times.

Efficiency and working as a close knit team becomes the primary foundation of such firms, and the huge impact on the loyalty and confidence of the Team Members becomes infectious. Preparing for and presenting Show Gardens is a very similar process to opening up your work area to public scrutiny and appreciation.

By bringing this logic to my work as a Consultant, I have found ways to ‘Train’ everyone involved in developing what may be called Opening Your Garden To The Public. This article is a road map describing my approach to changing a Large/Estate Garden into one that is wishing to become an Open Garden. One that is open to the Public but also for money making Events. It is not based on any single site, rather as an exercise or general guide to fulfilling a dream.

Starting At The Beginning...

Some of the advice will not be relevant to your site, but for the sake of regularity, I will discuss these points to maintain the storyline. My work includes writing books and articles - The Head Gardeners Survival Manual and the Award winning column ‘Sargent’s Solutions’ in The Horticulture Week plus features for The Professional Gardener are examples - I receive many letters from PGG Members and via my websites. This feature is a combination of these many sources.

The Owner

Whether the garden is owned by a single person, a Family or Trustees, it is very important that everyone is in agreement with the proposition to Open The Garden to the Public. Any hostility may cause friction and dissent within Senior Management and should be avoided if at all possible.

There should be a clear Business Plan, based on one or more of the following criteria; the need to raise money, a wish to return a once famous garden to its’ former glory, to establish a Charitable Fund or Educational Facility, to provide an income stream for future generations and ensure the long term security of the site; any one of a long list of sound reasons to establish a Public Attraction
or Events venue.

Careful consideration should be given to location and access, especially roads and potential traffic management issues (perhaps in discussion with the Police and other authorities), car parking facilities, time/noise restrictions and any other possible difficulties – all of which may be overcome once they are recognised.

The history and fame of the garden will be of paramount interest. Careful research should provide you with a number of different opportunities to start a publicity campaign or allow you to establish a number of allied business openings based around the fame of the garden. Your recognition of the history of the garden may provide many such links.

Senior Manager/Head Gardener

In my experience, there are few Head Gardeners who would not wish to manage a famous garden. Being responsible for running a renowned site was certainly my personal dream (becoming Head Gardener to Goodwood was worth more than all the RHS Medals put together!)

The relationship between the Owner and Head Gardener is crucial. Without a very strong Team effort, the development and transition of turning a private garden into one that is open and attractive to the paying public is not easy.
It is therefore important that the proposition is turned into something more formal. I strongly suggest that a Private Limited Company is set up to run the operation, with the Head Gardener becoming a Director of that Company, and given full voting rights.

Such a directorship need only apply to the Open Garden, not the general Estate or anything beyond the venture. The wording of the Articles of Association will limit any such restrictions, whilst at the same time ensuring that the Head Gardener is a part of the Management. This is an important factor that should be made known to other Staff Members.

The Staff

Building a strong Team, all with the same ultimate goal of building and maintaining a well- managed garden presents a great opportunity to develop a training programme based on skills that transcend horticulture and sound working practice. It involves the whole team, and the prospect of working together to create something special is tremendously valuable to the employer. Even if the grounds are only to be open a few days each year, the standards of presentation will continue at a high level of excellence year round.

You might find some resistance to change. This may manifest itself in complaints of not wanting the public to ‘trample over my beds’, or ‘damage my plants’. The skills of the Head Gardener may not include transforming gardeners into becoming ambassadors for the Company. With careful planning however, a training programme may be devised that rewards embracing the new regime.

If regular meetings can be arranged, wherein a sliding time scale showing the various alterations to the way the site is to be operated, with all staff being involved in decision making and invited to make suggestions to improve the interest of a particular area, or make something safer for pedestrians for example, they will feel involved.

One or more staff members may wish to become Tour Guides, showing groups of people around the garden, (learning the skill of becoming a ‘teacher’ is one that will stand them in good stead for a number of reasons beyond the obvious), how to greet and treat such gatherings and share their enthusiasm for the site. (On occasion I have suggested that certain beds or areas are named after the Guide staff member e.g. ‘Betty’s Border’ or ‘Andrew’s Lawn’ if they have been responsible for that particular element in the past)

Site Management

There will be a large number of issues to be recognised and dealt with. Car parking and traffic flow are perhaps the most pressing and must be addressed as soon as possible. Damage to verges may be alleviated with planning and some road pins and rope. A store of reserve materials will need to be established. These should include ground boards for cars that may be bogged down, a tractor and tow rope for the same reason, a pallet of road salt, ropes, No Entry or other emergency signs, including No Admission to the Public etc.

Pedestrian Foot Traffic signed flow control, either to guide individuals and small parties or large groups will need to be planned and catered for.

Adequate Toilet facilities and signage arranged, ensuring that all current legal requirements are recognised, including Disabled (even if the garden is deemed unsuitable for wheelchairs)

Before the gardens can be opened each time, one person should be responsible for inspecting the grounds, including all areas where the public may gain access (even if barred by signage) to ensure that there are no overnight problems with fallen branches/damaged walkways/flooding/slippery ground etc and a full Risk Assessment must be carried out, signed and filed daily against any claims. This person must be fully trained to carry out the work.


I have only provided a very simplified version of the regime of opening your garden to the public, with perhaps one or two seasons per year. More profitable events, including Special Annual Tours, Weddings, Antique Fairs, Open Air Concerts, Sculpture Exhibitions, Countryside Sporting Days (Archery, Clay Shooting, Pony Club etc) – everything will depend on your location, site, regional competition and  a willingness to expand your Open Garden Offer.

Should you decide to experiment with such events, it is important that you draw up a Working Practice Schedule for issue to all Events Management Teams, either In-House or external organisers.

This should take the form of a booklet, with acceptance of all Rules accepted in writing by the organisers as part of their contract.

Rules that may be included should recognise the various responsibilities of the Event Holder. These will cover such matters as adequate insurance, provision of toilet hire, including plumbing and water connections, staffing requirements including security and car parking (you may wish to offer your own staff for a given fee).

Also strict instructions regarding breaking of the ground, water connections to kitchens (marquees etc, that will also require a specific area for hot water disposal without damage to grass areas by boiling water) and the reparation of any damage to the grounds whatsoever.

Special written instructions regarding the setting off of fireworks or other pyrotechnics that will result in litter spread around the gardens and damage to lawns by mortar style fireworks. Cleaning the area in daylight must be included in the contract.

All of these matters will evolve as time goes by, and new events take place. It is a learning curve, but forethought will make the process much easier to control and enable the Owners to make maximum profit from their endeavours.


To summarise, opening the garden to the public is a very wide ranging subject. As mentioned at the outset, few sites will require anything like the amount of discipline and logistical preparation that I have outlined.

If you do have an opportunity to open to the public, even in a small way, you should find the experience extremely worthwhile. Your  staff should respond in a very positive manner, and the opportunities for improvements in both skills and attitude will be great.

By being prepared for success, and finding your decision to Open the Garden to be very popular, if you have a Forward Plan in the filing cabinet, ready for larger and more profitable events in the future, you will be prepared for anything!
Head and Senior Gardeners / From A Good To A Great Head Gardener
« Last post by Alan Sargent on July 18, 2018, 10:15:27 pm »

Over a career spanning more than fifty years, I have met and been enthralled by a small number of incredible people, all of whom I consider to be ‘Heroes’ of our industry. They were probably completely unaware of how much of an impression they made on me, but they were instrumental in enthusing me with their words and positive attitude towards their work.

What they all had in common was enthusiasm, unbounded knowledge and a willingness to share those skills with others. Whether it was simply words of encouragement or explaining some ‘Trade Secrets’ they had learned over the years, I absorbed this information like the proverbial sponge!

This positivity is the key to success throughout your career.

I have met and worked with some very clever and knowledgeable Head Gardeners. Their horticultural skill is way beyond anything I could hope to learn. Holders of Masters Degrees and Fellowships in a range of Horticultural establishments, they were highly experienced and yet somehow, not so successful in passing on that knowledge to others, especially their subordinates.

We cannot all be blessed with the ability to enthuse and train others. And yet – is training not the very life blood and essence of our industry?

Horticulture must be the most ‘trialled’ industry in the world. How many establishments, from Kew to Wisley, Hadlow to West Malling Research Station, both commercial and amenity properties are currently running experiments across a huge range of disciplines.

Crop rotation, chemical trials, pruning and grafting experiments, biological and non-bio, weed suppressants and herbicides, selective sprays for everything you can name. All carried out in the name of gardening.

Consider someone holding the post of Head Gardener. I am going to assume that the reader will be in charge of a team of gardeners, working in a large private garden or Estate, perhaps within the realms of English Heritage or National Trust held properties.

The size of the team is not important, neither is the nature of that group. Some may be fully employed, self - employed on an ad hoc basis, part time, casual or volunteer, very often a mixture of all of the above. They will all come under the guidance of The Head Gardener.

Therefore the success of the gardens health and longevity will be in the hands of one person.

Being a Head Gardener is a huge responsibility, and may rightly be considered the pinnacle of a career in gardening. Being a successful Head Gardener is far more than just a matter of fortune however!

Obviously, passing examinations, earning certificates and gathering all necessary skills and meeting all criteria to secure the position is a major achievement for anyone to be proud of.

There is a world of difference however, in being a good Head Gardener – one who manages to maintain the grounds and staff, and one who could be considered a truly Great Head Gardener!

Without exception, all of my heroes are those who possess that magic, invisible ingredient that enabled them to make a real difference to so many lives.

Building Your Team

Assuming a team of staff, ‘mixed’ as previously mentioned, with a full time nucleus of (say) four people, with experience ranging from one to ten years of working in gardens. This team will probably be supplemented at any one time with (say) another two people.

Your management system will currently cater for the diverse range of operations required to keep the grounds in good order. Mowing and grass cutting regimes will be established, weeding and vegetable plot management under control. Everything is running along smoothly and yet nothing is progressing.

As one member of staff leaves, another joins the team, and the amount of ‘knowledge’ within your team remains fairly constant. Any newcomer will be expected to fall in line and accept the duties delegated to their post, even though they may have come from another garden with a different settled regime.

Everything becomes routine by nature. Grass grows and it is cut. Vegetable seeds are sown and the crops harvested. The keyword across the board is maintenance. Static and predictable, the Gardens Department soldiers on, keeping the grounds looking at their best.

Consider though, how much more could be achieved if the Head Gardener, who was inspired to undertake the journey towards their career pinnacle made the decision to become an inspiration to others?

If a conscious decision was made by the individual to build and mentor their Gardens Team to become a Super Team with training and mentorship at every opportunity throughout the working day (and beyond) by creating a positive and enthusiastic environment in which to carry out normal workaday routine by making everything more meaningful, the resulting increase in departmental knowledge would be hugely beneficial to the Estate.

Start with producing a profile document outlining your personal experience and skills, including and especially those things that really interest you. Perhaps it will be rose garden management, pests and diseases, water gardens, vegetables – any discipline that you could be considered ‘expert’ in.

Continue by giving your own thoughts on the skills and abilities of each staff member, including anything that could be considered a negative under normal circumstances. This list may include such observations as their attitude towards learning and being taught. Many people cannot stand the thought of formal ‘classroom’ training, which is perhaps the reason they came into gardening in the first place, and therefore would resent any form of ‘education’. Others may not have the necessary skills in writing or reading. All of these matters are not important, but appreciating the diverse nature of your Team is essential.

Combining your skills and interests with the likely group profile of your team, and the needs of the Estate, you will identify the strengths and weaknesses of the whole project. The driving factor should be the Garden and the wishes of the employers. You do not need to share this knowledge with anyone else, but use it as the foundation for building your team.
Bear in mind that the foundations will change as the team learn more and more, so the base becomes greater yet creatively flexible.


You will not succeed in enthusing your staff unless you are passionate in your work.

To inspire you need to be inspirational in yourself. All the time, every time!

Think about each task you have to perform, the regularity of that element of your working day/week/month and the amount of time it takes. Think too, about how you currently manage those tasks. Are they interesting or boring? Time related i.e. they must be carried out at certain times due to access or noise restrictions? Analyse and dissect every project and then weigh those disciplines against the resources available to you i.e. the Team.

How regimented and mundane is that task? Is it essential that you use a particular person for the job either because they have always done it, or because nobody else wants to do it?
Have you ever thought about altering the way the job is carried out, by making it more interesting, productive or relevant to the garden or the team? Do you simply carry out working on jobs by rote.

Do you ever give members of the team the credit for their efforts? As part of knowing the garden, most sites have given names or areas or parts of the estate e.g. Library Lawn, Lower Meadow or Half Acre Wood.

But if a staff member could be instrumental in creating or looking after – given responsibility for a given border or area -why not quietly begin to refer to that part by the name of the garden team member who has ‘created’ or improved it? Thus a previously unnamed border becomes known as Nancy’s Border, or Matts Meadow.

By giving ‘ownership’ of a site, you are subtly encouraging people to feel part of a strong team, with the Head Gardener being the enabler.

Why not invite creativity? If you have a wild flower meadow for example, such a feature allows for a huge range of interesting experimental work to be undertaken by all staff members.

Starting off with understanding the specific  requirements for soil type, moisture, nutrient, wind tolerance, competing grasses and unwanted weeds, you develop a sense of understanding of the basics of horticulture, all within one micro-world.

Establish wildflower mowing regimes, including the type of machine/blade, height and regularity of cutting, allowing for seasonal seed heads to develop and self sow. Perhaps introduce the possibility of using a scythe to keep the area under control, thus widening the scope and tool horizons for the team.

Another example may be orchard or top fruit areas. There is nothing more demoralising for a new staff member, who may have worked at another garden for years, only to join and be told that they cannot use their training and previous methods as they must adhere to your ways.

Why not invite that person to demonstrate their techniques, and fully explain them to other staff members (once again, another form of training for all concerned) how and why they are doing whatever task it is (pruning, but also budding and grafting if you have time).
Label the tree they have worked on, and as the season progresses, the results of their methods will be seen and may be compared.

I have carried out the same training logic for a wide range of features, including roses, vegetables and water gardens. By demonstrating that you are not only willing to allow new ideas within your team and working environment, you will learn along with the others, and earn and gain their respect.

You will notice that, although this section is headed ‘Training’, I have not mentioned formal or ‘standard’ training at all. This should be ongoing at all times, but if you seize the opportunity to make training more personal, giving due credit to those who bring fresh ideas and techniques into the group, the whole concept of training becomes challenging and fun, with no need for formal classrooms or standardised ‘learning’ which can crush and disillusion many younger staff members.

Why not introduce a ‘Laboratory’ somewhere on site. Not necessarily a full blown scientific lab, but somewhere to house a microscope, magnifying glasses, books and other written materials, together with notepaper and record books to write the results of findings where all can see how much more there is to gardening. Any strange fungi, bugs, diseased wood, leaf types, flowers, seeds, etc may be brought back to the potting shed/laboratory and identified by the finder.

Moving off site, why not introduce a programme (say every six months) of visiting other gardens, not only Public sites such as Wisley and Kew, but by teaming up with other Estates and Gardens, invite each other to come along, behind the scenes and see how we all do things.

I know this may sound a little dangerous! Comparisons may be odious, but I have always found such exchanges of ideas to be very useful.

The use of training as an everyday part of working within the department, if you have everything to hand; books, laboratory, recording and notes taken during the seasons, you can exchange boring wet or snowy days into creative and proactive teaching days, without the need for anyone to feel left out or threatened by formality.

The days of cleaning out the tool-shed (for the eighteenth time this year) or tidying the mess room (a job that nobody wants!), instead will be days to relish. Learning and training together with your staff, leading at all times whilst allowing some flexibility and leeway within the group, you will find that you will have established yourself as a hugely influential and respected individual.

This logic pays great dividends for the whole department.

By giving ownership of good work, enthusing everyone to become involved, making people think about what they are doing, exploring different methods, techniques and equipment.

You will have earned their respect, and by mutual consent, established yourself as a ‘Great Head Gardener!’
Sages and Gurus / Creating Small Wildlife Habitats in Your Garden
« Last post by Marie Shallcross on February 28, 2018, 09:08:45 pm »
Creating Small Wildlife Habitats in Your Garden

Wildlife gardening and organic gardening go hand in hand and are remarkably easy for “ordinary gardeners” to get to grips with in their own gardens and allotments. However, a lack of knowledge and a lack of time prevents many people from realising the full potential of their garden spaces. I hope that by presenting you with some ideas, you may feel inspired to make a few changes in your gardening habits, and those of your clients.

There are four main types of wildlife habitats within the British Isles. These are: -

•   Woodland Habitats
•   Wetland Habitats
•   Grassland Habitats
•   Rockland Habitats

And they each have subdivisions, as we shall see below. The plants which grow in these habitats will, to a certain degree, vary across the country. This is due predominantly to the different soils found, but also to other factors, for example, height above sea level. 

Woodland Habitats
•   Managed woodland
•   Natural / unmanaged woodland
•   Woodland edge
•   Hedgerows

Wetland Habitats
•   Still freshwater - ponds and pools
•   Running freshwater – streams and rivers
•   Bogs and Marshes
•   Coastal habitats

Grassland Habitats
•   Wild flower meadow
•   Corn meadow
•   Heathland
•   Sandy dunes

Rockland Habitats
•   Cliffs – coastal and inland
•   Scree beds (at base of cliffs)
•   Shingle beds (shoreline)
•   Pavements, for example, limestone pavements

Small Wildlife Habitats in Your Garden – ideas to inspire plans and action

I will re-visit these different habitats on a more individual basis in later articles. And other contributors have covered some habitats, so do have a look around the site. Looking at the different wildlife habitats individually will enable us to peruse their history as well as the potential for your garden. For now, I would like to briefly consider how easy it is to create and maintain these habitats.

The majority of the plant species mentioned are native to or naturalised in the UK. Some imported species will support native wildlife.

Small Wildlife Habitats in Your Garden - Woodland Habitats

Under planting with spring and autumn flowering bulbs and small perennials is essential. For example, daffodils (Narcissus), crocus, cyclamen, bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta, not the larger hybrid!) wood anemones and bugle (Ajuga reptans).

Natural / unmanaged woodland

This would be more relevant for larger gardens. Although if you have an existing large tree in your garden such as an oak (Quercus) or ash, (Fraxinus) planting underneath with small daffodils for spring would give you some extra colour.

Managed woodland

Yes, you could have a small, managed woodland in your garden! There are a few options. Choose trees which can be coppiced such as hazel (Corylus) and shrubs such as dogwood (Cornus). For slightly larger gardens, beech (Fagus sylvatica) can also be used. Coppicing may be carried out annually or on a 3-5 year rotation. Small standard trees could also be used for a more formal garden.

Woodland edge

This is possible to accomplish even in tiny gardens. Think of those vertical spaces in your garden. Then think of honeysuckle (Lonicera), climbing roses and rambling roses, Clematis, ivy. Ivy (Hedera helix) is evergreen and bears berries over winter.


If you need to plant a new hedge, then making it a wildlife friendly one is easy. Depending on the eventual height, density of growth and whether you need it as a security barrier will affect your choice of plants. For example, guelder rose (Viburnum opulus), hazel, dog rose (Rosa canina) privet (Ligustrum) beech and yew (Taxus baccata).

When to prune a new or existing hedge is critical. Not when birds are nesting in it may seem obvious, but also consider if you want the hedge to provide food. In which case remember you’ll need to leave flowers so that there’s pollen and then berries in the autumn.

And of course, for any woodland habitat, leave some leaf litter on the ground for small invertebrates and hedgehogs.

Small Wildlife Habitats in Your Garden - Wetland Habitats

Still freshwater - ponds and pools

This is probably the most obvious wetland wildlife habitat. For preference, ponds should be sunk in the ground rather than raised, although a ramp may be attached to one side to allow access. A sloping edge within the pool is also essential to ensure small animals that fall in aren’t drowned.

Strictly speaking fountains and wildlife aren’t compatible. However, so long as the fountain isn’t running continuously, it should be fine, and will help to aerate the water.

Running freshwater – streams and rivers

It is possible to create an artificial stream within your garden. Done properly, it can look stunning and provides a play opportunity for children as well as a habitat for wildlife.

Bogs and Marshes

Where a pond or pool is not possible, a bog or marsh garden can provide a similar habitat. As with natural ponds, such gardens look best situated in the lower levels of a garden, where water would naturally settle. Bog gardens can also be created next to a pool, adding to the decorative planting effect.

Coastal habitats

It could be a bit tricky recreating an estuary or a beach shoreline within your garden. But, particularly if you live near the coast and have a stream, it is worth checking out the salinity of the water. Freshwater is lighter than saltwater so tends on float on top. Alder (Alnus glutinosa) ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cucili) and great burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis) would be some plants you could grow to give the effect of a coastal wetland.

Small Wildlife Habitats in Your Garden - Grassland Habitats

Wild flower meadow

These can be spring flowering or summer flowering and may contain a mix of annual and perennial plants. Perennial spring flowering species such as the ubiquitous daisy (Bellis perennis) and cowslip (Primula veris). Summer perennials ox eye daisy (Chrysanthemum Leucanthemum) and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) both have white flowers.

Corn meadow

These flowery meads contain specific flowers that grow, or used to grow in cornfields amongst the wheat crops. For example, corn cockle (Agrostemma githago), field poppy (Papaver rhoeas) and the annual cornflower (Centaurea cyanus).
All these wildflower meadows could be quite easily incorporated into a corner of an existing grass lawn. Perhaps as a central feature, a 1-2m circle of meadow, or as a curved meadow border between lawn and fence.


If you have an acid soil then try delicate harebells (Campanula rotundifolia), heathers (Erica species) and the edible bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus).

For a more alkaline soil on chalk, grow ling heather (Calluna vulgaris) betony (Stachys officinalis) and gorse (Ulex europeaus).

This style of gardening is informal and may not suit those with smaller gardens.

Sandy dunes

Another informal wildlife garden, perhaps best suited to those in coastal areas as the plants will thrive in the salt air.

Sea holly (Eryngium maritimum) with its metallic blue foliage and sea campion (Silene vulgaris subsp. maritima) with white flowers are particularly decorative.

Small Wildlife Habitats in Your Garden - Rockland Habitats

Cliffs – coastal and inland

If you don’t have a convenient cliff in your garden, why not use a drystone wall as an alternative? These offer spaces to a range of small, crevice loving plants that are attractive to insects.

Rock gardens are another form of cliff habitat. Properly built that can be a decorative as well as a wildlife garden feature.

Scree beds (at base of cliffs)

A planted-up scree bed would look natural at the base of a rock garden. A gentle slope is preferred for a natural effect. Plants such as stonecrop and stone pepper (Sedum species) and the pretty herb robert (Geranium robertianum) would be appropriate and wildlife friendly.

Shingle beds (shoreline)

These could make an attractive, informal front garden in coastal areas. Easy maintenance and wildlife friendly. As with scree beds, using a weed suppressant membrane underneath helps with the maintenance.

Pavements, for example, limestone pavements

Probably only suitable in larger gardens, as a concept it could be extended to include your paths and patio. Growing ground hugging thymes between paving stones is a simple way to increase the diversity of plant life within your garden.

As you can see from the whistle-stop tour above, there is much more to creating wildlife habitats in your garden than scattering a few seeds and hoping for the best.
But this shouldn’t dissuade you from scattering those few wildflower seeds in your flower border!

Wild about Gardens, Garden Design ideas – was an overview of wildlife gardens with some planting design and garden design suggestions.
Written to encourage others to both enjoy and share outdoor spaces with our disappearing garden wildlife it is partly inspired by Wild about Gardens Week.
This is a joint initiative by the RHS and the Wildlife Trusts to encourage people to support wildlife in their gardens.

Marie Shallcross

Sages and Gurus / Why you shouldn’t use a Garden Designer
« Last post by Marie Shallcross on February 28, 2018, 09:06:01 pm »
Why you shouldn’t use a Garden Designer

Like many of us, I wear more than one professional hat; so I am a Garden Consultant, Garden Designer, Gardening Teacher and Gardening Writer. I have been a small scale Landscaper but do prefer plants to laying patios. Although proud to mention that a brick wall I built 30 years ago is still standing!

However, as a garden designer, I would like to make my position clear and stating a true, but not a well-known fact:

Not everyone should use a garden designer.

Some of the landscapers among you may be saying amen to that – and some of the expert horticulturalists too. Bear with me, this is about educating those who are potential clients. You may find it helpful to when explaining to those clients who expect ‘a gardener’ to be capable of designing, landscaping, advising, maintaining gardens and estates – all at the same time that actually, there are differences…

For example: -
Your potential client may have a large estate and wants it to be developed and managed. So initially they’ll need a landscape architect or a landscape designer to create a vision and know how to follow through. Ok, so a garden designer would be appropriate for certain areas – formal gardens near the house, orchards. You could need various specialists, land surveyors, structural engineers and so on. And someone to manage the project and keep all those professionals working nicely together; liaise with the client, and so on.

During the process, you – or your client, or the project manager – will need to consider the long-term needs. Bringing in a garden consultant with expertise in interviewing head gardeners might be a good start. The gardens will need a team of gardeners to keep them looking good. And potentially a gardens manager and estate manager will be needed.

So we have established that large estates of many acres may need a garden designer for some areas, but they’re not the only professional involved.

But what about smaller gardens? Wouldn’t you use a garden designer for those? Let’s consider six reasons why shouldn’t you use a garden designer: -

Are you prepared to work with the garden designer to create a garden that suits you? Yes, you did read that correctly. I can design 3 different gardens for you, all of them wonderful, of course – but without input from you, will they work for you in the long term? A successful garden design depends on collaboration and if you’re not prepared for this, then you shouldn’t use a garden designer. Or accept that the garden may well not turn out as you had hoped.

Good garden designers are experts in their field. Now whilst collaboration is essential, if they’re advising you, it pays to listen to their advice. If you decide not to follow that advice, that’s fine; it’s your garden, after all. But make sure you’ve listened.

Do you care about your garden? Are you bothered if it looks nice / is wildlife friendly / is a welcoming space? Some people are not interested in their garden. If that’s you, I would query why you would use a garden designer for a full garden design.  You could just have a wildflower meadow and a patio.
Or give use of your garden space to someone who will enjoy it. There are various garden sharing schemes around.

You think garden designers just plant a few trees and flowers. So you talk to a couple after you’ve let the non-gardening builders (not even landscapers!) lay a patio, build some narrow raised beds and put up a shed. Without any thought to how these elements of the garden link to each other and the house or whether they’re in the right place for your needs…

Oh and definitely don’t use a garden designer if you don’t appreciate that they cannot create a £60,000 garden on a £10,000 budget. Magician is not part of their job description.
Whilst we’re talking about money, you shouldn’t use a garden designer if you’re not prepared to pay them. The number of times we designers hear “Could you just pop round and we can chat about my garden, and you can give me some ideas, and do a quick sketch…nothing fancy” Uh, no. I’m more than happy to share thoughts and tips – I think over 6 years of blogs on my website sort of suggests that. But would you go to work for a month without being paid?

Are there any more reasons why you shouldn’t use a garden designer? Well, yes. For example, is a garden designer the right professional for the job? This partly relates to my first point about an estate, but not totally. For example, for inside spaces and houses, use an architect; for fencing use a landscape gardener.

So, if these are reasons why you shouldn’t use a garden designer, what are the reasons for using one? I look at this in another article but suffice to say for now - consider your budget. A good garden designer can save you money on your garden design and landscaping project.

Marie Shallcross
Sages and Gurus / Types of Cultivation aka Growing Methods for Gardeners
« Last post by Marie Shallcross on April 10, 2017, 08:17:45 pm »
Types of Cultivation aka Growing Methods for Gardeners

A whistle-stop tour or brief outline for quick reference. 

So when a client asks you “What is the difference between no-dig and straw-bale gardening?” you’ll feel confident to give a sufficient reply if productive gardening isn’t your usual area of expertise.

We can blind them with botany and agricultural science but sometimes simple is best!

The terms ‘types of cultivation’ and ‘growing methods’ are frequently used as interchangeable terms. Its fine to do this, as there are growing systems which are a combination. The differences could be defined as follows: -

The ‘growing method’ refers to the physical boundaries or style. For example, crop rotation.
Growing method is sometimes referred to as ’crop growing method’. This is more applicable to agriculture, allotment gardens and large kitchen gardens than the small domestic garden.

Within these methods one would use ‘types of cultivation’. For example, the ‘three sisters’ system.

For convenience, I’ve used these definitions to break up the growing methods below.

Growing methods 

Crop rotation

Crop rotation is a crop growing method which can be used with different types of cultivation, for example, rows, raised beds, square foot.

Briefly, crop rotation is a means of production where the different types of crop are grown in the same area in successive years in order to reduce pests and diseases and to maximise the soil nutrients.

A three course rotation means that crop A will be grown in area D in year 1 and then again in year 4; four and five course rotations are also frequently used. The number of courses is directly affected by the number of different edible plant groupings. For example, brassicas, roots, legumes are the three most common groups used.

The Romans are known to have used crop rotation. A three course rotation was common in medieval England through to the mid eighteenth century when Jethro Tull (inventor of the horse drawn seed drill for sowing large fields) implemented a four course crop rotation. These rotations included a fallow year when no crops were grown; where livestock was pastured on the land instead the dung would be ploughed in the following autumn, improving the soil quality. However, where the fields were left fallow with no livestock there was no replenishing of the nutrients and the land would eventually become less fertile.
Crop rotation is extremely important in monocultures, ie where a single crop is grown; although the area may be a raised bed or a ten-acre field. There are arguments against the necessity of rotation in small areas, but it is still advisable if a monoculture system of cultivation is in place.

Raised beds

Raised bed gardening can be as simple as mounding up the earth in your productive border or as complex as an ornamental potager.

Thomas Hill in his ‘Directions for the Gardiner’ in the sixteenth century described raised beds as the best method of production. He based his advice on the Greek and Roman gardening treatises that had become available during the Renaissance.

These raised beds should be no wider than a gardeners arm or reach; unless they are accessible on two sides, in which case they could be twice as wide. This way the earth in the beds does not become compacted from having been walked upon.

You can plant in rows, blocks, plant monocultures or biodiverse plant communities within the raised beds.

If you build the beds with a brick or wood edge that is wide enough to sit on, it can make cultivation easier. And also provide extra seating if the raised beds surround a patio.

A further advantage of raised bed gardening for small spaces within gardens is that it allows for a more intensive style of cultivation so more crops can be grown.

Vertical gardening

On a simple level, this is using walls and fences as support for productive climbing plants and adding extra trellis and wigwams structures to create extra vertical space in your garden or allotment.

Cut and come again lettuce, strawberries and other small plants can be grown gutters or troughs fixed to sheds and walls; trailing tomatoes with red and yellow cherry fruits are decorative as well as practical grown in hanging baskets.

However vertical gardening also encompasses the newer techniques and technologies, including hydroponics (see below). Most of us will have seen examples of greenery growing on a living wall, part of the ‘greening the city’ movement.

The watering system is automated, so, as long as the crops can be reached when they’re ready to harvest, there’s no problem. It’s even possible to grow plants in this way in your kitchen – herbs and salad leaves easily picked as you prepare dinner. 

A variation on this is where the edible plants are grown in towers. Those sold to the domestic market are fairly small, like overgrown strawberry pots; some need watering whilst others work on an aeroponics system.

‘Types of cultivation’

Growing in rows

A cultivation or tillage method used in conjunction with crop rotation. It is frequently asserted to be a late eighteenth century introduction alongside the increased use of agricultural machinery. However, this is usually because people are getting muddled between gardens and farms. Ploughs, whether hand pulled, horse drawn or mechanical, are most efficiently used in a long straight run, which is why rows have been used for hundreds of years.

They were introduced into domestic gardens much later, most commonly in the nineteenth century when there was a substantial increase in new gardens built to accommodate the urban middle classes. The great walled kitchen gardens of the aristocracy and landed gentry had a history of using both rows and block planting depending on the crop and the arrangement of the garden. 

Strictly speaking growing vegetables in rows was an invention of the Chinese. There is a document from the third century BC where the efficiency of the crop or amount produced is said to be increased by growing the crops in rows. But they were most likely growing crops in rows as early as the sixth century BC.

Rows are best laid out on a north – south axis so the crops get the most benefit from the sun as it travels across the sky during the day.

Square foot gardening

An intensive cropping system used in conjunction with both raised beds and open ground cultivation.

It’s easier to describe from a raised bed perspective, as you can plan ahead and build your beds four-foot square. The idea is that you sow or transplant one plant per square foot if it’s a larger plant such as a cabbage; four, or even nine, more plants if they’re smaller.

This doesn’t sound like a lot of plants, but it should be remembered that they would take up more room than this in the ground if grown in traditional rows.

‘Three sisters’ cultivation

Both the North and South American Indians grew a lot of squashes; they had a system called ‘three sisters’ where they grew squashes, beans and corn together for the benefits each gave to the others whilst growing. According to Iroquois legend, the three sisters, or plants, were gifted by the Sky Woman’s daughter, and gave agriculture to people.

This interplanting method of agriculture has known benefits. The maize provides support for the beans; the squash acts as a ground cover to reduce weeds and keep moisture in the soil; the beans provide nitrogen for the other two crops.

The companion planting rather than pursuing a monoculture system (ie one species only) also improves the condition of the soil by increasing beneficial mycorrhiza which encourages a symbiotic relationship between the plants roots and the surrounding soil.

‘No-dig’ Systems

The no-dig idea rests on the notion that the roots of your crop plants will only go down around 20cm and so it is only the top level of the soil that needs work. It is also based on the theory that deep digging destroys the soil structure.

Lasagne Gardening

This really is a no-dig option for building raised beds and great soil. It is based on a similar principle to sheet composting, and allows you to build raised beds without stripping grass or weeds off the site.

Basically, you layer cardboard, newspaper, lawn and plant shreddings, alternating ‘green’ and ‘brown’ as you would in a compost heap; top off with a layer of compost rich soil. Then let the worms and soil microbes do their work. What you start with does depend on the ground at the bottom. If it’s infested with perennial weeds you may like to put down membrane first!

Straw bale gardening

To describe Straw Bale Gardening as a soil-less growing method isn’t strictly true. A small amount of soil or compost is used.  However, it is a no-dig form of gardening.

The straw bale, or a hay bale (both would be suitable) is used as a raised bed. It has the advantage of being fully compostable when you’ve finished with it. To prepare the bales, first soak for up to ten days before you plant. Use, for example, a high nitrate liquid feed such as poultry manure. You make a hole in the soaked bale, add some soil or potting compost so the plant’s roots have some support initially. Then plant your crops into the bale.

This growing method is not really suitable for root crops and tuberous vegetables like carrots, onions and potatoes.

Forest gardening

Forest gardening or agro forestry is a sustainable perennial system to grow food crops in a manner that mimics a deciduous forest. The plants grown are trees, shrubs and other perennials and crops produced include fruits, nuts, edible leaves for food, honey, medicinal products, baskets and fuel.

It is a system of agriculture that has long been practised in tropical regions but is a more recent introduction in temperate climates. One of the problems is the lower light levels for the ground hugging plants as compared to that experienced near the equator in the tropical forests.

Although not everyone will have room in their garden for the full seven layers, as a concept it can be adapted to provide a low maintenance sustainable method of providing a wide range of perennial crops. It can also provide an ideal location in which to keep a bee hive and hens.


Permaculture is not just about growing plants, it’s about the whole interaction between plants, animals, birds and humans.

The concept is to design spaces for sustainable living that work with nature, and creating a positive rather than a negative impact on the world. The word comes from ‘permanent agriculture’ and ‘permanent culture’.

Unlike forest gardening which has only perennial planting, permaculture includes annual food crops. Strictly speaking, it is going to be a ‘minimum dig’ rather than a ‘no-dig’ system.

Soil-less Cultivation Methods


Hydroponics is where the fruit and vegetables sit on troughs with their roots dangling in a water based solution containing the necessary minerals and nutrients required for growth.
As it is through their roots that plants take up nutrients this is an efficient growing system.

There are both closed and open hydroponic systems. In the closed system, there is a cover over the top of the trough and the water solution is recycled. A high degree of automation is possible with this system, making it popular with mass producers of luxury salads and vegetable plants.

It is also a suitable form of cultivation in areas with low rainfall as due to the recycling of the solution water used is very efficient.


It combines the aquaculture of raising aquatic animals with the hydroponic system of raising plants in a sustainable symbiotic manner, which is why it is sometimes referred to as ‘pisciponics’.

Aquaponics is another water based cultivation system similar to hydroponics. It combines the aquaculture of raising aquatic animals with the hydroponic system of raising plants in a sustainable symbiotic manner, which is why it is sometimes referred to as ‘pisciponics’.

This is not a new method for growing food crops. Historically the paddy fields of south eastern Asia combined the growing of rice with the raising of snails and fish for food.
Water based growing method and soil less growing method are interchangeable terms to describe aquaponics systems.


Aeroponics is a soil less crop growing method where the plants are supported 'in the air' and the root systems exposed. The plants are held upright so that the roots can easily be sprayed with a nutrient rich mist.

The whole system can be automated, and it has the advantage of being very economical in its water usage. Approximately half that used for a hydroponic system to feed the same quantity of crops.

Aeroponics is a high yielding method of crop growing and has the potential to seriously increase yield. However, it is not suitable for all plants.

Other Growing Methods and Cultivation Systems

Biodynamic gardening

Also known as planting by the moon. This technique dates back thousands of years. It works on the premise that certain crops do better when planted or harvested during different phases of the moon and constellation positions. For example, sowing seeds two days before a full moon gives a better germination rate than sowing two days after.

Local weather and soil conditions are still factors in optimising sowing and planting conditions.

The purpose behind these next two cultivation methods is to maximise the harvest from a small space. This intensive horticulture is generally easier to manage in raised beds purely because it doesn’t involve walking on the soil. Which would be risking damage to the range of crops which are all at different stages of growth.

Succession planting

The permutations of this technique can be used individually or in combination. Firstly, it is where seeds are sown at 2 week intervals to prolong the harvest and prevent a glut of produce.
The other technique used is the practice of rapidly filling the space vacated by a harvested crop by planting a new crop.

Catch crops and Interplanting

These terms are sometimes used interchangeably.
This system of cultivation is used for where fast maturing and slow growing edible plants are interplanted, for example, sprouts and beetroot. This will increase the size of the harvest produced in a small area.
Those crops which are in the ground for longer such as Brussels sprouts can be interplanted with a faster maturing compatible crop, beetroot for example.

The system is also referred to as catch cropping, because the fast maturing crop is replaced on harvesting by a second. This will still mature before the slower growing crop.

Companion planting

Organic gardeners wanting to reduce the pest and disease damage to both their ornamental and edible crops often use a mix of plants specifically for that purpose.

Common usage over hundreds of years has demonstrated that companion planting works. Scientific study of companion planting has more recently confirmed the benefits.

Companion planting works in different ways depending on the combination of plants and the intention of the pairing. For example, companion plants can attract beneficial insects, including pollinators and predators. Or they may repel pests. For example, plants from the Allium family can reduce the incidence of black spot on roses.

Other plants can lure pests away from more desirable plants; this is often known as ‘sacrificial’ companion planting. On a more basic level, tall plants provide shade for sun-sensitive shorter plants.

There are, as one would expect, variations within these growing methods and cultivation systems. Different climates and soils will affect which ones would be appropriate in a given situation. Personal choice and cultural traditions may also have a bearing. But as an introduction, I trust you’ve found this article helpful.

Marie Shallcross
Alan Sargent Philosophy / The Landscaper’s Survival Manual
« Last post by Alan Sargent on March 04, 2017, 09:01:52 am »
The Landscaper’s Survival Manual

Since around 1990, I began what was to become a series of seminars, all aimed at training and enthusing all involved in the garden building industry. Not to teach gardening as a subject – although a couple of the seminars became Road Shows, with several different venues hosting the talks. These included The Waterscaping Road Show and the Hard Landscaping Road Show. I used to write for The Water Gardener magazine – a monthly column under the title of The Pond Doctor (not my choice of name!) and the hard landscaping talks and demonstrations derived from the practical seminars I used to run with The Traditional Paving Development Group, which specialised in retaining the old school practical skills and techniques.

Starting out in 1968, I went through all the usual phases of learning the business, gradually becoming more confident and versed in the skills of a Landscaper. Over the years, I went on to construct over sixty RHS Show gardens, thirty-seven as designer and builder. I project managed all of them, and as time went by, became an RHS Shows panellist, Assessor and Show Gardens Judge.

I founded The Association of Professional Landscapers in 1995, having spent the previous seventeen years active within The British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI) becoming National Chairman for PR & Marketing for that organisation. Somewhere along the line, I joined the Institute of Horticulture, and was elevated to become a Fellow in 2011.
There have been many other chapters in my career, but always orientated around training and the passing on of all those practical answers to problems that one encounters during a long career.

In 2012, I presented two seminars, aimed at Garden Designers and Contractors, and out of these notes I wrote The Landscaper’s Survival Manual.
It is NOT a book on gardening. It is a hard nosed look at the journey taken over the first few years in the life of a garden contractor – starting out working in gardening in general, then branching out to specialise either as a designer, garden builder or somewhere in between.

Launched in May 2013, the manual was well received by the Trade Press, as a new and innovative addition to the very short list of books aimed at helping people into a successful business career as Landscapers.

‘Providing advice on business set-up and interesting ideas with regard to marketing and networking’  -  Garden Design Journal

‘Everything you ever wanted to know – but did not know who to ask’ – Professional Gardener magazine.

‘Sets out the principles and processes of running a business effectively and efficiently – Horticulture Week.

‘It’s helped me more than any other book I’ve ever read’  Thomas Stone, writing in ProLandscaper magazine.

Available from, priced at £39.20 including P & P via PayPal, email to order a copy, or by post/cheque to Alan Sargent, West Lodge, Lavington Park, Petworth, Sussex GU28 0NQ

Alan Sargent FCIHort
Alan Sargent Philosophy / Mentoring Partnerships
« Last post by Alan Sargent on November 07, 2016, 06:36:35 pm »

Having worked in the gardening industry for nearly half a century, and being a keen student of its manifold strengths and weaknesses, I have become increasingly concerned regarding the shortage of younger people willing or interested to become involved in horticulture in any form – with the exception perhaps of garden design.

Now that I am reaching my twilight years, certainly as a ‘hands on’ gardener, working for a number of highly valued customers who both respect my work and enjoy my involvement in their gardens, I, along with many hundreds – indeed, thousands – of other sole trader style gardeners are considering how and when to tell their clients they are looking at retirement.

(To be clear, I am not talking here about the thousands of single handed jobbing gardeners who operate ‘under the radar’ when it comes to matters such as insurance and other legal requirements, I am thinking of those sole traders who have a number or ‘round’ of high quality and long term customers and run professional businesses)

The Partners
The customers themselves, have no wish to think about the inevitable day when the subject of finding a new gardener will have to be  discussed. The usual route is for one or both parties to raise the prospect of perhaps reducing the number of hours worked, finding someone else to carry out heavier duties, mow the lawns, cut the hedges etc; and somehow gradually withdraw from that relationship. Many gardeners and customers have been together for many years, and finding suitable replacement labour is becoming increasingly difficult. Plus, of course, the breaking of the methodology, trust and working techniques/regime that have evolved over those years often means that the new gardener has to strike up a new and perhaps different/less comfortable relationship with the client.

I have been considering a new approach to this subject, one I call Mentoring Partnerships. (The title may change, as it is more of a Formula, which involves a Partnership or Agreement, written or verbal, between the customer (hereafter referred to as ‘C’) and the existing gardener, or Senior Partner (hereafter referred to as ‘Senior’) and a third party – the new/replacement gardener or Junior Partner (or ‘Junior).

The Formula
Initially, the prime person in the Formula is the Senior, as the desire to begin working on the process of handing over the garden will be made by them in the first instance. Beginning with a request to discuss the future of the garden maintenance, Senior will propose to C that he/she finds a suitable person to start a bespoke training programme, specifically for their garden (This Formula will be repeated at each client’s garden). In many ways similar to an apprenticeship, except that the training will be for their benefit, with the end of the one/two/three year period, Junior will have been fully trained by Senior to the precise wishes of C.

This Agreement will mean that C pays Junior a basic rate (minimum wage) together with Seniors usual rate, but the extra hours may be adjusted if required to negate any increase in costs to C.
Senior will agree not only to train Junior in the skills and methods learned over a lifetime, no doubt Junior will be able to advise Senior of some of the latest techniques. Senior will also ensure that proper accounts are kept, insurances and other legal requirements are met, site etiquette and customer relations learned – so many things that Junior could never learn outside of such an arrangement.

To summarise the Formula; The Customer does not lose the benefit of the skills of the Senior gardener and enjoys the continuity of an unbroken line of expertise whilst retaining contact with their old and trusted guru.

Senior Gardener gains the use of an extra pair of hands to take on the more arduous tasks, whilst at the same time  training a new person to enjoy the skills and techniques so that they are not lost to the world, plus the opportunity to carry out some of the more difficult jobs acting as Consultant to their old client (and gaining more consultancy work post retirement age).

Junior Gardener has a unique opportunity to learn at first hand, from a highly experience professional, in the grounds of a property that they will be taking on at some  stage – (instead of a standard apprenticeship which normally ends with the apprentice either being absorbed into the company, or often moving on to pastures new and therefore ‘lost’ to their mentor, if not to the industry through loss of motivation.

They will not only have had a sound period of training, specific to each individual garden/client, they will also have inherited (and earned) a well grounded professionally based business which may grow beyond those existing original customers (and indeed, employ the services of a known and trusted Consultant!)

Even if you have no desire to see such an arrangement in your own business, I would appreciate any comments – Pro’s or Con’s – if you consider this could be a way forward to entice more people into our industry.
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