I’ve been a gardener all my life. Sometimes, it was a hobby. At other times, it was a job. But today it has become my purpose.
My great uncle Goodenough was a respected enough head gardener to earn himself an obituary. But it was my grandmother who showed me how to earth up potatoes and stake delphiniums.
I started work in my parents’ garden in London. And, then, when they moved to the Lake District, I worked on their garden for 37 years. I liked what I did so much, I wanted to make my hobby my job.
My first gardening job was working for Clifton Nurseries as one of their two-men maintenance teams. We drove around North London in a white mini-van looking after lawns around apartment blocks in St John’s Wood, formal courtyard’s n the City of London and the gardens of high-profile business leaders.
I decided to investigate a postgraduate degree in landscape architecture, leaving Clifton Nurseries to work as a draughtsman for Brian Clouston and Partners, a landscape architectural practice that was an international business with offices throughout the UK and Asia, an example of globalism perhaps 20 years before its time.
Its founder was one of the first presidents of the Landscape Institute and several of its senior executives went on to take the same role. Others were authors of books , writers of articles and lecturers both in unviersities and the RIBA, many of the individuals going on to set up their own practices that now dominate the U.K. profession.
I made site visits, even to the practice’s work in Hong Kong. I sat at a drawing board, working up details in a rooftop studio close to St Paul’s Cathedral. It was a dream. Landscape architecture might have been the profession my education suggested but I had mistaken it for the gardening that was my passion.
I left for a very successful career in a global media company. I still worked on my parents’ garden in the Lake District. And, finally, my husband and I managed to have our own garden in North London.
Many of the plants came from local nurseries, chosen because I wanted to grow a particular species rather than because the garden was suitable for it. I was also obsessed with creating a perfect, green lawn, using sprinklers and chemicals to achieve the desired effect.
It looked beautiful but was devoid of wildlife.
I rarely thought of my impact on the environment at that time. And then we had an extension built on our house, covering much of our original garden with a kitchen, leaving us with what can only be described as a small courtyard. Clive Sall Architects, our architects, suggested we work with Joh Bates, a landscape architect.
Huge bi-fold doors meant that, in the summer, the kitchen and courtyard became one space. In the winter, the view on to the courtyard could be seen down to the last detail.
How to make the tiny space work all year round and provide the shading we needed if we were to sit out in the summer?
Joh came up with a design that was a palimpsest of a forest clearing.
She underplanted with a succession matrix – an approach to gardening I had never seen – of grasses with spring and summer bulbs and perennials. Over the years, we have learnt what works and does not work.
I learnt so much about a more naturalist approach to gardening, one that did not just look natural but also engaged with wildlife.
So that it was at this very stage in my garden story that the opportunity of guerilla gardening the tree pits came about. Ready to think ABOUT REWILDING THE CITY.
And reconnect me to my purpose.