Online garden talks – the new way to enjoy gardening – The Middle-Sized Garden


January 13th, 2021 Posted In: Garden style & living

Online garden talks are an enjoyable and informative way to discover the expertise of top gardening experts. And you can ask questions. They are the 21st century gardening club experience, courtesy of lockdowns around the world.

And although there’s nothing quite like attending a talk in person, a Zoom gardening talk is a very good second best. Or if you have problems with getting out of the house, maybe it can even be better.

Top: Adam Frost speaking at the Painters Forstal Garden Club. Above: Pot planting expert Harriet Rycroft speaking about pots on Lou Nicholl’s Adventures in Horticulture online gardening club, with comments and questions on the right.

Many garden trusts and societies have taken some of their talks online. I recently heard a very enjoyable talk from award-winning head gardener Steven Edney on the subject of creating an exotic-themed garden, via my local garden club, The Painters Forstal Garden Club.

Not all garden clubs and horticultural societies have embraced Zoom talks. And I also found relatively few online talks on the websites of the botanic gardens and other big organisations.

However, some smaller organisations, charities and individuals have created an excellent programme of online garden talks, so here goes:

Online garden talks from Plant Heritage

Plant Heritage, a charity to conserve the diversity of garden plants, has a full schedule of virtual talks up on its website. In January 2021, there are talks on bamboos, buddleias and hammamelis, all by experts in the species. Many are open to both members and non-members of Plant Heritage and they’re reasonably priced (around £4). Some are part of a local gardening club’s programme of events, so access to those varies.

Plant Heritage also runs an annual Plant Exchange at the beginning of every year.

Lou Nicholls’ Adventures in Horticulture

Head gardener Lou Nicholls is using Patreon to start an online gardening club. It’s a ‘community for gardeners with monthly speakers’. The membership is £3 a month, for which you get a newsletter, one online garden talk a month and a newsletter. You’ll also get access to past talks for at least 30 days after they’ve happened.

Lou has an excellent network of contacts amongst head gardeners, so the speaker programme is both varied and of a very high standard. Past talks include Harriet Rycroft, one of the UK’s top experts on growing plants in pots.

Coming up in January is Emma Thick on snowdrops, Matthew Oliver of RHS Hyde Hall on growing giant pumpkins and Barbara Segall on growing herbs.

Lou Nicholls

Lou Nicholls, head gardener at the renowned Ulting Wick gardens, founder of the Adventures in Horticulture online gardening club.

Lou herself is also available as a speaker. And you can also find her on her blog Adventures in Horticulture and on Twitter. She is head gardener at Ulting Wick, an outstanding garden in Essex which opens for the National Gardens Scheme and by private appointment. Ulting Wick has been featured in many magazines and on TV, and it is especially famous for its tulip display.

Online garden talks from the Gardens Trust

The Gardens Trust also has a full programme of talks, many of which are online. Currently there is an 8-week series on Post-war English gardens and landscapes.

The Gardens Trust is pioneering the research and conservation of these 20th century gardens and parks. They believe it’s a time when garden styles were ‘overlooked, under-valued and in risk of being lost.’ Working with the Garden Museum, they’ve managed to get 24 landscapes or parts of landscapes listed under the National Heritage List for England.

These include Beth Chatto’s environmentally friendly garden in Essex, which the Middlesized Garden visited in August 2020. Other listed 20th century landscapes are Campbell Park on the edge of Milton Keynes and the Jellicoe Watercourse at the former Cadbury’s factory in the Wirral. The Gardens Trust series of online talks about these gardens and landscapes should be fascinating.

Beth Chatto dry garden

The Beth Chatto garden (above) is one of the post-war 20th century gardens which is now Listed by Historic England. The Gardens Trust identified gardens and landscapes 1960-1990 as at risk of being lost and its series of online garden talks will cover this somewhat forgotten -but fascinating – era of gardening.

Great Dixter online garden talks

Great Dixter House & Gardens is one of the most exciting names in gardening. Fergus Garrett of Great Dixter is an inspiring speaker and ran a series of online talks in 2020. These are now available to rent on demand. There’s nothing up at the moment about the 2021 programme, but it is always worth checking.

Great Dixter House & Gardens

Great Dixter House & Gardens ran a series of online garden talks in 2020, now available to rent on demand.

Online garden talks further afield…

I asked some international friends about online garden talks in their area. Rachel Darlington of the YouTube channel Gardening at Douentza in Ireland recommends the online events programme of the Royal Horticultural Society in Ireland.

Rachel’s Gardening at Douentza channel features gardening tips and visits. She is also very knowledgeable on houseplants & greenhouse plants.

Gardening clubs and horticultural societies

In theory, online gardening talks mean that you can enjoy talks from all around the country. It is, however, quite time-consuming to winnow through the websites of individual horticultural societies to find out what’s on. And many events are only open to club members. A website called Floriferous Garden has a listing of horticultural societies, so you can check for your local group.

Although in theory you can buy tickets to garden club talks anywhere, I think it would probably be easier to check out your local clubs and find the one with the best talks. Then join it – many of the talks are free to members and annual membership is usually under £10.

If you’re a gardening club wanting an speaker for online garden talks…

It will be interesting to see how many online garden talks continue when Covid 19 restrictions end. While we’re all looking forward to meeting people again, there’s no doubt that some people have difficulty getting out. If you’re a parent of young children, too busy to travel or have physical difficulties, especially at night, then online garden talks could be a real bonus. And, of course, it gives garden clubs a much wider range of speakers if they don’t have to travel.

There are various sources of speakers for gardening clubs. Some speakers are now experienced at running online sessions, and will be able to help you set the session up if your gardening club hasn’t done online garden talks before.

The Garden Media Guild has a listing of good gardening speakers. It specifies whether they’re experienced in running online garden talks. Speakers can also be found on Garden Club Listings and Floriferous-Garden. The RHS also has a listing of speakers and judges available for gardening clubs and horticultural societies.

What’s the difference between a gardening club and a horticultural society?

By the way, I once asked the founder of the Painters Forstal Garden Club what the difference was between a gardening club and a horticultural society.

He said it was a matter of choice for the members as to whether to call themselves one or the other. ‘But the Painters Forstal Horticultural Society did seem a bit of a mouthful, so we went for gardening club.’

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