I’ve been talking to Tamsin Westhorpe and reviewing her new book, Diary of a Modern Country Gardener.
It’s a very readable combination of memoir and practical advice about gardening.
In her case, the gardening is at Stockton Bury Gardens, which has been in her family for five generations. It’s open to the public and regularly features in ‘best UK gardens to visit’ lists. However, the advice she gives in Diary of A Modern Country Gardener applies to those of us with small and middle-sized gardens.
For example, there are tip boxes at the start of every chapter with a list of what you’ll need for that month. And that includes tools as well as what you should wear (Long tops and big knickers in winter, so you don’t get the chilly builder’s bum effect when you’re bent over!).
So why ‘modern country gardener’ – what has changed?
Tamsin is also a former editor of The English Garden magazine and deputy editor of Amateur Gardening, but her gardening roots run deep. Her great-uncle was John Treasure of Burford House Gardens and winner of many RHS medals. Her uncle, Raymond Treasure, and his partner created the Stockton Bury Gardens as they are today.
So Tamsin is perfectly placed to see how gardening and garden visiting has changed – and is still changing.
Garden visiting and the mobile phone
Tamsin thinks that the changes in country gardens are more about the way people visit them than changes in the gardens themselves.
Garden visiting has been transformed by the mobile phone, says Tamsin. ‘It means that visitors can ask the gardeners about plants much more easily. And they do. They no longer need to try to explain a flower they want to identify with ‘it’s that blue flower, down the hill, on the left… They take a photo on their phone and show us.’
Tamsin thinks this has forged stronger links between those who work in the gardens and those who visit them. There are also more garden tours, she thinks, where people want to be shown round the garden by knowledgeable gardeners.
But the mobile phone has affected planting too. ‘We’re very aware that people want colourful or dramatic backgrounds for Instagram,’ explains Tamsin. ‘So, for example, I now plant more tulips than I did.’
Modern gardening tools
Tamsin thinks that one of the biggest changes in gardening today is about tools rather than plants.
Speaking in The Middlesized Garden video on 2020 Garden Trends, she says that lawn mowers today have been transformed. They are much lighter and easier to use. They have a number of different types of mower for different lawn areas at Stockton Bury Gardens, so Tamsin uses several brands, including Cobra. ‘When we have to replace a lawn mower, I’m always amazed by how much better the new mowers are compared to those we’ve had for ten or fifteen years.’
She thinks today’s battery powered mowers could make mowing a middle-sized lawn much easier. ‘The batteries only last 30 minutes or so, but if you have two batteries you can swop them over. And you can mow without cables or petrol – it’s much easier.’
She also finds lighter, more portable leaf blowers a great help. ‘I love my Stihl battery-powered leaf blower.’
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Some things are different for bigger gardens
Diary of a Modern Country Gardener is also an interesting insight into what it’s like to garden in a large garden that’s open to the public. ‘It’s like cooking in a restaurant as opposed to cooking at home,’ says Tamsin. ‘People have higher expectations.’
This means that some things have to be different. For example, Tamsin clears away the borders at Stockton Bury Gardens in the autumn. It is too big a job to leave till the spring, especially as a sudden snowy March could bring work to a complete standstill.
She agrees that seedheads and grasses look fabulous on a frosty morning, but points out that as the winter goes on, they often collapse into a messy heap. There are plenty of wildlife-friendly nooks and crannies around Stockton Bury Gardens generally, but winter is time for a professional gardener to get ahead. ‘I can see that leaving seed heads makes sense in urban gardens,’ she says, ‘but it’s not practical for us. We could have a month of snow, and we would never be ready in time to open in April.’
Visit Stockton Bury Gardens
Stockton Bury Gardens is open from 1st April until the end of September. There are special events, such as a ‘Peony Weekend’ in May and print-making or photography workshops.
‘The way people visit a garden like Stockton Bury has changed, too,’ says Tamsin. ‘People are now much more likely to come on their own just to enjoy being outside.’
This week’s video
This week’s video is a tour of the Middlesized Garden. Which is not on any ‘best UK gardens to visit’ lists! But you can see me scurrying to remove my collapsed seed heads and general garden mess. At this point, I am wishing I had done what Tamsin did and get it done last November… see https://youtu.be/25sNASzDoHM
Shop my favourite gardening books, tools and products
Diary of a Modern Country Gardener is written ‘in real time from the potting shed at Stockton Bury Gardens’, which gives it a sense of real authenticity. I think that experienced gardeners would enjoy it, but it’s also very accessible and helpful for anyone new to gardening.
It features on my list of ‘Favourite new gardening books’ on the Middlesized Garden Amazon store. I’m often asked for recommendations, so I’ve made some lists of the tools, products and books I use personally.