Lectures, media and events

Christmas came early this year!


Yesterday brought the startling, and humbling, announcement - and I’m honoured to receive the 2021 Garden Media Guild Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Garden Media Guild is the British professional organisation for garden writers and photographers, bloggers, TV and radio presenters and producers – any communicator who specialises in plants, gardens and gardening.

I thank my peers in the Guild for this recognition of a life of writing about plants and gardens – starting in The Irish Gardener, and what was then Practical Self Sufficiency magazine, almost exactly forty years ago.

I’m humbled to find myself in the company, as a Garden Media Guild Lifetime Achievement Award winner, of such greats as Christopher Lloyd, with whom I wrote a book twenty years ago; Peter Seabrook who, since his own Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993, has done enough to receive another; Fred Whitsey and Graham Stuart-Thomas, from a very different generation, as well as Beth Chatto, Joy Larkcom, Roy Lancaster, Alan Titchmarsh, Anna Pavord and the other deserving recipients.

None of this would have happened without the legendary Geoff Hamilton. He hired me to my first trainee writer job on Practical Gardening magazine – on condition that I cut off my ponytail which, he insisted, would frighten the readers. I was then allowed on the front cover (above).

Thank you, too, to all but one of the many editors I’ve worked with over the years. It’s been fun, challenging, satisfying (and occasionally exasperating), but never a dull moment. The one exception is the section editor who fired me with a letter - which contained just one line: “You have written your last column for The Observer”. Needless to say: he’d replaced the editor who hired me and who’d long since been promoted. He, himself, was soon replaced!

Finally, I’d to thank all the many many people who’ve helped me along the way: gardeners and plantspeople, propagators and plant breeders, academics and field botanists - as well, of course, as friends, readers and other writers - who’ve generously shared their knowledge, wisdom, and experience over the years. Thank you for helping me ensure that my work has been as accurate and helpful as possible. It was up to me to make it all a good read.

• Please check out all the other winners at the 2021 Garden Media Guild Awards.

My Graham’s Garden blog
My Royal Horticultural Society New Plants blog
My Plant Talk blog for Mr Fothergill’s

You’ll also find me regularly in Gardeners’ World magazine, Horticulture Week and The Plant Review, in many issues of Amateur Gardening magazine and Garden News, in the December 2021 issue of The Garden in the 9 December edition of the RHS Podcast - and elsewhere.

You can also check out my folk music radio show The Wagonload of Monkeys.

Videos will be in the next post.

Harry Potter and the Horticultural Hogwash

Here's a great little video from Dr Markus Eichhorn, an ecologist at the University of Nottingham, pointing out some of the horticultural blunders in the Harry Potter movies.


I've seen none of the Harry Potter movies (Hah!) so can't add more.

But I once started keeping a record of all the plants I'd spotted on far and distant planets visited on Star Trek. I began when Captain Picard, I think it was, beamed down into a large field of argyranthemums (marguerites), of all things, and another episode found Captain Kirk and his crew slashing their way through a forest of garden centre sized date palms.

But the truth is I just couldn't face watching every episode of Deep Space Nine on the off-chance of spotting a begonia.

Two new lectures on the way

Iris,foetidissima,citrina,flowers,berries. Image ©GardenPhotos.com (all rights reserved)
This winter I’m working on creating two brand new lectures, they’ll be ready later this year.

Planting the Dry Shade Garden Based on my next book, out later this year. It looks at why dry shade is such a problem in the garden, how to make it less dry and less shady and then presents a choice of plants of all kinds that will do well dry shade. I’m taking bookings now for fall 2011 onwards – from the UK and Ireland, and from North America. Iris foetidissima (above click to enlarge) is a top dry shade plant. (Please excuse the leaf spot - it wasn't in my garden!)
Deer Defeaters – Plants the Deer (probably) Won’t Eat I’ve been researching this important subject extensively and have come up with some unexpected discoveries. Let me enlighten you… I’m taking bookings now for the summer of 2011 onwards – but only from the USA.

Other subjects for lectures include:
UK and Ireland
Transatlantic Treasures - New and Undiscovered Perennials from Across the Atlantic.
Transatlantic Perennials - From vantage points in north-east Pennsylvania and Northamptonshire in England, a look at perennials in the wild, and their selection and development into garden plants on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ultimate Plants for Small Gardens - Small gardens demand special plants.
Hellebores - The charm and diversity of these essential early perennials with ideas for plants to grow with them.
Perennials for Flower and Foliage - Top perennials for flower power, foliage impact and the best of both.
Britain's Favourite Perennials - Britain's top ten perennials based on actual sales at RHS plant centres.

North America (Created for your local conditions)
Transatlantic Treasures - New and Undiscovered Perennials from Across the Atlantic.
Transatlantic Perennials - From vantage points in north-east Pennsylvania and Northamptonshire in England, a look at perennials in the wild, and their selection and development into garden plants on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ultimate Plants for Small Gardens - Small gardens demand special plants.
Hellebores - The charm and diversity of these essential early perennials with ideas for plants to grow with them.
Perennials for Flower and Foliage - Top perennials for flower power, foliage impact and the best of both.

Interested in making a booking or looking for more info? Email me.

Earlier this month I talked to a packed group from the UK Hardy Plant Society Hertfordshire Group about hellebores. And a very friendly, knowledgeable and appreciative group they turned out to be. They have Matthew Wilson, The Landscape Man, on 5 February talking about Making a Garden – should be a great afternoon.

On 5 March I’ll be back in Britain and speaking to the East Anglian Garden Group, Stowmarket in Suffolk, also about Hellebores (members only, I'm sorry to say) and then on 6 March I’m speaking to the Essex Group of the Hardy Plant Society on the subject of Transatlantic Treasures - New and Undiscovered Perennials from Across the Atlantic. Hope to see you there.

Britain's top garden media folks get their awards

The British garden writers - and other media garden people - had their annual Garden Media Guild bash in London this week and judging by the tweets from the pub afterwards it was quite an event. The next day, the tweets were all about going back to the pub to retrieve phones, coats, and underwear thoughtlessly forgotten in the fun the night before. I really missed it, this year - I'm on the wrong side of the Atlantic.

ThinkinGardens, Anne WarehamBut, for gardeners on both sides of the Atlantic, the awards point to books, websites and other outlets for the expression of garden writing and horticulural insight of all kinds of which we should all take note. So here’s a few winners and finalists that my transatlantic readership in particular will find interesting or amusing.

The Website of the Year award went to Thinking Gardens (left, click on the image to go to the site). Quite right too. Anne Wareham, who runs the site, is committed to realistic garden criticism and campaigns against the platitudinous puffs that fill so many garden magazines or, as Anne puts it more effectively, are “caught in a fixed tradition of relentless admiration”. Why don’t writers about gardens write about them in the same way film critics write about films?

Blog of The year went to Midnight brambling, from Lia Leendertz. I like MidnightBramblingit because Lia brings together domestic life and garden life – and in particular because  it’s well written. She doesn’t post very often, but her blog is always worth reading. Amongst the finalists, Mark Dianco’s Otter Farm blog may bewilder some Americans but they'll certainly find it intrigung. Described as “a window into what's happening at the UK's only climate change farm - where we're planting olives, peaches, pecans, persimmons, apricots, szechuan pepper, vines” but lurching off into his entertaining asides. It’s very English. And all the better for that.

Of the award winning books, for Transatlantic readers I’d pick out The Kew Plant Glossary: An Illustrated Dictionary of Plant Identification Terms. As the judges said: “Thrill to the fact that not only will technical terms from abaxial to zygomorphous be at your fingertips, but that you will understand them.”!! This is an issue whose complexities befuddle many gardeners around the world – trust me, this book will help.

Of the journalism awards finalist Victoria Summerley of The Independent should have appeal beyond Britain’s shores especially in highlighting the idiosyncrasies of Britain’s gardens - not to mention its gardeners - as in this piece on colour. Sparky writing, and always a sense of fun. But: please will her newspaper’s website banish those huge and horrid pop up ads that blot out everything just as you're startibng to read? You can always check her Victoria's Backyard blog as well.

Andrew Lawson And finally, every year the members of the British Garden Media Guild votes for a Lifetime Achievement Award. This year, the award to photographer Andrew Lawson. If you’ve opened a garden book or magazine you’ve seen his work. Crucially, it seems to me, he trained as a painter and looking at plants and gardens as an artist seems to infuse everything he does.

OK… That’s just a few. You can check out the whole list of awards here. People not mentioned - don’t be offended, no room here for all fine work that was honoured. And, sorry, but there’s not much interest in broadcasting awards for shows never seen over in California and Nebraska. And anyway... if I go on too long, everyone will click off somewhere else. Congratulations, everyone. [And I lied about the underwear - I hope...]

Hellebore lecture (in Britain)

Hellebore,Painted Double,double hellebore, Image: ©TerraNova Nurseries On Friday I'll be lecturing to the Staffordshire Group of the Hardy Plant Society.

My theme? "Hellebores and Friends" - I'll be giving an overview of our favourite hellebores, then showcasing the many winter and spring plants which look well with them, and finally showing the very latest varieties - from both sides of the Atlantic. I hope to see you there...

Sunny weekend of plants in Maryland

Color themed display at Homestead Gardens I’m just back from lecturing at one of the best known garden centers in the east, Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville, Maryland… about 25 miles from Washington, DC. It was the second weekend of their Kaleidoscope of Color spring show and their landscape department had designed some colorful show gardens – featuring marigolds in full flower… in March! They also had an exceptional bargain – large pots of pretty yellow kalanchoe in full flower – for only $1.99.

After a soggy session the previous weekend the sun blazed, the place was packed and carts were filling up quickly as people shopped for plants then dashed home to get everything planted before yesterday’s downpour.

I talked about the many varieties of New Perennials coming on to the market from around the world and, judging by the underlining and scribbled notes on people’s handouts, the staff at Homestead are going to be asked for lots of new plants this season. Especially the many new hellebores, Double hellebores,Terra Nova Nurseries. Image ©Terra Nova Nurseries judging by the number of dropping jaws  when the pictures came on the screen.

Then as I wandered amongst the benches packed with lush perennials after Saturday’s presentation a couple of people stopped to ask me about the new hybrid coneflowers I’d shown – they said they’d been great the first year in the flower gardens, but never came up the following spring.

Drainage is the answer – these new echinaceas hate soggy soil in winter. Consistently moist soil in summer helps them flower for longer and helps prevent the lower leaves from drying up but wet soil in winter is a killer. So choose a sunny, well-drained site. Often the soil in borders becomes raised up over the years with Echinaceas,Terra Nova Nurseries. Image ©Terra Nova Nurseries regular mulching and often that extra depth of soil is enough to allows surplus moisture to drain away from the crowns of the coneflowers. Or choose a site where the soil is naturally well-drained, or amend the soil to improve the drainage.

Also speaking this weekend at Homestead Gardens was Katy Moss Warner – President Emeritus of the American Horticultural Society, no less. You can read about her presentation on the Homestead Gardens blog.

Now, it’s catching up time. When the internet connection in the hotel - the Marriott Courtyard, Annapolis, Maryland… take note - is so slow that it’s almost impossible even to get a Tweet out, I now find I have quite a backlog. OK... on to the next thing – which would be another mug of coffee. After yesterday’s six and half hour drive back through torrential downpours I still need waking up.

Lectures and book signing

A little flurry of events coming up...

20 March (USA)
Kaleidoscope of Color Garden Show
Homestead Gardens, Davidsonville, MD
12pm New Perennials - lecture
I’ll be presenting my look at new (and one or two undiscovered) perennials.
Also featuring at the show: Katy Moss Warner, President Emeritus of the American Horticultural Society

20 March (USA)
The Orchid Show
New York Botanical Garden (latest updated details)
My wife judywhite will be signing copies of her new book, Bloom-Again Orchids and demonstrating orchid care
2.00-3.30 pm Book signing, Q&A and potting demonstration in the Shop in the Garden
3.30-4.30pm Repotting orchids demonstration, Q&A  and book signing in the Green School outside the Enid Haupt Conservatory alongside The Orchid Show. judywhite will be appearing in conjunction with the NYBG's Annual Orchid Show.

21 March (USA)
Kaleidoscope of Color Garden Show
Homestead Gardens, Davidsonville, MD
3.15pm New Perennials lecture
A second chance to see my presentation on new (and one or two undiscovered) perennials
Also featuring at the show: Katy Moss Warner, President Emeritus of the American Horticultural Society

April 16 (UK)
Hardy Plant Society (Staffordshire Group)
Little Haywood Village Hall, Little Haywood, Stafford,
7.30pm Hellebores and Friends - lecture
I’ll be talking about and showing hellebores old and new and plants to grow with them in the garden.

Like to book us to speak at your event? Email Graham or email judy.

Note to burglars: Yes, we’re both away for the weekend of 20/21 March – but you won’t want to mess with our cat sitters! And the cats can give you a nasty glare - so be warned.

Ireland: Fota Arboretum

The Orangery and palms at Fota Arboretum. Image:©GardenPhotos.com Continuing our visit to West Cork, we went off to hear Joy Larkcom speak at the Grow Your Own seminar at Fota Arboretum. A short ferry ride from the mainland, the island of Fota is located in Cork Harbour and its world famous arboretum features a superb collection of trees and shrubs in particular in a balmy frost free environment.

Joy’s talk – make sure you catch her if she’s speaking near you – was entitled Creative Vegetable Gardening and featured not only her own gardens but other gardens in Europe and North America. Lots of ideas to steal!

After the talk Brian Cross led a guided tour of the arboretum. Brian’s own garden at Lakemount has been described by the Royal Horticultural Society as one of Ireland's "flagship gardens". He knew Fota at a very early age and proved a good-humoured and knowledgeable guide.

The arboretum, which rarely gets a frost, features many fine trees including the largest Cryptomeria japonica 'Spiralis' in Europe and two other huge cryptomerias by the pond as well as specimen palms, magnolias and cedars. There are some lovely specimens of the Drimys winteri with its fragrant spring flowers and also of its relation the delightful multicoloured foliage shrub Pseudowintera colorata together with many other plants rarely seen elsewhere.

Bananas, echiums and fuchsias at Fota Arboretum. Image:©GardenPhotos.comBananas and fuchsias, the magenta purple climber Cestrum x newellii and the amazing pink and yellow flowered Lonicera x heckrottii with many fine hardy fuchsias are found in the long border on the other side of the wall from the Pleasure Garden with its many autumn perennials.

Even if you don’t have a great passion for rare trees and shrubs, Fota is still well worth a visit for the atmosphere is restful and intriguing, there’s formal and informal gardens through which to stroll and the café chowder was very tasty.

Lectures this year

Here's a quick run down of my lectures over the next few months. It would be great to see you. As well as lecturing, I'll also have many of my books on sale as well as note cards and postcards. And if you're interested in booking me to speak, just email me.

2009 Britain
September 17

Transatlantic Perennials
Plant Heritage (Norfolk Group)

October 7
Britain's Favourite Perennials
Oundle Horticultural Society

October 9
New Perennials
Hardy Plant Society (West Yorkshire Group)

2009 North America
November 10
Ultimate Plants for Small Gardens
Milford Garden Club (Milford, PA)

November 19
Transatlantic Perennials
Rhododendron Society (Lehigh Valley PA Chapter)

December 12
New Perennials
University of Rhode Island Master Gardeners

2010 Britain

Speaking at Heronswood

Dicentra spectabilis 'Gold Heart'. Image ©GardenPhotos.com A few days ago I was speaking at the open days for Heronswood Nursery, a two and a half hour drive south of here and just outside Philadelphia. I’d have told you about it sooner if I hadn’t got so many plants that I needed to get in the ground before we head off to England for the Chelsea Flower Show tomorrow. In particular, I was delighted to be planting a new pink hybrid hellebore, ‘Rosemary’, which should be available here soon. Anyway…

Heronswood was founded on the west coast by Dan Hinkley and Robert Jones and is now part of the Burpee group on the east coast, and it’s clearly getting into gear in its new incarnation. Ros Creasy was also on the bill, with her inspiring presentation on her edible landscapes, and I discussed plants for small gardens – plants that give the extra value needed in small spaces.

But as well as making my presentations and talking to the many visitors to Fordhook Farm for the event, I had a chance to take a look at the developments in the gardens. It was a little late for their hellebores, which are a Heronswood specialty: Dan Hinkley began their hellebore breeding using stock sourced in England, Grace Romero continues the program with some splendid new introductions and more on the way. In fact the Heronswood hellebores were amongst the plants I had to get planted today.

But as I took a little time to explore the expanding plantings, there were two plants which caught my eye – one a universally admired perennial from England, and one viewed here in the US with rather more mixed feelings.

We all love Dicentra spectabilis, the tall Asian bleeding heart, but the gold-leaved version, ‘Gold Heart’, adds a whole new dimension to the shade garden – selected at Hadspen House garden in England buy Canadians Nori and Sandra Pope, it was a standout feature at Heronswood. Its foliage is golden yellow from the moment it peeps through the soil in spring and as the plant expands it lights up the landscape. Then the familiar long strings of bleeding hearts, in a paler shade than the usual green-leaved version, arch outwards. The result is a spectacular shade plant.

Pinellia ternata. Image ©GardenPhotos.com Another shade plant I came across in the Heronswood garden – well, let’s be fair, my wife judy spotted it first - is one of the classiest weeds you’ll ever find: Pinellia ternata, also known for some unfathomable reason as crowdipper.

This member of the Arum family (Araceae), a relative of the native Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), with its green cowl and slender black tongue, seemed to have arrived in clumps of a variegated agapanthus and was spreading from there. It’s not at all flamboyant but this demure perennial is perhaps just too captivating for the gardeners’ own good. It's rarely offered by American nurseries, in Britain it's offered by these RHS Plant Finder nurseries.

With no cares about upsetting the anti-alien, native plant enthusiasts – I should have asked for some to take home. If it should escape outside the deer fence – it would be gone, so no danger. The Scott Arboretum would not agree.

Anyway… all in all it was a fascinating couple of days at Heronswood.