My multi-award winning garden, Driftwood, is located by the sea in Sussex, on the coast between Brighton and Eastbourne. Over the years it has seen 14500 visitors and raised £76000 for charity. Last year it featured on BBC Gardener’s World and was a finalist in Gardeners’ World Magazine, Garden of the Year Competition too. Every year it is a challenge to create a variety of garden rooms that looks a little different, so the many returning visitors see something new and fresh. In order to create a flexible and fairly easy to change garden, I’ve always used terracotta containers of all sizes. I’ve probably got a collection of over 150 now. I’ve never been keen on plastic ones, they just don’t look at home in the garden, whatever the colour. OK I hear you say, the advantage is that they are not as heavy as the real thing, but there really has never been any competition for me, despite the weight! Now roll on the years, I’m 64 this month and I’ve been forced to reconsider how I create a different look in the garden this year. I’ve been using a trolley in recently to move containers around , but even that has started to get more difficult, especially in a garden on a slope with several steps to negotiate.
So, this year I decided I needed to try and ease the burden, by investigating some lightweight pots that still looked like terracotta. The obvious place to check on line was Primrose, as they seem to stock everything anyone could need for the garden, and I have purchased quite a few things from them over the years.
Two areas of the garden that rely very heavily on the use of containers, are these central steps in the garden and the patio area at the back of the house, which resembles a wall of plants on either side, like corridor of plants!
On investigation, I found what looked like the perfect solution! The fibre clay containers seemed to fit the bill perfectly for the steps, as I needed to find ones that were the right size to sit perfectly on the brick steps. They look absolutely at home, even before they have been filled with annuals for the summer season. These containers are all 30 cm tall and will work well, creating the waterfall effect I need to achieve. Look at last years results to see what I aim to create.
On the other hand, at the back of the house, one of the features I had within the wall of flowers was an old Victorian wooden cart which sat under a large potted camellia. On moving it to tidy up last month, it disintegrated and I’m left with the 2 axles and a side panel. I therefore needed to fill a large space, so two fibre clay containers, the tall one 64 cm tall and the lower one 37 cm tall. They look amazing in the space already . Granted, these are so big they will probably never be moved but all the others are perfect for ease of movement each year as needed. I also needed 3 troughs to sit on tiered shelving as part of this area of the garden. The 3 from Primrose fitted perfectly, which will also make life a lot easier. Just imagine how they will look when we open the garden gate to our first visitors on the 11th June. The garden is open 14 times for public days this year but also by arrangement from 1st June until 3rd September. If you live around Sussex, or are planning holidaying in the area this year, why not come and visit the garden yourselves. Full details can be found at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk
Look out for the next blog this Summer, so you can see what the containers look like when our visitors view them in the Summer.
Geoff Stonebanks lives in Bishopstone, near Seaford in East Sussex and spends all his time gardening and fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. Using his multi award-winning garden, Driftwood, he has raised over £76,000 for various charities in 7 years, £40,000 of that for Macmillan. The garden, which first opened to the public in 2009 has featured on BBC2 Gardeners’ World, Good Morning Britain and in many national and local media publications. In his spare time, Geoff is also the National Garden Scheme’s Social Media & Publicity Chair as well as an Assistant County Organiser & Publicity Officer in East & Mid Sussex.
Are you a fan of growing your own ingredients? Potatoes are one of the most satisfying vegetables to harvest at home – simple enough for beginners and packed with great flavour. Space is no longer an issue as we show you how to plant potatoes in containers so you can start growing spuds wherever you live.
To help you get started we also offer lots of planters for all your home-growing needs.
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Infographic illustrated by our wonderful designer Becky.
George works in the Primrose marketing team. As a lover of all things filmic, he also gets involved with our TV ads and web videos.
George’s idea of the perfect time in the garden is a long afternoon sitting in the shade with a good book. A cool breeze, peace and quiet… But of course, he’s usually disturbed by his energetic wire fox terrier, Poppy!
He writes about his misadventures in repotting plants and new discoveries about cat repellers.
Before starting my job as a Marketing Executive at Primrose, I spent four years working as a domiciliary care worker. It was during these years I learnt about the phenomenal difference a garden made to my client’s lives, and how important it is to have a wheelchair friendly garden. I spent many hours wandering my clients’ gardens hearing about the progress they had made and learnt a lot about gardening myself from their advice. I’ve seen first-hand how watching a garden grow improved the mood of my clients, and I’m sure all gardeners can agree there is nothing more satisfying than seeing the results from all your hard work when flowers bloom, fruit appears or the bumble bees come stumbling in.
It is so important then that everybody has the opportunity to garden independently, whether you have had greenfingers your whole life or decided to give it a try for the first time. Gardening presents a huge array of benefits and the light exercise of pottering in your garden has been proven to burn more calories than a gym session – and you save on that membership fee! There has also been significant research to suggest gardening dramatically improves your mental health and self-esteem…weeding doesn’t sound so bad now does it?
However, gardening with a disability is far from easy and the lack of wheelchair friendly garden products can certainly be frustrating. I have been researching ways you can make your garden wheelchair friendly so you can adapt your garden and make the most of your outdoor space!
For serious gardeners, a greenhouse is a must. A greenhouse gives you the ability to grow plants and get results you ordinarily would not be able to, especially with the uncertainty of the British weather! It also gives you the opportunity to shelter your plants and yourself from any nasty weather meaning you get some extra time to tend to your plants, and who doesn’t want that?
Finding a wheelchair friendly greenhouse need not be difficult as long as you take proper measurements and research the greenhouse thoroughly. Don’t just take into account the space in your garden but also consider the space you need to be able to work comfortably, because you might be spending a lot of time in there.
Things to consider when looking for the perfect wheelchair friendly greenhouse:
Check the width of the doors to the greenhouse and make sure your chair will be able to fit through easily when entering and exiting.
Make sure there is no threshold (small step at the base of the greenhouse) which will be difficult to get over safely in your chair.
Height of internal shelves: make sure if your greenhouse comes with shelving that it is at a height you can reach comfortably.
If you keeping these requirements in mind it should be easy to find a greenhouse that is perfect for you, have a look at our wheelchair friendly greenhouses that also come in different colours to see if you can find the greenhouse of your dreams!
Another way you may wish to adapt your garden may be through the use of raised beds. Raised beds minimise risk by saving you from bending down to care for your plants, which would otherwise strain your back. However, make sure to thoroughly research which raised bed is going to be best for you based on your individual capability; raised beds are fantastic but they can also be difficult when you have to reach across them to tend to your plants. Think about a height that is going to work best, as well as the shape and the depth in regards to what will be most comfortable for you.
Raised beds are also a great option if you have poor quality soil due to the increased depth which makes good quality aerated soil for your plants. Isolating these plants also means you have the benefit of fewer weeds, and less pests! Raised beds are also renowned for improved drainage, which can be either a good or a bad thing depending on the situation, but does definitely mean more watering in the summer months which could become a burden.
If you have a grass garden you might find that buying some roll out garden tracking may really help you get across your garden. Garden track can help to disguise uneven grounding and gravel that typically make gardening in your chair more difficult. Clip in tracking can be extended as much as required for your convenience, or you can buy specialist wheelchair garden tracking for this purpose. Tracking is particularly good to use in bad weather too, and can be rolled up to be stored away easily until you need it next.
Finding good garden tools is an essential for any disabled gardener and there is a huge range online that have been adapted to make gardening jobs much easier; so be sure to shop around for what tools will make life easier for you personally.
In general, it’s great to have lightweight tools with wide handles. Not only will these help you with having a better grip, but it means you will be able to spend longer on gardening tasks without the tools becoming too heavy.
Without a doubt though, the most important tools when gardening in a wheelchair are those with extended arms which save you from bending too far. It’s possible to get a wide range of tools with extendable arms on the internet from grippers, sheers, weed burners and much more.
One way to save yourself from constant bending is to have a potting station in your garden so you can get on with gardening jobs such as; potting and looking after cuttings and seedlings. They are also great for storage and hiding your tools and pots you’re not currently using. Make sure to check the measurements of the workstation so you find one that is the best height for you.
It’s also worth considering using lightweight planters for planting in future, as these will make it a lot easier to manoeuvre the pot in your garden and save a lot of strain on your back when you need to re-position it. There are a wide range of lightweight planters now on the market that still have an authentic look so it’s worth having a look to find some pots that suit your garden’s style.
My last bit of advice is seemingly simple; keep your garden neat and organised! Not only will this make your garden appear tidier, but it is also very important to help prevent accidents. By having an organised garden with proper storage solutions you can give each tool a place and ensure you always know where to find it!
If you have any more advice on how to create a more wheelchair friendly garden please do get in touch, and I hope everyone enjoys their gardens now we’re entering the Spring!
Zoë works in the Marketing team at Primrose, and is passionate about all things social media.
After travelling across Europe and Asia, Zoë is intrigued by different cultures and learning more about the world around her. If she’s not jet setting, Zoë loves nothing more than curling up with a good book and a large glass of red wine!
She is an amateur gardener but keen to learn more and get stuck in!
To many gardeners, weeds are a recurrent annoyance that you have to put up with as a fact of life. They can interrupt your otherwise perfect lawn or stifle your crop yields, and at worst cost thousands of pounds in damage as in the case of the Japanese knotweed. The effects of weeds are extremely costly, and it has been estimated that up to 10% of agricultural production may be lost because of them. But, weeds play a key role in transforming inhospitable environments into new habitats, and without them we would not exist today.
Weeds are good for the ecosystem
Weeds are important as they play a key role in transforming barren earth into rich fertile soils. They are, in effect, pioneers as the first plants to colonise a piece of land and improve its soil for the development of more complex ecosystems. They do this in a number of ways.
Weeds act to shield the soil from the sun, protecting both insects and microscopic organisms from sunlight. Their roots stabilise the soil, creating a secure environment for life, while their stems trap organic matter, which breaks down in the soil and provides sustenance for insects. Weeds with long roots draw up nutrients from deep in the ground, improving the quality of the surface soil. When they finally die, they decompose into humus which increases the soil’s moisture and nutrient retention, and well its bulk density, which is important in the early stages of soil development.
Back hundreds of millions of years ago, the Earth was very different, as a barren rock with water running over the surface with no defined course. Key to transforming the Earth were plants that broke down rock into minerals and soil, which it then held in place with its roots. This led to the development of river banks that channeled water in a regular fashion. Periodically, such rivers would flood, depositing sediment over large areas, which allowed trees to take hold. Such larger plant life would produce even more debris that would block up rivers, causing more flooding, a process that would lead to the emergence of larger complex ecosystems.
The predecessors to the plants that we consider weeds today played a key part in all this as early pioneers that ensured soil stability in such flooded areas. Important to this were rhizomes that allowed plants to cope with severe disruptions in their environments. Rhizomes are branching stems that grow horizontally, often through the soil, and are the feature that makes weeds so durable, as even if you destroy a plant’s matter above ground any surviving rhizome in the soil will lead to its reemergence. Not only does the rhizome store energy, allowing a plant to reemerge in favourable conditions, the stems allow the plant to propagate vegetatively, producing a clonal plant.
One early example of a plant that helped stabilise the earth’s environment was the Drepanophycus from the Devonian Period, which was unearthed by a team from Peking University. It was discovered preserved in paleosols – fossil soils – that within were multiple sequences of sediment formed by river channels, which were periodically wiped out by floodplains. The plant grew continuously due to its rhizomes and trapped sediment, enabling stable soils to develop. And after the floods, the plant would reemerge, growing through the newly deposited layers of sediment. The team calculated that the plant had a modest, but significant role, in reducing soil erosion. It is believed to have carried out this function for centuries.
Weeds constitute an interesting case study in evolution and humanity’s effects on the environment
Today weeds constitute a fascinating area of study due to their phenotypic plasticity, or simply put, their ability to change in response to changes in their environment. An example of phenotypic plasticity may be a plant’s ability to utilise more or less water (in photosynthesis) depending on its availability. Phenotypic plasticity is especially important for plants that do not have the ability to change their environment (as in the case of many animals, such as humans), and weeds are especially adaptive as agricultural practices make it necessary to be highly responsive if they are to survive.
Weeds evolve quickly in three principal ways: through adapting to continuous habitat disturbance, emerging in part from agricultural practices; through reproducing with different cultivars (groupings of plants selected for certain characteristics) as to produce hybrids; and finally through returning to natural seed dispersal methods when certain domesticates (plants dependant on humans for survival) are abandoned. This has led to the survival of certain species that are extremely difficult to control as they have developed such traits as early germination, rapid growth from seedling to sexual maturity, and the ability to reproduce both sexually and asexually. Fascinatingly, a 2013 study carried out by Fudan University of Shanghai found that if genetically modified crops did crossbreed with their weedy cousins, the resultant weeds would have higher rates of photosynthesis, more stems and flowers, and significantly more seeds. So, in the future, weeds may become even more troublesome than they are now.
As such, the battle between farmers and weeds constitutes an interesting case study of evolution in action and the selection effect humans exert on plants. There are many examples of the latter. For example, tilling tends to favour annuals at the expense of perennials, while no till systems benefit perennials. Frequent mowing, on the other hand, tends to benefit weeds that grow horizontally. The grazing of livestock has led to an increase in noxious thistles and other inedible species on the rangeland. In some cases, weeds have even begun to replicate crops in their appearance and life cycle as in the case of barnyardgrass growing with rice.
Weeds perform an important signalling function
Weeds can tell you a lot about your garden, providing information about what is best to grow. If your weeds multiple rapidly it is likely that your soil is extremely fertile, and that you do not need fertiliser. If not, it may be wise to start growing forerunners such as onions before moving onto more difficult crops. If the amount of weeds is diverse, it is likely that you can grow a wide range of plants in your garden. If not, it will be worthwhile to ascertain the soil type. And weeds can do this too. Very acidic soil will produce sorrel and plantain but no charlock or poppy, while chickweeds is sign of neutral pH. High levels of nitrogen can be ascertained by nettles, ground elder, fat hen and chickweed. Compacted soil is noticeable for silverweed and greater plantain, while creeping buttercup, horsetail and silverweed may indicate wet soil with poor drainage.
Weeds constitute a good source of nutrients
Many weeds are edible and good for you. They are also effectively free and environmentally friendly. In the UK, nettle soup comes to mind as one famous example. Back in the Middle Ages, ground elder was grown as a crop and was believed to cure gout – hence its alternative name goutweed. It possesses a nutty flavour and can be added to salad. Many health blogs recommend dandelion as a superfood, which can be found everywhere. Sorrel and horseradish can both be made into sauce and the latter is often used with beef. There are many great blogs dedicated to eating and cooking wild food. Why not check them out for yourself?
A concluding thought
Perhaps, our obsession with weeds tell us more about ourselves than we think. Why are we pursuing them with such vigour? Instead of hastily striving for a perfect world without weeds, perhaps we should examine why they are there in the first place. After all, a weed is a plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered (Emerson, apparently).
Jorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!
His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.
Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.