Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Herbs and Cacti and what got me into gardening

The idea for this blog came from a conversation I had with a customer and her daughter in the nursery last weekend. They were interested in the Sempervivums on the alpine table and the young girl said she collected cacti and her window sill was full of them. Which then led on to collecting them, how to look after them and so on and that I too had a window sill full of cacti as a child. Why cacti? I've no idea but generally they are easy for a child to look after and easy to propagate from friends and family plants. I don't have any of my original cacti sadly but have over the past 40 plus years put together a fine collection of cacti and succulents which now live in the big greenhouse. 

Part of my cacti collection

What other horticultural memories do I have and where did the idea of a career in gardening come from? I grew up surrounded by parents and grandparents who gardened ornamentally and grew fruit and vegetables. As a grandchild of people who had fought and lived through the second world war, the way of life of growing your own food, digging for victory, eating and providing food thriftily was still a strong driving force in the family. I have three early garden memories all of which involve food, no changes there then!

~ Picking peas with my Uncle Andy in his garden at Innerwick in East Lothian, probably aged 2 or 3.
~ Picking raspberries and then watching my Granny Peddie making jam with them, every time I open a proper jar of raspberry jam it takes me right back to her wee kitchen in Pine Street in Dunbar.
~ Digging up tatties with my Dad in the back garden in Linlithgow.

40 odd years later and Uncle Andy is still planting peas, this time in his garden on the Isle of Coll

Moving on a bit and I have several memories of the garden of the house where I grew up in Linlithgow.

~ my cacti collection on my bedroom window sill, including a lemon tree I grew from a seed.
~ Appleringie, southerwood, lad's love or what every you call it, Artemisia abrotanum has a distinctive smell that takes you back to your granny's garden or our garden in Linlithgow, I remember exactly where it grew.
~ The laburnum trees at the bottom of the front garden
~ The huge sycamore that dominated the front garden and was almost right on top of the wall that ran along the front of the garden above the street. We used to build dens around it's base, sit under it watching for Dad walking along from the train station coming home from work. I used to hide there when it was too difficult to be in the house.
~ the huge fuchsia bushes and popping the flower buds!

Herbs at the back door

So where do herbs come in? On a family holiday in Cumbria in 1979 when I was 10 we visited a tiny herb garden and nursery where they made jams, jellies and things from all the herb they grew. Walking into that garden and the stone shed where they sold the produce, surrounded by the herby smells something clicked with me. Since then I've loved growing and making and creating things from the plants I grow. Whenever I smell lovage, it takes me straight back to that garden.

Herbs and fruit

So my gardening influences came from family gardens in East Lothian, an allotment in Leith and a big garden around the house where I grew up in Linlithgow and how did that then result in a career in horticulture. To be honest I can't remember an actual moment that I thought or said this is what I want to do. Originally I wanted to do archaeology, but wasn't getting good enough exam results that would have got me to Uni to do that so I must have looked around at what else I enjoyed and horticulture was it. I'm still digging in the ground, just for a different purpose! 

Cacti have a lot to answer for

Having decided what I wanted to do while sitting my O grades, in true Rona fashion I did lots of research to find out what qualifications I needed to get into college. At that time it was a requirement to do a year's practical experience before going to college, so I researched that too. Leaflets arrived by post (pre-internet) for various colleges to apply to and n application form for the National trust for Scotland YTS scheme which would give me my year of practical experience. I persuaded my secondary school (Linlithgow Academy) to let me do O grade Horticulture which I did along with my highers, teaching my self while sitting in at the back of a biology class. Ironically I failed Higher biology! 

And the rest as they say is history, thirty years of it now, incredibly. All of which has given me the experience and knowledge to create the nursery at Quercus. Working in Scottish horticulture my career has been varied working as a head gardener in private and a museum garden, in nurseries, garden centres and creating my last garden of two-acres over 15 years. I still grow cacti and fruit and veg and cook with what I grow when I have the time, some things never lose their appeal. 

Graduating from Threave School of Gardening in 1989

My first big garden design in my parents new garden, 1989

Working in The Murrel, Fife as
head gardener, 1992

The booklet I wrote while working
 at Annet House 

Binny Plants, 2008

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