Gardening in the UK with Jane Perrone

Gardening in the U.K. with Jane Perrone

 

Jane PerroneJane Perrone loves being outside, experiencing first hand the infinite intricacies and fascinations.  She loves growing her own delicious, fresh food.  She blogs about gardening at www.Perone.blogs.com  Jane is a journalist and gardening editor at The Guardian, one of the biggest newspapers in England.

 

In This Episode You’ll Discover …

  • Water conservation in the UK
  • Mint:  rat repellent, tea and 99 other powerful uses
  • Technology and the future of gardening – robots, automation and sensors

Sponsors:

 

 

Resources & Books

The Well-Tempered Garden by Christopher Lloyd

Plants for a Future  —  PFAF.org

Royal Horticultural Society

Tropical Britain

 

 

Watch the Podcast Interview Here:

 

 

 

Transcript:

 

Dave:  Well good morning, good afternoon, or good evening depending on where you are in the world when you listen to this.  I’m Dave Ledoux, and welcome to another episode of Back To My Garden.  Today we get to go across the pond over to England and we’re talking with Jane.  Jane loves being outside, experiencing first-hand the infinite intricacies and fascinations with nature.  She loves growing her own delicious, fresh food.  She blogs about gardening at Perrone.blogs.com and we’re going to talk about that.  And she’s also a journalist, and a gardening editor at The Guardian, one of the biggest newspapers in England.  Joining us from London, England, please welcome to the show Jane Perrone.  Hi Jane!

Jane: Hi!

Dave:  How was my introduction?  Did I get it mostly right?

Jane:  You got it completely spot on.

Dave:  Fantastic!  I want to hear your stories, and the listeners want to get to know you better.  Take a minute or two and share with us a little bit about your background, and how did you fall in love with gardening.

Jane:  Okay, as you said I’m the gardening editor at The Guardian newspaper, and I always say to people who say “how did you get your job or how did you get into gardening?”  I always say I used to be a “real” journalist, which is a bit of a joke really.  My professional training is in journalism, so I did an English literature degree which was fun, but not very much practical use for journalism.  Then I went to the States and I studied a masters of mass communication at Louisiana State University, then I came back to the UK and I did a year doing research into the internet and journalism.  And then I did a journalism course to do local newspaper in the UK, and then I finally got my job at The Guardian, so I’ve come from a very traditional journalism background.  The flip side of that is that I’ve always been fascinated by plants, and from a very young age been growing stuff.  Started off really with houseplants, which was my first love as a child, and there’s a very sad picture of me looking very geeky with a big table full of houseplants in my bedroom when I was about maybe thirteen.  I wasn’t the coolest of kids, I just loved plants.  I had a big terrarium full of houseplants, but I also remember one of the first things I sowed as a seed was parsley.  And I remember sowing this parsley seed, and I don’t know whether I read the instructions on the packet or what I did, but I remember sowing it and then coming back the next day and being devastated that nothing has happened.  Then going back the next day, still nothing had happened, nothing had sprouted.  And finally, forgetting about it and going back about two weeks later, and as we all know, parsley is very slow to germinate, and two weeks later I was absolutely amazed that the parsley was coming up.  That was another reason why I got completely hooked, seeing that transformation from a seed to a fully fledged plant that, in many cases, you could eat.  So there you go, I’ve always been interested in plants and then after I had my first child, the gardening job came up at The Guardian, gardening editor, and I fancied a change of pace.  Having in breaking news for several years, and I just thought this is a great match for my hobby and passion and my skills as a writer and editor.  I’ve babbled on a bit there, but I hope that gives you a little bit of a flavor.

Dave:  Absolutely.  For those of you listening who may be driving or not at your computer, Jane and I are going to chat about gardening for the next 25 minutes.  I’ll have all of her links and resources on my blog at backtomygarden.com   For those of you on social media you can connect with Jane and follow her on twitter @JanePerrone  and you can also read her blog at  Perrone.blogs.com   You have a column that’s online at The Guardian, right?

Jane:  Yes, I write various things for The Guardian.  I write various blog posts for The Guardian gardening blog, and I can also be found writing a little column called What To Do This Week which is little tips on things you can be getting up to in the garden, generally lighthearted and not too serious.  And occasionally I can be found writing features, and I also write for other publications as well.  So I have a varied set of outlets where I like to write.

Dave:  Outstanding.  You’re a bit of an inspiration to me.  We have a lot of people who email me, they have teenagers who love gardening and want to pursue kind of a horticulture path.  And you’re like at this intersection of the old world and new world media.

Jane:  Well, that’s interesting.  I guess I’ve always been a bit of an internet geek type person.  In fact, when I did my newspaper journalism course in the UK, I actually taught.  I was studying as a student, but I actually taught the internet part of the course, more or less.  The teacher said “you know about this stuff” because I had just come from a year doing research at the University in internet journalism, so I basically taught the other students about internet journalism and that was back in ’98 when it was all in very early stages.  Then I started my gardening blog in 2004 when weblogs … what is a weblog? what’s that all about?  And obviously, there weren’t many gardening blogs around at that time, and now there’s hundreds.  So, I’m a strange mix of sort of old media and new media.  I still love newspapers, I still love magazines, but I also love the connections and resonances that you can get from social media and the gardening community online.  You can just find really cool people, find answers to questions that you never knew you wanted to know via the likes of Twitter and Facebook and blogging.  It’s great fun.

Dave:  I’m trying to imagine you from London, England, one of the most amazing cities on earth, going to school in Louisiana.  Because I’ve been to Louisiana.  It must have been like you’re on a landing party from another planet.

Jane:  You have hit the nail on the head there.  It was really.  I mean it wasn’t total culture shock, because I was sort of 21, and I arrived, flew into New Orleans at night, and I remember clearly coming out of the airport and just … the air coming out of the sliding doors, and the sauna-like air hitting me in the face, and just thinking what the He**, and having to wait for a Greyhound bus to Baton Rouge.  Being picked up by some very kind students who took me to my room, it was very strange.  And one of things I really noticed immediately was plants that we had as houseplants in the UK were bedding plants.  So caladiums, which in the UK are highly-difficult-to-look-after houseplants, in Louisiana they were bedding plants, with brightly-colored foliage plants, I can’t think what the common name is for them now.  Things like that, and just seeing incredible insects, everything was giant, giant insects, giant ants.  It was a really amazing experience to spend two years there and I learned a lot, let’s put it that way.  It was probably funny enough at the time when I was least into gardening, at that early twenties age when you tend to be sort of distracted by a lot of things.   But I did notice a lot of interesting things about the contrast between American gardens or Louisiana gardens, because Louisiana is kind of unique, as we all know, to the rest of the States.  British gardens, things like the way everybody had lawn out the front and it was all regimented and it was very much kind of an everyone has to have the same kind of setup out the front.  Nobody’s got an unusual, quirky garden like we get in the UK, and then obviously other parts of Louisiana where there’s just absolutely terrible poverty where people were living in conditions where I never thought I would see in a so-called developed country, so that was interesting too.  Lots of amazing trees, the Spanish Moss, and just fascinating wildlife, it was a really great experience and I’d love to go back, but I’m a bit older and wiser now, so I’d probably be spending a lot more time looking at the plants and discovering the Swamp Cypress and things like that then I was then.

Caladium

Caladium

Dave:  I’m a big fan of travelling, I always encourage youth to travel as much as they can.  But England kind of invented the concept of the plant hunter.  This was a noble profession once upon a time, where you literally travelled the world looking for unique plants for the nobility in England.

Jane:  Indeed, and what’s interesting is there is a new generation of plant hunters now who are doing the very same thing, hopefully with a lot more responsibility and ethical values than in the past, but there is a whole new generation of English plant hunters going out into the world and bringing back plant material to liven up English gardens, that’s happening still today.  I can understand the appeal of it, I mean it’s a fascinating thought to imagine yourself coming across the first of a new species and realizing that this could grow back in your own garden at home.  It’s a fascinating idea, and there are lots of those people doing that kind of work.  It immediately springs to mind Sue & Bleddyn Wynn-Jones at Crug Farm Plants which is a North Wales nursery specializing in rare plants, and they spend a lot of their time going out to remote parts of the world and bringing back plants.  One of our bloggers on The Guardian gardening blog is Robbie Blackhall-Miles and he’s their plant propagator, so he’s the guy who gets the plant material and they say you’ve got to figure out to how to germinate these seeds.  And he has to go on a bit of a sort of Sherlock Holmes-style journey of discovery figuring out which seeds need to have a period of cold, or which plants needs which conditions in order to germinate, so it’s a fascinating world of plants.  His blog is definitely worth reading on The Guardian gardens blog if you’re interested in rare plants and plant hunting generally.

Dave:  So I’ll have a link to The Guardian blogs.  So that’s Robbie.

Jane:  Robbie Blackhall-Miles is his name.  He’s a fantastic plant expert and a member of the Linnean Society, so he knows all there is to be known about plant groups.

Dave:  Which strikes me as amazing because, this has always been debated, the global-warming/climate change whether it’s cyclical or man-made.  Regardless of what side of the argument you are on, the weather’s changing a little bit in London, isn’t it?

Jane:  Wow, that’s a really interesting point.  I would have said yes, but for the fact that in the 90’s we had quite a lot of mild winters, then we had two or three winters that were really quite harsh.  London is it’s own microclimate.  The urban heat island effect is in action, and there are a couple of sites where there are grapefruit trees which fruit in London, that’s a interesting fact.  So there’s a lot to be gained from the whole fact that you’ve got a slightly warmer climate and not many frosts.  So the urban heat island has a big effect on London.  I actually live about 40 miles north of London, so I don’t have quite so much of the advantage, I do get heavy frosts from time to time where I live in Bedfordshire.  In London there are places where exotic plants do thrive, there are certain places where you can find grapefruit trees fruiting, for example.  So exotic things can survive, but the weather has the amazing potential to surprise you, doesn’t it?  This winter it’s been pretty mild, but we did have a couple of really quite harsh winters.  And I’ve heard lots of different takes on climate change and whatever and I truly believe that climate change is happening and that we are partly responsible for it in the way that we as human beings have been acting in the world.  But, I think in terms of the weather that I’ve experienced through my lifetime, I think that’s probably on such a small micro scale compared to the sort of macro level of climate change on a global scale, it’s hard to relate.  I think what I love about English weather is that there is that cycle.  When I was living in Louisiana, apart from sort of 3 months of the year where it was steaming hot, it was pretty much the same all year round, where as much as I dislike cold wet weather in the winter, there is something wonderful about the weather warming up and those blue sky days in early spring when the snowdrops are out and the cyclical nature of gardening in the UK that is wonderful.  Those contrasts between the garden at the height of summer and the depths of winter are something you can sort of wonder at.  So there is something to be said for it, but I do struggle through winter, I really do find it difficult to cope with the cold, I’m not a cold weather person at all.

Kensington Gardens

Kensington Gardens

Dave:  I try to explain to my North American friends, the worldwide impact of the English garden and the contribution to the industry.  You have century gardens like Wisley that we just don’t have.  I was kidding with a friend that Thompson & Morgan is older than the country of Canada.

Jane:  (Laughs)  Well there you go!

Dave:  We’re in birchbark canoes and teepees, and you guys are having tea in the garden.  It’s just extraordinary.  After football and cricket, I would say gardening is your third national sport.

Jane:  That’s a really interesting thought.  Yeah, I think are disadvantages to that history.  And I think the disadvantages are that there is a big sort of conservation movement, in terms of we must preserve this amazing garden history, but I think it also can be rather stifling in that truly innovative and new garden design is often found in other parts of the world, if you see what I mean.  We tend to be sometimes a bit hardbound by history and the past and we must preserve this heritage, rather than thinking how can we be cutting-edge in horticulture.  So I’d love to see at the Chelsea Flower Show, for example, I’d love to see some really out-there garden designs that just really blew my mind, rather than just things I’m already familiar with and I’ve seen a dozen times before.  So there’s a challenge for you garden designers out there.

Dave:  It’s got to start with the youth, doesn’t it?  They’re the impetuous ones.  I met an organization you have called Young Horts, and that’s a UK group of teenagers, mostly, that are beginning their careers in landscape and garden design.

Jane:  Yes, and more power to their elbows.  They’re doing a great job there.  And it’s interesting how many young people are now considering gardening as a career.  James Wong, I don’t know if you or your listeners are familiar with, he’s a British TV presenter-gardener botanist, and he’s been going around to horticultural colleges giving talks on how cool a career in horticulture is and giving examples of people who’ve done amazing things.  He’s really been inspiring lot of young people to get into horticulture.  And there’s many other movements of a similar nature.  I was thinking back to when I was a teenager, and thinking if I was so into plants, why would I not have considered horticulture as a career?  And I don’t think it was ever really something that was really brought up or suggested to me as a possible career.  But I think that’s gradually changing, and people are seeing that it can be a really exciting and rewarding way of spending your time, particularly if you’re the kind of person that doesn’t really want to be sat behind a desk and a computer all the time, and aren’t suited to that kind of lifestyle, then horticulture can be fascinating and very rewarding.

Dave:  You know Jane, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you on behalf of I guess we have listeners in 2 countries … what is going to be the popular conversation around gardening in the UK or what’s hot or trending, is there anything you see in your crystal ball?

Jane:  Well, that’s a good question.  I think that issues of water are still going to be a big concern, so water saving, hydroponics, how to garden with less water, but also flooding and how to garden in such a way that you mitigate against flooding conditions.  You know people in the UK, perhaps it’s happening in your neck of the woods too, are paving over front gardens at an alarming rate which provides lots of problems in terms of runoff and increased risk of flooding.  I think issues around water are going to continue to be very central to our thoughts.  Things like hydroponics and aquaponics where you’re thinking about ways of using water in different ways to grow plants in small spaces is also going to become an even bigger discussion.  Other than than than, I foresee that there’ll be more and more thoughts about technology and gardening.  How can we use apps, devices and gadgets to change the way we garden.  While most of us won’t be shelling out 1200 UK pounds for one of these robomowers, actually that is a signal of something, that we’re starting to look at automating gardening systems in a way that we haven’t before using plant sensors connected to smartphones …. and I think that will become an increasing area that people will be focusing on in the coming years.

Dave:  Wow!  Brilliant!  I just took a whole paragraph of notes that will be good on the blog.  I was just glancing at the time Jane, our time is flying by, and now’s the time in the show where we play a game called 5 quick questions.  This is our chance to share your wisdom and experience with novice beginner gardeners.  Are you ready to play?

Jane:  Ok, I’m ready.

Dave:  Question one.  What’s the funniest or most embarrassing mistake you’ve made in the garden that you’re willing to admit to in public?

Jane:  Oh my gosh.  Well, probably something like … I have a reputation for dressing like a scarecrow whenever I’m gardening, literally like a scarecrow.  There’s a picture of me on my allotment, when I had an allotment wearing an old padded checked shirt, and the worse trousers in the world, and the worst shoes in the world, literally looking like a scarecrow.  People not actually recognizing me because I looked so awful.  My dad has a phrase about gardening being all about rolling around under a hedge with a crowbar, and that is kind of my style of gardening.  I’m mostly to be found fiddling about in my compost heap, and that can be embarrassing if the neighbours look over the fence.  Also I have a green roof on my office and I clearly remember being up there planting it up and my next door neighbour’s son, who’s not a big gardener it has to be said, but he had one particular plant that he was particularly keen on growing, and I’ll leave it to your imagination what this plant was.  But he basically saw me observing him caring for this particular plant and you can imagine, he’s a teenager, are you getting the drift here?

Dave:  Uh huh … it’s medicinal.

Jane:  A medicinal plant that he’s particularly interested in, and I don’t know whether he was more embarrassed or I was more embarrassed that my crows nest position on the green roof had given me a great view of him surreptitiously going out to tend his plant.  (Laughs)  So that was pretty embarrassing.  We have spoken since.  Generally it’s my appearance … and I sometimes forget that I’m dressed like a scarecrow and then I’ll wander out to the front garden and people walk past and think ‘what on earth?’.  I don’t know if you get Gardener’s World or any of those TV shows where you see the gardeners and they’re dressed in a lovely outfit and they’re doing the garden … I don’t know how that works, but that’s certainly not me.  

Dave:  In Canada we get old BBC shows like hand-me-downs.  There’s a show called Keeping Up Appearances with Hyacinth Bucket, and she makes her husband Richard wear a tie in the garden.  My wife threatens me all the time to put on a tie.

Jane:  The Hyacinth Buckets, it’s a bit of a stereotype that still kind of a powerful stereotype in the UK.  If you want to sort of insult somebody, you might say she’s a real Hyacinth Bucket character.  It’s got resonance, that show, even now. (Laughs)

Dave:  Question two.  The Queen passes a law that you’re only allowed to grow one plant next year.  What plant would you personally just have to grow if you were only allowed to grow one plant?

Jane:  This is good timing, because I actually was thinking about this this morning.  Listeners may be horrified by this, but I think it would probably be mint.

Dave:  Mint.  That’s a four-letter word here.

Jane:  Are you a mint hater?  

Dave:  I fear the mint, I respect the mint, I know it’s power.

Mint

Mint

Jane:  That’s why it’s actually such an awesome plant.  It’s just the most amazing plant.  I use it for so many different things.  I use it to deter rats from going in my compost heap, because they don’t like the small.  I dry enough mint to get me through the winter drinking two cups of mint tea a day.  I put eau de cologne mint, which a particular variety of mint, in my bath.  I chew some to freshen my breath.  I put it in salads.  It’s just the most versatile group of plants, and there’s so many lovely different varieties which I find fascinating.  Plus also, if I’m in a post-apocalyptic situation, I think mint would survive anything.  If I was on a desert island, I think mint would be okay.  I’d side with mint.

Dave:  I love it!  Well done!

Jane:  Controversial possibly!  (Laughs)

Dave:  If you want to send Jane a comment on mint, you can connect with her on Twitter  @JanePerrone .  Question three is about websites.  Do you have one or two favorite websites that you could share as a resource?

Jane:  I don’t know how sort of obvious these are, but I’ll fire away anyway.  The RHS website, The Royal Horticultural Society, which is the UK’s biggest gardening organization, is a fount of knowledge that I use almost every day.  If you’re looking for a particular plant and trying to find a nursery that supplies it, you can look in their database.  If you’re looking for information on how to grow a particular plant or how to prune your apple tree, the resources are there.  It’s a fabulous resource, and I’m an RHS member, so I like to use that site.  I also like, and I can’t even remember what it stands for.  PFAF.org which is the website Plants For a Future.org, which is a great resource for edible plants, and I’m a bit of a forager, so I like to eat weeds and plants that I find in the wild, and it’s a great resource for looking up what the edible qualities of a particular plant are and it’s very informative and it’s very well written, and there’s lots of information there so I refer to that a lot for those weird edibles that you want to know about.  Like … I want to eat some fuchsia berries, is this something I should be doing?  I can look it up on there.  I also have loads of foraging books, but that’s a good resource that I use a lot.

Dave:  Question number four is about books.  Do you have a favorite gardening book that you can suggest?

Jane:  Oh, that’s really tricky because I have a lot of gardening books.  But I would say I absolutely adore the late Christopher Lloyd who was actually The Guardian’s gardening correspondent, who sadly passed away before I joined, so I never go the chance to meet him which is still a cause of sadness.  His book, The Well-Tempered Garden, is an old book I refer to a lot.  I just love reading it because he is so opinionated and he always has something controversial to say and he always bursts the bubble of pompous gardeners who have an attitude about their garden and how they garden.  There’s always something new to learn in there and it’s just such a valuable book.  I wrote a guest blog post recent for the West Dean Gardens blog.  West Dean is a garden on the south coast of England, beautiful, absolutely gorgeous garden.  I recommend you go there if you ever get the chance.  I wrote a guest blog for them about my, I like to call it my Wintersweet Hell.  I had this wintersweet shrub in my garden, Chimonanthus, it’s a shrub or small tree which flowers in wintertime, and mine is 4 years old and it has not yet flowered.  I’ve been Tweeting “I’m so excited because my Wintersweet is about to flower, and it’s great!” and it didn’t flower, and I’ve been moaning about this on Twitter.  Then I went to The Well-Tempered Garden, and not only did Christopher Lloyd inform me that it usually takes 7 years before it flowers.  He said “Impatient gardeners find themselves wondering why it hasn’t flowered yet, because it takes on average years to flower”.  So I immediately felt chastened.  And then I looked at what it said about the neighbouring shrub that I have next to the Wintersweet which is a Winter Honeysuckle.  And I was so proud of my Winter Honeysuckle and then it said something like “coarse appearance”. (Laughs)   And he always has a way of undercutting your sort of feeling of pride about your garden which I rather like.  Christopher Lloyd is worth checking out if you haven’t come across him before. 

Chimonanthus

Chimonanthus

Dave:  Outstanding, I love it.  Question five, finally is a fun one.  Jane, is there anything you’ve never personally grown, that you would love to experiment with in the garden?

Jane:  Wow, there’s so many things I haven’t grown that I’d love to experiment with.  I would love to experiment with some of the hardy succulents and cacti that I believe are possible to grow in the UK.  I’ve been reading a couple of books recently which have talked about how to grow these successfully in the UK climate.  And I do have a couple of succulents that I keep in my greenhouse, unheated over the winter, which survive pretty well, so I’m interested in that.  I’m interested in finding out is it possible for me to grow various succulents, and how cool would it be to have a cactus growing in the English garden?  I would be very cool I think.  As a big fan of house plants and cacti, I would love to give that a try.

Dave:  Jane, I have an introduction for you.  There is a wild man living amongst you in England, his name is John and he owns a company called Tropical Britain.

Jane:  Do I need to speak to John about this?

Dave:  You do.  He’s a kiwi, kind of a transplant.  And he’s all about zone-pushing and exotics and succulents in England.  TropicalBritain.co.uk

Jane:  Ok, I’m writing that down.  I’m going to look that up, that sounds great.

Dave:  Cactuses sound fun.

Jane:  Yeah, I have a few in the house, not that many, because my children then to sort of throw themselves around and end up getting spiked by things. (laughs)  But, I’d like to grow more, and growing them outside would be interesting.  Possibly not very “in the English style” but who cares, it would be fun.

Dave:  There you go dear listeners.  Tons of great information.  You can connect with Jane on Twitter, @JanePerrone   check out her blog at   www.perrone.blogs.com  and I’ll have links up to The Guardian as well.  Tons and decades of great information.   Jane you’ve been an incredible guest, thank you for being on the show.

Jane:  It’s a pleasure.

Dave:  I want to invite you to have the last word today.  Think of all the listeners around the world in 60 plus countries, can you leave us with a note of encouragement or a pearl of wisdom?

Jane:  No pressure then!  (laughs)  I would say that one of the big things that holds people back from experimenting in their gardens is fear.  Fear of being caught out, fear of not knowing the latin name of something, fear of something failing.  And I would just say be brave, try things out.  Little and often is the key to keeping a garden going or a plant going, but try something new this year, don’t just stick with the same old round of plants on your allotment or in your garden.  Try something new and you might surprise yourself.

Dave:  Outstanding.  Tremendous, thanks for being on the show Jane.

Jane.  No problem.

 

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