Wordless Wednesday: A sunny afternoon




The Dark Clouds of Horticulture

After all the storms that have been battering the British Isles in the last few weeks/months, we had a quieter week last week, that was until Friday afternoon; when the dark clouds started to gather again. This one has been hitting this part of the world on and off for several years, for some of us it affects us every day for me most, it certainly affects my long term planning and I do also have major concerns for the future, both within Trinity and outside.

Whilst enjoying a near perfect Friday afternoon, I received a phone call from a former short term trainee, who joined us not long after leaving school. He joined us shortly after I became Head Gardener and I remember his enthusiasm, easy go lucky personality and his love for gardening very well. He left us to go on to college to further his horticultural career. The phone call started really well with the usual pleasantries and then he asked me if I could be a referee for him, something I was more than happy to do. I then asked him what he needed it for? He said he needed it for a job as the course he was on was ending very soon due to funding cuts and lack of trainees. At first I thought it was just the course ending, then I found out it was the whole horticultural side of things that was shutting down for good. This wasn’t the first college to end it’s horticultural courses, it’s sister colleges had already done so.
This news saddened and angered me, firstly for the poor lad who’s course was ending but for the industry itself and the fact that this was the same college I had done my training, way back when I was 16 in 1986.


Now ‘The College of West Anglia’ (Milton Farm College as I knew it) first broke the news in May of last year that it was to close the Horticultural section but this was the first I had heard of it. Many would say this is just the ‘sign of the times’ and this isn’t the only industry being affected. True, although I would argue, this has always been the case in the horticultural business.

I did write a post about this in August 2012, on why horticulture is struggling to get younger people to come on board. I will not go into all the factors again, those you can read in the ‘For those who are about to Garden- We Salute You!‘ but a lot of it does boil down to: money, training and the certain amount of negative stigma attached to being a gardener.
As for the training is this just a regional problem? For anyone in the Cambridge area wanting to do a more general horticultural course, you will have to travel away from the area, if you can that is. Remember this is not always possible for everyone to do. There are still some places around here that you can do: spraying, chainsaw, mewps and thank god for the Cambridge Botanical Gardens but for places all round; it is very limited. Before the course ended, again because of the lack of trainees, we use to have students from Writtle College coming to Trinity to do their sandwich year for their HND or ND in Horticulture. They found the time spent here extremely helpful for their career but found the cost of living in Cambridge to be too high, especially on a Gardeners wage. Writtle still does have a horticultural section, for how long is anyone’s guess but no longer have those types of schemes.

When I started out in horticulture in the eighties, it was always going to be tough going but at least I didn’t have to far to go for my training. Luckily I had worked at Hemingford Grey Manor before I left school and then found a local wholesale nursery to do my YTS with and with ‘The College of West Anglia’ close by; I was pretty much sorted. Now, this would not have been so easy especially, if you could not afford to travel for your training or could not get the funding to move. Yes, you could probably get on a apprenticeship scheme or find a employer willing to pay for your training and I do feel employers could be doing more but there is one other major issue that people do think about before choosing horticulture…….money!

It has always been the case in all areas of horticulture, that unless you make it to a managerial position, own your own business or land a job on TV the money is poor. With the cost of living rising on a weekly basis, this will only get worse. Saying all that even being in a managerial position and having your own business, things are still tight and the other challenges that come with it are just as hard or harder and yes; the weather is one of those many challenges.

Being a Head Gardener, the lack of new people coming into gardening does worry me, where are all our future Gardeners going to come from? Is horticulture becoming dying trade? Is this just a problem in my area or is it nationwide? How is it in other parts of the world?

Looks a little glooming doesn’t it. For those of you who are considering a career in horticulture, or those of you who have already made the plunge, I take my hat off to you (those of you who know me, you know this doesn’t happen often, if at all). Like I said in my last post on this subject in August 2012 – ‘For those who are about to Garden… We Salute You!’ I say this even though it is the best job in the world and this industry needs you….. it is still a brave decision to make.

Wordless Wednesday: The Pudding





The Rock Garden VI

Here we go again, yet another compilation of music with a list of some great plants for good measure….

As we all know now that heavy metal music is good for your plants, we can play these ‘Rock Garden’posts to your plants, to keep them all happy. This comes about after studies last year revealed that, plants that listened to heavy metal music in-particular Black Sabbath grew and flowered better and those that were played Cl**f Rich**d died….. like I have said many times before that man is the devil! The tests came about after a student wanted to write a dissertation on how music affects plants. They had a silent greenhouse, a classical greenhouse, one that played Cliffs music and one that played Black Sabbaths music. The greenhouse with Ozzys dolcet tones won the contest, the plants were also more resistant to pests and diseases. Hearing all this was music to my ears…. excuse the pun.

I wonder though if we can use Cliffs voice as a weed killer, no hang on a minute… pass me a hoe instead!! Even if it worked, a well written Risk Assessment makes this form of weed control not safe for either environment or user and I do mean Cliffs voice and not the hoe!

Getting back on track, this is the sixth ‘Rock Garden’ I have now done, with the odd Classical, Punk,Thrash and Christmas ones thrown in for good measure. I still have many more ideas for, plants and music in this series of posts, so this will not be the last one by far….. sorry!

The Scorpion plant (Heliotropium angiospermum)

A beautiful white flowering  perennial that is native to Florida. This will seed everywhere and the birds and bees love it. This plant can grow up to two feet in height and approximately two feet across, it will also tolerate full shade.


The Scorpions are a German heavy metal/rock band that formed in 1965. They are the most successful rock band in Germany’s history and they are still touring to this very day.

Considering the weather we have been having in the UK this winter, I thought the following song was quite appropriate….

White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima)

Native to North America this is a tall perennial herb, that can reach to nearly five feet in height. It has a very beautiful white flowers in the late summer followed by small seeds with fluffy white tails. Unfortunately, the White Snakeroot does have a dark side, it contains the toxin ‘Tremetol’ and when the plant is eaten by cattle, this gets past on to humans. Many early settlers died in North America drinking the contaminated milk from cows, the poisoning is also known as ‘Milk Sickness’.


Whitesnake formed in England in 1978 by lead singer David Coverdale. They were often compared to Deep Purple in the early days, which I felt was a little unfair, as they are both great bands in their own right. Two of my my all time favourite albums were penned by Whitesnake ‘Lovehunter’ and their 1987 album called ‘Whitesnake’.

Now I wonder why I like this next video……

Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum)

This is a deciduous shrub or small tree that has the most beautiful pink flowers in spring. The leaves are of a wonderful heart shape and they have purple seed pods in the autumn. It can grow to a height of approximately twenty five feet in height and is also known as the ‘Love Tree’.

Judas Priest 

Judas Priest formed in Birmingham England in 1969, another one of the ageing head bangers brigade. They are still damaging peoples ear drums to this very day…. one band I have still yet to see in concert.

The Ant Plants (Myrmecophyte)

These Myrmecophyte plants offer colonies of ants both food and shelter and in return the ants help in pollination and seed distribution. Some ants also help defend  their hosts by protecting them from unwelcome visitors, mess with these plants and you will get more than you bargained for. There are over 100 different genera of Myrmecophytes including some Acacias.

Adam Ant

This one will please my wife, as she has been a massive fan of his for over a hundred years. Born on the 3rd November 1954 in London, Adam has been in the music scene since 1976 and was part of the London punk scene. I had the pleasure of seeing him in concert in November 2012 with my wife and it was one of the best concerts I had been to.

The Leopard Plant (Farfugium japonicum ‘Aureomaculatum’)

We have this little beauty. I was introduced to this little gem by one of my gardeners and sits very happily in an area we call the Jungle. It is a rhizomatous evergreen perennial that can grow up to two feet in height and it has daisy like yellow flowers in autumn. A superb but tender ground cover.

Def Leppard

Def Leppard formed in 1977 in  Sheffield England and they were part of the NWOBHM scene. They are a hard rock/glam metal band still performing to this very day.

Queens Tears (Billbergia nutans)

This is an epiphytic bromeliad that is native to South America. In this part of the world it is often grown as a houseplant or in a glasshouse, we have some at work and it has been known to with stand long periods of neglect. They have pink/purple flowers in the spring and can reach approximately one foot in height.


A British rock band that was formed in 1970 in London. Queen is probably the biggest and most famous rock bands of all time, it has been estimated they have sold three hundred million albums world wide. On the 24th November 1991 their iconic lead singer Freddie Mercury died and their last album with Freddie ‘Made in Heaven’ was released fours years after his death. Brian May and Roger Taylor still perform to this present day.

I thought this next song was a rather apt song to finish on……

Wordless Wednesday: Another grey day






A gardener in time

Trinity College was founded by Henry VIII in 1546 as part of the University of Cambridge, combing two existing colleges Michaelhouse and King’s Hall. Michaelhouse had existed since 1324; King’s Hall had been established by Edward II in 1317 and refounded by Edward III in 1337.

Now I’m not going to write loads of stuff on the history of Trinity College, much of this is well documented in books and on the internet but I will give some of the Alumni a mention. Trinity have had their fair share of famous past members these include: Sir Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Wray and many more. Another past member Lord Byron, has a statue in the Wren library that was originally destined for Westminster Abbey but because of his notorious behaviour, they didn’t want the statue.

There are two past Trinity members that very rarely get a mention and that I am very interested in and they are Andy Taylor and Rod Smallwood. Who? Some of you will say but these two first met as undergraduates at Trinity and then went on to manage the biggest and most successful heavy metal band of all time……. Iron Maiden!

There are a few others that never get a mention one of them being Aleister Crowley, he never went to Trinity College between 1895 – 1898 and we won’t mention the spies!
The past members of the college that do interest me and very rarely if ever do get a mention, those that have tended the gardens/grounds over the centuries are the ever resourceful gardeners.

Now some of the gardens history has been well recorded and documented over the years but I’m talking about the nuts and bolts of the gardens team and some of the personalities that go with it. What did they get up to on a daily basis, how many were there, did they always have a Head Gardener (I’ve heard the present one is a right pillock), what tools did they use (HG again) and what they planted? Obviously, some of the plantings can still be seen to this very day.

The time that really does interest me, is the early years of the gardens history, what they got up to in the first two hundred years.
Now some of the gardeners tools used in the early those early years at Trinity would have been not to dissimilar to what we use now, as for some of the others, lets just say, it would of made for some interesting Risk Assessments.

The scythe for instance was used for cutting grass as well as reaping crops and we can’t forget the Grim Reaper!

The old sickle. Again, not to dissimilar to the modern day versions.

What about the old harmless watering can. Supposedly first used in the 16th century.

And what about the gardeners themselves.  They often specialized in the famous Tudor knot gardens, which were intricate patterns of lawns and hedges, intended to be viewed from a raised walkway. The Tudor gardeners were simple folk whose entire life revolved around the upkeep of the gardens. Simple folk? I would of fitted in very well then, not so sure about my appearance though. Full sleeved tattoos, hat back to front, heavy metal t shirts (although I  had heard Deep Purple were playing gigs then) but long balding hair seemed to be the order of the day though.

The early gardeners at Trinity would of been involved with some of the more interesting times in Trinity’s history, especially in the 16th and 17th century’s, although it didn’t stop there. Over the following centuries, Trinity carried on changing and expanding, adding several more acres to the garden. I have been told it is roughly a mile long from one end of the college to the other, feels a lot further than that some days.

Now two past members of Trinity’s history do have a connection with the garden and they are: Isaac Newton and John Ray. John Ray became a Trinity fellow in 1649 teaching Greek, mathematics and Latin , he was the leading 17th-century English naturalist and botanist. John Ray cultivated his own garden through the 1650’s at Trinity growing over several hundred species of plant.

As for Isaac Newton, we all know about this famous gentlemen.

Isaac Newton had his own private garden at the front of the college between Great Gate and the Chapel, what we now call the Chapel lawn. There now sits a Newtons apple tree which is an offspring of the ‘historic tree’ at Woolsthorpe Manor.

Wordless Wednesday: Little Grey Swan