Blog Category: Uncategorized

Turning the Page

The WRAGS traineeship is a wonderful opportunity to create a relationship with a garden and a head gardener throughout an entire year, coming full circle and being able to look back and reflect on the beginnings. Just this last few weeks, planting out the cuttings I had taken in the beginning of my apprenticeship, releasing them into the world after having nurtured them along for months, feels like closure, but also a new beginning.

I have been honoured and privileged to have had so much support during my horticultural apprenticeship at Horatio’s Garden Scotland. It has been an invaluable experience for me and has built my confidence and refined my skills greatly. I was grateful to receive the support of the Finnis-Scott Foundation to begin my placement. Horatio’s Garden is about people as much as it is about plants, and from what I have read about Valerie Finnis,
the two were inextricably linked in her world as well. Reading about her life and passions, and viewing her wonderful photographs (having been a photographer myself), I feel like there is an invisible ball of twine connecting all these things together. Through the Finnis-Scott
Foundation’s and the WFGA’s support, along with Sallie’s excellent mentorship I feel like I am now proudly a part of a legacy of hardworking professional plantswomen.

Horatio’s Garden is a unique and layered garden experience, being a therapeutic garden for the National Spinal Unit, which was designed by one of the UK’s top garden designers. Seeing the garden stripped down to it’s bones in winter, and fleshed back out as spring turns to summer has been magical. The astounding detail in James Alexander-Sinclair’s design is never apparent all at once. It is a book that can only be read in a year, day by day, leaf by leaf. I have learned so much from just observing the seasons change, as each plants role becomes clear and they take centre stage for their brief time.

I now know that there is nowhere as cozy and creative as a greenhouse during a downpour. Finding a pace with the weather, the seasons and the garden itself has been a joy and a satisfying challenge. Sallie has taught me the pleasure of slow gardening, taking time to do things right and fully. We have experimented with every leaf and stem and seed at hand, and I’m humbled by what we have grown and achieved this year.

None of this would have been possible without Annie Stewart’s (WFGA Regional Manager) tenacity in finding me a placement, and Olivia Chapple’s innovation and generosity in taking on a WRAGS trainee at Horatio’s Garden Scotland, for which I am very thankful. I hope that relationship will continue to be fruitful and that many other aspiring gardeners have a chance to sharpen their skills in such vibrant and crucial gardens.

Horatio’s Garden grew out of compassion for others, a sense of community and of a families love of a lost child. It is about nurturing something that is also nurturing others. Each plant we tend brings others joy, or reflection, or food or familiarity. Picking strawberries with staff, cutting flowers for therapy activities, or just talking with patients and volunteers about favourite plants or the wonder of watching them grow, are some of many small moments in the shared life of Horatio’s Garden. It is about quiet giving, not asking in return, the generosity of love and the abundance that grows from that gift. As in the garden and in life.

My heartfelt thanks to everyone at the WFGA, The Finnis-Scott Foundation and at Horatio’s, especially Sallie, for the work that they have done to support me to more fully engage in my career as a horticulturalist. I hope to one day be able to pass on some of the knowledge and support I have had, and to continue to inspire others.

Chelsea Lowe, July 2020

Barley Wood Walled Garden and its head gardener

Barley Wood plants


As I write the dark air is cold and still, and I recall glittering remnants of the morning’s frost  lingering on the leaves, in the walled garden where I work.  At the same time I am remembering a different walled garden visited in high summer, with views over a bucolic valley, sitting in a gentle haze below us. This one is Barley Wood Walled Garden,  in the village of Wrington, Somerset, which was built to serve a large house, at the very end of the Victorian era and which like many fell over the decades into a state of disrepair. It has been restored  by its current owners in the past twenty years.

The walled garden is predominantly given over to the production of vegetables and walled trained fruit and all of this is managed by Mark Cox, a passionate grower who produces an astonishing quantity of produce and a very wide and varied range of vegetables.

Barley Wood

Mark is an entertaining host, and our visit on a July Saturday, started with the enormous compost bays, crucial for this fairly recent convert to no dig gardening – he vividly describes the hard labour of digging the expanse of beds  he works, and the lightbulb moment when, after visits and reading, he began to convert.

Barley Wood provides vegetables for a weekly box delivery scheme, and also for the Ethicurean restaurant, which sits at the top of the garden. The chef’s and Mark love to experiment with unusual vegetables, and as we walked through the beds and sections of the garden we were shown some of his favourites .

Wrinkled Courgettes (courgette Rugosa fruilana),  a golden yellow and definitely wrinkled, with firm yellow flesh. As easy to grow as any courgette, tastes great and in Marks words ‘keeps on giving’.

Sticcoli. This is a tender stem broccoli, edible stems which taste similar to asparagus, and some prefer it. It is high in vitamins A and C and once established,  keeps on providing its delicious spears.

Agrettti, which we tasted as we walked.  We may know it as Monks Beard, related to Samphire, with fleshy, needle like leaves which also look a little like chives. Delicious raw – a sort of salty, soft, and mild, but more usually steamed or sauted.

This is a gardener who spends time in the winter searching the seed catalogues for different and unusual vegetables, and uses a range of seed companies. One or two cropped up several times including the Real Seed Company.

We also tasted wall grown greengages ripening in the sun, the leafy tops of white ‘albino’ beetroot, and thin slices of the thick stems of bolted lettuces, who knew!

The message is that we can eat a lot more of the food we grow than we do,  AND, we can grow a vast range of interesting produce if we look around.

This is a garden tended with love for produce, and one to give us ideas.

We shall have to go again, do get in touch if you’re keen .

Judith Brotherton