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CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens re-opens 4th June.
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Plant Centre now open every day (from Thursday 4th June), 11am - 4pm. Click here to read more.

Tools of the trade

I couldn’t believe it when I looked at my blog page, it was last updated over a year ago so it’s about time I put down some thoughts. I have been caught up in the a tendency to use the quick fix in social media by quickly downloading a picture or story of interest of the day via Facebook, twitter or Instagram instead of sitting down and writing a blog page. Who would have imagined it back say 20 years ago, that gardens that are open to the public have had to adapt to the changing and challenging progress of technology in social media in order to tell their story about plants, events, or even expanding  the frontiers of knowledge! Sorry for the Star Trek analogy.

For most of my working life a trusted pair of Felco secateurs, some garden twine and an Opinel pocket knife was all that was needed in my back pocket. Ahh, just reminiscing, when I was in the boy scouts I remember proudly having a bone handled Bowie sheath knife attached to my elasticated snake belt!! It was all so innocent then, nowadays I would get arrested as a potential threat to humanity.

Back to my trusted tools of the trade. Along with my secateurs I now have a leather cased iphone as a tool of the trade. This can provide on the spot updates, record data for use in the office and send pictures straight to Facebook. With their amazingly good quality trillion billion megapixels or what ever, their in- built cameras can pick up the incredible detail of a flower, an insect or moving water feature without the tiresome need to set aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings. Although of course you can do that if you can be bothered to read all the jargon. Me, I like it simple. No bags of lenses and rolls of various films to carry around like the old days. The other day whilst on a trek through the undergrowth I heard the distinctive tick tick tweets from our resident Fire crests. One of Britain’s smallest and quite rare birds. I pointed my iphone at the Camellia bush that they were in but couldn’t see them. I took the picture any way. Upon expanding and zooming in the picture frame there they were in minute detail. You’ve got to love technology, some of the time.

Modern and old tools of the trade !

A garden never stands still as they are constantly evolving. Just when you’ve got the right balance between planting symmetry and colour one area becomes too dominant and puts all else out of kilter. Hence the need to carry secateurs at all times. I am always going on about the need to gently prune obstructing leaves or branches to stop overcrowding or dominance of one plant species over another and losing the balance and Juxtaposition, or hiding another plants floral display. Not everyone has the eye!! It is very much in the eye of the beholder as well but I believe the best gardeners are usually good artists and “A good garden is a living painter’s pallet”. Wow I’ve created my own quote of the day but it’s one I believe in. I’ve also been designing planting schemes and gardens all my life. Trying to explain what you are trying to achieve to a client or member of the public is a tricky one when confronted by someone with no feel or connection to nature. I always say “A good garden space is not a physical dimension, it is more a matter of how you feel in it”

At the time of writing we begin the new year with some very unseasonably warm weather. We have some Salvias still in bloom and so many colourful Camellias out in flower that I worry that our normal spring display may be diluted of colour by then. The buds are swelling on the magnificent Himalayan Magnolia Campbellii trees, it could be a stunning early display of their giant pink ‘tea cup and saucer’ shaped  flowers, or it might be disaster if we get a sudden air frost or the beast from the east returns as the buds could blacken and drop off in the cold.

Having spent all my working life mostly outdoors in all weather I know natures cycle, its seasonal variances and subtle signs that change is coming. From the sweet smell of burnt sugars from leaves that are turning golden hues in the autumn, the welcome return in winter of underground springs that the exhausted water table had denied the garden in the long dry hot summer last year. And now in early winter the cheerful Hellebore’s are bursting out of the leaf litter and yellow flowering Mahonias and Mimosa return again to brighten a winters day. Right now I feel so sorry for Australia with the recent devastation that the fires are bringing to people,homesteads and wildlife alike. The flora and fauna that has been destroyed is devastating. Many eucalyptus species have evolved to overcome fire damage and will regrow, but not the poor marsupials. Climate change is real. We are experiencing unseasonable weather patterns in the UK and most gardeners will be very aware of the need to look after our soil, water storage and  using organic mulch to conserve moisture. What does the crystal ball hold in store for the future? Who remembers ‘Desiderata’. Max Ehrmann s ode to life, it still reads true today. “With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strife to be happy”.

Stephen Griffith

I have been the Horticultural manager/Curator for Abbotsbury SubTropical Gardens since taking over after massive storm damage back in 1990. The gardens trustees wanted a fresh new 10 year development plan to revive this historic yet overgrown and neglected garden, to improve the plant content, infrastructure, interpretation and tourism aspects - Prior to Abbotsbury I have been designing and restoring landscapes and gardens in diverse places such as Saudi Arabia, South of France, Sark C.I, Cotswolds and the New Forest.
I also lead garden tours world wide, write articles and the odd book.
Professional bodies - I am a member of the RHS woody plant committee, M.I Hort, International Camellia Society.

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