Today we are in The Great Outdoors for the latest episode of the podcast and not only are we outside but, after a year of trying, we managed to meet up with Arit Anderson, presenter of Gardener’s World, designer at Chelsea and writer and podcaster herself at Growing Greener.
We met in Regent’s Park and she was full of knowledge and insight as well as being enormous fun to chat to. And, another point to note, her background was in fashion and holistic healing – she became a gardener at the age of 44 proving that it’s never too late to learn.
If you are a novice, or reluctant, gardener, owner of acres or renter of balconies then read, or listen, on because her first advice is to pour yourself a cup of coffee and get outside, take a seat and just look. This is advice I feel we can all get behind.
“It’s a great time of year – the crowns of the plants are coming through and it’s a race. Start observing your garden now and it will tell you what it needs so you can start planning. We feel guilty for sitting out there and observing but I do it and just look and see what needs to be done.
“What I have learnt now is that at 9am I should not be running to the garden centre and shopping but sitting in the garden in my PJ’s with a cup of coffee and looking at what is happening.. Where are the gaps? What is coming up? What hasn’t worked? And what has been razored by the slugs?
Can we take the discipline of interior design into the garden? Can you take the fashion and interiors outside where it’s all moving and growing?
In our wardrobes we always talk about the staples – the coat, the big investment, the suit, that anchors everything, and that is your trees and shrubs – the backbone of your wardrobe or garden. [To take it to interiors] it’s the sofa – the investment piece that you can dress with colourful cushions.
In short, the backbone – the bed, the sofa, the coat, the suit, the trees, the shrubs.
These offer the shade and the focal points as well as places for wildlife.
Once you have that you can start to bring in the magic to update the wardrobe and dress the room. So, it’s tops and shirts, tables and rugs and, in the garden, perennials.
You don’t buy a new suit every season but you might change the shirt underneath. And in the garden that’s the perennials – plants that come up every year and die back. Let’s call them the funky classics that you love. In a room it’s the throws and cushions and curtains.
The next level is earrings and accessories – for really high zing and pizzazz you look to the annuals which bring a high level of colour.
So it’s structure, filler and then playfulness
If you are nervous and worry about moving plants if they are in the wrong place, you can put them in containers – it’s like a mini garden, or if you have a balcony or a window sill, so that you can move it around to a gap and see how it looks. That way you can add a bit of pink here or another colour there. It’s the same as interiors but containers allow you to experiment. Then once you are happy with the position you can put it into the ground. Or, if space is tight cut the bottom off the pot so the roots can go into the ground but it will be contained at the sides and not grow too much.
Don’t fight the site
Think about what you have – sun or shade, water or little. Can you test the soil? Check your neighbours and see what they are growing well. It’s back to the observation. Because when you get to the garden centre the excitement levels are up and we want it all now and then we get it home and we haven’t done the research and we have bought something unsuitable.
Gardening teaches you to be patient – it has taught me. I was about 44 when I started. I lived in a flat for about 15 years before and I wanted some outside space so I moved further out from the centre of London. My sister is a gardener so I assumed she would make the garden and I would float about drinking wine and deadheading roses.
She gave me the gardening rules – when you get a new garden you must wait for a year and see what comes up during that time – you need to see the cycle of the space.
I got the house in September and by March nothing had grown so I planted a couple of herbs in an old sink that was at the bottom of the garden and they didn’t die and the shopper in me – my retail background coming out – I just cracked on.
And once you see the plant that doesn’t die the passion comes and you think: “Oh I’ll try another.” And another and that is how I got into it.
And then on 1st January 2012 I woke up and said: “I’m going to be a gardener and by midday I was crying because I didn’t know anything.”
If you had said to your 34-year-old self – you will leave these clothes and heels and start getting your fingernails dirty in the garden you would have been shocked by your 44-year-old self?
I wouldn’t have heard you. I would have been in a club.
But it’s never too late. It’s so important – at any age – to think about the skills you have got. I probably didn’t appreciate the things that I did know. We used to go to Chelsea flower show for colour inspiration when I was in fashion but it all comes from the natural world – the colours, the cottons etc. Once you get your hand in soil it’s very grounding and good for the soul.
You are in the garden centre, you’ve got your credit card so what are the failsafe beginner plants to get you started?
First remember you need to have done your observation, so you know if you are looking to fill a sunny spot or a shady one.
Herbs are good – they are hardy and you can eat them and they grow fast so that’s a quick hit.
Lavenders needs good drainage as it doesn’t like wet feet but you also get the fragrance from it and it’s very good for bees.
Grasses are good and people think it’s boring but it softens the border and acts as a backfoil for your lovely humdinger of a flowering plant and gives bulk.
If you have a shady area, then ferns are lovely and calming and green and a good foil for the colour. We can be drawn to high colour but if you start to experiment with ferns and grasses to add layers into your border.
What about climate change – are we done with English lawn and rose garden?
In the UK we don’t have extremes of climate change that we are seeing elsewhere in the world but we are getting warmer summers and wetter winters so that does affect our plant choices.
Over time our gardens will change. I love peonies but in these downpours they are smashed to smithereens and they don’t re-flower in the way that roses do so once they’re gone they’re gone.
We need to make sure our gardens have a diversity of plant life in them. This is good for wildlife – having things that flower at different times for the pollinators – but also imagine a bed of only peonies – that’s gone in one downpour so you need a variety of things.
But what to do about slugs. They don’t care about broken eggshells and other humane deterrents. Does anything work or is it just a fact of gardening life?
If you add sharp things to the garden the slugs will just produce more mucus so they can glide over it. But there are beneficial slugs and snails. The way to turn it on its head is this: If I invited you for dinner and dressed the table fabulously, cutlery, gorgeous meal comes out and I said: “Uh uh. Don’t touch that it’s not for you,” you’d be pretty upset.
So I think we have to understand that we share our gardens with other clients. And they are the other clients. We are the paying clients and they are the ones out there 24/seven while we’re inside on our phones.
So think about the fact that we have to live alongside the wildlife and sometimes it’s about sacrificial plants for them. They need to eat. So, plant some that they will like and you can think “knock yourselves out on those” and keep your prized plants in a container so you can move them around the garden.
When I first started, I thought I had to spray and clip and prune and as I got busier and didn’t have time for that I realised that the garden was still thriving. And in some ways it’s happier that it’s not being managed all the time.
Slugs like hostas and young shoots. They love Lupins and I’ve given up with those now. But if you keep planting things they love they will keep eating them. And if you chuck them over the wall into the neighbour they will find their way back – Chris Packham did an experiment and marked the snails and they just returned so you need to take them for a long walk if that is your plan.
Gardens are dynamic, we are more urbanised and every space counts to give back to nature. You can have a neat lawn but maybe have a wild bit at the back.
Gardening is about hope. When you plant that seed or that shrub you hope it’s going to germinate and give you a flower and when it does it’s really joyous and that is quite healing. I love aesthetics but it’s about being able to go out and see the garden come to live and that’s what I really love about it.
Later in the podcast we reviewed the latest crop of interiors books.
RELAXED LIVING HAPPY HOME by Atlanta Bartlett and Dave Coote with photography by Polly Wreford
Atlanta totally owns that coastal, faded look of what used to be called Shabby Chic – dried flowers, battered leather armchairs, lovely displays of objects with faded chintz cushions, rustic floorboards. It was huge in the 90s and then got rather a bad name for itself but it’s coming back now and this time round it’s better.
It’s low maintenance, battered, thrift shop chic and washed out linens. It’s very liveable and accessible.
And it works perfectly now. Because it was so popular there was a fashion for people painting their old furniture and then purposefully distressing it. I instinctively didn’t like it because it was fake. But now- in 2022 – where we are more aware of sustainability and character and we are happy to celebrate vintage. So this time round the shabbiness is real and it really is chic. Rather than being faked when it was neither genuinely shabby nor, in that case, remotely chic now it’s about bringing new life to an old piece. It’s more authentic and therefore more chic.
Atlanta is the absolute expert on this so if this is for you you need this book. It’s rustic femininity, it’s super comfortable and it feels right for now because it’s not expensive or perfect but it’s very liveable.
FADED GLAMOUR BY THE SEA by Pearl Lowe
Pearl has bought a little beach hut and done it up beautifully. She has been to beaches all over the world in some of the most incredible locations and ended up buying her own place in the UK. This is shabby chic with a bit more colour which takes you, as the name suggests, to faded glamour. There is lots of vintage and, actually, Atlanta’s house is in this book! This is romantic escapism – lacy curtains, painted tongue and groove, tassels and fringes. Gorgeous pictures rather than lots of design advice but no less inspiring for that if this is the look you are going for.
HOTEL TO HOME INDUSTRIAL INTERIORS INSPIRED BY THE WORLD’’S MOST ORIGINAL HOTEL by Sophie Bush
Sophie is the founder of My Warehouse Home and this is her second book which might have a wider reach as it’s not just for those who live in warehouses. This is some of the best hotels in the world and how to bring that style into your own home – whatever type of home you might have. Hotels are always great inspiration for layout and bathroom design and she tells you how to bring it into a domestic setting. There is lots of crittal and concrete but also vibrant colours – in this case painted industrial steels rather than cushions and curtains. It’s architectural and clean and a celebration of materials.
A LIFE IN PATTERN by Anna Spiro
A stunning looking book with a printed linen cover and neon writing. It’s colour and maximalism and complete contrast to the other books. It’s expensive but there are photographs, illustrations, different print colours and motifs and designs. I want a book I can read and learn from. Usually I don’t want just pictures but this is the exception. It’s a moodboard and a book and design inspiration with floor plans and photographs and it’s a joy to look at. If you’re owed a present and you like books this is the one. My problem with a lot of coffee table books is that they are like magazines and once read you probably don’t go back but this is different. Because you might flick through the pictures but return to a page of illustrations of baths to see which one you might want, or a motif for a curtain. Or, as Sophie says, just for a hit of dopamine following a quick browse.
A super long post for you today but it’s a bank holiday weekend and I will be back next Wednesday. So in the meantime you can listen to the podcast, read the books or buy my online interior course at 25 per cent off and do that as well! See you next week.