Our Flower Patch

Inspiring a new generation of growers


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The No-Nonsense Guide to Green Parenting

Digging

We’re on the second year of our pilot outdoor learning and enterprise programme for primary schools Our Flower PatchThe more we work with teachers and their pupils, the more we have come to realise how unusual it is for some children to spend lots of time outside. When I’ve accompanied school trips or run gardening sessions in school there are a growing number of children who seem scared to venture too far away, seem anxious around mini-beasts and are afraid of getting their clothes and hands dirty. But when they get stuck in, good things happen.

WalkingAny opportunity to get out in the fresh air experiencing the simple pleasures of life, exploring and investigating at first hand is time well spent. The pressures of modern life, where often both parents work and teachers are concerned about getting through the increasingly proscriptive National Curriculum leave little time for free range learning and ‘wild time’. And parents and teachers are the first to feel guilty about it.

How refreshing then to come across a book for parents which opens up the possibilities of what can be done to ‘learn and play naturally’. The No-Nonsense Guide to Green Parenting is written by Kate Blincoe, former environmental educator, now mum to two growing children. Her ‘can do’ approach will strike a chord with anybody who wants to be that little bit greener, less wasteful and more creative in their approach to parenting. And, what’s more, you’ll find that many of Kate’s ideas are easy to achieve. You may even be doing some of them already.Cooking

The book covers everything from choosing toys, clothes and household products to cooking, growing, celebrating the seasons and getting out to explore the countryside. There are plenty of links to further resources and I’m particularly fond of the ‘grumpy granny’ sections – good old fashioned advice from someone who could be my own mother. It’s not rocket science, but in the craziness of parenting it provides reassurance that although it isn’t easy being green as a parent, getting back to the basics of natural play, gardening, cooking and taking walks outside with your children is achievable and good for everyone. If you feel swamped with the demands of modern living but want to take steps to get back to the simple things in life with your children, this is the book for you.

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The No-Nonsense Guide to Green Parenting by Kate Blincoe is published by Green Books and is available from October 8th. Readers of this blog can order from the publishers here using voucher code FLWR15 and get it for just £12.59 (RRP £17.99), and get free UK delivery on all orders. Offer valid 2nd October to 11th October 2015.

All images ©Phil Barnes


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Ten tips for setting up a school garden.

nature and nurture in the school garden

nature and nurture in the school garden

Learning at school doesn’t just happen inside the classroom. It goes on everywhere. A school garden can be

  • an area for exploring and learning about nature
  • a way of improving health and well-being
  • a chance to learn essential skills like planning, risk taking, resilience, teamwork
  • an outlet for creativity
  • a  place where children who function less well in a traditional classroom can put abstract concepts into practice in real life situations

Setting up a garden is a no-brainer. All schools should have one but it needs someone totally committed to driving the project forward. Where’s a person to start?

If you are a teacher , teaching assistant or a parent volunteer thinking about taking that step, then you are probably feeling excited and possibly just that little bit daunted.

Step forward.

We salute you.

What you are about to do is a great and noble thing.

And so, as a reward for your bravery and commitment, here are the Our Flower Patch top tips for setting up a project to inspire a new generation of growers.

  1. Learn to delegate You’ll need horticultural knowledge,  “people skills”, common sense, enthusiasm, organizational ability and a flair for publicity. You have to to plan, manage, find resources, muster support, communicate with everyone involved, compile lists of garden tasks, plan inspirational lessons, keep everyone happy, motivate the team, and deal with problems. Unless you’re a superhero with no family commitments you won’t be able to do this alone. Gather together a team who can tick everything off the list between them. Older pupils can show younger ones what to do. Everyone likes to be needed. Delegate some responsibility to everyone involved and let them get on with it with support and advice. And remember that all our members benefit from the ongoing support of people who have run successful school gardening clubs in the past.
  2. Practice the art of recycling and upcycling School gardens do not need massive financial investment. We’ve lost count of the numbers of beautiful raised beds and greenhouses which have fallen into disrepair. Flowers can be grown in donated pots, tyres or even old compost bags. Milk cartons can be made into soil scoops and plastic bottles make really effective cloches and watering cans. We have dozens of ideas and you’ll soon begin to see opportunities for recycling in the most unexpected places.
  3. Embrace the idea that the process is more important than the end result Many people are wary of starting a school garden because they worry that things will go wrong. They will but that’s one of the positives as far as we’re concerned. Managing risks and trouble shooting problems are part of the deal.
  4. Remember there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing Gardening is reliant on the weather but don’t shy away from taking groups outside all year round. Our programme has appropriate activities for every week of the school year. Ensure that your pupils are properly kitted out with warm, waterproof, dare we say even scruffy clothing in winter, hats and sunscreen in summer and every day can be a gardening day. The gardens of fair-weather gardeners quickly become neglected.
  5. Know that any space is enough space Even a couple of recycled plastic trugs outside the classroom door is a garden. Small space gardening has provided us with years of pleasure. Apple trees grow in oilcans or barrels. Strawberries do well in a hanging basket. A window box wildflower meadow can be a thing of beauty and a haven for bees. Don’t be ashamed to start small.
  6. Play to your strengths Study your raw materials and plan accordingly. Garden projects can fail because of lack of time, too few helpers or the vagaries of the site. If your only space lacks lots of direct sunlight, choose to grow shade loving plants. If you only have an hour a week in which to garden, plan accordingly for a low-maintenance garden.
  7. Appeal to the senses Memories are built on the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the past. Build  happy memories for your pupils by planting a riot of colour, texture and scent. Add in some tasty treats and soothing sounds too and you’ll find there’s never a moment without someone out there, taking care of the garden.
  8. Go wild Welcome wildlife into your garden and not only will you be looking after the environment and improving the biodiversity of your school grounds but you’ll have a ready made science lab in which to conduct studies and a healthier garden.
  9. Blow your own trumpet Find as many opportunities as you can to publicise what’s going on in your little patch of heaven. The more you talk it up, the more people will want to be part of the party. You’ll spread the workload among a bigger pool of volunteers, children will take better care of it and the whole project will become truly sustainable.
  10. Make connections Gardening is all about making connections. Companion plants support each other and the same is true of gardening buddies who work side by side. It’s also important to make connections between the garden and what’s going on elsewhere in the school. Use the garden to teach aspects of the National Curriculum, to provide opportunities for some practically minded pupils to shine, to develop essential life skills which they can take back into the classroom. Really successful school gardens are right at the centre of school life, supplying the kitchens with food or school reception with a vase of gorgeous flowers very week. When you see a parent snipping a few herbs to take home to cook dinner, a toddler popping a homegrown strawberry into their mouth or a young boy clutching a bunch of schoolgrown cosmos to take home for his granny’s birthday, you’ll know that your idea to start a garden was awesome.

 

 


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Mud, mud, glorious mud

mudday-250x199

Getting muddy around the world

Usually the start of Wimbledon Fortnight and the end of the Glastonbury Festival is the perfect time to get down and dirty with mud, as the June skies cloud over and drop enormous quantities of the wet stuff on us all. However, this year our flower patches are more dust bowls than muddy puddles. It’s scorchio in Wiltshire and Cally is building up her muscles lugging full watering cans over to her allotment on a regular basis.

Nevertheless yesterday was an international celebration of all things muddy. International Mud Day was initiated by the World Forum Foundation, which aims to promote an on-going global exchange of ideas on the delivery of quality services for young children in diverse settings. It’s a great idea. Children love getting muddy and it’s a well known fact that fewer children are allowed to nowadays than in the past. Some children don’t own old, scruffy clothes, I recently discovered whilst working on a community painting project. 

As the World Forum Foundation highlights “studies have recently revealed the positive qualities of earth, soil, and mud. Science says that being barefoot is good for you. Mud has microscopic bacteria that soothes you, relaxes you, and calms you down. So that’s why it feels so good to kick off your shoes and socks!” And that’s why allowing children to dig in the soil, sow seeds, weed, nurture seedlings and get dirty is good for them too. We’d love to help you set up a gardening programme at your school which gets children in touch with the earth. Get in touch with the flower patch girls.

 


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Six ways for flower growers to celebrate May Day

Toby-Bowood-Matt-Austin

A picnic at Bowood House. Photograph by Matt Austin Images.

All’s right with the world. Linda Snell has located. the Archers’ Maypole in time for the jubilant May Day celebrations in Ambridge at the end of the week. We love a party at Our Flower Patch and even though you are unlikely to find either of us dancing round a maypole on Friday, May Day is the perfect time of year for flower growers to stop, take stock and celebrate their hard work before their plots reward them with oodles of flowery loveliness and the odd weed.

Sara started celebrating early this year when she did a flowery photoshoot at Bowood House in Wiltshire in preparation for Toby Buckland’s Garden Festival on June 5th and 6th. Along with Saffy from Bath Flowersshe’ll be arranging, selling and generally shouting about homegrown British flowers. Why not pop along and chat to them? Don’t worry if you live too far away, Cally will be reporting on the festival for our school Flower Patch members and readers of this blog, so you won’t miss anything vital.

In the meantime back to May Day and our six top ways to celebrate this fertility festival and the start of summer.

Decorate a maypole or May tree

Unlike us, your young growers will probably love the idea of dancing round a maypole as a break from all the frantic planting, sowing and weeding. You’ll need a pole about three metres high to which you attach long ribbons. Aim for the ribbons to be about ¾ of the length of the pole. Plant the pole in a hole deep enough to prevent it swaying. Decorate the top of the pole with flowers or greenery. Then you’re ready for willing volunteers to grab an end of a ribbon and dance in and out, winding the ribbons round the pole.

Alternatively, decorate the trees on your plot with ribbons to celebrate the time of year. Write messages of thanks or hopes for the coming season on the ribbon. And if you don’t have any trees or large shrubs, plant some. Try to make it something from which you can harvest foliage for your cut flower arrangements. We like viburnum, euonymus, pittosporum and eucalyptus.

Hold a bonfire party

Traditionally cattle were driven between bonfires on the eve of May Day to rid them of evil spirits and keep them safe from harm. If you’ve been clearing space, then you might have plenty of material to burn. Getting together around a bonfire is a good way to reward your garden helpers for their hard work in getting your plot shipshape and provide space and time to chat about plans for the future. Obviously food is just as important as fire in any festival celebration which brings me neatly on to my next point.

Pack a picnic or hold a ‘bring and share’ feast on your patch where everyone brings something they love to make.

No celebration is complete without food. If you’re lucky, you might even have a few homegrown early strawberries to munch on or, at least, some jam made from last year’s crop to spread on scones. May Day marks the start of summer to me and so some homemade lemonade might start to make an appearance. You’ll find the recipe here.

Make a flower crown or a daisy chain.

Flowers are a big part of any May Day celebration. Floral crowns can be used to crown a May Queen or just to give your young growers some valuable practice at working with flowers to make something beautiful. If you choose a May queen then her throne (chair) can also be decorated with seasonal flowers. Check back through this blog for more information about flower crowns.

If your lawn is anything like mine it’s full of daisies. I love them and my daughter loves them even more as she has a steady supply with which to make daisy chains. If you wear a daisy chain around your head past midnight on May Day eve, you can attract good luck.

 Give a basket (or bunch) of flowers to a neighbour.

We have plenty of tulips on our patch at the moment but what might be even more special is a packet of seeds to spread the flowery love. Higgledy Ben our seed supplier has a huge array from which to choose.  Just a couple of packs will be enough to start a love affair with cut flowers. Soon you’ll be devoting a whole bed to a cutting patch. It’s good for bees and good for you, giving you a steady supply of beautiful blooms to cut for the house and saving you money. May Day tradition is that you must leave your gift in secret. If your neighbour spies you, they can claim a kiss apparently – so choose the lucky recipient wisely!!

Sow some herbs

Any excuse to get outside enjoying your garden is good and growing herbs is a great way to kick start a growing habit which will last a lifetime. I’m a fan of any plant which has more than one use. Growing herbs was the start of my love affair with gardening. One of my earliest memories is picking mint from an old Belfast sink and watching my granny make mint sauce. Herbs are bee-friendly plants, easy to grow, fragrant, edible and some make fabulous additions to cut flower posies. Rosemary, dill, mint, lavender and lemon balm regularly find their way into my jam jar posies.

Rosemary sage narcissi

Herbs and flowers are a natural pairing in Sara’s arrangements too.


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Make it Happen! (Part 3)

 

International Women's Day 2015 Logo

International Women’s Day 2015

Here is our third and last part of our Make it Happen series for International Women’s Day. Last but certainly not least we feature Harriet Rycroft. Harriet used to be the head gardener at Whichford Pottery, she now describes herself as a free range gardener. Harriet is well know, or is that ‘notorious’ for her planting in pots, and you can now access her expertise through her course on Container Gardening through MyGardenSchool.com the next one starts in April.

Container gardening

Perfect Planting in Pots

My first gardening memory is sowing seeds of candytuft, cornflowers and love-in-the-mist in two little rectangles of soil in front of my brand new wendy house. I was amazed when they came up and flowered, and I can remember looking really closely at the flowers and being pleased that they were MINE! I was about five. My first jobs in the garden were probably picking fruit – my dad made a fruit cage, where we grew raspberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries and strawberries. Our dog liked to pick raspberries too, he did it very daintily with his lips, but we didn’t manage to train him not to eat them all!

I am inspired by lots and lots of other gardeners and the list grows all the time. There are gardeners who write inspiringly about their own and other people’s efforts, there are people who are brilliant at growing vegetables, amazing cut flower growers, people who have huge skills in training roses and trees into beautiful shapes, people who collect rare plants from far off places and people who work out how to make those rare plants happy in this country.

There’s one gardener who I really admire but I can’t mention her name because she works in a very grand place and is very discreet – but she manages a big team and a big budget with incredible attention to detail, and produces the most amazing flowers, fruit and vegetables; she has more skill and knowledge than anyone I can think of, is modest but determined and quietly assertive, and is very generous in sharing her knowledge.

I suppose the group of people which inspires me the most is the British women of the early 20th century, especially during the first and second world wars. They got on with learning about gardening and agriculture, which at the time were almost entirely done by men, and showed everyone that women can do those things too. Beatrix Havergal taught a lot of women at Waterperry and although it is said that Roald Dahl based Miss Trunchbull from Matilda on her (because she was very tall and I think she was quite fierce) it sounds like she was a very determined and fair teacher who made everyone work hard and to high standards, producing some of this country’s best gardeners.

I think it is very important to encourage young people to garden because our green spaces, both wild and cultivated, are shrinking all the time, and it is only when you get the chance to really immerse yourself in such a space and begin to find out how complex and fascinating it is that you realise how essential plant communities are to the world and to all the creatures that live there – including humans…

I think it is vital that girls (and boys) are shown at primary school age that getting outside and interacting with the natural world is a normal thing to do. I think many adults have become afraid of letting children explore for themselves, afraid of letting them get dirty and take a few risks, and that fear gets passed on to the kids. I have met far too many children who are afraid to get a bit of mud on their hands! I don’t think it’s helpful to make a big deal of it but we need to show them in an every-day kind of way how much we enjoy it and give them the freedom to experiment, the patience to observe the natural world, and the perseverance to try again if something doesn’t quite work.

As regards girls and gardening – whether amateur or professional – well, if we give them confidence in themselves and help them to challenge stereotypes and assumptions about gender roles plus the opportunities to try out as many things as possible, then those who enjoy it will do it.

I would like to say to girls embarking on horticultural careers: Do it on your own terms, don’t let people tell you that you can’t do certain things as there will always be a way of doing it that they haven’t thought of, horticulture is hugely diverse and there is room for everybody’s talents. Don’t be too proud to ask for help and advice, and remember to help other members of your team. Be interested and willing to try different things – for example don’t assume that machinery is ‘toys for boys’, there is no reason you can’t learn to operate and maintain it too. People (even other women) may not think of giving you the opportunity – don’t wait to be asked, if you see any interesting opportunity enquire about it. And don’t assume that the men in your team are all unskilled muscle – there are plenty of skilled and artistic men out there who just get asked to dig veg beds and mow lawns, equality works both ways!

Gardening well requires the ability to look at a task from many different angles – you need an awareness of science, history, even psychology, all with an artistic and observant eye. If you like being outside and you don’t mind getting wet/dirty/cold sometimes then go for it! Parents and teachers often EXPECT girls not to enjoy the more practical aspects of life but it’s easy to prove them wrong.

I remember helping a class of children at the local primary school to dig holes and plant daffodil bulbs all the way along a path, a really simple but quite laborious task – seeing their pride in the result the following spring was a real treat! So much of gardening seems like magic when you get your first little successes, and the best thing is that for many of us the magic never fades!

My desert island garden tool would be a little pointy spade only 2ft long, made by Sneeboer, a Dutch company which makes tools by hand. It’s great for splitting plants and replanting and it’s really sharp so you could find other uses for it too…

Plants are more difficult – if it really was a desert island I might want something edible like potatoes or runner beans (neither of which I could get sick of), but if I had to choose just one ornamental plant it would probably be a tulip bulb, or preferably a small assortment of tulip bulbs because then I could have fun cross-pollinating them and trying to produce new colours, which would give me something to look forward to.

Books – also tricky, but I’d choose something by Christopher Lloyd or Beth Chatto because they both bring plants alive in their writing and can be very funny at the same time.

My favourite thing about gardening? Being OUTSIDE! I’d hate to be stuck in an office all week.

Thank you so much to Harriet for answering our questions. You can find Harriet on Twitter and read more about her thoughts on gardening and other matters over on her blog A Parrot’s Nest

Harriet Rycroft

Harriet Rycroft

A final big thank you to our three fantastic contributors. It is exciting to see the passion and enthusiasm for gardening that you ladies display, and also that you are united in your commitment for engaging young people with the natural world. Something as you know we are committed to also with our Educational programme.

Just in case you missed any you can have a look back at the blogs by Rosy Hardy, and Christine Walkden.


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Make it Happen! (part 2)

International Women's Day 2015 Logo

International Women’s Day 2015

Welcome to the second part of our Make it Happen series of interviews with leading female horticulturalists in honour of International Women’s Day.

Today we are talking to Christine Walkden, who was kind enough to give us a telephone interview. I had to write very fast to keep up with Christine’s enthusiasm for gardening, but it was a pleasure to speak to such an honest and enthusiastic person.

You may well know Christine from some of her many and varied appearances on television. My favourite has been her appearances in The Great British Garden Revival, and also the Glorious Gardens From Above series. It was so interesting to see gardens from a different perspective, which even included Christine abseiling to do some cliffside gardening at St Michael’s Mount.

What is your first gardening memory?

At school every year from 5-11yrs old we were given a crocus corm, a yoghurt pot and some soil from the playing field to plant the crocus in. We were given them to plant and then they were taken away until they flowered. I loved the planting but it always bothered me that I didn’t get to look after them whilst they were growing, someone else was always given that job. They were brought back out when they were flowering. I wanted to be involved in the whole process. Even back then I loved the growing. It’s all about putting something in and getting something up.

Who is your gardening inspiration? 

Mother Nature. I’ve never been one for posters of people on my walls as a youngster I had pictures of flowers on my walls.

Why do you think it is important to encourage young people to garden?

It teaches them about life, the seasons, light, smells patience, understanding, companionship. It’s much more than just sticking in plants. It’s life and death, it’s a softer way to teach some of the concepts of life that can be tricky to get across.

The theme for International Women’s day is “Make It Happen” what are your top tips for helping young girls interested in a career in gardening, and how they can make it happen? 

Get as much practical experience as you can, even if that means volunteering for free. You can’t buy experience you can only gain it. Practical experience is so important, you can read things in books or on the Internet but it can’t replace practical experience.

What ideas do you have to help encourage young girls into gardening? 

Just do it. If you don’t succeed straight away, sow some more. We all have to learn skills like reading or riding a bike, or learning to drive, some take time, some are tricky. People expect miracles when gardening, why? Some of the skills of gardening can take time to master. Be persistent, don’t give up.The important thing is that people connect with nature, that a plant moves them. That’s what matters. Even if it is the joy of a dandelion, or making daisy chains, the connection with plants is the important bit.

Do you have any advice for girls or women looking at horticulture as a future career? 

The same – keep trying and persevere.The money may not always be there with gardening as a career but the reward is. You may not get a “flash lifestyle”. But I have had an amazing life, travelled the world and seen the most fabulous things and had fantastic experiences all because of my love of plants.

Sometimes young people find it difficult to see where a career will take them; some times they are focused more on financial reward than on lifestyle benefits. Gardening was never considered a decent job, but look at me now.

Teaching children the skills of horticulture can start them on a journey that can be continued later in life. It may be that they continue gardening as a career straight away, or it might be that they come back to it as a career choice later in life.

Do you have any anecdotes you would like to share about working & gardening with young people or in schools?

I just love the little kids with their twinkling eyes getting their hands dirty and enjoying it. I love it that they say they now do gardening at home because of me. One child told me they now have a greenhouse at home because of me – that made my day.

A child, who was considered quite a difficult child within the school, brought a plant in to show me, that he had looked after and nurtured. I asked him how he had got it started and he said it started in the garden and I liked it and it looked pretty and I thought you would enjoy it. He was caring for that plant and bringing it on. It was a hairy bittercress plant. That doesn’t matter – it’s the enthusiasm that he showed and the care and perseverance to make that plant thrive. I loved that.

When you are planting seeds with children you are planting a lifelong gift.

If you can tick their boxes and excite them you have them for life.

What is your desert island garden tool & plant?

Oh blimey! A hoe, ho ho ho! You’ve got to keep the blimmin’ weeds down to succeed. And if they get out of control you could always chop things down with a hoe, or use it to dig a bit!

Plant – Soldanella pusilla – it’s an alpine and I love its scale, beauty and tenacity. It can even flower in the snow.

At this point we had a chat about Latin names, and Christine was adamant that whilst Latin names are very important not knowing them shouldn’t hold people back from getting involved with gardening. It’s about engaging with the plant and enjoying it. Don’t worry about the name. That knowledge can come later.

What is your favourite thing about gardening?

The whole experience. The optimism. If it doesn’t work try again, it’s likely to succeed a second time. There’s always tomorrow.

Growing people and growing a garden is the same thing – you nurture a garden just like you nurture a child to get the best results. Make sure it has enough food and water, and that plants aren’t left to freeze in winter or bake in summer and you should be ok.

The gift of gardening can’t be quantified. The magical moments are the satisfaction.

Thank you so much to Christine for taking the time to answer our questions. You can find Christine on Twitter and her website diary will show you where she is appearing at shows and horticultural society talks so you might be lucky enough to hear her in person.

Christine Walkden

Christine Walkden

 


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Make it Happen!

International Women's Day 2015 Logo

International Women’s Day 2015

I’m writing this post on International Women’s day, the 8th March. The theme this year is ‘Make It Happen’

Recently we have talked to a number of prominent female horticulturalists about their careers and how they would suggest encouraging more young girls to ‘Make it Happen’ in the world of Horticulture. They were all so enthusiastic and helpful that we have decided to split their comments over a few posts. So in this post we will feature Rosy Hardy, of Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants. Rosy is the most decorated female exhibitor at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Here’s what she had to say.

What is your first gardening memory?

Pruning Queen Elizabeth Roses in my grandmother’s garden.

Who is your gardening inspiration?

A lovely old lady called Miss Maisie Cunningham in Edinburgh.

Why do you think it is important to encourage young people to garden?

It is important that young people get off their backsides and go outside and enjoy the fresh air.

The theme for International Women’s day is “Make It Happen” what are your top tips for helping young girls interested in a career in gardening, and how they can make it happen?

Try to be practical and gain as much knowledge as possible about the plants you really love. Keep notebooks of plants of interest and any new horticultural techniques you may need this as reference.

What ideas do you have to help encourage young girls into gardening?

Yes, you can do it!

Do you have any advice for girls or women looking at horticulture as a future career?

Be happy to work outside in all weathers and don’t mind creepy crawlies.

Do you have any anecdotes you would like to share about working & gardening with young people or in schools?

Don’t put slugs down their necks.

What is your desert island garden tool? 

A pair of ARS snips.

What is your favourite thing about gardening?

The life of plants.

 

We want to thank Rosy so much for answering our questions. You can find Hardy’s on Twitter  and Facebook and you can find out when you might see or listen to Rosy and the Hardy’s gang by looking here.

Rosy Hardy, Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants

Rosy Hardy