Experience is key to success in the garden
On a sunny spring day, there are few better places for anyone interested in horticulture to visit than a gardener’s garden, with the helpful host on hand to explain just how they do it.
Reporter Wendy Short donned sun hat and factor 50 to meet Adrian Rose, who runs a garden services business from his home in Staindrop
"Horticulture can be studied, but a lot of the skill comes with experience,” says Adrian Rose. “I reckon it took me about ten years of practice to become competent at gardening. There is so much to learn: a thorough understanding of the soil; when to feed it, when to work it and when to leave it alone. If you look after the soil; the soil will look after the plants.
“Much of the success with garden planting is based on matching the species to the soil type, but there also needs to be a detailed understanding of how much light each species will require. Another point to consider is the timing of flowering. It takes quite a lot of planning to ensure that the garden contains colour for most of the year.”
Still on the subject of soil, Mr Rose points to the well-organised composting system at the bottom of his own garden.
It comprises four separate wood-framed structures that are filled with kitchen and green garden waste.
“I make aerobic compost and of course it requires air, so that means turning it regularly,” he explains.
“I use the oldest contents at the far end first and once that frame is empty, the material from the adjacent frame is moved up along the row, so there is always a fresh batch of compost that is starting the rotting process at the near end.
“Lawn clippings can be added, but if they are used in large quantities it will produce a sludge which can be difficult to work with and may smell unpleasant.”
The ornamental kitchen garden is his favourite style and he is a great admirer of the late Geoff Hamilton. He describes the former Gardeners’ World television programme presenter as a “hero”.
“Geoff Hamilton gradually converted to an organic gardening system at his own home and kept the public informed of his progress. He did not jump on the organic bandwagon and he was very honest about any mistakes he made along the way. I learned from him that it is best to work with nature and not fight against it.”
Mr Rose adds: “With vegetable gardening, cabbages and other brassicas are easy to grow given the right heavy soil but they usually need to be covered in net to protect them against caterpillar and pigeon damage. Carrot crops prefer lighter soils and can be ruined if they are attacked by carrot root fly. However the insects do not fly above one metre from the ground, so I grow mine in the greenhouse, which acts as a natural barrier in the same way as using a fleece barrier outdoors.
“Carrots can also be planted with companion plants like onions, which is said to disguise the scent and make it more difficult for the carrot root fly to locate the crop.”
The growing popularity of vegetable gardening means that Mr Rose is often in demand to give his advice on this subject and he also offers garden design and maintenance services and feature dry stone wall building.
“It is very enjoyable to plan a new garden or restore one which has been neglected,” he comments.
“It is important to establish the client’s preferences; whether that is a formal style, a cottage garden or even a minimalist look. The next stage is to decide which plants to select, bearing in mind the soil type, location and the amount of sunlight that the various sections receive on any given day.
“With new planting, I am looking to give structure and create areas of interest. I will usually include trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials, adding annual plants to fill in and to give additional colour.
A keen wildlife enthusiast, Mr Rose is a corporate supporter of the Durham Wildlife Trust and he is always interested in creating spaces which encourage insects, birds and other garden visitors.
“Gardens have a huge part to play in encouraging insects, which in turn provide food for other wildlife,” he says.
“They are also vital for pollination, and I always cross-reference my plant selection against the Plants for Pollinators list which is published on the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) website. Buddleia, lavender and rosemary are among the many plants which will attract butterflies, bees and other insects to the garden.
“Among my personal favourite plants which are also wildlife-friendly plants are skimmia, which have a wonderful scent. The evergreen mahonia and spring-flowering crocuses are important, as they provide a supply of food for bees very early in the year.”
Some of the most common queries that he receives are related to pruning.
“When I get a call about pruning, my heart always sinks when I hear the dreaded phrase: ‘I’ve already had a bit of a hack at it’,” he says ruefully.
“Pruning is a complex subject, because each plant has its own specific needs and there may be more than one time of the year when pruning can be carried out. Decisions will also depend on the effect that is desired.”
Mr Rose took his first gardening job in the late 1980s and went on to develop his knowledge by studying for the RHS General Certificate in Horticulture, followed by study in garden design.
He has since enjoyed a varied career, with gardening running as a common thread throughout, although he has also worked in social care, with various charities and has helped to run a Quaker retreat centre.
“A long time ago I was sitting in an interview room, applying for a job which would have been based indoors,” he says. “My attention kept being drawn to the plants and trees in the garden and at that moment I realised that I wanted to work outdoors and that I should set up my own full-time gardening business. I went home and printed out some advertising leaflets and I have never looked back.”
MR Rose has been practising meditation since he was in his early 20s, when it helped him to overcome a bout of depression. He now holds regular classes on the subject at his home for groups of 10-15 people. He is keen to spread the word about its therapeutic benefits and favours the traditional Buddhist approach.
“In meditation, the breath is used as an anchor to maintain focus, instead of engaging with thoughts.
“It becomes easier with repetition and it is a way of letting go of fear and anxiety. It is extraordinary that a process that is so simple can have such a profound effect on wellbeing.
“Meditation has been practised for thousands of years, but now modern science has proved that it can have a positive effect on the parts of the brain that are linked to promoting feelings of peace and calmness.
“This ancient traditional practice is the foundation for what is today called mindfulness.
“It is about and relaxing and being in the moment, taking in everything that is going on within you and around you but focusing on breathing.”
Contact Adrian Rose on 07715 652828.