Interview with Jack Wallington – Small space grower and garden designer
We interviewed GardenTags Blogger and RHS member Jack Wallington. Jack has pursued his passion for gardening and recently taken the plunge and gone professional. Jack is now an RHS qualified garden designer based in Clapham, South London. In 2015 his small urban garden was featured on the BBC’s Big Dreams, Small Spaces.
Over to you Jack…
Your growing ambitions started at a young age. What or who was the catalyst for your growing journey?
I must have been a green fingered toddler because when I was five my grandad gave my siblings his pension bonus. It wasn’t a huge amount of money but it was enough for me to buy a greenhouse – much to the puzzlement of everyone. This allowed me to explore the wonders of plants and insects. I quickly used it to grow a big collection of cacti, succulents and carnivorous plants, practiced taking cuttings and propagating from seed. I remember selling my seedlings outside the house each summer. That greenhouse taught me the foundations of horticulture, and then later visits to Kew Gardens sent that plant interest stratospheric.
You’re a self-confessed plant obsessive. How do you feed your plant addiction?
When I’m not guzzling fertiliser… As a plant addict I’m always looking for my next fix. I filled our courtyard with hundreds of species of plants to experiment. I now have two large allotments and I’m working on about twenty garden designs across London. Visiting gardens regularly and getting out into the wild helps to stop the shakes setting in. As a real bookworm I’ve always read a book a week and in recent years fiction has taken a backseat to gardening books and magazines. Oh, and of course watching Gardeners World, Beechgrove and talking to people on social media.
We’ve been seriously impressed by the way you’ve transformed your small Clapham garden. You’ve proven size doesn’t matter. What advice would you give to someone who is starting out with big ambitions for a small growing space?
I set out to prove to myself that a small space can have as much variety and challenge as a huge multi-acre garden and I think it’s worked. This is why large gardens are often broken into smaller areas and rooms, they are often more impactful. I’d recommend that people don’t feel disheartened by only having a balcony or patio, you can do so much with them using pots, raised beds and growing up walls. Work on a small area of the garden at a time to find plants for that specific location and go from there.
From 1,000,000++ square foot to 100 square foot – As an RHS member what RHS gardens have you been to an how have they inspired your small space planting?
I’ve been to Wisley loads of times and Harlow Carr. I love them. They are centers of excellence for horticulture and what that really means is plants grown to perfection. The gardens are always broken down into various areas and spaces that are often quite small in themselves. I like RHS gardens because they’re like living plant catalogues where you see each plant in person.
We bet you’re the teacher’s pet Jack Wallington with not one but eight commendations for your RHS Certificate in Horticulture. What advice would you give to someone who is starting out their horticultural studies?
Ha! I wish my teachers from secondary school could read that – they’d fall off their chairs (especially now I have twelve commendations!) I worked incredibly hard on my RHS exams, obsessively so, and I’m proud of how hard I studied more than the achievements. My advice to everyone is to study what you love and don’t be put off if it feels overwhelming at first – it’s meant to be overwhelming, that’s why we study, to learn about something we currently know nothing about. Over time, it will come, like pieces of a puzzle.
Of all the benefits of an RHS membership which one has been the most valuable to you?
Seeing the work of experts, people with amazing talent. Whether it’s growers in the RHS gardens, species experts at trade shows, leading garden designers – whoever it is, their work and plants teach me so much, it’s awe-inspiring. RHS is one of the best run organisations going and incredible value for money.
Show off or keep off. Is your garden your own private sanctuary for peace and reflection or would you rather share it to inspire others?
It is a private place for me to mess around rather than a designed space but I like sharing it online to help people who might be struggling with the same garden problems we have. I’ve labeled most plants so people can see what they are.
You opened up your garden for charity by becoming an NGS member garden this year. We loved the pop art Dahlia display posted on GardenTags. How did your visitors find the experience?
It was great fun – I mean, people mainly liked the cakes baked by our friend Rosanna Falconer but they seemed to like the plants too. We had 250 people visit our garden over two days, raising £1,600 for charity in our first year. Most people stayed for an hour or more asking questions about plants and talking about some of the rare specimens we have. It surprised me people stayed so long because our garden really is small (6 x 4m) and we’d never had anyone visit it before so didn’t know what to expect.
If money were no object what would be your luxury garden purchase (e.g. water feature, prized orchid etc)
Easy, a Barbara Hepworth sculpture. Her work has inspired me since a child in all my art and designs. Sculpture works best in a garden (in my opinion) and Hepworth’s smooth shapes with portals and frames set off gardens and natural landscapes beautifully.
Let us into the secret… Where do you get your garden design inspiration from? We won’t tell, promise.
It’s quite hard to explain in words really. I’ve always had a powerful sense of imagination where if I stop to think, I lose myself completely and imagine entirely different worlds, places that don’t exist that are the opposite of what we can see. Quite often my best designs are when I can get closest to that imagined place. At the moment I have a reimagined vision for the whole of Clapham and I’m gradually creating it one garden at a time!
You’re well-travelled chap. What horticultural holiday hotspot would you recommend?
Outside of the UK, right now I recommend going to Marrakesh. It’s well known for its historical Islamic palaces and of course Jardin Majorelle, though recently there are cutting edge new gardens like the luxury riad, Jardin Secret. For a long weekend away it would be hard to find somewhere with garden design history spanning a millennium like that.
What’s up next in Jack Wallington’s growing story?
Designing as many gardens as possible to help bring nature back into people’s lives!
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