Interview with small space garden award winner and NGS Garden Owner Caroline Cassell
1. Your growing ambitions started at a later age. What or who was the catalyst for your growing journey?
I came to gardening quite late. I bought my first home with a garden aged 36 and had no idea how much a garden was going to change my life or that I even liked being outdoors. I now realise it must have been in my DNA as I started to remember my Grandad’s garden which was a traditional terrace house garden, and as a very stern ex army officer this was the place where he seemed most at ease. To my surprise I found out that some of the planters I inherited were made by him. His passion was then passed on to my Dad who did all the gardening in our family home. My Mum was only allowed to water and admire!
2. We get the impression that you’re pretty obsessed with plants. How do you feed this obsession?
By visiting as many garden centres and nurseries as is humanly possible! I can’t drive past one without having a quick mooch. As I have such a small space I have limited room for propagators which means my windowsills are brimming by the end of Feb.
3. Congratulations on winning Gardeners’ World Small Space category and Judges Choice, what growing tips would you give to someone who is spatially challenged?
Look up at ALL the available space around you like walls, fences, posts, tops of pots, gates, trellis etc. Don’t limit yourself to just the surface area and use lots of pots that can be moved around for growing conditions and a change of scenery. A little tip: a circular lawn or paved area is a great ‘optical illusion’ giving the impression of space.
Treat a small space like a room with seating, dining and relaxing areas (after all that hard work you need to enjoy it), and I believe the more you have in the space the bigger it will appear.
4. Of all the benefits of an RHS membership which one has been the most valuable to you?
I love visiting RHS Chelsea Flower Show each year and it’s the Artisan Gardens that inspire me the most as it shows how much you can achieve in such a small space, and the only thing that can really restrict you is your imagination. I love how these gardens use every available inch of their space to showcase a traditionally larger vista.
5. 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?
I must say I do both. I love to use my garden as a room (it even has its own wi-fi! 🙄) I read, listen to music and even watch telly out there – weather permitting. I’ve also hosted quite a few garden parties, one of which included a scaled-down steel band. I’ve been opening for The National Garden Scheme for the last four years, which has become a big part of my life and always brings a 100 plus visitors to the garden, and inspires me to keep rethinking the space each year – so maybe a little more ‘show off’ than ‘keep off’!
7. Let us into the secret… where do you get your garden design inspiration from? We won’t tell, promise.
Originally it was TV shows like Ground Force and Home Front Inside Out. I still continue to devour any garden makeover shows (not enough in my opinion), but you just can’t beat visiting the gardens that open for the National Garden Scheme and getting advice and ideas from real garden owners – and of course there will always be tea & cake involved on these visits. And now there is GardenTags which has given me a great circle of new friends with knowledge, advice, support and laughs!
8. Please don’t be shy, we all learn from our mistakes… what’s been your biggest planting failure?
Where shall I start… Not so much a failure rather a big mistake was over pruning my 12yr old Ceanothus and then deciding to Google ‘pruning a Ceanothus’ – needless to say it died!… Then there was the time I was attracted by a lovely little plant leaf in the GC called a Eucalyptus which I placed at the front of my border until someone pointed out a mature one to me that was taller than a house!… From that point on I started to read the labels and don’t even get me started on my box balls and the Box Caterpillar!
9. And now you can show off… what’s been your biggest planting success?
My Pendulum Birch Tree – I never envisaged what a ‘show stopper’ it would turn out to be, and it was a gift from my family so it makes it all the more special. It lifts the whole garden and I always say that if I lost this tree I would change the whole garden design for something completely different!
10. If you had to be sent to a desert island (well, an island with favourable growing conditions) what plant would you take and why?
Such a difficult choice but probably Ferns. They fascinate me and how they have so many varied frond shapes and they’re also easy to propagate. But if I had to chose one fern in particular it would be the Irish Tatting Fern – it really does look like green lace to me and every year I look forward to its reappearance.
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