I love meeting and talking to fellow gardeners and so my new series ‘meet the people’ is a perfect way to do more of it! I’m going to attempt to conduct interviews and publish tips from expert gardeners and fellow allotmenters over the next few weeks. My first interview is with blogger Judi Samuels from ‘judithegardener.co.uk’. I enjoy reading Judi’s blog and am intrigued by her day job as a professional gardener, which I assume is far more exciting than my office job. On Judi’s ‘about’ page she introduces herself as, “bonkers mad about plants” and her passion for them even comes with a warning!
Q. Hi Judi! I’m intrigued to know more about your passion for gardening? Can you tell us a bit about how and when it all started?
I was about ten when I first put my hands in the soil, my mother used to ask me to pick the stones out from the flower beds. Ever since, I have developed a relationship with gardens. Wherever I’ve lived I have always nurtured whatever there was in a garden and enjoyed adding plants. I have turned a passion, which has grown and grown, into a profession. I studied garden and planting design at Capel Manor in 2008 and this really helped me to build horticultural knowledge and the studying process completely immersed me in my love affair with gardening.
Why did you choose gardening as a career?
Gardening was the natural progression for me after redundancy in 2010 from an office-based communications job. It was a scary leap but I knew I wanted and needed to make it. I have never looked back and I learn so much each and every day, because there are so many discoveries to make. I also love working with the diversity of people, who I share the joy of gardening and horticulture with.
I do thrive on the independence of running my own small business, I even enjoy all the background work and sometimes it feels like ‘playing shops’, just as I did when I was a young child. There’s always marketing and paperwork, monthly accounts and keeping a constant eye on all the online communications and reading to be done. Believe me, updating my web presence alone could be a full-time job in itself. I manage my professional profiles on Twitter, Facebook, Shoot Gardening, Landscape Juice Network (LJN), LinkedIn, Skills Pages, Google Place Page and my own blog. Using all these communications seems an integral part of any business these days and is expected, maybe that’s my marketing communications background coming through
Was it expensive to start your own business?
Setting up a business takes time and money. I have begged and borrowed tools, books and equipment and slowly over time I have replaced them. I try to be diligent about cleaning and sharpening my tools to keep them in good shape for as long as possible. I have developed a penchant for old wooden tools and treated myself to two good pairs of Felco secateurs, which I lovingly look after. I have spent money on marketing, but do use as many free opportunities as possible, most of my work comes to me by word of mouth. I have always felt that if you give people a good experience, then people will want to talk about that with friends and family.
What’s it like being a gardener in winter?
Winter is a really tough time. I still have the usual bills to pay but without the same level of income. I am currently developing my gardening workshops and would love to secure some more teaching and writing work. I have kept myself busy this winter by working on promoting the Dingly Dells ™ and planting plans, as well blogging and giving gardening workshops. I advise anyone thinking about setting up a gardening business to think about their expenses during the winter and identifying possible income streams. It is a wonderfully comforting feeling when the phone starts ringing again and email notifications of new opportunities start flooding the inbox.
How much time do you spend on your own gardening projects?
I am always developing my own garden in my mind and whenever I’m not working on other people’s gardens, I am longing to get into it. There is a great crossing over between labouring and loving in my own and clients’ gardens. I take just as much pleasure in working in a client’s garden, (especially when I am commissioned to develop it by adding new plants species or creating a Dingly Dell), as I do with my own garden. I enjoy encouraging and enthusing about the relationship clients develop with their gardens. ‘I am bonkers mad about plants and my enthusiasm for them is infectious you have been warned’. This is not just my brand message; this is how I genuinely feel!
Do you grow any vegetables or herbs? If so, why is that important to you?
In November 2012 I began working with the Prospects Project (a recovery and reintegration project) based at the Welcome Centre (a homeless charity) in Ilford. I am helping them with their allotment site. It’s a huge project that I love and I’ve been giving classroom based learning in basic horticulture along with inside and outside gardening tasks. I asked fellow Twitterers for some seed sponsorship recently and people were amazingly generous with their seed donations.
We are planning on growing herbs, fruits, vegetables and flowers at the plot and just last week made our first indoor sowings of tomatoes, chillies, jalepenos, aubergine and onions. We do have many more seeds to sow over the coming weeks and months. I keep a photo diary of the classroom-based workshops and outdoor activity, which I turn into a blog post each week. I often wonder if anyone reads what I write (still feels a bit self-indulgent) and I am reassured that I am being read, by the fact that you [Anna B] wrote to me after reading my blog and invited me to be interviewed…and here I am!
Do you think gardeners should plant for wildlife, i.e. bees, birds and butterflies and what do you feel about UK gardeners planting more UK native plants?
In my own and client’s gardens, (when making recommendations for pollen-rich plants) I compile plants lists that includes both native and non-native species, plants that will attract pollinators, such as: Anthriscus sylvestris (Cow Parsley), Osteospermum (Cape Daisies), Scabiosa (Scabious), Astrantias (Masterwort), Echinacea (Coneflower), Achillea millefolium (Yarrow) , Buddjela davidii (Butterfly Bush) but to name just a few. I am a great fan of Graham Stuart Thomas and his book ‘Colour in the Winter Garden’ which in its essence, provides an abundance of plants (including trees) recommendations, that will supply the winter garden with not only scented blooms and coloured stems, but berries and over-wintering insects, so that birds have access to food during the harshest season.
What are your top tips for this year?
I think planting for all seasons would be my greatest wish (therefore, my top tip) I do believe in the richness of diversity and the abundant joy that it brings. Happy Gardening!
Thank you Judi! I hope you enjoy the spring and I look forward to reading more about your projects.
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I’ve picked up some great tips there on planting for wildlife and about what to consider if you’re going to set up your own business. I hope you enjoyed the interview!
It’s snowing again here today, not quite what I had in mind for the start of spring! I think I’ll do some more seed sowing and hope that by the time they’re through I can pot them on, move them to the greenhouse and then get them outside. What’s the weather like where you are? What will you be doing this week?