The youngest ever curator of an RHS garden, Wisley’s new man in charge talks about his attitudes and inspirations
My earliest gardening memory is pinching out the side shoots of tomato plants with my grandmother in her greenhouse and getting green fingertips. I think I always knew I wanted to be a gardener. After school I took a BTEC National Diploma in Horticulture, followed by the Wisley Diploma in Practical Horticulture, and then the RHS Master of Horticulture qualification. But my most valuable training has come from my own observant nature. You can learn so much through watching what others do – what doesn’t work, as well as what does – and the same applies to watching plants.
As a child, I loved to watch Alan Titchmarsh presenting Gardeners’ World on the TV, and I still hold him in very high esteem. I’m also a huge fan of Pippa Greenwood, and the third name on my list of horticultural heroes would definitely be Roy Lancaster – he’s the ultimate plantsman and such a wonderful chap as well. He also played a key role in the compilation of The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs, which is the book I would most like to pass on to other young gardeners.
The principles that guide my attitude to gardening are the same principles which have guided my career – if you want something, you have to work for it, and make it your business to make it happen. Nothing is offered to you on a plate, and everything is up to you.
My proudest achievement to date has been getting offered my current position as curator of RHS Garden Wisley. The role is one of the best jobs in horticulture. Obviously, it was a dream of mine, but I never assumed it was or ever could be mine. It took me about three months to settle in, and even now there are some days when I have to pinch myself to get my head around it.
I get inspired by all sorts of unexpected places, such as graveyards. I have a soft spot for conifers, and some of the most graceful, imposing and atmospheric conifers can be found in old graveyards. Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey has a whole avenue of redwoods, which is completely magical.
Although I do love conifers, if I could grow only one group of plants, it would probably be the succulents. Collectively, they offer so much textural interest and variation in colour and form. I own far too many, but if I had to single out just two to keep, I would choose Aloe erinacea for its blue leaves and white thorns, and Pachyphytum oviferum, which has big fleshy leaves like sugared almonds.
The garden I most like to spend time in is Wisley, of course, but I also have soft spots for Sheffield Park Garden in Sussex, with its fabulous trees and expansive lakes, and Mount Usher Garden in Ireland, which is breathtaking with its enormous Eucryphias and Pinus montezumae. They are all wonderful gardens, but I am probably happiest of all when I am trailing around nurseries with like-minded people, buying plants I have no space for in my own garden!