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Graham Gough: vision and inspiration

Graham Gough: vision and inspiration

Graham Gough. Photo: Clive Nichols

The nurseryman and owner of Marchants Hardy Plants on landscape, music and discovering the power of plants. Written by Anne de Verteuil.

My first memory of being outside in a garden is more a blurred recollection. My ma’s tight, bountiful borders stuffed with gaunt, vulgar-coloured HT roses underplanted with Woolworth’s robust perennial collection. Pa’s department, an abundant veg garden, involves one surreal memory – a giant escapee Friesian cow at the plot’s centre eating dad’s cabbages.

I think the way my past has most influenced my present stems from the freedom given to me in childhood – it has resulted in a loosely disciplined mind, but boy, can I dream and how I can see.

Christopher Lloyd was 49 when he wrote The Well-Tempered Garden (a pun on Bach’s ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’), an astonishing feat for a gardening tome of such wisdom. My own copy is tattered through use.

My most unexpected source of inspiration was the South Downs of East Sussex, by my parents’ house. They became my wild playground as a kid. Only later did I realise that the gentle phrasing of their open rolling curves had become an important part of my consciousness. Today I live facing them. Whatever their mood, their inspiration remains surprisingly anchored and constant.

It is perhaps a cliché, but whenever I am on a beach I am always astounded by the individuality of pebbles: so beautiful and simple, and so at harmony with the environment that has produced them.

I have never possessed a mood board, but my wife does, and it fascinates me to see her creativity evolve. I rely entirely on my strong visual memory.

I have experienced two sharp learning curves. The first was at music college, where as a singer I attempted to learn the entire Tenor repertoire and much more in three years. The second was after the painful discovery that music was an ill-chosen career and the discovery of plants. I then learned every single one of the hundreds I set eyes on, but this time in two years!

The highest point of my life so far was when my wife Lucy, an artist herself, helped liberate me artistically at the age of 40, and as a result gave me the confidence to build and establish our nursery.

I know a lot about lows, suffering from bipolar disorder. Medication has helped. However, my most conscious low occurred with my blunt severance from the music world. The arrival of plants, like therapeutic non-speaking angels, helped lift me from my despair.

I have visited a number of gardens, and some have lost their magic on return visits. The one visit I made to William Kent’s playful and grandiose flower-free garden, Rousham in Oxfordshire, was so powerful it etched itself in my memory. I should probably never return.

I hope I will be remembered for teasing and making people laugh (and offending a few in the process!). It is my default setting, so I would like to be remembered for a lightness of touch and a naughty, disarming sense of humour.

Each year in early to mid-February, Graham and Lucy hold a weekend sale of snowdrops drawn from their collection. Find out more at

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