Nick Bailey is an award-winning Designer, Presenter, Author and Horticulturalist. Familiar to many as a presenter on Gardeners World, Big Dreams Small Spaces and Gardens Wild and Wonderful. After gaining a 1st class honours degree in Landscape Design from Greenwich University he has travelled the world designing and managing gardens and is former head gardener at the world renowned Chelsea Physic Garden. He has also managed to fit in his busy schedule three best selling books including ‘365 Days of Colour in your Garden’ and’ Revive Your Garden’ . Back from a trip to the Canaries in February, we have managed to get you an exclusive Who’s on the Grapevine chat with the man himself.
Dan: Hi Nick so you’re fresh back from a trip to the Canaries, was this your first visit?
Nick: I have been once or twice before but this was a longer trip so I really wanted to spend time exploring and spending time getting to know the islands & its native flora better.
Dan: So, are there any new plants you have found on your latest journey that us folks back here might be seeing any time soon growing here in our back gardens?
Nick: Due to the island endemism and the relative isolation of the Canary Islands a number of unique species have evolved. Many of these plants would survive in few areas outside of the islands, however there are some borderline tender plants which are more than worth a grow in the UK. Echium piniana is the daddy of the borage family, producing a conical spike of blue flowers up to 2m high. In contrast is a choice climber called Canarina canariensis. It’s a member of the Campanula family but has orange bell shaped flowers the size of plums.
Dan: Nick tell us more about your time at Chelsea Physic Gardens and the excellent work you did redesigning and diversifying the plant collections, did you have a remit or was it more of an organic experience that evolved as you got more entwined in the place and its history?
Nick: .Early on in my time at Chelsea Physic Garden, I was deeply flattered to be asked by Christopher Brickell VMH CBE arguably the UK’s leading Plantsman, to redesign the garden for a contemporary audience. The key for me was to expand the medicine based plant collection which we did by extending the Medicinal Quadrant from ¼ acre to a full acre. Also central to the redesign was ensuring the plant collection was both physically & intellectually accessible.
Dan: Nick you’re marooned on an island in the middle of nowhere but luckily you have one book, one song and most importantly one packet of seeds with you what are your choices for your Desert Island Veg/Plant?
Nick: My one book, ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy.
One song, ‘Comfortably Numb’ by the Scissor Sisters.
For my seed, I would choose Purple Sprouting Broccoli as few other plants provide such a complete spectrum of nutrition.
Dan: We are blessed in this country with many beautiful gardens, estates and areas to visit all around the country. Where would you recommend people to visit once if they get the chance? And why?
Nick: Although ironically designed by an American, Hidcot Manor in Gloucestershire embodies the archetypal British Arts & Crafts garden. It sings with glorious colour and structure throughout summer and into autumn.
Dan: From your many articles and appearances on tv we can tell you have a strong passion for all things nature but who/what do credit with giving you your enthusiasm for all things gardening? and who have you admired/respected most over the years for their contribution to the world of horticulture gardening?
Nick: My Mother and both sets of Grandparents were obsessive gardeners, so my passion for plants is genetic and intrinsic. My horticultural & design hero is Roberto Burle Marx. This extraordinary man reached the top of his field in Landscape Design, Sculpture, Fine Art, Theatre Design and Botany. He is the man responsible for the landscape of Brasilia & Copacabana beach front. His design and horticultural legacy continues to thrive to this day across Brazil from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro.
Dan: Now Nick about your last book Revive Your Garden – did you enjoy putting it together and it’s a great idea as all of us struggle to get back in love with our gardens sometimes, was this book borne out of your own need to revive your garden?
Nick: No. The book was very much based on the 10’s of gardens that I have revived around the world throughout my career. It’s been a steep learning curve but everything I have gleaned over the years is packed into this book. It could not be more timely right now too with people spending so much more time at home and in their gardens.
Dan: You have travelled the world working on many different types of garden but tell us a bit about your own garden? Is it a titanic struggle of differing ideas from the four corners of the globe or a soft country garden with gorgeous herbaceous borders and stripy green lawn?
Nick: My own gardens over the years have ostensibly acted as trial grounds for other landscapes I am completing. When I lived in Cambridgeshire, I reinvented and replanted my entire garden over three subsequent years:
Year 1 was tropical and exotic plants
Year 2 dry Mediterranean flora
& Year 3 essentially one giant English herbaceous border.
I am currently reinventing my own London garden right now and turning it into a fruit and vegetable garden. I’m really enjoying re shaping it to fit that need and planting vegetables of the slightly more unusual varieties. I’ve grown every conceivable vegetable over the years from estate kitchen gardens to the rare & unusual edibles at the Chelsea Physic Garden. The two vegetables that I grow for myself virtually without fail are cherry plum tomatoes and long-yield courgettes.
Dan: Author, TV Presenter, Garden Designer, Teacher and Speaker when you do get time, what do you like to do to relax? As a professional gardener/Landscaper myself I relax by going down my allotment so ok by me if you answer with gardening!!!!
Nick: There is nothing I enjoy more than being reminded how insignificant I am on this planet for this reason: I love being in huge, wild, conurbation-free landscapes, where I can walk for 5 to 6 hours without seeing a soul. Inevitably, my plant passion does creep in because wild landscapes are often studded with fascinating flora.
Dan: Nick, we all have plants that grows well for us and some that just never seems to happen what is your Plant Heaven and Plant Hell?
Nick: The plant I have tried with and failed on numerous frustrating occasions is Tacca, better known at Bat Flower. It’s a really special plant and one day I am determined I will succeed. One of my favourite plants in my garden at the moment is Rosa oderata ‘Bengal Crimson’. It unlike 99% of other roses, flowers 365 days a year.
Dan: You’re a regular on our screen and in print now with the institution that is Gardeners’ World how did that come about? Do you sometimes pinch yourself working with revered gardeners like Monty Don, Alan Titchmarsh and Carol Klein and getting a personal up close view of the thriving horticultural scene that has exploded over the last few years?
Nick: I was very flattered to be approached by the show to do a screen test. Six weeks later I was on the show and the rest is history. It’s great to be working with a team of other TV gardeners with such a breadth of different experiences.
Dan: I imagine you will keep you pretty busy for the foreseeable future but where does Nick Bailey see himself going from here? Any pet projects or schemes that you have wanted to breathe life into? Or something you just feel you want to do?
Nick: My bread & butter income is still generated from my Garden Design and Maintenance business. I am currently working on several projects both in and out of London and will begin implementing those designs as soon as we are able to do so.
Dan: Nick we find ourselves living in strange times at the moment with Covid-19. How are you finding adapting to the situation?
Nick: The nature of my work usually involves excessive travel so there have been a number of benefits to the current situation, not least that I am able to focus on my own garden rather than other peoples for a change. I am also really enjoying the way the horticultural community has kept calm, carried on and produced an unprecedented level of stimulating social media content for those who wish to continue or embrace gardening right now.
Dan: With the ongoing constraints forcing us to change our habits, are there any little things you are appreciating more in nature that are all around us every day and maybe sometimes we all take for granted?
Nick: The thing that has caught my attention more than anything else is the level of birdsong in my garden. Usually I would expect it at dawn and dusk but currently I feel blessed with a cacophony of bird song from dawn through ‘til dusk.
Dan: So Nick if you had to choose, which would your favourite season be?
Nick: It would have to be late spring. The unbridled possibility of billions of leaves and flowers emerging through a fresh green haze is a delight.
Dan: You are a well-travelled man Nick and across the planet Permaculture is a trusted and popular set of principles, but I don’t think in the UK it is taken quite so seriously. Have you ever tried using the phases of the moon as your growing guide?
Nick: I have not used moon phasing for seed sowing, however the guiding principles of permaculture do align with the organic approaches I take to gardening.
Dan: Apart from your own excellent books, what is the best garden book you have ever read or book that you would turn to if there is something you are not sure on.
Nick: For inspiration, I would re-read Henk Gerritson’s book ‘Essay on Gardening.
And as reference, nothing beats the giant time that is the RHS’s A-Z Plants.
Dan: Nick I see you have a new venture Nota Bene Horticulture can you tell us a bit more about it?
Nick: I have had my own gardening company since I was 22, however, Nota Bene Horticulture has broadened the market of activities I engage in but it is primarily focused on garden making and consultation.
Dan: The Queen wants all her palaces and castles grounds to be re-designed and she wants you Nick to oversee it! She has said you can have 3 assistants from the past or present to help plan and do the work. So Nick which 3 would you chose to assist you? And why?
Nick: The late Roberto Burle Marx. He was a pioneering and truly iconic landscape architect who was responsible, among other things, for designing the entire landscape of Brasilia, Brazil’s capital city and Rio de Janerio’s beachfront, not to mention introducing hundreds of wild collected plants into cultivation.
Dan Pearson. A fine plantsman with a designers’ eye for intimate detail you will struggle to find.
William Robinson. The late Victorian plantsman and botanist. Few garden makers past or present have quite his capacity to engage with and embrace native flora into managed landscapes.
Dan: Nick your new found fame working for the Queen has led to a deluge of offers! But which one do you choose Strictly Come Dancing or Dancing on Ice or SAS “Who Dares Wins”?
Nick: Oh wow! I’d really like a go at all three but I think the one that would put me outside of my box the most would be SAS “Who Dares Wins”.
You can Follow Nick on Twitter and Instagram @nickbailey365
Find out more about him at his website www.nickbailey365.com
He is the Author of Chelsea Physic Garden: A Companion Guide, as well as the best-selling 365 Days of Colour In Your Garden and Revive Your Garden.