Tamsin Westhorpe is an Author, RHS Judge, Lecturer, Co-Chair of the Garden Media Guild and most importantly a Horticulturist and Director of Stockton Bury Gardens. She is also the host of Candide “Fresh From The Pod” Podcasts. Her new book Diary of a Modern Country Gardener is out now.
Dan: How have you been coping with the lockdown? I imagine it’s a doubled edged sword at Stockton Bury being able to get on with projects but with no one to come enjoy the gardens?
Tamsin: Having spent six months with my uncles preparing the garden to open it was such a disappointment not to be able to share it. Like everyone else my life was quickly turned upside down and helping my son with his schoolwork became my biggest focus along with trying to work out how to record my podcasts without travelling.
Although I still very much miss the buzz of opening Stockton Bury I have enjoyed being able to garden more. It’s also been quite nice to lie on the lawn, leave my tools out and watch the insects and birds enjoy the space on their own.
I’ve also used the time to share the garden on Instagram which has been a really enjoyable experience @tamsinwesthorpe.
Dan: Am I right in thinking it’s a bit of a family business at Stockton?
Tamsin: Yes, very much so. My uncle Raymond Treasure and his partner Gordon Fenn have created the garden over the last 40 years. The café is run by my sister Connie and alongside that we all help on the family farm that surrounds the garden.
My family have been at Stockton Bury since 1884 so I’m in the 5th generation.
Dan: And it has a quite an impressive back story taking its inspiration from John Treasure and Christopher Lloyd?
Tamsin: My gardening career started by working for my uncle John Treasure at Burford House Gardens in Worcestershire when I was 16. He was an incredible plantsman and certainly inspired me. John and Raymond were very close friends of Christopher Lloyd and many of the plants here either came from Burford or Dixter.
Dan: Now Tamsin you have a terrific new book out “Diary of a Modern Country Gardener” where unlike many such books is based on your day to day life juggling the many factors of a working garden and its trials and tribulations. What inspired you to write or should I say publish your diary?
Tamsin: It happened by accident really. When waiting for visitors to arrive at Stockton Bury I often sit at the potting bench and write notes about what has happened that day. I love to make a note of the funny things that visitors say, the weather and what’s in flower. Initially it was just done to entertain myself and act as a memory jogger.
Helen Bowden of Orphans Publishing, who I have known for some time, asked me casually if I’d ever thought of writing a book. I told her about my diary and sent her a month. She loved it and the rest is history.
Dan: Now you are Co – Chair of the Garden Media Guild tell us more about your role there and a bit more about the guild and its aims.
Tamsin: I am co-chair with Constance Craig Smith and together, along with a wonderful committee, the Guild helps to support garden writers, bloggers, photographers, youtubers, podcasters and TV broadcasters to flourish. Members receive newsletters and a digital magazine sharing industry news, we run exclusive garden visits and hold the annual Garden Media Guild Awards at The Savoy every year. This is an amazing event when the great and the good of gardening get together and celebrate the winners of each category. It’s a fantastic group of over 400 people and we thoroughly enjoy sharing ideas and networking.
Dan: Tamsin we all have a veg/plant that works or doesn’t for us, so Tamsin what is you Plant Heaven/Hell?
Tamsin: Oh gosh – tricky. I used to live in Dorset and loved growing the more tender salvias in my sunny garden with well-drained soil. Now gardening on Herefordshire clay with wet winters I haven’t done so well with them.
When it comes to hell, I really could do without ground elder. In my own garden I’ve been battling it for years.
Dan: I listen to you fabulous Fresh from the Pod podcasts (I’m a bit jealous of your role call) how did that come about?
Tamsin: A bit like my book it was a happy accident. I create the podcasts with the team at Candide who have a wonderful gardening app. One of their team had come to Stockton Bury to record an audio tour of the garden for the app and over coffee I asked if they had considered creating podcasts. I’d only recently started listening to podcasts so thought it would be a great thing for them to do.
They loved the idea and wonderfully asked me to work with them on Fresh from the pod.
Dan: I love the way you obviously know some of your guests and it creates a great relaxed atmosphere for a good chat not just about garden issues necessarily. I’m interested to know how do you go about choosing guests for your chats?
Tamsin: It’s always far easier to interview people that you have a friendship with. However, I adore researching someone I don’t know and getting to hear about how they got into horticulture. Some of my guests such as Dr Amir Khan I found through twitter but most happen organically through casual conversations. It’s important to interview people who are happy to share their lives openly and find it easy to have a relaxed, unstructured conversation. My podcasts are not a classic Q&A – they are more of a fireside chat that can go off in all different directions. My aim is to find out new things about my guest and really share their passions and personality.
Dan: Who would you really say got you inspired in nature to make a career out of it?
Tamsin: Growing up watching Stockton Bury Gardens being created has definitely inspired me. Being part of a farming family ensures that you grow up very in tune with the seasons. I also credit my first school – I clearly recall doing wonderful nature walks which I simply adored. My parents were always so encouraging with my career choice which I am truly thankful for.
Dan: Many have started to notice the little things in nature that are often drowned out in these quite last few months, what have you noticed more of? And what do you hope that we can do to try to hang onto these moments or make them the new normal?
Tamsin: As I am normally so busy and racing around the garden to help a customer or trying to get the garden ready to open in double quick time I miss the finer details. I’ve loved watching the tadpoles in the pond in late spring and spying on the honey bees as they pop to the pond for a drink.
I have done much less driving and I hope that I can keep my mileage down in the future. We all make so many unnecessary journeys and for the environment we really need to think twice before using the car. My bike has been well used during lockdown.
Dan: Tamsin do you have a favourite season of the year? And why?
Tamsin: This is so hard to answer as I adore all the seasons. When it comes to the garden, I am going to choose spring. The garden is up together and I feel in control of it and seeing plants unfurl is so magical. It’s also a time when you can sow seed and plant – what could be more exciting than that.
Dan: Your kept busy at Stockton but how is your garden at home laid out? Any space for an allotment? And has Stockton inspired any part of your garden?
Tamsin: My garden at home is over 1 acre. The front garden is very ‘cottage garden’ with plenty of interest from perennials and pots. The back garden is mainly lawn and trees. I’ve had to be realistic about what I can achieve in my own garden. After a day at Stockton Bury I’m exhausted so it’s very relaxed. My son is also a keen footballer and our garden is very much for him – a goal at each end. Perennials tend to get battered by footballs so I’ve given up. He can’t kick a ball at Stockton Bury so this is the place for him to have fun with his friends with no restrictions.
I grow veg in raised beds but I also share the produce grown at Stockton Bury.
Dan: Tamsin you write, lecture, tweet and obviously meet the pubic at many events but which medium do you enjoy most? And which one do you feel delivers your message best?
Tamsin: I adore speaking in public – I usually do about 25 talks a year at shows, for garden clubs and at charity events. I love the interaction with the audience and my priority is to make people laugh. When you are talking to an audience you can adjust your talk to go with their mood and their requirements which is really important.
Dan: Almost all flower and garden shows have been cancelled or postponed due to Covid-19, How do you think it will affect them long term, from the big RHS shows to maybe more importantly the small village shows?
Tamsin: Who knows! I’m obviously very concerned about the future of larger events. I absolutely adore RHS Chelsea Flower Show and my life has felt incomplete without it. We just have to hope that larger companies are keen to offer sponsorship to such prestigious events in the future. So many small nurseries rely on RHS shows.
I suspect that we might see more events but at a smaller scale. I’m very keen that we all shop local. I’ve certainly started to buy art, plants and food from local creators, growers and producers. This is essential if we are to cut down on mileage and keep smaller businesses going.
Dan: Tamsin your marooned on a 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?
Tamsin: I think I might take a dictionary. Sounds boring but when I am rescued I’ll be able to write a fantastic book using impressive words! I’d grow mint from seed. I’m assuming that I won’t have a toothbrush and toothpaste so the mint would give me that fresh taste and disguise the bland flavour of camp fire food. I love gospel music as it gets you thinking and dancing so the song I’m going for is Oh Happy Day by Edwin Hawking and Northern California State Youth Choir. I always get goose bumps when I hear it and it’s impossible to listen to it and not feel uplifted.
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 when they get the chance? And why?
Tamsin: I am very fond of the wonderful woodland at Croft Castle in Herefordshire. It’s a perfect place for a family walk and on a very hot summers day the majestic trees are wonderfully cooling.
Dan: Tamsin are you much of a follower of principals of Permaculture?
Tamsin: We all need to work with nature when creating gardens and it’s important, especially when in the countryside that our designs fit into the landscape. However, gardens do need managing to be successful so gardeners should look to find a balance that suits them and their natural surroundings.
Dan: Have you one growing tip for readers that you find is always a winner for you?
Tamsin: If you only have the energy to do one thing in your garden make it pruning. If plants aren’t pruned correctly you can quickly loose a garden and your sunlight under a mass of unproductive trees and shrubs.
Dan: The challenging situation Covid-19 put us in has meant that Gardening and Allotments have become v popular again with all ages, but how do you think the industry as a whole can make sure we keep as many of these people of all ages engaged in the great outdoors?
Tamsin: It’s going to be tricky once normal life resumes. Many will put the spade down and head on a foreign holiday as soon as they can however, there are bound to be many that want to continue gardening. Garden writers have to keep engaging new growers in anyway they can. Social media is definitely a useful tool to share easy ideas.
Dan:Tamsin apart from your own books, what is the best garden/nature book you have read?
Tamsin: I wouldn’t be without an up to date copy of the RHS Plant Finder. A book that I really value is Wonderful Weeds by Madeline Harley. So handy for identifying those problem plants and the wildflowers of the countryside.
Dan: Tamsin great news Louis XVI has just turned up in a time machine and he wants you to design and plant up The Palace of Versailles gardens. He has said you can have three people to help you, and as he has a time machine you can chose people from the past or present. So Tamsin who is your Garden Dream Team?
Tamsin: It would have to be the late Charles Jencks’ for outrageous ideas, Ann-Marie Powell for fun and friendship and Rosy Hardy for her plant knowledge.
Dan: With all this attention working for Louis XVI you are in demand but what show will it be Strictly Come Dancing, Dancing on Ice, Great British Sowing Bee, SAS Who Dares Wins or Bake Off?
Tamsin: I have two left feet so dancing and skating is out. Strictly would be my worst nightmare – not into wearing dresses and would never remember the steps. I’m not the best baker, the Sowing Bee might suit me but as I like a challenge, I’d go for SAS Who Dares Wins. This would give my family the maximum entertainment value!
Dan: Finally whats the future hold for Tamsin, are there any projects you would like to get off the ground or tasks you would like to undertake?
Tamsin: I have hundreds of ideas and things I’d like to do. There are famous people I’d like to interview for my podcast, events I’d like to hold at Stockton Bury and borders I’d like to replant. Most important to me though is to help my son succeed in life and watch him fulfil his dreams.
Thank you for joining us On the Grapevine and we hope you have enjoyed yourself?
I have – thank you for your wonderful, thought provoking questions.
Its been our absolute pleasure Tamsin
You can follow Tamsin on Twitter: @tamsinwesthorpe
Hear Her “Fresh From The Pod” casts by visiting https://candidegardening.com/GB/podcasts or you’ll find them wherever you go for your podcasts.
See her on Instagram:tamsinwesthorpe
And her new book is avalible at all good bookstores or available signed with free UK Postage from https://www.orphanspublishing.co.uk/book/diary-of-a-modern-country-gardener/
Her website is www.tamsinwesthorpe.co.uk
And she can always be found at Stockton Bury Gardens www.stocktonbury.co.uk