Jonny Stark lives in a small village by the sea, on the south coast of Cornwall. He is the manager of an extensive herbaceous perennial collection at Bodmin Nursery.
He gardens on a 3/4 acre site which is predominantly south facing, however there is plenty of shade under some old trees and behind buildings. He is about 200ft from the sea, but there is limited impact, unless there is an easterly wind. As is most of Cornwall, Jonny gardens on a slightly acid soil. Despite being so close to the sea, and in a relatively mild part of the country, the garden can still suffer hard frosts in winter.
I asked Jonny more about his garden:
1. Why is it important for you to create a nice garden?
Like many before me, gardening started as a therapy to overcome illness. Everything I do in it is just pure pleasure. In terms of creating a ‘nice’ garden, well, thats a subjective one! My version of nice may not be the same as someone else’s, but generally I find a mix of shrubs, perennials and bedding makes for the most aesthetically pleasing garden, but I am keen to promote wildlife throughout.
2. How many hours a week do you spend working on your garden?
This depends on the time of year, in winter it is just the weekends, as it’s too dark by the time I finish work. However, in the summer I would be in the garden from when I get home to when it gets dark normally, with a small break for some food!
3. How much leisure time do you spend in your garden and what do you do?
Hmm… if by leisure you mean sitting and looking at it… not much! I am always doing something, very rarely do I sit and admire..
4. Which is your most prized plant and why?
Just one?! That is hard. I have so many that I love, but I suppose it would have to be the huge champion Magnolia campbellii tree in the corner of the garden. I’d choose that because its unusual to see them as large in a suburban garden. The tree is something of a local celebrity; as soon as the fleece-like buds open to reveal it’s gorgeous, goblet-shaped, hot pink flowers in spring, the traffic stops and the cameras come out.
5. Which plant do you feel gives the best value in your garden?
It’s not my favourite by any means, but the Euryops pectinatus is always flowering. In summer, the plant is covered in bright yellow, daisy flowers and, even in the depths of winter, a few happy flowers appear.
6. What is/has been your biggest challenge in this garden?
Me… without doubt! I am a plant geek. I am always trying to shoe-horn in another purchase that I just ‘had’ to have. Actual space ran out a long time ago, but I’m still going strong. It comes down to being ruthless with what I keep and what I pass on to friends.
7. What has been your biggest gardening disaster?
Luckily, no disasters as of yet. I am on a hill, so no flooding. It is Cornwall, so the rain is never far away. There have been no wild fires, and I haven’t seen any plagues of locusts eating my prized crops. There has been plenty of mistakes, which I learn from, but no disasters.
8. What is your favourite gardening shortcut or tip, and who taught you?
Don’t be too precious about slug and snail damage, so what if there are a few holes in some of the leaves, it’s all part of nature’s tapestry! Cliché but true! Slugs and snails break down decaying matter and provide a food source for other wildlife. If you’re not obsessing about trying to poison them or drowning them in beer, you will have much more time to do all the other stuff in your garden. I can thank my good friend Shan for that one, and she is so right, the wildlife that are attracted by the abundance of slugs and snails are now eating them in a quantity that means I rarely see any damage at all.
9. Which plant do you wish you could grow, but cannot?
Achillea and Monarda. I try every year, I plant a few Award of Garden Merit varieties, I enjoy the flowers, watch them age and form seed heads, then watch them die back and wait for them to come back in spring.. I wait.. and wait.. it’s now June and still no sign. I’m not sure why they refuse to become perennial for me, I give them everything they want, but still no luck. I am yet to meet a gardener who doesn’t have that elusive genus that just won’t grow for them, but it doesn’t mean we’re going to stop trying!
10. What is your oldest plant, and how old is it?
The Magnolia campbellii. It was here when we moved in 29 years ago, and it must have been about 60 years old then anyway.
11. Where do you find information on which plants to grow and how to care for them?
I’m lucky to work at a brilliant nursery with knowledgeable staff, and we are always sharing tips and advice with each other. Although, in horticulture you can ask 10 gardeners the same question and you can get 10 different answers! Sometimes the best way to learn is to just try, and don’t beat yourself up if it all goes wrong, you’ll know for next time!
12. Do you grow anything to eat, and which have you had the most success with?
I am hopeless with veg, I love to eat it, but its such a faff. All that thinning out, rotation, sowing small regular batches and battling with every other living thing in the garden that wants to eat it before you can. Then, you have to wash it, and store it. No thank you! I unashamedly get all my vegetables from the supermarket! I won’t be able to save lives- should the apocalypse come- with my self sufficiency, but I will be able to make a pretty garden that will help take your mind off it all!
13. Do you admire any famous gardeners or gardens?
There are so many beautiful gardens and talented gardeners, but the people I really admire are the plant hunters, the people who go and find plants and bring them back for us to have in our gardens. Also, the scientists who spend years breeding stronger, more floriferous, more tolerant varieties.
14. What have you learnt from your own garden?
I have learnt that having your hands in the soil is the best form of medicine around. It won’t cure diseases or aches and pains, but it will enrich your mind, giving you a grounding and a place to escape, for as long as you need it.
Why not visit the website of the nursery that Jonny works at, Bodmin Nursery.