I visited Alice and her fantastic garden in the heart of the Suffolk countryside. We all have one, may look after one or at least past them. Gardens are a favourite British pastime of varying sizes, shapes & types. Some of us prefer low maintenance, others can never find the time, and for some, it’s far more than just a way to spend their spare time.
Originally from the valleys of County Durham, the roots of her interest in plants goes back to when she was a teenager. She would help her father with the veg patch. There was plenty to do as he would grow duplicate and triplicate of everything, so they had a well-stocked larder. He had been through the war hungry and experienced a lack of food provisions he didn’t want his children to endure.
As a student, she missed the garden. Growing veg was an enduring childhood memory, but this would not become a passion.
Alice explained that she was genuinely interested in flowers, most likely because her mother didn’t find them interesting.
Then things changed with her move to Suffolk from South London, Alice’s parents passing away & and her daughter starting primary school, leaving her as a stay-at-home mum, not knowing how much she needed something new. Alice decided she was “Finding something for me.”
So, a call to Otley College was made to inquire about a gardening course; however, the funding was pulled before being accepted due to the financial crises. She was speaking to the receptionist about what else was on offer. Landscape design was an option, but feeling her drawing skills were not up to it, they suggested City & Guilds in Floristry. Alice completed the course and became a freelance florist. This allowed flexibility compared to being employed, and she discovered it was a therapeutic occupation. She did not know before but quickly realised it made her feel a lot better after so many recent changes in her life.
Then, one day, a friend said, “I am off to Writtle College to learn gardening.” Alice jumped on board and also attended. She “absolutely loved it”, really enjoying & soaking up the course.
The COVID-19 pandemic arrived during the course, delaying the design module & the exams.
For some, this change of events may have spelt disaster; however, it was to turn into a real boost for Alice.
Alice spent lockdown days in her greenhouse, having WhatsApp video calls with friends, and engrossed in gardening. She explains, “I didn’t get bored.” she was in her element, “I was probably the happiest person at home during the lockdowns.”
The six-month delay was the perfect opportunity to put extra time into studying for the exam.
She had to learn the Latin names of the plants, not an easy task with so many and not using the names day to day. So Alice went to work at Perrywood Garden Center, a quarter-hour drive from home.
This allowed her to learn the Latin names of the plants & was also able to pick up many of the names for the different varieties as she was reading them & talking about them every day.
Alice completed level 2 of her course and part of level 3, a success that probably would not happen without the pandemic.
Alice takes me on a tour of her garden; she explains working at Perrywood’s allows her to chat (another passion) with clients, passing on the knowledge she has picked up and learning new things from them.
Her clients are constantly bringing new challenges & knowledge with them. Alice tells me, “You know why they garden? It ticks a box deep in their soul.”
Alice shows me her current challenge (not knowing there is a new one around the corner). She insists I get a shot of the Box Blight, which has arrived as an unwelcome guest. Without treatment, the Box will die, turning brown visibly quickly. She has Box Cones along her front garden path, all with Box Blight. Treating it may clear it up, but it will come back and may only help it spread more. The best option is to replace it with an alternative, which she has in a bed on the patio at the back of the house.
You notice talking to Alice about her passion to pass on this knowledge to others, to share her experiences to help others with their garden challenges.
We walked along the front of the house to find a fig tree with leaves eaten and small woven web-like areas. This was new to her garden yet not wholly unknown to her. Just the day before, a client had contacted the garden centre to ask her about the same problem with their fig tree. At the time, she had no idea she would encounter the same issue in her garden the next day.
“I don’t think you ever know everything in gardening”, she explains, “you can’t possibly know it all.” this shows how gardening provides Alice with endless interest.
Walking through the rear garden, even in late September, you can see the love of flowers with large mature trees and many well-cared-for plants.
A river winds along one side of the garden, with a large pond in the centre; this provides further variety and challenges to work with.
The evidence of previous family fun is hidden at the end with a tree house, zip wire & rope walk. Just beyond the end of the garden is a field with cows helping to remind you you are still in rural Suffolk.
Alice warned me before I visited that plenty needed doing to the garden; I can confirm it was a wonderland of plants packed with pockets of variety and small hideaways.
Compared to my own, this was a far higher standard, but for Alice, “you never finish a garden,” and now looking to downsize, there was a new pressure to get it to the highest standard possible.
One thing was clear: wherever there is a garden, Alice would be there caring for it whilst helping others with theirs in a way we should all aspire to.