This is the bit where gardeners tell you that their job is a lifelong passion, or even in their bloodstream as a result of a green-fingered gene. But it’s not true in my case. I was a staff news reporter for 19 years before starting Gardenthyme in early 2014.
Gardening suddenly wrapped its tendrils round me when my wife and I moved into our first house, a small terraced property in Wolverhampton, in 2000. I was keen to learn, and eager to do something interesting and creative with the patches of land in front of and behind my home, both of the areas empty-ish canvases to start off with. I transformed them into things of beauty. Not in an instant, Ground Force makeover kind of way, but as the result of careful study of books and the best bits of TV on the subject.
My knowledge and expertise developed rapidly over the years. I noted that, as I went round to people’s homes to interview them in my journalistic role, I would find my eyes drawn to carrying out my own silent critiques of their gardens, leading me to think of how I could improve them.
That’s when I knew it was starting to take over.
Since quitting my newspaper job, I have studied at Birmingham Botanical Gardens and earned a Royal Horticultural Society Level 2 qualification in Garden Planning, Establishment and Maintenance, while also launching myself into garden projects for a wide range of customers, including designing and planting gardens from scratch at new-build properties.
As my starting point in all garden designs, I consider how best to benefit wildlife – OK, the influence for this part has come from my birdwatching parents, who have an encyclopedic knowledge of wild flowers – and I prefer to choose bee-friendly plants, following the RHS Perfect for Pollinators list. I never add peat to borders, and try to encourage customers to have fruit trees, vegetables and herbs in their gardens – fighting back against the obscene numbers of road and air miles clocked up by ‘fresh’ supermarket produce.
I treat every garden as if it were my own.
Given the growth in monoculture farming, and the loss of wild-flower meadows and hedgerows, the role of the urban garden in providing a viable ecosystem to help wildlife has never been more vital.
It is possible to have a beautiful, tidy garden with year-round colour and interest that has a positive impact on the environment. I can provide this for you. As Ken Thompson outlined in his excellent book No Nettles Required, a wildlife-friendly garden need not be a wilderness.
But it is important to try to work with nature rather than constantly waging war against it.
My lawnmower and hedge-cutters both have rechargeable batteries, powered by solar electricity. I drive a low-emissions vehicle.
Does this make me Wolverhampton’s greenest gardener? I hope so.
Steve Bradley, Gardenthyme