Gardens Illustrated
Bridget Wheeler
© Andrew Montgomery

Maddocks Farm Organics' Bridget Wheeler

Published: April 7, 2022 at 2:58 pm
Claim your Niwaki bundle worth £70 when you subscribe to Gardens Illustrated

Flowers aren’t just for picking, as head gardener Bridget attests working for an organic edible-flower farm in Devon. Portrait Andrew Montgomery

First plant love In our back garden there was a patch where four-leaf clovers would grow and I spent a whole summer on my tummy looking for them and pressing them. I thought it would bring me lots of luck!

Pastel container flower display
© Eva Nemeth

Who inspires you? Jan Billington, my boss and creator of Maddocks Farm Organics is an inspiration to me. As a gardener she is observant, intuitive and pragmatic. She is a hugely principled and successful businesswoman and an advocate of organic growing.

Horticultural hero I met [the late] plant hunter Michael Wickenden one torrentially wet and windy day on a visit to his nursery at Cally Gardens in Scotland. He sent me away with copies of his essays about collecting seeds in the wild. It left a big impression on me, and made me want to grow unusual plants and to see them for myself in the wild.

Influential garden Levens Hall was the first place to show me that gardens could be theatre. I love the topiary, it is like chess pieces on a board frozen in time. The whole place is completely captivating.

Most valuable training My four years at Sissinghurst, three as a propagator and one as a gardener. I learnt to propagate a huge range of unusual plants under the excellent mentorship of senior propagator Emma Grigg. I am also grateful to the then head gardener Troy Scott Smith for the opportunities he gave me; it was an exciting time to be there when many parts of the garden were being re-envisaged.

Least favourite plant group I’ve never been a huge fan of begonias, except for B. luxurians, which is stunning. But they taste amazing, like citrus, and since growing them at Maddocks I have come to appreciate them. I think every plant has something to offer.

How to garden more sustainably Water less often. Leave the odd patch of weeds for beneficial insects. Nettles, rosebay willowherb and nasturtiums are important host plants for butterflies, moths and ladybirds. Grow some ivy, it’s a wonderful late source of pollen and nectar and provides berries and shelter for birds in harsher months.

Worthwhile books The Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix titles as part of The Garden Plant Series are excellent reference books for learning more about the origins and native habitats of our common garden plants. Also Eliot Coleman’s The New Organic Grower.

Seasonal happenings in the garden A month or so ago we pruned more than 2,000 roses, which we grow for an organic gin distillery and the beauty industry. Last year we grew lots of Barnhaven’s primroses from seed and I can’t wait for them to start flowering.


Further information


Sponsored content