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Gardening Talent – Meet Graham Hodgson of Great Dixter

A gardener at Great Dixter for more than a decade, Graham enjoys an experimental approach and continues to learn as he gardens – and share his findings. Portrait Andrew Montgomery.

Earliest garden memory When I was around 23, I remember coming back to visit my mother’s house and suddenly realising what an amazing garden it was. Even though I had grown up there, I had never appreciated it until then. At that point something clicked, and I wanted to know a bit more.

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Career inspiration I’d like to mention Rob Melville (currently design director at McLaren Automotive) with whom I did my degree and MA in Vehicle Design at the Royal College of Art, as we inspired each other along the way. This provided the foundation for my creative journey, which continues through gardening.

Favourite landscape I love the English countryside and wild spaces. I’ve visited many protected natural habitats throughout the UK, which has help provide an understanding of plant communities and an inspiration for planting combinations.

Worthwhile tip Always keep a sketch book or notebook with you, although I now use my phone. This means you can take notes, make drawings, take photographs… With a phone you can also add reminders to a calendar and share notes with other members of the team. It means we can work collaboratively.

Dream plant destination I’d like to visit the Scottish machairs in the Outer Hebrides and experience the way of life there and the crop-rotation system they practise. Also any of the flower-rich places along the Silk Road, which stretches from China to Turkey.

Any ‘weeds’ you’re happy to have in your garden? I like dandelions as they provide an early spring source of nectar for bumble bees. Also self-sown autumn hawkbit (Scorzoneroides autumnalis) provides a late season show, appearing in cracks in the paving, and providing an insect food-source. Together these two plants help to extend the insect-foraging season in my garden.

Biggest challenge facing gardeners today The challenge to go organic. It’s ten years since we sprayed anything here at Dixter and although we saw gluts of pests in the first few years and were very tempted to do something about it, as we persevered, we found that the predator numbers increased to balance the pests. Today we observe and record small outbreaks when they happen but don’t intervene. We generally find that the problem goes away in a couple of weeks. However, we are still not organic and at present experimenting to find a solution for slugs.

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