Gardens Illustrated
© Cristian Barnett

Harry Hoblyn, head gardener at Charleston, on composting and learning to make mistakes

Published: June 30, 2022 at 2:23 pm
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The head gardener at Charleston, the historic Bloomsbury Group residence, on blending art and ideas in a garden, and composting as a critical practice. Portrait Cristian Barnett

Earliest garden memory I grew up next to a hop farm and the rich aroma of hop plants laid out to dry on balmy summer afternoons still remains with me.

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First plant love I am always drawn to the sinuous nature of our common hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) trees. They comfort me, carrying an air of intrigue, with trunks that pull serpentine shapes, textured bark and graceful forms.

The rich aroma of hop plants laid out to dry on balmy summer afternoons still remains with me

Horticultural hero I am often influenced by gardeners whose creative practices cover diverse fields. Vita Sackville-West is an obvious choice. Not only was she a consummate plantswoman and gardener, but she wrote about plants, people, and places with great expressiveness. Similarly, I am guided by Vanessa Bell whose studio looked down on to the Walled Garden at Charleston.

Three most worthwhile tips for every gardener Every good gardener learns to make mistakes and deal with perceived failures. This is something I was told early on in my career and it has stuck with me ever since. I think that gardening should be regarded as an experimental art form, where spontaneity and forethought work in tandem. So, my three tips encompass these ideas: be prepared to make mistakes, treat gardening as an art form and experiment daily.

Every good gardener learns to make mistakes and deal with perceived failures

Favourite planting style Modern cottage-style gardening where horticultural excellence is achieved and happenstance is allowed for. I like to see matrix-style planting where colour, form and texture combine to create bold and exciting spaces. Sweet disorder is welcomed, but the hard work and skill of the gardener remains evident.

Favourite ‘weed’ you’re happy to have in your garden My two favourite plants to see in my local landscape are Echium vulgare, viper’s bugloss, and Limonium vulgare, our common sea lavender. Both have unique, striking qualities in a garden setting, and are a magnet for bees and other insects.

By connecting our domestic habits to the wider landscape, we can begin to better nourish ourselves and our soils

One easy thing that every gardener can do to be more sustainable Recycle your own food waste and learn to create humus-rich compost that feeds our soil microbiome. By connecting our domestic habits to the wider landscape, we can begin to better nourish ourselves and our soils.

Instagram @harry.saxatalis

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Harry will be leading tours of the garden as part of Charleston’s Festival of the Garden, 14-17 July 2022. Find details of all events, including talks from Piet Oudolf, Matthew Reese, Poppy Okotcha, Aly Fowler and more at charleston.org.uk

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