In the garden with Ben

Midsussex gardener Ben Harris on all his gardening tips and tricks

Japanese Maple Acer plant

- What is your favourite plant / flower you’ve grown?

So if it was plants it is Acers, Japanese Maple. On flowers I join my wife on Irises. We have about 12 different colours. A mixture of flag Irises, bearded and bulb. With our bearded irises we got rhizomes from the garden centre with a few leaves. I'm going to start splitting next year. Flags we took from our old house and re-planted them here.

Purple bearded Iris flower

- What flower is your best success in your garden?

The flag irises as I bought a little cluster of about 3 bulbs worth. We have had about 40 flowers and it’s only about two years old! We get a lot of sun in our garden so it’s a nice sunny spot.

- Do you grow your flowers from seeds/bulbs or plants? What do you prefer?

It is a mixture I've got a propagator, a small greenhouse in the garden, that I use to grow seeds. I grow some from garden centres. It depends how well they do some years they do well some years not. We've tried a couple bargains that have been okay, some have died. We don't really have a plan when we go to the garden centre, sometimes we come out with 6 more things than we wanted. I’ve got 2 dahlia plants that have come back so strong.

Broccoli flower plant

- Has your garden given you any surprises?

I think the thing that surprised me the most is that I grew broccoli this year and I wasn't aware that it’s the flower you eat. I’ve got quite a few of the yellow flowers they’re quite pretty. Same with cauliflower.

- Do you garden by researching first or trial and error?

Trial and error definitely. Once I've bought something I look into how to look after and prune it. We're very much ''that’s pretty, lets get that!''.

- Who is your gardening hero?

Bit cheesy but Monty Don, he’s great. He's kind of what I am in the sense that he just potters around the garden and does 'stuff'. That's how I see my retirement. He’s very knowledgeable and he always has a dog in the back.

- How do you keep your gardening as eco friendly as possible?

I have a water butt in the garden that we got from the water company, a 500L one but it doesn’t rain enough to fill it half the time! I've got a sort of wild patch in the garden too that I dump stuff in, sort of a compost pile but it also has so much growing out of it at the same time. Half laziness, half good for hedgehogs. We have a gap in our fence for hedgehogs. All our neighbours do. it’s quite a leafy road we live on. We also have a wild flower bed to encourage pollinators. All grown from seed which we just sprinkle out. We get California poppies and corn flowers and it keeps flowering for most of the summer.

Purple flag Iris flower

- How do you keep your flowers healthy?

It’s more the vegetables and keeping pests off. I put netting over the leafy stuff, I built my own archway in lockdown to put the netting on. I do it with sweet peas. We bought an obelisk from Wisley Garden Show. It’s worked really well with our sweet peas. I find they grow better in the ground or a sizable pot as they scorch really easily.

- What’s your favourite season for your garden and why?

Spring, just 'cause everything is coming back to life and it's not too hot to do anything. Irises are late spring and just bulbs in general. I have started moving bulbs into pots. Last year we did have a really good year of tulips.

Purple flag iris flower

- How does gardening benefit you

It chills me out. De-stresses. I have had previous anxiety issues. I think it makes things slow down. It just allows me to slow down, to do things on my own terms. In a terrible cheesy way it’s nice to create things and make them grow. Physically it probably does a lot, I guess. The fresh air, it’s good to be out in the wild. Good for my hay-fever as it probably desensitises me. When I go to my parents they always need something cutting back. I get an axe out and that really de-stresses me.

- What’s next for your garden!

A raised flower bed in the back garden with railway sleepers. I want to put clematis with runner beans to extend the vegetables and have climbers all up the fences. I did a raised vegetable patch in lockdown but I couldn’t get any soil so I lowered my front garden and that’s how I did it.

purple flag iris flower

- What’s your best tip for other gardeners?

It’s got to be plant choice, it goes completely against who I am but when you go to buy plants, have somewhere in mind for where it’s going and a plan of how you want your garden. I don’t do that, I have some ideas, but it's better in the long term. That’s my tip, actually plan ahead when it comes to plants choice or buying more plants!


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