Just a few short years ago the back garden at Alex and Joe’s house in southeast London was a typical suburban plot with just lawn, fences and paths and not much else. But now their garden is simply bursting with colour, interest and inspiration winning them, not just the prestigious QVC Gardener of the Year competition in 2017, but many more awards and prizes in hotly contested garden competitions.
When Richard Jackson visited the talented pair at their garden, he was simply amazed by what he saw and everything that they had achieved. “Their garden was even better than I expected from the photos they’d sent in,” he revealed. “ It was absolutely stunning. It’s been a huge task, which, impressively, they’ve done all by themselves.”
The back garden is tropical in style and relatively low maintenance. “Initially we had two small terraces of lawn, but we removed one to make more space for plants and then the other was removed too,” explains Alex. “We have tried to make the garden work for us every day of the year, we have lighting and wood-fired heating to extend the evenings and make the seating area more usable in late autumn and early winter.” But the low maintenance design created a bit of a dilemma for the pair. “As gardening lovers we prefer to potter in the garden rather than sit. So in order to give us more to do we designed our front garden to be a modern twist on a cottage garden,” admits Joe.
The front garden
It’s a contrast to the calming, creative space behind the house and a riot of colour that is popular with their neighbours. “When we were designing the front garden there were a few things we wanted to achieve. We wanted people walking up the path to pause and look around. To achieve this we changed from a straight path leading up to the front door to a path that cuts across the garden with steps in it, this makes people change direction and slow down, giving them time to look around. We also wanted the front garden to be somewhere where we could sit with a cup of tea. We made the path wider than before so that we can sit on the steps, look at the garden and talk to neighbours and any passers-by.”
The Flower Power Difference
Owners Alex and Joe are convinced it was their decision to change the plant food they were using to Flower Power that made the difference and led to their winning streak this season. “Prior to winning the QVC award we were using slow release fertiliser in containers and baskets and nothing on the plants in the garden,” admits Alex. “Then we changed to using Flower Power weekly for the containers and once a fortnight for plants in the garden. Flower Power has made a huge difference; our plants have had many more flowers and have lasted a lot longer than usual. We would normally take our hanging baskets down towards the end of August as the plants begin to look tired, but now they are still keep going and are just as colourful as they were in July, right into October!”
“Flower Power has definitely helped us. Previously when we were not using it we didn’t even reach the top three in the Ruxley in Bloom competition with the Front garden, then we came first and the only thing we changed was to use Flower Power. There was not a single plant in the garden not covered in flowers! We’d definitely recommend it, we were sceptical at first with the claims that are made, but after just a few weeks we noticed that our plants were stronger and healthier than ever before and when they started to flower we were convinced. We are now full Flower Power converts!”
Richard Jackson had nothing but praise for the couple’s gardens. “Alex and Joe’s two gardens, the front ‘Cottage style’ and the back ‘Tropical style’, were an absolute joy to visit. To their great credit, they are youngest gardeners ever to win our QVC Gardener of the year competition. Anyone, at any age would have been proud to have created such superb gardens.”
The garden is a relaxing hideaway for the pair, even more so as Joe has a condition called dissociative seizures/amnesia which means he has seizures resulting in full memory loss that can last for several months. “At its worst he can’t go out on his own and can lose a lot of his independence,” explains Alex. “His speech is normally affected for many weeks after a seizure but when talking about the garden and wildlife his speech improves dramatically as he is so passionate about it. The garden gives him a safe environment to relax and potter in, it helps speed up the return of his memory and de-stress him which results in fewer seizures.”
They grow most of their plants from seed or plug plants, mainly summer bedding and perennials, in a pop-up poly tunnel in the garden. “ I can’t control my plant propagation addiction,” admits Joe. “We normally grow 2 – 3 times more plants than we need, and we give the surplus away to neighbours, family and a school for their gardening club.”
“Our garden means everything to us. We have loved sharing our garden with passers-by, QVC and the Judges from Ruxley in Bloom so much that we have decided to continue sharing our love and passion for plants and gardens by starting our own blog, www.thegardeningguys.co.uk, and we are now on Twitter @Gardening_Guys.