Our garden expert Margaux Speirs encourages you to enjoy your garden as a new year resolution, and suggests taking up a gardening course to help you in your endeavour.

A lot of us will have new year resolutions to do with our physical and mental wellbeing, whether to take more exercise, strengthen core muscles or posture, lose body weight, spend less time sitting down, or to take up something artistic or creative as a hobby. It seems to me that gardeners do all these things and more in the process of creating lovely outdoor spaces, so my new year message is to encourage more Bristolians to enjoy their gardens.

If you don’t feel too confident about what to do with the garden, then taking a course might be the best place to start. There are courses to suit most budgets and calendars but here are a few ideas:

• RHS approved courses are aimed at those intending to pursue a career in horticulture but the qualifications are also good for keen gardeners. You can choose between more theoretical or practical courses and both RHS Level 2 and Level 3 courses are taught part time in daytime, evening or Saturday sessions. City of Bristol College (in Hengrove and Ashley Down Road) and Bristol University at the Botanic Gardens run these courses (but be aware that the university courses tend to book up months in advance).

• City of Bristol College also runs a part time course in organic and allotment gardening on Wednesday and Saturday evenings (£260 for three hours a week for a year).

• Jekka’s Herb Farm in South Gloucestershire runs a series of single day course on aspects of herb gardening but the courses are rather expensive at £175 for a day.

• Bristol City Council runs a whole range of Adult Learning courses on aspects of gardening at their Stoke Lodge centre, including Gardening for the Terrified over five Wednesdays, and a series of one-off courses such as create a cottage garden/cut flower garden/gravel garden etc, at appropriate seasons throughout the year. Many of these are very practical courses, teaching you how to plant and prune and to get ideas and inspiration. Half day courses cost about £22 and full day cost £36 but may be less if you qualify for concessions.

• The Special Plants Nursery just off the M4 on the way to Bath has a season ticket for £25, giving garden entry on open days from mid-April and if you go on Tuesdays at 11am or 2.30pm the owner, Derry Watkins, gives practical short talks on various aspects of the garden.

• There are a number of gardening clubs in and around the city where members meet for talks and share knowledge and experience. Some of these are run by plant nurseries who may have a commercial interest and others are run by enthusiasts (some of them are very specialist eg. Bristol Cactus Society or Bristol and West of England Orchid Society). The Henleaze Garden Club is my local club and it has an impressive programme of speakers lined up for 2016.

• If you don’t have a garden of your own to work in there are a number of community gardens around the city who welcome new members to volunteer to work in the gardens in exchange for sharing the produce as well as companionship and skills. For example, Easton Community Garden is worked on Thursdays from 11am and there is no charge for members and no minimum time commitment. Golden Hill Garden in Horfield is worked on Wednesdays from 10am, growing edible produce and the Patchwork Community Garden Project is run in Bedminster and Southville, tidying up unused areas of public land by planting trees, shrubs and bulbs.

• For those who are really serious about learning gardening skills, whether to make a career of it or in order to create a truly magnificent garden of their own, there is an excellent training scheme run by the charitable trust which organised the Women’s Land Army during the First World War, The Women’s Farm and Garden Association. The scheme is called The Work and Retrain as a Gardener Scheme but mostly it’s known by the acronym WRAGS (and it’s not just open to women). The basic concept of the scheme is that trainees garden for 15 hours per week for a year in a carefully sourced garden within a 20 mile radius of their home address under approved and capable instruction from the garden owner or head gardener. In return they are paid a small training allowance of £5 per hour by the owner of the host garden. The quality of the training is assessed and monitored ­– both trainee and garden pay an upfront fee to WRAGS to cover these costs (£150 for the garden and £400 for the trainee). A great range of rural and urban gardens of varying sizes participate in WRAGS placements across the country, including some public and heritage gardens and even some royal ones. Local gardens which participate in the scheme include The Bishop’s Palace in Wells, Goldney Hall Gardens in Clifton and Prince Charles’ garden at Highgrove. The list of practical skills to be covered during the year include soil cultivation and compost, planting techniques, propagation, pest and weed control, identifying and pruning trees and shrubs, planting and trimming hedges and planting and maintaining herbaceous borders. Practical experience is supplemented by workshops run by the association.

If you are interested in finding out more (whether as a prospective trainee or as the owner of a private garden who would be willing to take on an apprentice gardener under the scheme) have a look at the website: http://www.wfga.org.uk/wrags.html or contact the local representative, Louise Bastow on email:  louisebastow@googlemail.com

Happy New Year – enjoy your gardening and let me know if I can help with planning and design.

Plant of the Month

2015-12-09 14.10.20

I have a Daphne bhopal right outside my back door and its scent makes going outside a treat even on a damp January day. There are many species of Daphne shrub, some evergreen and some deciduous, but the best scent is found in the woodland species, including Daphne odor and Daphne bhopal. These prefer a shady site though some may cope with sun for a short period of time. Some say they are hard to grow but as long as you give it a rich soil, neither waterlogged or exposed to drought, and put it in a spot where it is sheltered from cold winds it should thrive in Bristol as we don’t have very cold winters. When choosing, pick a variety which has won the RHUS award of Garden Merit (AG) such as Daphne bhopal ‘Jacqueline Postil’ or the more fairly recent cultivar with variegated leaves, Daphne odor ‘Automechanical’.

Margaux Speirs is a pre-registered member of the Society of Garden Designers and runs her business, Margaux Speirs Garden Design, from her home in Bristol. For further information, telephone: 07903 779910 visit: www.margauxspeirsgardendesign.co.uk