An interview with Trevor Edwards & his seasonal tips

Gardening insights, inspirations and insider's tips from Trevor Edwards

1) How did you first get into garden design and at what point did you know you simply had to make a career out if it?

My early working life was in Mechanical Engineering. I was a fully Indentured Apprentice with ICI Fibres in their plant, in my home town of Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland. After receiving my Indentures, I worked in the Drawing Office as a draftsman, where I honed skills that held me in good stead for my later garden design activities.

After a few jobs associated with Mechanical Engineering and the building industry I became self-employed in the April of 1976, doing mostly landscaping and grounds maintenance work. Later the same year, I opened a garden shop that latterly became known as Garden Centre. For the next 25 years, I ran this retail garden business.

In 2001, I gave up the retail side to concentrate on Garden Design & Management. Since then, I have been involved in many varied and interesting projects, both private and commercial! I have a particular interest in garden or landscape restoration. I continue to live and work in Northern Ireland. However, I have worked on a small number of projects in Great Britain, mainland Europe and on major projects in the USA. I love my work and I am blessed to be able to say that there has never been a day in my life when I did not want to go to work!

2) There are some incredible British gardens that are open to the public. Do you have a favourite and if so, why?

Britain and Northern Ireland - and indeed Ireland - are wildly populated with many, many fantastic gardens. Whenever I am asked this question I always wobble and hesitate! I believe it is impossible to have one favourite out of such a variety of sizes and styles. Furthermore, the relationship with the owner or head gardener will have such an influence on one’s enjoyment of a garden! Then, one needs to consider the category that a garden sits within – is it public, private, National Trust or any other trust type organisation. Having said this, that let me name a few (in no particular order) that always bring me joy…

In Northern Ireland, the National Trust House & Garden at Mount Stewart in Co Down always floats my boat. In addition to this there are many historic demesnes with interesting gardens and designed landscapes. The walled garden at Benvarden (near the Giant’s Causeway) is always a stimulating visit. The gentle beneficial and warming effects gained from the Kiss of the Gulf Stream Drift gives Northern Ireland the ability to grow so many more tender plants than other gardens of Great Britain and Europe on the same latitude.

Scotland has a plethora of fine, interesting and varied gardens, and I’m sure there are many more that I have not visited yet! The traditional Edinburgh Botanic Garden and its sister garden (Logan Botanic Garden) would be at one end of the style spectrum and the Garden of Cosmic Speculation at Portrack House near Dumfries is at the other end! Both I would be happy to visit any day of the week.

England is simply packed full of fascinating gardens in every county. To name but a few, I love the combination of a visit to Kiftsgate Court and the adjacent Hidcote Manor gardens. Stourhead and Stowe are gardens that I carry fond and vivid memories between each visit! Two recent visits to the gardens of Cornwall and Devon opened my eyes to a vast collection of fab gardens. So many gardens and just not enough time!

Sadly, I have not visited many of the gardens in Wales, However, the National Trust’s Bodnant Garden is simply magnificent. The National Botanic Garden of Wales is big time on my bucket list!

Throughout the island of Ireland, you will find great gardens. In all of the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland, one can find exciting garden experiences. Always worthy of a mention will be the established gardens of Powerscourt, Mount Usher, Ilnacullin Garden on Garnish Island and the National Botanic Garden at Glasnevin. Then, you have the opportunity to visit some “trail blazing” and “limit pushing” new, private gardens by the like of Jimi Blake in Wicklow and Carl Wright’s Caher Bridge garden in Co Clare.

3) What do you think the future holds for the garden industry?

In recent years, we have been using the term ‘Garden Tourism’ to capture a description for visiting gardens. Many of the garden owners are beginning to wake up to the fact that not only are they involved in horticulture, but also, they are part of the tourism industry. Many are providing additional facilities and learning new skills in marketing and communications to reach out and attract income from the enthusiastic and adventurous garden visitor!

I believe that some gardens will gradually fade away and new gardens will come to our notice and attention. Today’s younger people with busy lives and small (if any at all) gardens may well not have the gardening bug yet, but I believe as they advance in years they will have a desire to experience other people’s gardens! Subsequently, I hope and trust they will join the current thirst to visit gardens. The digital information age in the form of the internet and social media will only help to grow garden tourism - the future is bright for it all over the world.

4) What has your experience of working with Brightwater Holidays been like? What do you enjoy the most and what is it like to deal with our tour groups? Any memorable moments or things you find particularly exciting?

Over the last number of years, I have racked up over 50 gardening-based tours. Basically, the tours are made up from either individual people who book a published tour (from the brochure or on the web) or from the growing number of group tours organised for clubs or societies. I suppose I am a people person! On “brochure tours”, one of the things I enjoy is to watch and witness how a group of like-minded gardeners, who do not previously know each other, begin to bond day by day during the tour. Part of my job is to manage and facilitate the bonding, and in doing so, increase the enjoyment for all the tour group. On private group tours, most people will know each other so the second phase of my job kicks in that bit sooner – to help them get the most enjoyment out of the gardens and the tour in general.

Every tour produces memorable locations, gardens, moments and people. I have particularly enjoyed working with Jim Gardner (ex RHS) in the French Riviera and with Monty Don during the Gardeners World tour, Villas & Gardens of the Italian Lakes. I have had the pleasure and honour to meet and work with many great gardeners, such as Helen Dillon, Jimi Blake, Fergus Garrett, Margaret Garner in New Zealand and James Priest in Monet’s Garden.

However, it is all about People & Gardens. Over the years, I have met many lovely and memorable guests. One thing that gives me great pleasure is to see repeat guests – those who return from all parts of the UK and the rest of the world to tour with me again.

5) What influences and inspires you as a gardener? Is it other designers or do things such as colour and texture impact what you create? The creative process of gardening is fascinating, so anything you can share on this would be great.

I have preferred styles, plant pallets and ideas. However, I must always listen to the client’s needs and desires. It may be that at the end of the listening process I will need or choose to guide and influence the client to achieve what I see as the “best fit” for their lifestyle and location. I am very receptive to the influences that I am continually being presented with as I visit new gardens and gardeners.

I store in my mind all the new information, and both photograph and catalogue new and exciting ideas, features and combinations for future consideration. The creative process starts when I sit down to consider what is best for the client and the location. I then trawl through my mind and photographs to filter the influences, in order to find the best solution. Always remember that the first idea, concept or solution may not be the best! The discussion with clients, other professionals and contractors often can throw up an improved solution.

6) And, finally, do you have any tips or great advice for the keen gardeners among us, now that April (National Gardens Month) is upon us?

April is one of the most exiting months of the year. Be sure to sit back from time to time to simply look at your and enjoy your garden.

Jobs for the month:

  • Sadly, weeds will start to grow – keep them under control to avoid a worsening task. Adopt a policy of doing a little weeding often.
  • Sow hardy annuals, herbs and wild flowers outside.
  • Sow new lawns and repair damaged bare patches.
  • Feed hungry plants and roses.
  • Mulch rose and shrub beds with a 5-8cm (2-3in) layer of organic matter. This will help retain moisture during dry spells, reduce weed build-up and over time improve soil structure. Pay particular attention to mulching around rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias, as flowering is impaired if they are allowed to dry out during late summer.
  • Mow lawns whenever necessary – when the grass is growing. Try to maintain a constant height throughout the year. After years of aspiring to have a close-cut lawn, last year I persuaded myself to raise and keep raised the height of cut – result – my best-looking lawn in years.
  • If you are like me and love your lawn – now is the time to apply a Weed & Feed.
  • Composting: If you don’t already compost, now is the time to start. No matter how small a compost bin or system it is worthwhile. Aim to compost using layers of different materials – imagine it as a lasagne. Add the lawn clippings to the compost heap in thin layers (too much grass all at once is likely to be very wet and poorly aerated, resulting in smelly slime rather than compost). Avoid composting weeds.
  • Remember that children, marriages and flower gardens reflect the kind of care they get!

Travel with Trevor Edwards in 2018 ... Gardens of the French Riviera and the International Rose Festival Secret Gardens of the North of Ireland Gardens of Barbados Gardens of Copenhagen and Zealand Palladian Villas of Veneto The Gardens of Waterford and Cork New Zealand Garden Festivals