Posted by: sweetpea | February 21, 2007

What I learnt from Chris Beardshaw…

Last night I headed over to Askam Bryan College to listen to a talk given by Chris Beardshaw.  Now I have to admit that I happen to think that he’s rather gorgeous, but I’ve also liked the way he talks about gardening when I’ve watched him on TV or listened to him on ‘Gardeners Question Time’.  So although part of my reason for going was so that I could see whether he is as gorgeous in real life (he is, although he had shaved his lovely hair off so looked a little different to what I was expecting, and he also seemed smaller somehow, in fact I’m pretty sure a few people were surprised judging from the comments coming from the row behind me), I was also hoping to learn something from the evening.

He started off by saying that he didn’t know what we were expecting, and to be honest I didn’t know what I was expecting either, but he was going to talk about the reasons why he became a gardener, why he does things the way he does, and who has influenced him.  As a speaker he is fantastic, very natural, very interesting with loads of humorous stories, but boy can he talk J  He talked non-stop for 2 hours!  Not that I’m complaining about the content, it was all fantastic and I was making mental notes all along the way, but I did drift off a couple of times especially towards the end partly because it was very hot and stuffy in the room, but partly also because my attention span was being pushed to the limit.  I was also a little fidgety because I’d planned to catch the 9.30pm bus home which meant leaving the hall at 9.15pm.  The longer he talked, the more concerned I became that I wasn’t going to make the bus (being sat in the middle of a row near the front I couldn’t exactly slip out quietly!), and 9.15pm came and went. I then started hoping that he would continue talking as the next bus wasn’t until an hour later and I didn’t fancy waiting alone on a quiet slip road.  As luck would have it he did talk a while longer, and then there were a couple of questions followed by somewhat lengthy, although still interesting, replies.  On the way out I bumped into an old colleague who offered to give me a lift home, so someone up there was looking after me last night J

So what did I gain from listening to Mr Beardshaw?


Well, one of the reasons I like his way of thinking is that he very much believes in working with nature rather than trying to force nature to do what you want it to do.  This is something I try and think about when I’m down on the plot, and something I’d like to incorporate into my garden designing (OK so it’s only 1 at the moment, but I have plans).  He’s very much an advocate of observing plants, getting to know them, and letting them tell you what they want.  I’ve always been aware of this but I’ve never seemed to have enough time for it, so he has inspired me to make the time.  He has a very good way of explaining things, one example was explaining the idea of plants talking to one another.  Now, this at first seems an absurd idea, plants are great, but talking!?!  But he explained it in such a way that it makes complete sense and it’s all to do with pheromones J


Now I could go on and write in great detail about the talk, but I think that would probably take too long!! So instead here are the 10 things I learnt from Chris:

  1. PRUNING – If in doubt, always prune after flowering
  2. If it says ‘prune in Feb’, don’t just go by the book.  Observe the plant and look for signs the buds (the ones that will produce the new shoots) are about to break, and then prune, that way all the plants energy and desire to grow will go straight into the new shoots.
  3. CUTTINGS – Take cuttings just as the flowers are fading on the plant, that way the cutting will be full of growth hormones and will root easily.
  4. Stroke and fondle plants, this stimulates them to thicken their cell walls thereby making it harder for P&D to get a hold.
  5. Never feed ornamentals after mid-summer as it will make them more prone to frost damage, it alters the sugar balance in the cells (I think)
  6. When trying to decide what colours will look good together, try squinting.  If the colours appear to merge in the middle creating a third colour, then they will work; if they don’t merge to create a third colour, then they may not look good together.
  7. Use colours to alter the feel of a garden.  Use hot colours in areas that get full sun, red can act as an attention grabber, a full stop.  Cool colours on the other hand work best in the shade where they come into their own (reds etc just look dull in the shade).  Look to nature for inspiration e.g. most if not all natural shade loving plants are cool colours.
  8. Use colours to alter the appearance of a garden.  Reds make things appear closer, whereas blues make them appear further away.  A long garden can be made to look squarer by using reds at the back and blues at the sides.  Hot colours will make a garden feel more closed in, whereas blues will make it feel more open.  Leaves can also be used in a similar way, small leaves make things look further away whilst large leaves make them appear closer…..all to do with scale and proportion I guess (must remember to change my planting plan slightly!)
  9. Look to nature for other tips, e.g. no need to dig organic matter into the soil, let the worms do it for you.  Don’t worry about planting bulbs too deep/shallow or in the wrong orientation, apparently they will move themselves into the preferred position.  Apparently trees also move using their contractile roots, although I have to admit that’s one I’d have to see it to believe it (although if a bulb can why not a tree)
  10. Let the plants look after themselves, they know what they’re doing without us gardeners medling.  You’re garden should only contain those plants that you could spend your entire lifetime looking at, the ones you fall in love with. 

And finally sit back and enjoy the paradise you have helped create. J

Oh, and one more thing I really liked was that he didn’t believe it is necessary to know the names of plants J  Now knowing the name of a plant can help in finding out what growing conditions it prefers, but apart from that it’s not going to help with the maintenance once you’ve planted it….Once you have planted it you can let your observations and common sense take over.


Chris mentioned 3 people that had inspired him, well I think Chris will be among the people I would list as my inspiration, alongside Mr Jones and my dad who inspired me to grow vegetables from a young age (although not quite as young as Chris!).



  1. Hi Sweetpea

    I can’t think what common link brought me to your blog, but hi! from South East London. That’s really helpful stuff there, so thank you for putting it in writing (and thank you Chris Beardshaw for saying it). Glad you got home safely.

  2. Hello,

    Your little brother here.

    As I’ve now started my own blog (couple of months ago) I thought I’d best find yours to let you know.

    Took me ages on Google, as you don’t rank very highly, but on Yahoo you’re the top result! I’ve done a bit of research as to why this is (I’m top of Yahoo too, but nowhere in Google) and it’s quite interesting: Yahoo picks out sites based purely on if they talk about what you typed in as a search term. Google takes into account the search term AND how many places link to you, so even if you’re the most relevant site in the world, if you’re not linked to much you won’t get anywhere in their results.

    Anyway… hello! Nice teasel photo.

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