Devon Home finds out why Toby Buckland has gardening in his blood and seeks his advice on this outdoor living space
It's in the family. My grandfather was a gardener, my dad and uncles all builders, so being practical and creative with my hands is in the blood. My uncle took me to collect seaweed to put around his spuds when I was a lad and I haven't looked back since. I can still remember my amazement that what had been piles of slimy seaweed was now bucketfuls of potatoes. Gardening is full of these little miracles. You put in a little effort and reap huge rewards.
How long have you been in the business and when did it all start?
I started by earning pocket money for weeding for my mother's friends. Even before I was 10 I was repairing dry-stone walls. When I left school I took an apprenticeship at a local Devon nursery before going on to study at Bicton College and then the University of Cambridge Botanic Garden.
How important are gardens to the home, even when space is limited?
Even a small garden has space for pot-grown edibles like chilli peppers and herbs. There's nothing more welcoming than fragrant flowers round your front door. Creative use of space is very big at the moment, with vertical gardening and green walls and the use of exciting scented climbers like Trachelospermum jasminoides. The way to bring small borders to life is not necessarily to think small but use plants with evergreen architectural foliage, like living statues – they not only give you something to look at all year round, they have an environmental benefit too, be it for wildlife, to enhance the local landscape or simply that the soil round their roots allows excess rain to drain away.
We increasingly see the garden as an extension of our living space. What advice could you offer to help us achieve an area to relax in?
Privacy is key – though high fencing isn't necessarily the answer; a strategically positioned bamboo or birch tree can provide adequate screening to make a patio feel more secluded. We buy cushions for inside but often don't bother for garden furniture, though it makes all the difference to how long you want to sit outside. Plants that move in the breeze like ornamental grasses have a similar relaxing effect to waves lapping on the beach, swaying and swishing with the breeze. Relaxing isn't always about sitting: if you're a doing-person a garden should offer plenty of opportunity for achievement, somewhere to be creative and productive. My favourite place to be is the greenhouse. A sunny day, with the cricket on the radio and a few seeds to sow – nothing can beat it.
What is your favourite plant and why?
I've been asked this many times and I don't think I ever give the same answer. It depends on the season: lily of the valley in spring (it reminds me of my mum), roses in summer (my favourite right now is a brilliant West Country do'er called 'Proper Job' – wonderful fragrance). I'm very partial to helenium flowers at the moment, with their spicy tints and the brown boss at the centre of petals like a puppy-dog's nose. They do well at my nursery at Powderham Castle as they like sun and fertile soils and flower for a very long time.
What can we do to encourage wildlife to our gardens, whatever the size?
Aim to have flowers in your garden for as many months of the year as possible for the bees, especially early in the year when queens awake from hibernation. Pulmonaria and viola are great for this. Feed the birds but also grow plants with seedheads that birds enjoy – it's amazing how quickly they colonise bare ground. On our nursery which is barely over a year old, there are robins, wrens, chaffinches, blackbirds and thrushes darting amongst the rows looking for grubs and seed. Wildlife gardens don't have to be just native plants nor do they have to be informal. We sell a Bee & Butterfly Border, which would look smart anywhere but provides nectar, seeds and cover for a good part of the year.
What three plants can we sow now for some summer colour?
I would always recommend sweet peas for their lovely scent and for bringing into the house – they look lovely scrambling over archways and wigwams. If you've got a dry scrubby slope where not much grows, Californian poppies are wonderful for their sunset-orange colours and they self-sow to make an even bigger show next year. And sow a pumpkin: we are launching our Grow-a-Great-Pumpkin Competition at the Plant Centre at our Taste & Grow Day on Saturday 4 May and giving away free Suttons pumpkin seeds (while stocks last!) to anyone who wants to have a go. Come autumn you might just win a prize!
“My favourite place to be is the greenhouse … with the cricket on the radio and a few seeds to sow – nothing can beat it.”
Devon Home is published by We Make Magazines, a family-owned Devon company. The only specialist interiors magazine for the county, Devon Home is a celebration of homes, gardens and interiors, with expert information from local designers, architects and craftspeople. Together with our Devon-based writers and sales team, we show you how to improve and love your living space.
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Jeff Cooper: 01626 871161
Jennie Cooper: 01626 871161
Julie Hutchins: 07843 621463