Big Effect: Subtle Technique Seminar

One gardener’s experience of the 2016 LGN seminar; a day examining how to use subtle techniques to achieve a big impact.

Written by Marc Owen; a self-employed, maintenance gardener from West Kent

We gardeners know, that despite the countless benefits allied to our chosen vocation, it can often be quite a physical and insular way of working, often forming closer relationships with plants than we do with people. I was in high spirits then, that I found myself excited at the prospect of spending the day in the company of other like-minded, green-fingered folk.

Once again, the LGN offers up not one, but four great speakers at this year’s seminar held at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Dr Oliver Cox, a historian from Oxford University, discussed the relationship between ‘Capability’ Brown and post-war town planning. This was a complex, intellectual and fascinating talk linking the design concepts of Brown with some 20-century town planners.

Garden Designer, Adam Frost, took to the stage next and immediately grabbed everyone’s attention with his no-nonsense approach to plants, gardens and garden design. Effortlessly, he managed to weave his own personal horticultural journey into the many anecdotes he has around his professional work, including 6 Chelsea gold medals!

Adam spoke of his early beginnings, working closely with his “father figure and mentor”, the late Geoff Hamilton. He spoke with great honesty of his first childhood love – that of the Devonshire landscape – and how a subsequent passion for plants, coupled with plenty of hard graft, energy and commitment is what has made him the success he is today.

I took an opportunity to have a quick chat with Adam a few minutes before he gave his talk. Of course, I knew Adam Frost from his show gardens, but I had never met him before. He was extremely approachable; very grounded and down-to-earth. I got the immediate impression that he was, first and foremost, a gardener like me.

After these two talks it was time for our grab-and-go lunch and a walk around the gardens. This was an opportunity to meet up with the other attendees over sandwiches, cakes and refreshments.

In the afternoon, Charles Dowding, organic gardener and author, shared his in-depth experience of raising fruit, vegetables and ornamentals; dispelling many myths in the process. His extremely simple way of not working a soil, but instead of piling organic matter straight on to it and planting directly into the rich growing medium was a revelation to me. Operating from a raised bed idea (though often even without the need for wooden sides), thick layers of mulch not only begin the process of improving the soil, but also killing off most of the in-situ weeds. Once these weeds begin to die under the sheer weight of a heavy mulch, the decaying roots make air channels as good as any worm! This no-dig method was new to me.

Shaun Kiddell, Policy Parks Advisor with the Heritage Lottery Fund, informed us about how this group has supported more than 850 parks in the last 20 years. Shaun offered us some great insights, including before-and-after pictures, revealing the various stages of the renovations to many parks and gardens. Shaun is currently chair for the council of London Parks and Garden Trust (in 2016) and is a Green Flag judge.

Nearing the end of the day we listened to two appeals.

The penultimate appeal was from Laura Garnett, Volunteer Support Officer, from the horticultural charity, Perennial. Laura gave a brief history of Perennial, encouraging us to raise the profile of this fantastic charity. It’s dedicated to helping horticulturists in need, providing a range of support and services to those working, or have worked or have retired from the profession. Laura Garnett’s email address:

Jeremy Garnett (no relation to Laura) was also given a few minutes to introduce us to the Professional Gardener’s Trust. This body exists to provide funding to those working within the industry, offering them the opportunity to acquire skills, qualifications and training. The trust has a current fund of £25,000 per annum. Should you be interested in applying for funding, please visit their website:

Thank you LGN for organising this seminar. You did a great job and I look forward to seeing you again next year!

To read more of Marc’s posts, please visit his blog: