Ursula Buchan

Magnolia will never go out of fashion

Last week’s news that a mature magnolia tree had been felled in a suburb of Poole, Dorset, because wood decay made it a threat to nearby houses, will have touched the hearts of gardeners everywhere. For, in the words of the plant collector E.H. Wilson, after whom Magnolia wilsonii is named, magnolias are ‘aristocrats of

The best of this year’s gardening books

What makes a garden is an increasingly pressing question, in the light of what Jinny Blom, in her witty and wise What Makes a Garden: A Considered Approach to Garden Design (Frances Lincoln, £35), calls ‘hairshirt hubris’. By that she means the refusal of some gardeners to call any native plant a weed or any

Where to find the finest snowdrops 

Who does not love a snowdrop? The pure white of their pendulous petals may be chilly, but who cares when they flower in the chilliest months, often on their own, or accompanied only by hellebores and aconites. I grow a number of snowdrop species and cultivated varieties, as well as unnamed seedlings that seem to

A choice of gardening books for Christmas

Do you ever think about the ground beneath your feet? I do. Having read a number of popular science books on this most precious of natural resources, I am now obsessed. So much has recently been discovered about the invaluable symbiotic relationships that form between microbes, fungi and plant roots in the soil that it

Who needs a hosepipe? The watering cans worth investing in

In the hot, dry summer of 1976, I was working as a gardening student at Arboretum Kalmthout in Belgium. The temperatures in July were frequently 40°C by lunchtime, so we worked in the early mornings and through the evenings. My job was to drive a tractor pulling a trailer, on to which were placed dustbins

In defence of slugs: gastropods are seriously misunderstood

Slugs and snails are the bane of every gardener who tries to grow strawberries, leafy and tuberous vegetables, flowering bulbs and soft-shooted perennials. But Britain’s gastropods are ‘misunderstood’, according to Dr Andrew Salisbury, principal entomologist at the Royal Horticultural Society, which announced this month that it will no longer class slugs and snails as ‘pests’.

Earthly paradises: the best of the year’s gardening books

Important historic gardens fall into two main categories: those made by one person, whose vision has been carefully preserved down the years, sometimes for centuries, and those that are altered and developed by succeeding generations. Rousham, in Oxfordshire, is an example of the first and Bodnant, in the Conwy valley in north Wales, the second.

The perils of an autumn Chelsea Flower Show

Once upon a time, the Royal Horticultural Society staged a Great Autumn Show every September in their two Horticultural Halls off Vincent Square in London. It was a fine mixture of colourful nursery trade exhibitions and fiercely-fought amateur competitions, involving fruits, flowers and glowing foliage (Who could forget the amusing annual battle between the Dukes of

Party time: what is the cost of freedom?

34 min listen

How free are we after freedom day?(00:27) Also on the podcast: Why does it take hours to refuel your car in Lebanon?(10:19) and finally… Is British gardening wilting or blooming?(21:21) With The Spectator‘s economics editor Kate Andrews, Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association, journalists Paul Wood and Tala Ramadan, author James Bartholomew

Gardening books for Christmas — reviewed by Ursula Buchan

Dan Pearson is one of the finest of all British garden designers, blessed with sensitivity, a wonderful eye, deep plant knowledge and a willingness to experiment. In Tokachi Millennium Forest: Pioneering a New Way of Gardening with Nature (Filbert, £40) he describes how a 400-hectare parcel of agricultural land and forest in the shadow of

Thanks to Covid, village shows are withering away

I measure out my summer in invitations to judge classes of flowers, fruit and vegetables at local village shows. The flower-show calendar is as changeless and as adamantine in its continuity as the high days and holy days of the Christian liturgical year. Or rather it was. In the past, as I have prepared to

Gardening is a powerful antidote to grief, pain and loss

Viewed from a purely private garden perspective, this has been a ver mirabilis. The blossom has been wonderful and long-lasting, the sun has shone on the daffodils and tulips, and there has been enough moisture in the ground for impressive growth in trees, shrubs and vegetables. Thanks to lockdown and all its confinements, I have

Chelsea Flower Show

Chelsea, the most famous flower show in the world, pulled in its devotees once more this week, with its accustomed mixture of colour, scent and glamour. The continuing success of the Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘flagship’ show has much to do with the BBC’s need to fill schedules, the foreign media’s enduring fascination with ‘Englishness’ and

Gardening books: Other men’s flowers

There are probably no more gifted professional gardeners in England than Jim Buckland and Sarah Wain, husband and wife and joint head gardeners at West Dean in Sussex. On the verge of their retirement, after 27 years of effecting a renaissance in the gardens and grounds of this country house arts centre (bequeathed by Edward

A choice of gardening books | 1 December 2016

Garden design usually breaks out of its confines to become part of the general consciousness only in Chelsea Flower Show week, but this year there have been so many events to mark the tercentenary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown — the most prolific and talented designer of the 18th-century landscape garden — that

The real gardeners’ questions answered

Why is it that gardening in the public prints is so often treated as a fluffy subject for fluffy people? Writing that a plant is ‘incredibly beautiful’ or that everyone is ‘really passionate’ about their allotment/community garden/windowbox doesn’t seem to me to be an adequate substitute for telling thoughtful gardeners something they didn’t know already.

The many lives of John Buchan

Up the stairs with flying feet, You would burst upon us, cheering Wellington’s funereal street. Fresh as paint, though you’d been ’railing Up from Scotland all the night, Or had just returned from scaling Some appalling Dolomite… Pundit, publicist and jurist: Statistician and divine; Mystic, mountaineer and purist In the high financial line; Prince of