My name is Drew Swainston and I am a passionate gardener as well as a perennial nerd. I am lucky enough to call myself a professional horticulturalist and, though it may have taken a long while and hard work, I love working outside and being hands-on with plants. I hold a Level 3 horticulture qualification and have been lucky enough to work in some fantastic historic gardens in my career to date.
Like so many in the horticultural sector, I am a career changer and, for me, my love of gardening developed as I grew older. For close to a decade I worked as a journalist. I wrote about a wide range of subjects – including finance, security and sport – primarily for online publications, as well doing copywriting, sub-editing and acting as assistant editor for international magazines.
Over time I felt a longing to spend more time outside, away from the laptop, and so came a new appreciation for plants, at the time mainly edibles as I grew fruit and vegetables at home in my small Birmingham garden.
After some deliberation I took the plunge and re-trained, studying my Level 3 City & Guilds diploma in Horticulture. My course was based at Birmingham Botanical Gardens and I was lucky to be surrounded by the fantastic glasshouses and grounds while I studied. I organised my own work placement as part of the course, and was lucky enough to spend one day a week at the National Trust’s Hanbury Hall. I learnt a huge amount from the team there during time with them.
At the end of my qualification I got a job as an Assistant Gardener at the world-famous Hidcote Manor Garden. How lucky was I to start my professional career immersing myself in the iconic arts and crafts garden? Hidcote was a great place for me to develop my skills and knowledge as a gardener and I was on a steep, but immensely enjoyable, learning curve from day one. I was hands-on in its multitude of beds and borders, helped tend to its lawns and cut some iconic hedges and topiary.
After almost two years I then spent a period as a dedicated kitchen gardener at Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire. Here I grew vegetables, fruit, salads and herbs for chefs, as well as micro-greens to garnish the dishes and even herbs I harvested were used in drinks from the bar.
Then I found myself returning to the National Trust and to Hanbury Hall. The garden has an iconic parterre, as well as fruit garden, orchard, orangery and a vast parkland. Hanbury also has a productive walled garden, and that is where my main passion and responsibilities lie. I have taken on planning and growing the crops, which have either been used by the kitchens or sold to visitors. It is an area of the garden much-loved by visitors and our army of volunteers – and I have been writing regular monthly updates on the walled garden.
I am also an allotmenteer, having taking on a full-sized allotment at the start of 2020. Plot 1 started as an overgrown weedy section of field and it was transformed into a productive plot for vegetables and cut flowers. There is still more to do and it is an adventure I will continue to document on here too.
I strive to continue to learn new things and continually develop my horticultural skills – there is always more to learn as a gardener. I remain a keen grower of fruit and vegetables at home and love nothing more than the satisfaction of eating something you have grown, nurtured and picked. But overall I am definitely a geek when it comes to flowers, plants, edibles, lawns and everything horticultural. I visit gardens regularly for inspiration, attend shows, read gardening magazines, and watch every garden-related TV programme going.
This blog aims to showcase plants I love, my successes (and inevitable) failures as a gardener, places I visit, and projects I have worked on to date and also those upcoming. I found my love of gardening has also re-ignited my fires when it comes to writing, so this blog hopefully can act as a showcase for me to indulge both those passions.