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Speakers’ biographies

An alphabetical list of our speakers, past, present… and future!


24 March 2016, Roses need friends

Ross is a member of the team at the Old Court Nurseries and Picton Gardens in Colwall, Worcesterhire (on the western flanks of the Malvern Hills), particularly famous for their autumn display gardens of Asteraceae (until recently I could just have said asters, but most of their names have now been changed – to protect the innocent and annoy the gardeners!) and the wide range of choice alpines and perennials built up by the late Percy Picton and his son Paul. They in turn had taken over the nurseries from the famous Ballard family, breeders of Michaelmas daisies, in 1956.

Fully trained in horticulture (H.N.D), Ross Barbour began his career by working on large estates, learning all the essential basic skills and then moving on to the next ‘Big House’ to expand his knowledge and hone his techniques, just like a traditional journeyman. By the age of 27 he had become Head Gardener at a large C.17th Palladian hall, where he was able to reshape its rather neglected 10ha (25-acre) garden. After clearing and cutting back decades of undergrowth and self-set trees he was able to develop and create smaller gardens producing a diversity of habitats and achieving a natural balance with horticultural interest for every season. These gardens include a new contemporary Rose Garden, Meadow and Prairie Garden, and a fantastic Winter Garden bringing cheer to the winter months. A new Alpinum was completed in 2012 and his impressive alternative annual bedding schemes burst with interest every spring and summer.

22 Jan 2015, Dahlias

Val Bourne is a well-known gardener and writer of books, articles and columns for magazines and newspapers including The Telegraph, The Garden (Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society), The Hardy Plant (Journal of the Hardy Plant Society) and many more. She is a committed organic gardener and a knowledgeable plantswoman, with a soft spot for that increasingly fashionable, if still slightly shameful secret addiction – dahlias!

26 May 2016, Brightening up the Garden in August

Almost too well-known to need introduction (he has spoken to SLGS on several occasions), Bob is a nurseryman and renowned plantsman with strong and uncompromisingly expressed opinions about what makes a good plant, which makes for some very entertaining talks! His nursery at Cotswold Garden Flowers, Badsey, near Evesham, stocks a huge range of rare and unusual plants as well old favourites, usually tested in equally uncompromising conditions. He writes for many publications including Gardening Which?, and The Garden.

28 November 2013, Glory in the Gloom

Well-known from his many appearances as a presenter on Gardeners’ World and a panellist on Gardeners’ Question Time, Nigel is an adopted South Lincs local. He formerly ran a nursery in Careby, a few miles north of Stamford, and now lives a similar distance north of Bourne.

In April 2013 Nigel was awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour (VMH), the Royal Horticultural Society’s highest accolade. Only 63 eminent horticulturists hold the VMH at any one time, the number marking the length of Queen Victoria’s reign.

He is a trustee of the RHS, a former Vice Chairman of RHS Council and has served on several of their committees. He has travelled widely and has written several books as well as innumerable articles for The Garden and other gardening periodicals. You can read his delightfully opinionated blog, SilverTreeDaze, by following this link.

27 March 2014, Summer Perennials

Rob Cole and his wife Diane moved their plant-growing business from Birmingham to Meadow Farm Garden & Nursery, Feckenham, Worcestershire in September 1998 to seek a more rural way of life. They set about building a new ¾ acre nursery in part of their 2-acre meadow, before turning their attention to creating a garden in the 1-acre plot to the rear of the house. They grow 95% of their own nursery stock, in peat-free compost. The nursery itself is not normally open to the public, most of their sales being made at plant fairs and garden shows throughout the Midlands, but their extensive, intricately planted 1-acre garden is frequently open. They also have a one and a quarter acre wildflower meadow, unploughed for over 110 years and thankfully “unimproved” (in the agricultural sense – they have enriched the habitat with hundreds of cowslips and primroses raised by seed from a few already growing in the meadow); the Coles now manage as it and their newly planted small spinneys as a nature reserve.

Their garden at 33 Droitwitch Road opens for the NGS, and we will visit them on our coach trip to Worcestershire/Warwickshire on 14 June 2014.

25 Jan 2001, Pulmonarias and Hardy Geraniums
22 November 2007, ?
25 Sept 2014, My Garden Through the Year

Vanessa makes a welcome and overdue return to SLGS. Stillingfleet Lodge Nurseries, her lovely garden and excellent nursery, in the peaceful lowlands just 6 miles south of York, are home to the Plant Heritage (NCCPG) National Plant Collection of Pulmonaria (lungwort), and plants for shade are a particular speciality. Unusual perennials abound, and many can be seen used in inspiring associations in the various cleverly contrasting compartments of her delightful cottage garden. Well worth a long trip to visit, Stillingfleet Lodge is an RHS Partner Garden and holds various special RHS events.

28 March 2013, Growing and Breeding Distinctive, Garden-worthy Hellebores

Penny Dawson is the youngest daughter of Hugh and Liz Nunn who have been breeding Harvington Hellebores (amongst other things) for the last 25 years. Penny worked on her parents’ nursery at weekends and holidays from school and then university. After graduating from the University of Reading she worked as a landscape manager for two different landscape practices. She is now developing her own nursery called ‘Twelve Nunns’, near Bourne, and is responsible for breeding the new generation of Harvington Hellebores. She also handles the retail mail order for Harvington’s hellebores, erythroniums, roscoeas and trilliums. Her excellent website: Twelve Nunns.

16 April 2015, The Dillon Garden, Dublin

Helen Dillon, a Scot, has become the “undisputed Queen of Irish gardening”, and indeed Irish garden writing, but rarely lectures on the mainland, so we are very fortunate to have managed to book her after many years of her being on our “wish list”. Author of several books and many articles, she is currently a regular columnist for The Garden (journal of the RHS). In her early 20s he worked “as a dogsbody” on Amateur Gardening, where she became acquainted with a whole generation of legendary, influential gardeners such as Graham Stuart Thomas, Valerie Finnis, Margery Fish and David Shackleton, sometimes visiting them as part of her job and being given the odd cutting here and there. Her beautiful 1-acre formal garden in Ranelagh, Dublin, created with her husband Val, which brims with colour thanks to clever use of containers and successional planting, is extremely influential, and has been much photographed and written about.

28 Sept 2017, Succession Planting – a case study of the long border at Salutation

Steve Edney is Head Gardener at The Salutation, Sandwich, Kent. Set within the glorious medieval town of Sandwich, nestled on the banks of the River Stour, The Salutation Gardens are a plant lover’s paradise. Designed in 1912 by architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, The Salutation, now a charming hotel and restaurant, is a true Lutyens masterpiece and the first 20th Century building to be granted Grade I listing.

Surrounding it, the 3.7-acre gardens, also designed by Lutyens, are divided into a series of symmetrical “rooms”, each with a different purpose, gathered around a unifying theme. The effect is one of endlessly unfolding space, with wonderful surprises presented around each corner. The planting style is a dynamic infusion of old and new. The gardens reveal themselves sequentially through the seasons, and are constantly developing as long-term projects and drawing-board concepts come dramatically to life.

This plant-driven design incorporates an eclectic mix of heirloom, rare and drought-tolerant plants used thoughtfully to create longer seasons of interest. Careful consideration is given to the unique challenges and opportunities presented by the gardens’ easterly location, soil type, rainfall and protection from wind behind 4 acres of walls.

Head Gardener Steve Edney has been perfecting his art for 25 years. After studying at Hadlow College and Merrist Wood, he spent several years as a highly respected and regularly awarded private garden designer. In 2006, he joined The Salutation to helm its huge restoration project. A decade later, the gardens are recognised as amongst the finest in the country.

Steeped in the practical art of gardening, Steve uses direct observation to supplement his technical skills as a grower, breeder, horticulturist and arboriculturist. His drive for creativity and experimentation ensure the scope of his expertise continues to encompass new horizons.

He is a member of both the RHS Herbaceous Committee and its plant trial forum. He has chaired the RHS round table for Zinnia, and is working in conjunction with Fleuroselect in Europe. He contributes to numerous professional publications, and is a regular on the award-winning “Sunday Gardening” show on BBC Radio Kent. At the 2016 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, Steve’s collaboration with Cayeux Iris received a Gold Medal in the floral marquee, something they hope to replicate in 2017.

24 Sept 2015, Autumn Fireworks

Annie Godfrey runs Daisy Roots Nursery on the outskirts of Hertford. Their first exhibit at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2012 won a Silver-Gilt medal. She also works as a garden designer and offers talks and practical sessions in her own small garden in Bengeo, Hertfordshire.

Jennifer was to have spoken to us on 28 March, 2013 (on “A History of Flower Arrangers’ Plants”), but had to cancel due to ill health

Jennifer lives in Chandler’s Ford, Hampshire (as does Roy Lancaster, so it must be good gardening territory!) and is the Historian of the Hardy Plant Society. A practical gardener and a garden historian, she was a founder member of the Hampshire NCCPG (now Plant Heritage). Consultant Editor of Hillier’s Plants, People & Places and co-author of the HPS’s booklet on Phlox, she has also written articles for the HPS Journal.

26 September 2013, Bulbs for Small Gardens

Born in Northumberland and raised in Durham, Richard now lives in Norfolk with his partner Sally Ward. A keen gardener with a particular interest in bulbs, especially daffodils and hyacinths, he holds the Plant Heritage National Plant Collection of Muscari, which he inherited from Jenny Robinson. He has been Chairman of the Norfolk & Norwich Horticultural Society for 10 years or so, is a former director of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and now runs Witton Lane Seeds, specialising in rare and unusual species.

23 Jan 2014, California, Oregon and Some Trilliums

Kevin is a very experienced nurseryman whose nursery, Kevin Hughes Plants, is now based in the famous gardens at Heale House, north of Salisbury (home of the Rasch family). He has an extensive list of choice trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials, many of them not widely available elsewhere, alongside a solid range of tried and tested old favourites. His talk recounts his explorations in search of the charismatic native plants found in the wild mountainous areas of western North America.

26 Nov 2013, The Garden at York Gate

Andrew teaches garden design and RHS certificate at Warwickshire College, an annual series of courses at Lamport Hall (, and is the author of many practical books on gardening subjects, including 1001 Garden Questions Answered, World Encyclopedia of Apples, RHS Pruning Plant by Plant, Container Gardening, What To Do When in Your Garden, RHS Plants for Shade and many more too numerous to list here. He has also published several practical guides in French, on subjects including living sculpture (French title Sculptures végétales), herbs (Herbes aromatiques), Fruit (Arbres fruitiers), seeds (Semis magiques), Orchids (Orchidées), Propagation (Boutures magiques) etc.

28 Jan 2016, Hepaticas, Eranthis and other Gems

Michael, a nurseryman and confirmed galanthophile (his Facebook page address is from Pateley Bridge in North Yorkshire has spoken to us on previous occasions, but 2016 will be his first visit for some years. Having studied plant biology at the University of Leeds, he set up a small nursery specialising in woodland plants. He is also a tutor at Craven College.

23 May 2013, Early Summer Perennials

Ben is the charismatic young nurseryman who runs Blacksmith’s Cottage nursery in Norfolk (nothing to do with Rob Potterton of Potterton’s alpines in North Lincolnshire). He is also a wildfowl and rare poultry enthusiast and has a bird sanctuary at his nursery, where exotic waterfowl, including cranes and storks, roam free, and has recently applied to have it officially granted zoo status. He has also kept and bred endangered red squirrels, from Welsh stock, at the garden.

24 January 2013, Vita, Violets, Verse

Trevor described his talk as “a wander through gardening literature, pausing at famous gardeners, plants and witty writings.” Trevor, who now lives in Bratoft near Skegness, is a fruit-growing consultant, so if you have any queries about fruit in a cold climate, he’s your man!

28 May 2015, The Spring Flowers of North Turkey

Joe is a plantsman par excellence who runs Monksilver Nursery near Cambridge. He has visited us several times in the past to speak on various topics including variegation and primroses. He is an expert galanthophile who has introduced – and more recently, bred – many outstanding new snowdrop cultivars, including the record-breaking ‘Golden Fleece’, a single bulb of which sold for an eye-watering £1,390 (plus £4 postage!) on eBay in February 2015. Astonishing! But it did take him ten years of dedicated crossing and back-crossing to create…

(You can read my article about him in the January 2016 edition of the RHS magazine The Garden)

24 Nov 2016, New Plants –The Future for Your Garden

With nearly 30 years’ experience in horticulture, Graham Spencer spent 15 years working at specialist nursery Croftway, one of the oldest nursery sites in the country, and now works for Plants for Europe, which develops and launches new plant varieties. An expert in Plant Variety Rights, he can advise on how to market a new plant, whether it’s one that you’ve found or bred.

27 Sept 2007, ?
29 May 2014, Combinations, Underwear and a few Suspenders

Pam is a familiar face at Folkingham, having visited us several times over the years. Sadly Pam and Mark have now closed the excellent nursery that they ran at their home, Hall Farm at Harpswell, just north of Lincoln. But the good news is that most of the old nursery areas have now been added into their superb 3-acre gardenwhich has starred in The Good Gardens Guide and is still open at all times, even Christmas, Easter and New Year, says Pam! Look out for sculptural surprises – there used to be a large velociraptor in the undergrowth! Honesty box for admission, plus craftsmen’s studios to visit.

24 November 2011, The Plants of the Algarve

Horti Praefectus (Director) of the University of Oxford’s Botanic Garden and Arboretum, Timothy is also lecturer in Plant Conservation at Somerville College. He originally joined the Botanic Garden as a trainee gardener in 1980, after graduating from University College, Oxford, then continued his training at Askham Bryan College, North Yorkshire, the Savill Garden, Windsor, and the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, before returning to Oxford as General Foreman of the Botanic Garden in 1986.

A popular and highly entertaining speaker, he has described his day job as “a mixture of teaching, administration, begging and curating the garden’s National Plant Collection of Euphorbia – but no gardening.” Gardening happens at weekends, in his wife’s garden! He has travelled widely in search of plants growing in their natural habitats: Wales, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, Australia, Seychelles, South Africa, Canada, America, North Yorkshire…

27 Nov 2014, The A–Z of Roses

The late Peter Beales, who died in January 2013, was a remarkable rosarian and a champion of old roses. He was one of Britain’s leading rose growers and rose breeders, and the author of many classic and authoritative works on roses of all kinds, from all eras. Peter’s multi-gold-medal-winning Norfolk nursery continues to thrive and to carry on his good work. Simon White is the company’s Customer Service Manager and has worked for Beales for 30 years, and his A–Z of Roses isn’t a simple alphabetical list of cultivars or species. It covers many aspects of rose growing and companion planting as well. Simon has been described as a “storehouse of rose-related facts and insider stories”, so if there’s anything you need to know about roses, he’s got to be the man to ask!

22 Sept 2016, A Blank Canvas

Susie, from Northumberland, is a garden writer, author, lecturer and photographer, as well as a tutor at Higham Hall near Bassenthwaite in the Lakes, where she takes residential groups of adults on visits to local gardens. See her website for more…