Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Gardening talks and lectures on plants

I used to be extremely shy but then things changed and my first talk about plants took place at the Saxifrage Society's AGM a few years ago. It was a short presentation on several Saxifraga species that one can find in the Fagaras Mountains of Romania. As the talk went fairly well and everyone in the audience was extremely encouraging, when the next invitation to give a talk arrived I did not hesitate any more. I suppose the saying 'conquer your fears or they will conquer you' is very true. I now enjoy speaking in front of an audience and interacting with the public. As English is not my first language, it is very rewarding to have people come up to me after a talk and thank me for it.

So here is a list of some of the talks that I currently give to various garden clubs and horticultural societies throughout the country:

Plants and Castles of Transylvania - A talk that explores this land that is best known for Dracula and his castles, but also boasts amazingly diverse wild plants in woodlands, meadows and high mountains.



Romanian mountain plants - This talk focuses on the plants that live on the slopes of the Carpathian Mountains. From the North to the South, through woodlands, gorges and up on the high peaks.


Fifty shades of green - Versatile foliage plants and the diversity of leaves - A lecture that starts by exploring leaves in their diversity of shapes, sizes, colours and textures and then gives examples of how foliage plants can be used to great effect in the garden, including the display I designed at the 2015 RHS Tatton Flower Show for the HPS.


Autumn bulbs in the Peloponnese and the last of the summer flowers - In 2016 I was fortunate enough to visit the Peloponesse on a Alpine Garden Society tour to Greece. This is a hot-spot of biodiversity when it comes to autumn flowering bulbs like Crocus, Colchicum, Cyclamen, Sternbergia, Narcissus, Scilla, etc. Apart from over 40 species of bulbs there will also be pictures of other plants flowering in late October among beautiful scenery and archaeological sites.

Plant hunting in Madeira and the Azores - These two Portuguese archipelagoes in the Atlantic share a similar flora but also have a high number of endemic species. Enjoy pictures of stunning scenery, traditional architecture and of course, amazing plants.


Mix and Match. Amazing plants and places from a decade of travels - This talk is in constant evolution showcasing some of the plants I fell in love with while visiting the UK, Spain, France, Greece, Germany, the islands of the Atlantic, Portugal and Romania.


Some years ago I spent three months in the south of Spain. Andalusian spring is a talk about the landscapes and plants one can see there. Keywords: Andalusia, Alhambra, Almonds.

A winter quiz - I can prepare and be the Master of a plant/gardening related quiz. It includes picture questions, gardening knowledge, cryptic questions and gardening dingbats.

Here are some reactions after my talks

Jim Almond - Alpine Garden Society Shropshire
Patricia Bosson - Wales

Lizzie Beare - Montgomeryshire Field Society

The year so far

Plant extremes in Madeira:
minuscule Romulea columnae and black parsley: Melanoselinum decipiens
In the first few months of 2017 I went of several plant hunting trips: Andalusia in February, Madeira in April and the Azores in May.

Ophrys lutea in the hills of Andalusia

The only European Juno species: Iris planifolia flowering in February in Andalusia

Aeonium glandulosum an endemic succulent thriving on Madeiran cliffs

View of Laurasilva through a levada tunnel window in Madeira
The British Pteridological Society organised a trip to the Azores in May and having just been to Madeira I could not miss the opportunity to study yet another Macaronesian island. I am more and more fascinated by the flora of Macaronesia with its high level of endemism.

Preparing a plant expedition is always exciting
and it starts with lots of books and plant lists

Bob Brown casting a doubtful eye on fern finds in the Azores

Island endemism and gigantism - Angelica lignescens on San Miguel Island in the Azores

Tree ferns - several invasive species which impart a very exotic atmosphere in the Azores

The AGS bulletin has been for years my favourite plant magazine. It felt like such an accomplishment to contribute an article about Romanian alpines for the March issue, a taster for the AGS tour in the Carpathians in July.

I was proud in April to have been made a member of the prestigious Chartered Institute of Horticulture.

Plant Guardians are a scheme introduced by Plant Heritage in an attempt to involve ordinary gardeners in plant conservation, without the need to have a National Plant Collection.
Glenn Shapiro, the NPC Holder for the genus Hepatica, kindly gave me a Hepatica transsilvanica ‘Blumenstadt Erfurt’ with an amazing story and provenance:

My garden probably looks best in spring. May and June were particularly good this year, and my front garden and me featured in The Guardian.

Here's the full article:

Also in May I was able to help on the Alpine Garden Society's stand at the RHS Chelsea flower show. It was an intense but extremely rewarding week!

July for me usually means the RHS Tatton show, and this year I designed and helped on two displays, for the Alpine Garden Society and the Hardy Plant Society. Both teams did an amazing job and we were rewarded with Silver Gilt medals in both cases.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Garden design

A year ago I have started a garden & planting design project in Cheshire.
The property consists of a large rockery built 15 years ago where the planting was lacking in colour and interest.

We have stripped 95% of the former planting and also landscaped the area at the top of the rockery to make room for a wildflower meadow with easy access and paths.

I like to use a matrix of several species of perennials but also to play with chance and chaos by using self-sowing biennials (like the Digitalis and Centranthus) which make the design ebb and flow through the years. I also believe a designer should work with the clients for at least a year or two after planting, to help edit, maintain and develop the planting scheme.

A garden is not a painting or a sculpture that is finished at a given point. A garden is a living creation, is something that changes over time, with some species outperforming others and thus in constant need of attention.

This is the result.

Perennials planting design 

Wild species-rich meadows

Centranthus ruber - Astrantia major cv

Planting design using perennials and self-sowing species

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Plant highlights of 2016

Quite a cliche but on the first day of 2017 I am looking back at the year that's just gone and my highlights in chronological order are:

Cornwall in March. No year should be without at least one pilgrimage to Cornwall, one of my favourite places in the UK for amazing plants and gardens, and as we discovered this year in Mevagissey, scrumptious food.

Zantedeschia White Giant

Spain in April. It was just a short 4 day holiday at the sea-side but I did manage to find a few wild plants flowering not far from the beach in Sitges (Aphyllanthes, Ophrys fusca aff., Gladiolus, Urospermum, Anagallis etc).
Aphyllanthes monspeliensis

RHS Chelsea Flower Show in May. There is nothing in the horticultural world that compares with helping at Chelsea. In 2016 the British Pteridological Society celebrated 125 years since it was founded, and they have put up a fern display ( and I was fortunate enough to help for a few days building and manning the stand. It is amazing to see how in a few days gardens and displays seem to just materialize from thin air. The amount of work that goes into them is just unbelievable.

My plant of 2016 must be Berkheya purpurea, that we used on the Hardy Plant Society stand at Tatton flower show in July. Our What is a hardy plant? educational display was awarded a Silver-Gilt medal.

Berkheya purpurea

It came as quite a surprise but I was invited to write a few thoughts for the Garden News weekly for one of their August issues.

Even though I have traveled a fair amount in 2016, my plant trip of the year must surely be the Alpine Garden Society tour to the Peloponnese (for a more detailed account have a look at . Led by Christopher Grey-Wilson, the group of AGS enthusiasts managed to see over 30 species of autumn flowering bulbs, almost another 100 species of plants in flower and of course many archaeological sites in amazing scenery.

The top 3 plants of the trip would be the tremendously variable Cyclamen graecum (all the leaves in this selection I gathered on one small island near Nafpaktos), Colchicum cupani and Sternbergia lutea in the millions on the Vathi peninsula.

Cyclamen graecum foliage

Colchicum cupani

Sternbergia lutea on Vathi

Another highlight for me was the Alpine Garden Society autumn conference in Stratford-upon-Avon where I was invited to give a talk on the alpine plants of Romania, as a taster to the AGS tour I will lead in July 2017 (

Christopher Grey-Wilson introducing me as a speaker at the AGS Conference

And finally I am happy to have managed to edit another issue of the Saxifrage magazine that was just delivered to the Society's members. This year saw a very good mixture of articles from far and wide: the UK, Canada, Germany and Holland.