Our series of photographic portraits by Neill Menneer shows Bath people at work
My first experience of exhibiting gardening prowess was attempting to acquire a Gardener’s Badge at Brownies. Despite carefully nurturing my nasturtiums, I had failed to tell anyone about my plans, so Brown Owl was none the wiser. I was seven. Scrolling forward a few years, I found myself graduating from a post-graduate diploma in Landscape Design, at a time of national financial crisis where jobs were scarce.
After an initial panic, consisting of reading Down and Out in Paris and London and Man’s Search for Meaning, I decided that until I had to pawn my clothes to eat there was still hope. So I started my own business utilising my love of plants and interest in the built environment; Bellord Plants was born.
The beneficial effects of gardening are well documented. I can vouch for the fact that a few hours of gardening can really change the way you view the world, for the better. After all, 80 per cent of the world’s population still go to plants to cure their ailments, so it makes sense to reclaim your health in the garden.
Gardens are a form of self-expression, thinking about the colours, the form, the scents and the overall look of the space is part of the process. Every garden has its own atmosphere, the spirit of the place, and part of design and plantsmanship is being sensitive to this, along with reading the wishes of your client!
Knowing the constraints of the garden, what the soil is like, where the sun shines and whether the site is exposed is a vital starting point to a good design. The soil in this area is mainly alkaline, so many plants, such as azaleas, rhododendrons, pieris and heathers will always look a bit sad. If you want a garden to really work then make sure you get the plants that are suited to the conditions.
Within these constraints you can really start to use flair and imagination to make a beautiful space. Gardens are a work in progress, they are also an artifice. So if you get bored with something or it is getting too big, get rid of it. In this way you can make room for some plants that you really love, or one that you have spotted doing well in someone else’s garden.
Sometimes less is more, a restricted palette and fewer plants might mean your space feels more relaxing. On the other hand you may have a courtyard garden where some vulgar clashing colours brings it alive.
Since starting my business I have met a really interesting range of people and it is a real pleasure to help them enjoy their gardens. There have been a few disasters, like clobbering someone’s clematis and getting locked into a garden by a suspicious son-in-law.
Sure, there are days when I fantasise about other career paths, especially when it has been raining for days, but on the whole I am glad I left my office job where I often felt like screaming, and stepped outside into a different career.