As regular readers know, one of my freelance hats is as one half of the news team for the RHS journal The Garden. That means I spend an awful lot of my time trying to find out what’s going on.

And this year it’s been pretty busy one by gardening standards. So in the great tradition of New Year’s Eve nostalgia: here’s a look back at an eventful 2011.

It was a good year for…

Cleve West: there was no getting away from him. First his ridiculously good garden at Chelsea scooped Best in Show, and as if that wasn’t enough the man goes and writes a book that gets shortlisted for awards and all sorts. One can only hope he develops a tiddlywinks fetish next year to give everyone else a look-in.

Giant veg: It all started with pot leeks the size of bollards at the Tatton Flower Show and went on to see records toppling left right and centre, both at the National Vegetable Show – home of the newly-crowned world’s biggest swede (37.29kg) – and in back gardens: the world’s heaviest spud, at 3.8kg, was grown this year by amateur gardener Peter Glazebrook in Nottinghamshire.

Disease: phytophthora (both lateralis, currently working its way through the nation’s Lawson’s cypress trees, and ramorum, now responsible for wiping out millions of Japanese larch across the West Country), citrus longhorn beetle, oak processionary moth: the list of imported invaders is lengthening almost as fast as their relentless march across the UK. Luckily Kew has built a whopping state-of-the-art quarantine centre to try and stop them getting in in the first place; and the RHS is also building a new scientific research centre at Wisley to try and figure out how to tackle them once they’ve arrived. The fight-back starts here.

Clumsy gardeners, who can now rest easy in the sure knowledge that they will never do anything worse than the American gardener who managed to drive a pair of secateurs through his eye socket and into his skull, and still survived to tell the tale.

It was a bad year for…
Weather forecasters, who must have given up on comparing anything to ‘normal’ conditions now as it’s so long since we’ve had anything that can remotely be described as normal. This year it was a spring that was more like summer, followed by an autumn-like summer and a summer-like autumn, too. Confused? So are your plants.

The Queen who can’t find herself a gardener. Possibly something to do with the fact that she lives in SW1A – one of the country’s most expensive postcodes – yet is offering a salary that would barely pay the rent.

First-year British botany students, who no longer exist. The 2011 academic year began with not a single undergraduate course offered in the subject of ‘botany’; these days it’s labelled ‘plant science’ and more often offered as a specialism within a wider biological sciences degree. It’s telling that Kew hasn’t taken on a single British botany – or even ‘plant science’ – graduate in five years.

David Cameron –well, yes, for all sorts of reasons. But also for revealing that he equates gardeners with street cleaners in his estimation of the worth of what we do. Cue every pressure group in the industry bearing down on him in justifiable wrath. Serves him right.

Elks, at least the one who got drunk on fermenting apple windfalls and woke up next morning to find itself dangling from a tree with no idea how it got there. And no doubt the mother of all hangovers.


The Olympic Parkappeared out of a vast stretch of wasteland somewhere in the east of London to become perhaps the most talked-about green space ever. Sarah Price did her stuff, as did James Hitchmough and Nigel Dunnett and Hillier Nurseries, which grew 2,000 of the legions of Olympic trees.

The Chelsea Flower Show got its very own spin-off as the Chelsea Fringe was conceived – can’t wait to see what it comes up with on its debut.

Britain’s ‘finest landscape garden’ rose from the ashes in probably the most talked-about restoration of the year: the shiny new Wrest Park comes complete with French parterre, rose garden and an Italian Garden. And it ain’t over yet: the American Garden is unveiled in 2013.

And a new, if slightly dubious sport was born as gardeners male and female competed to grow the most unbecoming moustache, raising over £20,000 for Movember in the process. Slugs were involved. That’s all you need to know.


Monty Don picked up his love affair with Gardeners’ World again and stepped back into his battered Head Gardener boots; Alan Titchmarsh was back on our screens too with ITV’s tentative foray into gardening programming, Love Your Garden; and the BBC’s gardening team upped sticks and left for Bristol. 2012 will be the first time, I think in its history, that the BBC’s green-fingered output hasn’t come from Birmingham.

…and despatches:

Carol Klein’s nursery in Devon closed its doors amid an unseemly row about trees and compost heaps.

The Blue Peter garden – and its capsule, not to be opened till 2029 – was grassed over after more than 30 years, ahead of a move to Salford that was meant to happen in time for the next series but has now been put on ice. We’ll find out soon, I’d guess, whether the much-denied rumours that it’s to be ditched altogether are true.

The recession killed off Stapeley Water Gardens in Cheshire, closing for good today, and put a huge question mark over the future of Trevarno in Cornwall which can’t find a buyer. Staff find out in the next few weeks whether they’ve still got a job.

And Ventnor Botanic Garden is also awaiting its fate as the Isle of Wight County Council, bent on getting rid of its unwanted burden, decides which of two bidders will be taking it off their hands. Verdict in February.

And finally…

What’s hot:
Forest gardening: and permaculture, and anything that involves growing food in among your other plants.
Foraging: getting food for free from all sorts of unlikely places, even the towpath of Regent’s Canal. Though you can just stick to elderflowers and sloes if you want.

And what’s not:
Peat: after many years of pontificating about the damage peat extraction was doing to the environment, the government finally committed, in a rather woolly way, to a voluntary deadline, whatever that is: 2020 sees peat-based composts disappear from garden centre shelves. We hope.

Meerkats. ‘Nuff said.

Happy New Year!