About Noel Kingsbury

Noel Kingsbury is a gardener and writer based in the west of England. Author of over 20 books, including four collaborations with Dutch designer Piet Oudolf, he is passionate about wild-style planting and bringing nature into the garden.

Author Archive | Noel Kingsbury

You saw it here first!

Launching the world’s first gardening soap opera

            Meet Petunia Martin, creator of Avalon Gardens and her neighbours Archibald and Rose Watkins-Smythe up at the historic garden of Mere Castle. Meet their respective gardeners: Bonzo the ex-heavy metal roadie and born-again Johnny Dalton, a local nurseryman or two and a cast of other colourful characters such as the village herbal healer Catkin Moonspirit and imperious garden school guru Marguerite O’Halloran.

A story of gardening rivalry, a comedy of manners on the age-old theme of old money versus new money, and a source of horticultural information, Dig, Plant and Bitch is a soap opera style story which will unfold through a series of episodes available on Amazon for Kindle, iPad and smartphone reading. It will be funny, planty and sometimes a little naughty.


Do you realise that when you give someone a bunch of flowers, you are giving them a bunch of sex-organs” bellowed Wayne Martin after James Treasby as he stepped outside with Wayne’s wife Petunia. “Ignore him” said Petunia, “he always makes that joke to everyone who comes round to see the garden, even the old ladies.” “I can see the garden isn’t quite his thing” replied James. “That’s right” explained Petunia, “although he’s very proud of what I’ve done, and as we get nearer to opening it properly, I mean for ourselves, not just for charity, he’s getting kind of interested.” “Ah” said James, “he sees the business potential.” “Absolutely’ replied Petunia as she stopped, to breathe in chill autumn air – it felt like the first cold day of that year’s season of decline and mellow fruitfulness.

 Petunia had taken a few steps out of the house, towards the top of a gentle slope, where she could look down over the garden she had begun to create ten years ago. She had known next to nothing about gardening when she and Wayne arrived here, both taking a distinctly early retirement. Now, here at the place they had called Avalon Gardens, there were sweeping rivers of grass, broad borders of perennials, and young trees just about big enough to give a first hint of their future prime. Everything looked established enough so that those who knew as little about gardening as Petunia did when she came, would turn to her and say “what, only ten years, it looks like its always been here.” That always gave her a warm glow of satifaction.

 James stood, somewhat nervously, a few steps away from her. He generally carried about him an air of brusque and superior confidence, but he found it difficult to keep it up when he went on a ‘by appointment’ garden visit like this. Owners of large gardens, usually people of wealth, social status, or success, rather intimidated him. Especially, when like today, he had not actually made the first move. It had been Petunia who had rung him, catching him unawares and feeling tired at the end of a long day at his nursery business, Treasby’s Plants of Distinction. “Petunia Martin” the voice had announced at the other end of the line, “you know me, I’ve bought plants off you, quite a few times”, she had waited long enough for James to grunt some sort of assent and recognition, “you know I’m making a garden, quite a big garden, I’d like you to see it, you haven’t seen it, have you?” James admitted he had not, and felt immediately embarrassed, as he knew that his failure to visit one of his best customers who he knew to be quite ambitious in her garden making, was almost a failure of etiquette, to say nothing of failing to take full advantage of what might be a good business opportunity. “I, I, I’d love to see it” he stammered, “really would.” “Oh gooood” replied the rather squeaky voice at the other end of the line, “oh goodie”, and dropping to an almost seductive huskiness, “and I want to ask your advice about things.” A time was agreed and Petunia had rang off, leaving James clutching his cordless receiver in a cold sweaty grip. He wondered what sort of advice she might want. After all, she was a regular at Marguerite O’Halloran’s garden school ‘Ranunculus’, where the redoubtable Mrs. O. supplied the local gardening ladies with all the advice they could possibly want, whether this advice was requested or not……

Read on……

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From the shrubbery


Edgeworthia chrysantha - a spectacular late winter flowering shrub, at RHS Garden Wisley.

Do I sense a feeling that shrubs are coming back into fashion? Or at least that perhaps the New Perennial revolution has just gone a little too far? Over the last few years I have seen the odd article, one by Roy Lancaster and one by Dan Pearson on the basic theme of ‘let’s not forget shrubs’ and Gardens Illustrated have even commissioned Dan to write a series about them.
Back in the day, well, let’s say the late 1980s, shrubs dominated garden centres and nurseries, with perennials relegated to horrid little plastic bags in cardboard boxes for a few spring months. We had to fight to get perennials their place in the sun of the sales area. Now it is the other way round. Most GCs and nurseries carry only the most basic range of rather predictable shrubs clearly designed to appeal to bored suburban gardeners: bright flowers, variegation and compact habit compulsory. The number of specialist nurseries doing a decent range has greatly diminished and there has been a massive cull of woody plants from The Plant Finder. Continue Reading →

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Garden on a windowsill

The January to March period in Britain is pretty dreary, its the dark getting you down as much as anything. Flowers growing on windowsills can make such a difference, and given my growing interest in bulbs, there is huge scope for making the most of light windowsills. We’ve got a nice long south-facing one in the kitchen which is ideal. The classic one is the hyacinth which we always get started in September to try to get them to flower for Christmas. Well, not managed that yet, but some started performing in January. The scent is fantastic and they last for weeks; and there are some good new colors too, like dark purples. Continue Reading →

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When all is dead and brown…..

When all is dead and brown and wintry one way to bring color into the garden is with brightly-colored durable materials. The easiest and most creative way is probably painting wood, you get great control over the color, but it discolors quickly and round here just gets covered in algae. Glass is incredibly durable, so long as you don’t whack it with something heavy. I got this blue glass bauble from a factory outlet in Bavaria – I was driving towards Munich from Passau and I saw hundreds of these things lined up on the fence. “If this were England all the local yobboes would be out smashing them” I thought to myself, but they tend to be better behaved in Bavaria. I pulled in and bought one and ever since have cursed myself for not buying more. The blue stand out against dead herbaceous and the dead foliage of the hornbeam hedge really well.

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As the Garden, so the Earth



This book came to my notice through a rather impressive little chain. Piet Oudolf recommended it to me, after Rick Darke had recommended it to him. I’d like to use it today to develop a train of thought that first came to me years ago. It’s also very relevant to my last blog posting here about native and exotic plants, and in a way continues the discussion.
Written by a science writer (Emma Marris) – ‘Rambunctious Garden’ tackles the fact that there is virtually no ‘untouched nature’ left on the planet, and that an awful lot of what we call nature is heavily managed by humanity or was trashed by our ancestors, often a very long time ago or is the result of non-native species setting out and creating entirely novel ecosystems. Marris discusses how many of these new ecosystems actually function very well, and not always in competition with natives, and there is much here to counter the more lurid fantasies of the ‘natives only’ lobby, as well as to highlight just how much, and for how long, the human race has been changing life on earth. Well-written, firmly evidence-based, level-headed, open-minded and packed with intriguing examples, the author paints a picture of a rapidly-changing ‘natural’ world which she describes as a ‘rambunctious garden’. She does not take the garden analogy any further, so I will here.

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