I’m delighted to feature today an interview with a very talented lady who has helped me immensely with our garden. Her name is Valerie McBride-Munro, or as everyone knows her, Auntie Planty…and she is a garden coach.
Valerie offers a very unique service which we benefited from when we moved into our new house three years ago. She helped us to identify exactly what was in our garden, how we could improve it and also gave me a master class in rose-pruning.
So, here you can find out a little bit more about how she became a garden coach and what she does…
Could you tell us a little bit about your background?
I’ve been fascinated by plants since the age of ten, when I used to spend my pocket money on pansies and the like for our tiny inner city garden.
On leaving school, I went travelling and ended up in the Far East via the Trans-Siberian Railway. My first husband was in the army and we moved from Hong Kong to Brunei, to Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.
On my return to UK, I decided to go back to school and signed up for an Honours degree in Horticulture at Pershore College of Horticulture, that I stuck on to a Postgraduate diploma in Broadcast Journalism, and these both were glued together with a City & Guilds Teaching Adults course to give my unique offering.
Auntie Planty was born!
What kind of gardening services do you offer?
In our positive world, you’re not supposed to use negative words such as problems but basically I solve garden problems…anything from a single plant to a whole site.
It’s like having your own Gardeners’ Question Time panel visit your garden, rather than you listening to them wittering on about some problem (there’s that word again!) miles and miles away that bears no relevance to what’s going on in your own little plot.
Problems can range from the garden owner acquiring a garden for the very first time and not knowing where to start, to someone who has had the same old style for ages, and needs some zingy plant suggestions to some specific disease or disorder that is causing some dreadful condition to a favourite plant…and everything else in between.
I don’t actually ‘do’ the work while the garden owner goes out shopping. I will show ‘how to’ and then hand the tool over to them to guide them through the procedure. Yes, it does sound like a driving lesson!
How do you charge for your services?
As every garden is different, I offer my service in three levels – Gold, Silver and Bronze – quite appropriate for the Olympic year.
Let’s take Silver, which will amount to me spending around two hours in the garden, looking, assessing, diagnosing and explaining what’s going on.
I then email what I call my Auntie Planty Action Plan, which details everything that we’ve discussed, and more. It will describe in detail a routine that should be followed for a particular pest or disease problem, comes with lists of great plants that would stretch the sparkle of the garden throughout the year (complete with photographs), and any other information that I think is relevant.
I also offer Auntie Planty gift vouchers to allow friends/relatives/lovers to reward their garden-loving friends with a treat of my time in their garden. These are useful for all garden owners, no matter what their level of horticultural talent.
What areas of the country do you cover?
Unless I’m answering a question by email, I will travel by car within a ten mile radius from Twickenham, although I have gone further by negotiation.
Normally the garden owner will tempt me with the offer of a sumptuous lunch or a small contribution to petrol costs.
What’s the most common gardening problem that people ask you to help them with?
Last year, it would have been either how to deal with a vine weevil attack (many haven’t even been aware of its presence) or a lack of understanding that specific plant nutrients could have such an effect on plant performance.
But this year with the hosepipe ban, it’s helping them to find ways of keeping the plants well-watered and stay on the right side of the law.
What advice do you have for people regarding how to add some colour to their gardens this summer?
For most gardeners, spring and summer are easy as the great proportion of flowering plants fall into these seasons.
My job is to open eyes to possibilities for autumn and winter, where the emphasis could be on leaf colour, bark texture or even heavenly scents in the dim dark days of winter.
What’s your favourite plant in your garden?
That’s a really difficult question to answer, but if I could choose two, then it gets easier!
The first is Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’, a great foliage plant that will throw out a foam of blue forget-met-not like flowers in the spring.
The second is an autumn performer, Ceratostigma ‘Forest Pansy’, that flowers its head off in late summer through autumn with the most piercing blue flowers that you will ever see.
What is your favourite flower?
I absolutely love oriental lilies, but regret that my London clay soil is just too chalky for them to really flourish, so I will treat myself from time to time with a bunch from the florist.
What are your plans for 2012?
This year is already proving to be a challenging one for gardeners. Rain one day, high temperatures the next and the dreaded hosepipe ban now in force.
I shall continue to develop the drip irrigation side of my business. My aim is to help all Auntie Planty clients maintain a balance between their plant needs and not getting into trouble with their local water provider.
This will include taking a fresh look at the actual way that we plant in terms of spacing and also taking full advantage of products such as water-retaining crystals and using a good organic mulch.
So, if you’d like to make the most of your garden this summer, why not invite Auntie Planty to visit?
(Images : Auntie Planty)