Jack Wallington – back to his roots

For Jack Wallington, rediscovering his childhood love of growing and caring for plants in his thirties changed his life. 

I spent my childhood in the countryside and, as a family, we grew flowers and vegetables from seed. I got hooked and at five years old I was growing cacti and carnivorous plants. Then, life got in the way, school and university and a job – using my training in art and design – plus a string of rented flats in London meant that I lost touch with gardens and growing plants except for house plants. But, six years ago I bought a flat with a small garden in Clapham and all the old memories came flooding back.

I’d forgotten how much I loved the connection to the earth, the peace and escape and watching things grow. I dropped down to four days a week at work so that I could take an RHS course in horticulture and I began to take my interest in gardening more seriously. My course was with the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh studying long distance and spending many weekends there. It fuelled my passion for gardens, plants and design and I started growing everything I could. I decided to take the RHS Level 3 course that included garden design, which inspired me to take things a bit more seriously.

At the same time I went to the Chelsea Flower Show for the first time and it blew my mind. I had never thought of going into garden design but suddenly there it was in front of me and I realised how creative and impactful it could be. I started small, asking friends to be guinea pigs and struck lucky with my first commission for a friend who was also an interior designer, she gave me free rein and from there I started getting other commissions and built up my client base. Moving into a career in garden design has been life-changing.

But it’s more than a day job and with limited space to grow at home I decided to take on an allotment. When my local council told me there was a 27 year waiting list I looked around for another borough that allowed people living outside the area to take on allotments and eventually found one half an hour and a tube and a train ride away. I grow the seedlings at home and transfer them to the site which I’m proud to say is organic. One of my big drivers is sustainability and living in harmony with nature.

With gardens playing such a major role in Jack’s life what are the pros and cons he’s experienced? What I love most about gardening is that everything changes. Every day is different, there’s always something new, something of interest. I love the colour and the wildlife which can be amazing even in a small space. On the down side, gardening in London has its challenges. I don’t have a car so disposing of garden waste and getting to and from my allotment can be a challenge. Sitting on the tube with armfuls of dahlias and vegetables can be interesting!

But the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Nurturing plants can be hugely satisfying and is a real eye-opener to the wider natural world. Despite all the reading and studying, its observing nature and plants that teaches you the most; seeing the way wildlife is attracted to and so integral to the growing cycle. I feel very much that as a gardener I am a custodian of nature, a light touch is all you need.

For those thinking about getting into gardening Jack says: just go for it – give it a try! There are so many facets from edibles and flowers to design which you can get creative with even in a tiny space. Start small, do one bit at a time, learn how to water, really it’s an art! Above all don’t give up.

In hindsight what I regret most is not keeping my love of horticulture going when I was renting. I should have bought a window box or pots. A big 30-40cm pot can retain lots of water, fill it with cosmos or plug plants and enjoy them all summer, pep it up with seaweed fertilizer and then in the winter refresh the soil by replacing half of it and plant it up again.

It was while Jack was studying that he discovered the National Garden Scheme: I started to visit the gardens every weekend. It was so affordable and I was amazed to realise that I wasn’t the only gardener in London! I learned so much and a lot my plant choices were inspired by those visits. I’ve been to about fifty National Garden Scheme gardens from the tiny to stately acres but, the ones that stand out the most for me are some of the Clapham gardens at 35 Turret Grove and 51 The Chase they are truly inspirational.

Deciding to open my own garden for the National Garden Scheme was a big step. In the lead up to the opening I worried about the weather and if anyone would turn up but I needn’t have worried. It was good fun, the people were lovely and it’s great to talk about plants all day!

There are plants in every part of the house, from the front, through rooms and out to the garden plus cut flowers from Jack’s allotment.

For more advice and garden tips you can follow Jack on social media – Twitter @jackwallington Instagram @jackwallingtongardendesign and on his website at www.jackwallington.com.

You can also read Jack’s tips to jazz up your small city garden this summer here.

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