Noak Hill horticulturalist says use lockdown as an opportunity to plan your future garden

PUBLISHED: 13:24 29 May 2020 | UPDATED: 14:17 29 May 2020

Tim estimates he has around 4,000 types of plants in his garden.

Tim estimates he has around 4,000 types of plants in his garden.


Tim Carter, owner of Long House Plants, thinks sitting in your garden, pondering what it could be, is a good lockdown activity.

Tim Carter, horticulturalist in Noak Hill, tending to his plants. Picture: Ken MearsTim Carter, horticulturalist in Noak Hill, tending to his plants. Picture: Ken Mears

The horticulturalist and garden designer said he often encourages people to take a chair and sit in different areas in their garden.

“Most people design a garden and then put the seats in,” he said. “But I do it the other way around and plan what I will be looking at.

“Planning a garden is the pleasure of it. Use this time to see what inspires you.”

Tim adds many people inherit gardens when moving into a new home. As a result, they end up living with plants that “don’t pay the rent”.

When designing his own garden, Tim thinks about colours shapes and sounds.When designing his own garden, Tim thinks about colours shapes and sounds.

Tim said: “There’s nothing wrong with ripping something up and putting something back in that gives you pleasure.”

Not your typical garden centre with pots, compost and bedding plants, Long House Plants is a garden and nursery set on around one-and-a half-acres at Tim’s home in Noak Hill.

Tim estimates his nursery is home to some 4,000-odd varieties of plants including more than 300 varieties of daylilies, more than 200 types of camellia, as well as shrubs, roses, agapanthus, geraniums, and salvia. Many of these plants are homed in his garden and are Tim’s mother plants, which he propagates for sale and which are all hardy perennials suited to our local climate.

He said: “Local conditions have got lots of variables, but it’s mostly to do with the type of soil we’ve got.”

Tim opens his garden up to the public through the National Garden Scheme.Tim opens his garden up to the public through the National Garden Scheme.

Except for pockets of gravel in Collier Row, and a better depth of topsoil in Brentwood, soil around these parts - which once were woodlands part of Epping Forest - is slightly acidic clay.

“Clay is rich and nutritious, but it runs into an issue around water. It can really hang wet in the winter and bake solid and crack in the summer and that can damage certain types of plants,” said Tim.

While gardeners can add organic matter to change topsoil qualities, nothing will really change clay’s composition, so Tim advised to “work with what you’ve got”.

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And there are many plants that love clay soil.

“Woody stemmed plants – trees, shrubs, conifers - thrive in our soil, but they take up a lot of space. Roses also do really well in our climate and can flower from June to Christmas, so they are good value for money.”

Camellias are also suited to slightly acidic soil, as long as they don’t become water-logged. Hydrangeas - which tend to produce light blue flowers due to the acidity levels, love clay’s moisture, however they can suffer in the warmer months if the clay dries up.

There are also micro-climates to consider as well. Tim said he often sees thunderstorms skirting past his place and hit Collier Row and Brentwood, and people may find themselves in a frost pocket or exposed to winds depending on if they live in a hollow or are elevated.

Tim specialises in plants suited to local conditions.Tim specialises in plants suited to local conditions.

Keeping plants that are suited to local conditions means less work maintaining them. It’s also economical and benefits the environment because you’re not spending money on importing resources from elsewhere.

This doesn’t mean however gardeners are limited to planting British natives, and in fact, Tim used to go on plant-hunting expeditions to Australia and New Zealand. This involved being dropped onto New Zealand’s South Island mountains by helicopter so he could look at high altitude plants botanising in the wild; he understands the appeal of non-native flora.

“We always want to grow the exotic. If I was in Australia, I would dream of an English rose garden,” he said.

“In our maritime climate, we tend not to get the extremes of temperatures, so we can grow a wide range of plants from all over the world.”

Indeed, one of Tim’s signature plant is an Australian grevillea called Canberra Gem; a shrub that produces pinky-red blooms.

As some who tends to his garden for a living, Tim thinks about colour and shape combinations when designing his garden and plays around with light, textures, movement and even sound – say the sound of breeze through a patch of ornamental grass for example. For the home-gardener, however, his design advice is simple and is based on making sure your garden is an enjoyable, personalised space.

“The whole point of your garden is that it brings you pleasure,” he said. “It can be productive if you grow food, but for most people, their garden is a creative space.

“It should be about personal expression and it should be fun.

Long House Plants has reopened for sales, Friday to Sunday and bank holidays. Tim also regularly opens his garden up to the public through the National Garden Scheme’s Open Garden. Visit his website for opening times and further information.

Long House Plants, Church Road, Noak Hill, Romford, RM4 1LD

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