10 Questions With Arthur Parkinson, Instagram Florist And Gardening Protégé

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Arthur Parkinson is the Instagram florist with a penchant for pots and poultry – and a protégé of Sarah Raven. Get to know the rising star of small gardening.

1. When did you fall in love with flowers?

My parents separated when I was 11, and caring for plants helped me heal. I would go straight to the garden pages of magazines like Country Living. Then, at the age of 12, I found Sarah Raven’s book The Bold and Brilliant Garden in a library. I thought, “This is what my world is supposed to be.”

It was a horticultural wonderland full of color and razzmatazz. They couldn’t see the ground for flowers. It made me so happy. When I was training at Kew Gardens in 2012, I kept this book in my locker as a reminder of what I wanted to achieve.

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2. Has your career blossomed after that?

After I qualified, I visited Sarah’s Perch Hill garden in East Sussex and ended up working with her. She became my mentor – now she’s a friend. Sarah recommended me to Emma Bridgewater, with whom I had worked for four years – she created a garden in her factory in Stoke-on-Trent. It was a blank canvas that I filled with rare breed chickens and cut flowers. I wrote about it in my first book, The Pottery Gardener. My second, The Flower Yard, is about growing extravagant flowers in pots.

3. Why bother with pots?

I have no choice! I live with my mother in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire. The back garden is their place, so all I have is the front yard – only five meters long. Even if I had more space, I would still use containers. It’s not just plant pots: I love dolls tubs, galvanized trash cans and old bathrooms. They provide height and quickly create a jungle feeling. Plus, you don’t have to bend over to make them better for your back. Because they are portable, they are ideal for ‘Generation Rent’. We may not be able to put down roots like plants, but pots mean we can still create great gardens. I see the courtyard as a stage and I change the set with every season.

4. Does your mother enjoy the show?

I think she thinks my gardening style is a little manic. I spend all day planting onions and I always want the room to look camera-ready. Mom is calmer but very supportive. She knows gardening helps me cope with life. I call it my floral Prozac – it makes sense to me. I always look forward to the next exhibition and plan the next season.

5. What do you do when you are not gardening?

I take care of my chickens. I have a brood of Bantam, Pekin Bantam and Barbu d’Uccles chickens named Elizabeth, Margaret, Clarissa, Fergie and Patsy. I’m showing them at the National Poultry Show in Staffordshire. It’s like crufts for chickens. The girls live in my Nana Min’s garden down the street, but make regular visits here. They are small, friendly, and have feathery feet so don’t damage the garden. When I pull up onions, they peck weevils out of the ground.

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6. Are you an eco-friendly grower?

I want to show that glamorous gardens can still be sanctuaries for wildlife. For pest control I use nematodes (also called eel worms), which arrive in a package by post. You just water them in your garden in May and they will save your flowers from slugs, slugs and weevils.

7. Do you prefer annuals or perennials?

I love bright yearbooks because they create two different displays each year in spring and summer. In March my deep purple ‘Woodstock’ hyacinths appear. I breed them for the bees that wake up at this time of year. I also love ‘Orange Monarch’ crocuses. They look like little flames. I plant around 2,000 crocus bulbs: 70 for each dolly tub. I want a color pool to lighten up a dark month. There will be swarms of parrot tulips in May, followed by fragrant peas in June – later galaxies of dahlias that provide vases of cut flowers.

Amazon

The flower courtyard: Growing extravagant flowers in containers

Kyle Books
amazon.de

£ 17.19

8. Any tips for beginners?

My three best seeds to be sown straight into pots in May are borage, calendula ‘English Marigold’ and ‘Black Ball’ cornflowers. If you maintain your soil with organic fertilizer, your display will be beautiful. But be careful – if you go away for three weeks in July, your yard will stir the dust. I don’t usually take long vacations – watering my plants is too important.

9. So no trips this year?

I work away a lot – design photo shoots and teach courses at Perch Hill. I will come home for a few days to clean the chicken coop and take care of the garden. The hours fly by and before I know it I drive back to Perch Hill – or to visit my partner James in the Cotswolds. The last year has been weird for all of us – I’ve spent half of it looking after my Nan, who has very bad dementia – so getting out was a lifeline.

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10. What does your dream act look like?

I would love a couple of acres planted with spindle, crab apple, and hawthorn berry – plus an orchard of traditional apple trees that my chickens would roam around. The yard would be an aviary full of canaries. And of course there would be pots. I designed everything in my head. Right now I’m going to pack my garden full of flowers. In the words of Vita Sackville-West: “Cram, cram, cram every crack and cranny!”

Arthur Parkinson’s Flower Yard is out March 25th. Follow Arthur on Instagram @arthurparkinson.

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