The Questions - Tamsin Westhorpe: author The Diary of a Modern Country Gardener

It is nearly three years since I visited Stockton Bury Gardens where Tamsin Westhorpe gardens.  The gardens made a big impact on me and I am slightly horrified I have not yet returned and three years have passed.  I need not feel too badly though as I can read about what I have been missing in Tamsin's book based on her gardening experiences called 'The Diary of a Modern Country Gardener'.

photo by Dan Chubb

This is a beautiful book, full of fantastic photographs, practical tips and plant lists all within a context of down to earth real gardening experience.  This is not a pretty twee account of deadheading a rose or two, this is a book that has humour and realism that is both informative and entertaining.  I am not sure I have read a gardening book with discussions about appropriate cold weather underwear (these things matter).  The December chapter is called 'A pocketful of mucky tissues', this scarily resembles my winter pockets in the garden.  The book is written as a diary so we progress month by month  through the year in the garden.  I like that the year starts in February at snowdrop time and ends in January as I feel this represents how I see the gardening year as well.  Each month is prefaced with a 'Toolkit', the things you will need to help you through the month and there is also a handy 'Things to do' list with items such as 'visit a bluebell wood' and 'clip box and yew hedges but check for nesting birds first'.

I would also caution you that if you buy this book you might need to guard your bank balance against the lists of must-have plants.  They are indeed must have!  After reading this book the outcome is of course predictable.  I must revisit Stockton Bury this year.

I took the opportunity to ask whether Tamsin would answer The Questions;  I was delighted that she agreed to do so and her answers are below.

The publishers of the book also kindly have agreed to let me give away one copy of the book.  In order to win please leave a comment on this post telling me who your garden hero is by midnight on Tuesday March 3rd.  The winner will be chosen at random and notified below so please do not leave an anonymous comment (I will not know who you are) and do check back. Terms and conditions for the giveaway can be found here.  Good luck!

The Questions 


In which garden do you feel happiest? 

It has to be Stockton Bury Gardens. Five generations of my family have lived here and I have many happy memories of playing here as a child with my sisters. I love the fact that there are plants in the garden that were planted by past generations of my family.  


If you could only have five gardening tools, which would they be? 

Easy – my Wolf-Garten hand rake (I use this without the extended handle), my Sneeboer garden rake, a bucket, Felco secateurs and a folding Silky saw.   


If you could only have five garden-related books, which would they be? 

The RHS Plant Finder, the NGS Yellow Book, Claire Austin’s Book of Perennials, the RHS Encyclopaedia of Gardening and I’m really keen on getting hold of my friend Jean Vernon’s new book The Secret Lives of Garden Bees (I’m sure I’m going to love this – comes out in March). 


What was the most defining moment of your life so far? 

Losing my dad (the book is in memory of him) when I was in my 20s. He was the most wonderfully encouraging father and I suddenly realised that time is short and very precious. 


What are you most proud of? 

My gorgeous son Herbie (known to my gardening friends as herbaceous!) 



If you won the lottery, what would you do? 

Fill my shed with Sneeboer tools, my fridge with Lurpak and my clothes drawers with alpaca socks.  


Who are your garden heroes (no more than three) 

I’m going to pick people who are living, as so often our heroes have died, so to keep to a happy note here’s my very-much-alive favourites. 1) The men that I worked with in Bournemouth Parks department when I was 19. They worked in all weathers and every day we laughed – I was so happy there thanks to them and parks gardeners never get enough appreciation. 2) My uncle Raymond Treasure and 3) garden designer Ann-Marie Powell. Her passion for the industry is electric and infectious and she makes me feel happy.  


What skill would you like to learn and why (does not have to be gardening related) 

I would really love to paint. I fancy sitting in my garden when I’m an old lady with pots of tea, an easel, lots of dachshunds at my feet and wearing a madly over-the-top hat. 


If you could visit any garden right this minute, which one would it be? 

An NGS garden, Vann in Godalming, Surrey. I used to play here as a child in the Gertrude Jekyll water garden (I was completely unaware of the significance at the time and I love the fact that the owners were so relaxed about it – I certainly wouldn’t have been!). The house is simply wonderful and I have very happy memories of collecting money on the gate for the NGS open days when I was at primary school. A truly magical place.  


What is your current plant obsession? 

Tulips, as they are my husband’s all-time favourite and he is no gardener! He never seems to mind me spending my pennies on tulip bulbs. I don’t think you can ever have too many. My current favourite is ‘Brown Sugar’.  


Which garden tool is never far from your hand? 

My Sneeboer garden rake 


What is your favourite gardening/plant related word? 

Good question. Now let me think! I’m going for ‘FREEDOM’. There are no rules to gardening and I just love that.  


What do you wish you could do better? 

Paperwork. I can keep a tidy garden but for some reason I just can’t organise my desk and computer desktop. Ask anyone who has worked with me on magazines – they’ll agree! 


What is the most important lesson you have learned so far? 

To support other gardeners, local nurseries and garden media folk. Meeting people with the same passion as you is life-enhancing and very beneficial to all. 


What makes a perfect day for you? 

A visit to an open garden or small specialist nursery. The trick to a great gardening day is to find someone who enjoys a garden at the same pace as you. Obviously I’d also like to come home with a boot full of plants and arrive to a meal cooked by someone else! 



If you had one piece of advice to offer to someone what would it be? 

Don’t panic if you fail at school – if you find a career that means something to you, however off-the-wall, just go for it. Follow your passion and not the pay cheque and your life will be all the richer for it. Work really hard, as success won’t come knocking at your door. I believe that we are in charge of our own destiny. 


Gnome or no-gnome? 

Gnome. My late great-aunt had a very old gnome in her garden and as children my sisters and I would always head down the garden to find him. My sister now has this gnome in her garden. One is enough though, and they must sit in an unexpected place! 


Diary of a Modern County Gardener is published by Orphan Publishing


  1. I've seen a few positive reviews now. I like the sound of the monthly tool kit.
    My gardening hero is Christopher Lloyd. Reading his writings I find someone I feel a kin for. Particularly foliage plants.

  2. Tamsin is such an inspiring person and such a passionate, realistic gardener that you really feel able to relate to.

    My gardening heroes are related to Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire, where I volunteered for 10 years.
    Alfred Chambers, now 94 and a past Head Gardener and great friend. He worked alongside my other hero Lady Sitwell a passionate gardener who would turn up to garden with volunteers. They both taught me so much.

  3. My garden hero has to be Geoff Hamilton. I watched him when I was just a young gardener. He inspired me to create something beautiful and in my opinion he was ahead of his time. I felt his death as a personal loss even though I never met him. That is a rare thing.

    1. Hi Skiptonsal - I am really pleased to inform you that you have won the free copy of this book. Please can you contact me on to give me your address details so I can pass them on to the publishers. Congratulations!

  4. I always enjoy these 'questions' posts - I'm probably just nosy!
    I agree with Skiptonsal - my hero is Geoff Hamilton (but I have to also include my granny).
    Geoff Hamilton made me believe I could actually grow things and enjoy gardening and this has stayed with me. My garden might be a mess but it's my mess!
    My granny was a mine of information about wildflowers, animals, birds and trees and as we walked home from the bus stop, she would tell me about the plants, animals, birds and flowers we passed. Magical memories.
    Best wishes

  5. I've added the book to my Amazon wishlist: I am often unpleasantly surprised when I dip an unwary hand into the pocket of my gardening coat.
    My gardening hero would be my dad - the bit about being relaxed about the garden strikes a chord with me. While our garden is only an ordinary one, as a horticulturalist he had made it a good garden; but he never minded when my daughters picked some choice bloom to strew in the pond, or mix into a mud pie on the rockery, and the planters outside the front door were placed asymmetrically, so they could climb up on the right hand one and ring the doorbell.


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