The Questions - Michael Holland FLS

A few weeks ago, you may recall, I reviewed 'I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast' written by Michael Holland and it was a book I really enjoyed.  Michael is an ecologist, author, and former Head of Education at Chelsea Physic Garden.  Little did I know that our paths would cross again so soon as the opportunity arose for me to as Michael 'The Questions'; which he very graciously agreed to do.
I was asked if I would help promote an article that Michael has contributed to by Age Co on 'How gardening can improve your wellbeing'.  I decided that I would do this as whilst the lockdown has been eased a little, many social spaces are still closed and in order to stay safe many people are spending as much time in their own homes and/or gardens as they can.  This is creating quite a challenge to our physical and mental wellbeing.  Michael explains how beneficial gardening is for us, whether we wish to add colour to our gardens or grow food to eat.  The article has good advice for if you already enjoy gardening or are a complete beginner at growing.

Michael, in return, very kindly agreed to answer The Questions:

The Questions


In which garden do you feel happiest?

I definitely feel happiest in my own garden, which has a mixture of native hedgerow, lawn, ponds and log piles, herb and vegetable beds, pretty flower beds and some fruit trees.


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

Mattock, trowel, spade, secateurs and my hands.


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

‘The Pip book’ by Keith Mossman,

‘Plants for a future’ by Ken Fern,

‘The Living Garden’ by Michael Chinery,

‘Plants for People’ by Anna Lewington

‘The Rodale Book of Composting’


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

Apart from getting married and becoming a father, it would have to be the moment I first visited Chelsea Physic Garden in London, where I ended up working and teaching for about 25 years as it changed my life and my professional ‘direction of travel’ altogether - so any amazing people, plants and stories.


What are you most proud of?

Writing a book which has now been published and the fact that it is an object of beauty regardless of the words I have written (since Philip the illustrator did such an amazing job).


If you won the lottery, what would you do?

That all depends on how much I won! If we’re talking multi-millions, then apart from having our garden properly designed and landscaped, and giving various amazing charities some funds for incredible projects (I have been a trustee of a couple of deserving charities who have really struggled to obtain funding); A year long family  trip around the world would have to be on the cards - to see places I haven’t yet seen and to share some amazing places I have been lucky to visit with my wife and daughter (Swaziland and Belize being two highlights).


Who are your garden heroes (no more than three)

Percy Thrower who - when I was a lad - was the Blue Peter Gardener and inspired me to get growing and try new things. I’m sure he had this effect on lots of other youngsters and their families.

David Bellamy who brought nature and botany to life for me via his fun and creative TV broadcasts in the 1970’s and 80’s.

My parents - who were semi self-sufficient and grew a lot of their own fruit, vegetables for meals, jams, wine and beer. From this, I not only ate deliciously fresh things, but also gained an appreciation of where things come from and how they grow.


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

I would love to learn to play the trumpet. I have a very beautiful blue one bought for me in Prague many years ago, but have never yet mastered it!


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

The Tropical Garden in Funchal, Madeira is pretty out there’, quirky, lush and lovely- with lots of sculptures dotted about.


What is your current plant obsession?

Planting seedlings into damp and rotting logs that I have hollowed out to allow for root and soil space - in the hope that they’ll form naturalistic ‘planters’. I’m trying this with Geranium madarense and ferns to begin with.


Which garden tool is never far from your hand?

My secateurs in their holster.


What is your favourite gardening/plant related word?



What do you wish you could do better?

Grow cucumbers and sunflowers.


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

Being patient - both in the garden and in life generally. When you don't know something, or something goes wrong - these are opportunities.


What makes a perfect day for you?

Morning coffee in the garden listening to birdsong, some time alone pottering while listening to music, time with my family - eating, playing and enjoying our home. When we are allowed out - a walk in the nearby Epping Forest is always a treat as well.


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

Be kind to others and to yourself.

If it’s gardening related then - try things out and ask for help if things go wrong.


Gnome or no-gnome?

NO!!! [but we do have plenty of weird bits and bobs dotted around our garden from a giant mirror ball, a ram’s skull, a stone woman with a unicorn head, mobiles made from buoys and bird boxes made from VHS tapes, so there's little space for gnomes to be honest!].

  Stay safe all.