Learning online

This year, I’ve spent far too much time online – haven’t we all? But in fairness, I’ve learned a lot and have well and truly been inspired. Normally, I love going on short courses and attending talks, but it’s often not possible due to time or distance constraints. This year, expert knowledge has been beamed straight into our homes. 

Fergus Garrett’s Zoom talks about the secrets of Great Dixter have been a real highlight. If you’ve seen Fergus give a talk in the flesh, you’ll know that he rattles through everything very fast. The joy of the Zoom talks (sent as a Vimeo link after the event) is that you can pause Fergus as much as you like while scribbling down his words of wisdom. I’ve learned so much from these talks – how Dixter plant in layers, staggers seed sowing and so on. The talks cost £15, worth every penny, and have hopefully given Dixter some much needed funds greatdixter.co.uk

Garden Masterclass, headed up by garden designers Annie Guilfoyle and Noel Kingsbury, has offered free weekly Tea Garden Talks with garden designers, landscape architects, growers and photographers – fascinating stuff. The talks are free but donations are of course welcomed. Interviews are available on the website (gardenmasterclass.org). 

Some of the country’s top garden designers have been very generous with glimpses into their own gardens on Instagram. I’ve especially enjoyed the slow, dreamy updates posted by Dan Pearson (@coyotewillow) and tours of Alt-y-Bela, the garden of Arne Maynard (@arnemaynardgardendesign). Claus Dalby (@clausdalby), often described as the Scandinavian Martha Stewart, is known for his stunning pot displays of tulips and dahlias and has offered tours of his garden and tutorials.

I’ve also learned a lot from Charles Dowding’s laid-back no-dig veg videos on Instagram and YouTube. At the beginning of lockdown, I felt the urge to rush to show veg as quickly as possible, but actually Charles wasn’t rushing to plant anything. Sowing seeds in modules (as opposed to sowing them direct in the ground) has been a game changer for me and I now have a new way of harvesting lettuce by picking a few leaves from around the edge.

Georgie Newbery is a cut flower grower who runs workshops throughout the year at her studio in Somerset. I was lucky enough to go to one last February, just before the world shut down (Georgie already had hand sanitizer at the ready, several weeks before the rest of us caught on) and can highly recommend it. Never one to rest on her laurels, Georgie quickly launched a batch of online courses on all aspects of cut flower growing and running a kitchen table business. Georgie is very free with her information and really knows her stuff.

It wasn’t a gardening event, but I also really enjoyed a Pottery Brunch – a birthday present for a locked down Sunday morning. A vegetarian chef, Beth Al Rikabi, and potter, Jane Scott, got together to create a virtual learning event for which a delicious brunch and all the materials needed were delivered the evening before. Via Zoom, we all made a pottery salt pig and ate some delicious morsels. I’ve noticed that florists and floral designers are now starting to do the same thing with Christmas wreaths – delivering all the materials to your home. 

There’s no substitute for a face-to-face get togethers, especially as Zoom makes group chatting a bit awkward, but I hope we will continue to learn online like this. Online courses have provided a lifeline for businesses and I hope, income streams for the future. I will definitely carry on expanding my horizons this way.

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