Talks that I offer

The talks that I offer are listed below with brief summaries that may help you in either making your decision or publicising the event.  All the talks last about one hour though some can be extended or contracted if required.  I have all the equipment that I require except a screen and table for the projector and laptop.

The talks are arranged under the following headings

  1. Gardening
  2. Plants & gardens of the World
  3. Garden history
  4. Oxford Botanic Garden & Arboretum
  5. Gardening & Art
  6. Plants & People / Ethnobotany
  7. Natural History
  8. Christmas


BORDERING ON INSANITY – creating an all-year-round border

This talk looks exclusively at the herbaceous border in my Wife’s previous garden.  The border was created over 25-years and the talk covers the principles and practicalities that were adopted in an attempt to create a border that is interesting all-year-round.  It concludes with a look at a collection of must-have plants for such a border, and associations in which they may be grown.

PLANTS, BORDERS, AND GARDENS comprehensively revised in 2021 to reflect changes in the past two decades of English Gardening

This is a very personal view of modern English gardening and gardens.  I start by looking at some plants from all over the World that deserve to be more widely grown in our gardens.  This is followed by a look at some ways of putting plants together to create borders and finishes with a consideration of what makes plants & borders in to a garden.

ON TOP BUT NEVER IN CONTROL – tales from a small garden

This is the story of the making of my Wife’s first garden.  It is a story of successes and failures. It charts not only the development of the garden during twenty years but also the gardeners and gardens that have influenced the style of planting.   This talk shows what you can do on your own in a short period of time.

THE SHRUNKEN GARDEN – moving and making a new, very small garden from scratch

There are many different choices when creating a new and much smaller garden.  You will instantly have ideas about which plants you want to grow and the site will have an influence but do you have just herbaceous plants, just shrubs, or a mixture?  Do you need a lawn or a pond?  Do you care about colour or one particular group of plants such as ferns?  What about growing British native species, and encouraging wildlife?  This talk looks at the options when making a new garden from scratch; it is based on the creation our tiny new garden.


Inspired by the Botanic Garden’s Gold Medal winning exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show this talk explains some of the theory employed by artists and gardeners to achieve a variety of effects.  Theory is supported by examples of specific colour combinations from my Wife’s garden of 1/5 acre, and the new much smaller garden.

EUPHORBIAS – probably the best garden plants in the world. comprehensively revised in 2022

The title of the talk is intentionally down beat since nobody needs to be convinced of the supremacy of spurges as garden plants for every situation.  This talk explains some of the natural history of euphorbias and their botany.  It then details some of the most desirable species and cultivars and suggests some planting associations.  Also available as a Study Day

A BLAZE OF GLORY – making your garden colourful in the autumn

This talk aims to show how to have colour in your garden right through the autumn until the first frosts.  It looks at all the ways that different flowers, leaves & fruit can make the garden look clean and fresh right to the end of November.  It includes how the autumn borders at Oxford Botanic Garden were conceived and constructed and it finishes with a look at autumn colour in a small garden belonging to my Wife.

IN THE NOT-S0-BLEAK MIDWINTER – making your garden interesting in the winter

Gardening books speak of putting the garden to bed for the winter.  While many plants become dormant during this cold, wet and dark time of year, some are providing fruit for the birds and other animals and while others are flowering.  Winter may not be the traditional season of big borders and drifts of different blooms but has plenty to offer the gardener.  This talk looks at the opportunities for bringing winter interest to your garden.

SPRING IN THE GARDEN – what to do and grow in the garden for a great spring display

Gardeners know that spring has arrived when here is too much to do in the time available.  This talk looks at what needs to be done and when.  I also suggest some plants to grow for March to May.  It is based on Spring in our new small (100m2) garden where we have been gardening since 2014.

BOGGERY IN THE GARDEN – water features in the garden

This talk was put together following the renovation and extension of the Bog Garden at the University Botanic Garden.  Water adds an extra sensory dimension to a garden in addition to extending the range of plants that one can cultivate.  The talk begins by looking at the types of water feature and then goes on to explain how the new pond was built in the Botanic Garden and a much smaller pond in our new garden.  Emphasis will be placed on the plants that can be grown in a water garden – the “boggery” of the title.

ROCKERY IN THE GARDEN comprehensively revised in 2022

The rock garden at the Botanic Garden has been rebuilt three times since 1926, the most recent renovation being carried out between 1997 & 2000.  The talk looks at the building of a rock garden and the plants that can be grown on it.  The talk includes examples of rock garden plants from all over the World.

PLANTS FOR SHADE & WOODLAND available from May 2023

Details to follow when I have put the talk together, but the title may be enough information


For many people pruning is as bewildering as potions were to the young Harry Potter but armed with the 10 principles in this talk you will never fear pruning again.  In addition to these principles I look at the various classes of pruning with many examples of trees & shrubs commonly found in gardens.


Several groups have asked for a talk on the future of gardening in the UK.  This has been stimulated in part by the changes that we are seeing in our weather and climate.  Gardeners are perhaps more aware of these changes than other groups in Society.  This talk looks at the many ways that gardeners can reduce their impact on the World’s natural resources and at the same time help those plants whose habitat is evolving faster that they can.  It is about much more than global warming and using peat

2 FOR THE PRICE OF ONE – plants with at least two attractive features

There are many plants that we can grow in our gardens for there are two or more reasons for growing.  Flowers and fruit is an obvious combination but there is also scent, foliage, autumn colour, and many others.  This talk is particularly useful for those of us with a garden that is too small and so we have to get maximum impact and value from the plants that we can grow.


There are many beautiful (and few not so beautiful) plants that bring delightful (and not so delightful) scents to our gardens.  This talk, based on a Gold Medal winning display at the Chelsea Flower Show, looks at not only how to make your garden more fragrant but also why the plants produce these smells in the first place.


This talk was first suggested after I was asked to write a short piece for a national magazine on the eight plants that sum up my life.  I was then asked for an entertaining talk at Christmas meeting of a group to whom I have spoken more than a dozen times.  It was described by some of those at the meeting as my “best talk yet” and it was reported that “even Jenny from the Church enjoyed it”. (I do not know who Jenny is but I assume that she is not easily pleased.).  Basically, I consider plants that have been important in my life starting with gardening alongside my Father and finishing on field trips with undergraduates and gardening with my own children.  It is an autobiographical look at my gardening career, in its many facets.



The flora of Turkey is vast numbering many thousands of species.  This talk concentrates on the north-eastern corner of the country where many of our common garden plants come from as well as many choice alpine species.  This talk takes the form of a travelogue covering some 2,000 miles visiting the Pontic Mountains, the plain of Erzurum and the foothills of Mount Ararat amongst other places of outstanding beauty.


Japan is fascinating country botanically with 1 in 3 of the 4,500 species growing only in Japan.  Much of the land is mountainous and thus it is a rich source of alpine species.  This expedition arranged jointly by RBG Kew and the Alpine Garden Society collected seeds from 450 species.  Along the way we were treated to many of the unique aspects of Japanese life.  The talk looks at the current state of plant conservation in Japan.


Down the Track (1 hour)

This talk and the next are an account of a trip to Central and Western Australia.  Many of the 18,000 species of plant that grow in Australia grow there and nowhere else in the World.  From tropical Darwin the journey passes through the dry Red Centre around Alice Springs down to the temperate regions around Melbourne and the southern coast before crossing the Nullarbor Plain.


Across the Plain. (1 hour)

After crossing the Nullarbor Plain, the journey concludes in south-western Western Australia, one of the most botanically rich and unique areas in the world.  The habitats range from banksia scrub and the tallest hardwood forests in the World to a swamp smaller than a cricket square, home to the Australian pitcher plant, and the salt lae that is home to the oldest organisms on the planet.  (This talk can be given without having first heard the first part.)


The Algarve is a hotspot of biological diversity and yet it is less than three hours from the UK.  This talk not only looks at the stunning displays of wildflowers in the spring and summer but also reveals the traditional agricultural techniques that have preserved this beautiful region for generations.

THE LAND OF GIANTS & VOLCANOES – plants and places in Western USA

The Pacific States of America are home to a wonderful array of huge trees and volcanoes.  In addition, there are some spectacular alpine meadows and some of the most dramatic coastline in the World.  This talk looks at the botany of this region and the influence of the volcanoes.

FROM DIAZ TO DIAMONDS – plants and places in southwestern South Africa

The western Cape region of South Africa is one of the most botanically diverse areas of the World.  This talk takes a route from the southernmost tip of Africa to the border with Namibia looking at the plants and the ethnobotany of one of the most fascinating countries in the World.

TENERIFE – a botanical honey pot and evolutionary laboratory

Despite being just ¾ the size of Oxfordshire, the island of Tenerife contains rises to 3.718m (12,198ft) and contains the highest peak in Spain.  It is home to many plant species that grow nowhere else on Earth – not even the other Canary Islands.  It has habitats that range from sub-tropical desert to temperate rain forests to alpine.  This talks not only looks at the plants of Tenerife but also the evidence for evolution that it has revealed.  Charles Darwin regretted bitterly not being able to go ashore on Tenerife – you can now go where Darwin did not.


Many people do not equate the modern American with gardening and yet more Americans garden than play golf and they spend more money on gardening than on pizzas.  In this talk I briefly outline the history of American gardening showing how different nationalities have brought different styles of gardening with them and try to describe modern American gardening style.


This is an account of my Churchill Travelling Fellowship the purpose of which was to visit Chinese botanic gardens and the people who work there so that we may collaborate with these gardens in the future.  In seven weeks, we travelled more than 5,000 miles and visited more than three dozen gardens.  In the talk I try to give an impression of contemporary China, its peoples its gardens.  I also look at how Chinese Botanic Gardens are contributing to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation.


PARADISE LOST & RESTORED: 400 years of garden design in Oxfordshire

The history of English garden design can be told in different ways, but rarely can it be told “through the lens” of one garden.  The Oxford Botanic Garden was founded at the beginning of the 17th century and its design bears all the hallmarks of 17th century design.  Through the next 400 years successive Horti Praefecti(head gardeners) changed the features reflecting the art of gardening, and very occasionally the science of botany.   This talk looks at how the art of gardening has changed, or perhaps has not, in four centuries in Oxfordshire and how the Oxford Botanic Garden now reflects garden design at the beginning of the 21st century.  The title of the talk refers to the fact that one of the motivations for garden design remains the desire to create paradise on Earth.  The meaning of paradise may now be less rooted in the Biblical account of the rise and fall of man, but there is still a clear vision of what we would like the world to resemble.


THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD BOTANIC GARDEN – 400 years of gardening and botany

The Oxford Botanic Garden is the oldest in Britain.  Since 1621 it has stood on the banks of the River Cherwell in the centre of Oxford.  It has evolved from a collection of medicinal herbs for seventeenth century physicians into the most compact, diverse collection of plants in the world.  In 4½ acres 4,500 species can be seen.  This talk details where the Garden came from and what it was up to for four centuries.


This talk looks in detail at the founding of the Garden at the beginning of the seventeenth century.  It examines the social conditions prevalent at the time and the development of science and in particular plant science.  It charts the careers of the first Garden staff and looks their contribution to the history of botany and plant sciences.


There has been some sort of glasshouse at the Botanic Garden from the moment that planting commenced during the English Civil War; some being more successful than others.  This talk looks at the development of the glasshouse collection explaining why the plants are grown.  Whilst many of the plants may be new to the audience, they all illustrate important aspects of natural history and 21st century plant science.

THE HARCOURT ARBORETUM – the first 50 years

The Harcourt Arboretum was founded in 1835 when the Harcourt family started to collect the wonderful conifers that were being introduced into this country from North America.  The soil at the Arboretum is acid (very rare in Oxfordshire) and so, in addition to the mature conifers, the Arboretum houses a fine collection of rhododendrons and other calcifuge plants.  It was annexed to the University of Oxford Botanic Garden in 1963 and this talk looks at the history of the site plus a walk around the 130-acre Arboretum.



In 1882 Gertrude Jekyll wrote a short but seminal article in The Garden in which she urged the readers to “remember that in a garden we are painting a picture”.  As an accomplished watercolour artist, Miss Jekyll was familiar with the principles of using colours, but she felt that in gardens these principles “had been greatly neglected”.  This talk looks at how to apply these principles in designing a border, but it also looks at the ways in which a border is different from a painting.  However, it goes further than this and looks at how contemporary work of the likes of Turner, Monet, Rothko, Jackson Pollack evolved in parallel with ideas about what a garden or border should look like.

BEAUTY IN TRUTH—the past, present, and future of botanical art and illustration

Many people now carry a phone with a camera capable of taking very high-quality pictures, and yet the painting of botanical specimens persists with new Florilegium Societies still being formed.  Why is a drawing and painting still considered to be superior to a digital image?  This talk looks at the history of botanical illustration from drawings made on rocks 20,000 years ago to the present day, taking in the lives of both the artists and the plants immortalised in the artwork.



Mankind has exploited the medicinal properties of plants for thousands of years, yet the role of plants in modern medicine is still considered to be peripheral by many people.  This talk attempts to put the record straight and to show that plant products are used every day by all of us to relieve pain and suffering, to heal wounds and cure diseases.


Rarely does a minute go by when we are not involved in an activity that would be impossible without the help of plants.  This talk looks at mankind’s dependence on plants for everything from food to film and from painkillers to paint.  It also examines the ways in which our exploitation of plants could keep up with demand from an increasing global population and what we as individuals can do to help future generations.


SEX, LIES & PUTREFACTION comprehensively revised in 2022

Gardeners are well aware of the need for pollinators but for many people this important area of plant science begins and ends with bees.  In fact, pollination can be carried out by animals as different as bats and snails – the former is limited to night flowering species and the latter is only for plants with time on their hands.  Many trees, grasses and others do not use a pollinator trusting in fate but releasing their pollen into the wind and hoping that the grains land on a suitable female flower. This lecture looks at the variety of animals and other vectors that are exploited by plants and explains why this knowledge is so important.



This is a very personal take of the plants that feature in the celebration of Christmas as well as those plants that turn up in the Bible account of the birth of Jesus. Apart from the pear tree in which sat the partridge, there are no plants in the 12 days of Christmas according to the folk song.  Sadly, even that reference is erroneous, because partridges are ground dwelling birds.  And yet at Christmas we are surrounded by plants.  This talk puts the record straight and rewrites the plant-blind zoocentric song replacing partridges with poinsettias, and maids with mistletoe.