Meet the team - Brendan
From training at the London Kew Gardens, sojourning at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens to collecting specimens in Ecuador - Brendan Little's horticultural expertise spans multiple regions. As regular contributor to BBC Radio Ulster’s "Gardeners' Corner", he has also found time to share his gardening knowledge - and passion - with a wider audience. Here at Mid Ulster Garden Centre, Brendan talks about his lifelong endeavour and tips for the aspiring gardener.
Mrs Bloom: Brendan, why do you like gardening so much?
Brendan: This is the time when we come in harmony with nature. Through gardening we create a sustainable, biodiverse environment which is good for us and the ecosystem. I met with Jim Bradley many years ago as a contributor to Gardeners' Corner, and since then have enjoyed visiting Maghera and rooting around Mid Ulster Garden Centre - no pun intended, ha! Although it can be universally enjoyed, gardening is a region, climate-specific endeavour. Recently I travelled with Mid Ulster Garden Centre to visit an Southern European plant nursery, and what a mind-blowing trip this proved to be! The scale of the nurseries was beyond belief and the plant quality simply superb. Every year the Mid Ulster team, led by Jim, makes this journey to hand pick the best specimens for the coming season. This ensures only the best quality material goes on sale in the garden centre. My favourite colour is green and on this trip the selection of green foliage plants was huge with leaf size, texture and shade simply stunning. My belief that a garden does not need to resemble a ‘colour card’ to be interesting or welcoming was reinforced: Less is always more.
Brendan inspecting specimens during the sourcing trip
Mrs Bloom: Based on your life-long passion for horticulture and your international experience, you must have encountered many plant types. What are your favourite specimens?
Brendan: There are so many! Right now the beautiful winter flowering Viburnum bodnantense is probably my favourite, although the Hellebores are also very attractive. And what about the Cyclamen? For other seasons, the Japanese Maples at Mid Ulster’s is hard to beat.
Hellebores Gold; £14.99
Mrs Bloom: It seems like winter does not mean a dull garden at all. From your experience, what impact does gardening have on health and wellbeing?
Brendan: In 1986 I had the occasion to visit a psychiatrist who suggested that a change of career would be good for me and so I turned my attention to gardening. It is difficult to overstate the benefits of gardening for mental health and wellbeing - it is good for the head, soul and body. Don’t I have the chassis to prove it! Jokes aside and within a wider social context, global warming and food transparency are coming to the fore and will only play an increasingly important role. Personally I think that gardening as a hobby is well placed to take advantage of this trend.
Cyclamen Miracle Mix, £2.99
Mrs Bloom: The health benefits of gardening are certainly beyond dispute! That said, the modern hectic lifestyle often means that people have no time for any hobby that they think might be time-consuming. Do you see a conflict between gardening as a hobby and the modern lifestyle? Where can we begin - specifically, where can parents begin?
Brendan: So you don’t have time to garden as you run with Johnny and Lucy from rugby practice to music lessons, voice training, drama and ballet! Like all enjoyable things in life - take it slow. Get to know your plots before making decisions. Choose a style that you are comfortable with and do not become a slave to maintenance. Start Small! For parents with energetic and inquisitive children, the best thing you could possibly do is take them out into the garden, make a little plot for each and help them get started. I was once that child and know the lasting value of this exercise. According to a 2016 government report, three-quarters of UK children spend less time outside than prison inmates. To encourage children to spend more time outdoor, Mid Ulster Garden Centre could offer a simple gardening class for children and parents on the occasional Saturday morning. This should be fun with the children sowing seed of quick maturing vegetables to take home. Environmental education, bird and bee talk, bug hotels and bird feeders will all come into play.
According to a 2016 government report, three-quarters of UK children spend less time outside than prison inmates.
Mrs Bloom: For an aspiring gardener, which gardening tool would you recommend and why?
Brendan: Speaking from personal experience, the most important thing in my garden is actually not any tool but my garden seat. Sit and enjoy the here and now - isn't this what life is all about?
Alexander Rose Cornis Turnberry Bench. See the bench collection here.
Brendan has a Facebook page where he posts gardening tips and gardening course updates - check it out!