Now’s the time to start thinking about your garden and Project Green Thumb‘s Alison Touzout has some great advice

Tell us about Project Green Thumb; how did it begin?

Well, my husband Muzzy (Mr. Green Thumb) and I have both been immersed in green all our lives, so the roots go deep but Project Green Thumb really came into its own a couple of years back. We were both already in the industry, with Muzzy doing a lot of hard landscaping work like decking and paving and fencing while I was teaching gardening and running community gardening programmes in the East London area. We had been toying with the idea of bringing our skills together to start our own business but just didn’t quite know how.  Then, as if by magic, the answer appeared in front of my eyes, quite literally.

I was planning a series of gardening sessions at East Ham library where I ran a weekly garden club for the over 50s and was hovering over the gardening shelf for inspiration when this book popped into view. Its title was How to start and run your own gardening business.

I was, like, Whoa! Spooky!

Needless to say, I grabbed it off the shelf, took the book out on loan, read it page to page in about two days and persuaded Muzzy this was the answer and we should just go for it. We followed every step in the book, thought of a name, bought the t-shirts, printed the flyers, bought the van, added a few more tools to the collection and within a couple of weeks we were set up and ready to put the word out. We’ve not looked back since.

Do you have a favourite garden task?

Anything to do with plants, definitely. It’s where I get to use my creative colour and artistic skills; my knowledge of when, where, how and why plants should be added to a scheme; digging them in, and of course, the cherry on top, plant shopping. It’s not really a task at all, more of an obsession/addiction.

What’s the most satisfying aspect of your business?

Seeing a project being transformed from an idea in my head to an actual finished garden with all the colours and styles and curves I’d originally sketched on paper. When the last plant goes in and you step back to watch a big broad smile spread over your client’s face, that is very satisfying indeed.

And the most challenging?

I think most landscapers will agree the biggest challenge is rain. A bit of drizzle is totally acceptable but when it comes down in bucketloads, like it did throughout most of October and November last year, it is so hard to get things done. Taking up old turf becomes a mud wrestle; trying to use electrical equipment such as hedge trimmers or cement mixers is a dice with death; painting fences just turns to pretty puddles, and laying paving in the rain? A big no-no!

Do you have a favourite plant or flower?

That’s a hard one. There are a billion to choose from and I always seem to be finding new favourites. Right this minute it has to be Chinese witch hazel but if I absolutely had to choose just one all-timer it would be lavender. A, because it smells amazing. B, because bees and butterflies love it. C, because it comes in shades of purple and white which complement so many other colours. D, because it has so many medicinal uses and E, F, G and H, because it’s extremely low maintenance, lasts for years, needs very little water and thrives in poor soil.

What’s the most common mistake people make when planning their garden?

Lack of proper planning, for sure.

Proper planning of a garden is quite detailed but also essential if you want a garden that really thrives and enhances your entire living space. There are a lot of elements to consider and it can be a bit daunting for most people, but anyone with private outdoor space in London is truly blessed and should absolutely make the most of it.

With proper planning your garden should be a vibrant, healthy, colourful addition to your home where you can relax, heal and connect with nature, so it’s really important to get it right. Seeking professional advice is always a great idea but that’s not to say you can’t have a go yourself – and I have actually written a step-by-step guide to help you plan and design your own garden. It’s fun and informative and you can find it on our website. There’s also lots of before and after pictures of various projects we’ve done, so take a look through the site and grab some inspiration! NOW is the perfect time to start planning ahead for the warmer days of 2020 because, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss a single second of being outside when the sun finally does come out.

Aside from clearing weeds, what’s your ‘go-to’ quick fix to spruce up a garden?

Always have a couple (or several) really pretty pots strategically placed around the garden. What you are looking to achieve is instant colour and impact all year round, so buy whatever plants are currently in bloom and pop them in, but here is the trick, don’t take them out of the pots they came in!

Take daffodils and tulips, for example. They are stunning when they are in bloom but, in reality, they don’t last long at all so keep them in another basic pot that fits and hides inside the pretty pot. When the daffodils start to die, lift out the pot and swap them with the tulips, which will now be starting to bloom. When the tulips die back, swap them out for something like freesias or irises. I think you get the idea. Basically, there is a flower in bloom every month of the year, so you just keep swapping out.

And, part two of the trick…don’t throw the fading plants away. If you choose perennial plants (ones that spring back to life every year) then what you should end up with is a collection of plants that you can hide around the corner but bring back to front and centre stage when at their peak, every single year. Its quick, it’s easy and it will save money in the long run.

What inexpensive, low maintenance plants would you recommend to a rookie?

That’s easy. Herbs.

Not only are they inexpensive but many of them are evergreen, need very little to no maintenance and will happily grow in poor soil conditions. They also bloom, smell fabulous, can be used fresh in cooking or dried for teas and pot pourri or, if you are feeling really adventurous, then made into balms, creams and salves. They have powerful healing, anti-ageing properties too. The list of benefits goes on and on. I’m a big fan of herbs. Can you tell?

Project Green Thumb
East London Gardening Services

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Images: Project Green Thumb