Yesterday was Week 1 of the Introduction to Garden Design Course at Norfolk School of Gardening. Everyone arrived with different goals and with different experience levels. Which for me, as an absolute novice, was ideal. The select group of six made for ideal teaching – enough to generate atmosphere, but few enough to get dedicated time with our wonderful teachers Kevin Bailey and Ruth Darrah.

Kevin is a self-confessed plant-fanatic. Having worked as a nursery manager, garden designer and teacher, he is a fountain of knowledge. And, as if his brain wasn’t fountain enough, his own personal library is at our disposal. He knows his stuff and had an answer to every question, always with a warm smile on his face. One sensed that perhaps he was liable to get a little too involved in his own teaching, with Ruth standing by to keep an eye on the clock. We are encouraged to make suggestions and requests that will make the course better and the effect is of being well cared for and supported. No question is too silly.

The classroom itself is welcoming and homely, with homemade biscuits from Ruth upon arrival – I swear I have no idea who ate them all. Rustic wooden trestle tables remind me of school art rooms. Wicker baskets, dried flowers, colourful pinboards and well stocked bookcases line the walls.

There is a collaborative feel to the course. Everyone has different understanding and asking questions is very much encouraged, but the experts certainly weren’t bored either. There are those with an artistic background; there are those with vast horticultural knowledge; there are homeowners with little of either, and everything in between.

I dabble with paint and pencil, but garden design is entirely alien. I am new to gardening, and, although I have aspirations, currently don’t own my own garden. Despite all this, there wasn’t a roadblock in sight. By the end of the first class, I had sketched a number of garden designs and since the class ended, feel a burgeoning desire to own a garden as soon as possible.

For my generation, owning a home with a garden is difficult. Besides the cost of buying a house, there’s the urbanisation epidemic that sees gardens getting smaller and smaller, as green is replaced with grey. In all likelihood, the garden I eventually own will be small and more stone than leaf. Well, as Kevin says, “embrace what you’ve got”. Small and concrete you say? I see your small and concrete and raise you a vertical garden feature with living walls and potted plants as far as the eye can see! The small urban garden is a challenge, and I will take it.

Unfortunately, work may prevent me from attending every week, although I hope I will. It’s relaxing, engaging and informative, and lets me flex my creative and practical muscles. Creativity and practicality go very much hand-in-hand with this Garden Design course and we certainly won’t be spending every lesson in the class room. Surveying with John Darby is on the agenda next week and with grounds like those at Ketteringham Hall, it would be an absolute travesty not to venture into them. The Walled Garden, featuring one of our Rhinos and a polytunnel, is the site for most of their courses. As Norfolk School of Gardening is quite new – only established in February 2019 – the garden itself is a work in progress, but it’s already looking magnificent. And with so much area to play with, students have many avenues open to them.

This is the third time they’ve run Introduction to Garden Design – it is one of their most popular courses and many of the students are calling for extending the course. The teachers are only too happy to oblige, tacking on extra lessons and tailoring to the needs of their students.

The course runs for 6 weeks, with the next course due to start in September. Check out their website for more details -

Written by Georgie Matthews