One of Norfolk’s top gardeners has come up with an eco-friendly idea to keep a cottage garden in full bloom even during a drought.

Respected plantswoman Shirley Gilbert claims there is no need to water to maintain shrubs, flowers, fruit, herbs, or even vegetables.

“I’ve never watered my cottage garden,” she says. “It’s all organically grown, packed full with traditional and unusual varieties of drought-resistant climbers, shrubs and vegetables.”

The great secret is her amazing compost that she makes herself and applies liberally to the garden, and the dense planting.

Shirley, who was runner-up in the first ever BBC Gardener of the Year awards in 1999, is again hosting a series of monthly “hands on” workshops throughout 2012.

All proceeds go to the National Gardens Scheme in Norfolk, which then donates to nursing charities including Marie Curie and Macmillan Cancer Care. Last year she raised over £2,000.

This year’s course, which is limited to just eight places, covers subjects ranging from pruning and propagating to organic methods, compost heaps and choosing plants for specific places.

Former student Juliet from North Elmham says: “The course gave me confidence to try things out in my own garden. Expert tuition in wonderful surroundings with a lovely bunch of people.”

And another ex-student Kate from Wymondham adds: “Shirley is a mine of knowledge, very patient and enthusiastic.”

Fiona Black, County Organiser of Norfolk NGS, went along to all of this year’s workshops, which are held in Shirley’s own cottage garden near North Walsham.

“We came away with plenty of new skills, she says. “I came home inspired and longing to get into my own garden. I’m also so pleased the money raised from these courses benefits vital nursing and caring charities.”


Shirley’s cottage garden is within sight and smell of the sea. It is at the top of a very sandy hill with what would be thought as far from ideal growing conditions. The garden is only a ¼ of an acre with a pond, and is a butterfly and wildlife paradise:

Shirley Gilbert is a member of the Norfolk Cottage Garden Society and is their former chairman.

Each six hour workshop (10am to 4pm) runs once a month. It costs £45 per session including lunch.

There’s also a one day workshop tailored for the beginner. It covers basic gardening skills. An ideal Christmas or birthday present (gift vouchers available).

 To book or find out more details, call Shirley on 01692 403519

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