Hannah's passion and love for gardening is so clear. (& succulents!) Her website is full of amazing tips and tricks and her new products are beautiful. If you're looking for plant inspiration then this is the place to go.
Tell us a bit about you and when did you start gardening, and why?
I’m Hannah — the Illustrator and succulent-obsessed gardener, behind Talking of Plants.
I have a background in design and have been a freelance Illustrator for nearly ten years (mostly illustrating wedding stationery and pet portraits). In 2017, keen to find a working balance between being at my desk and being outside, I incorporated my passion for gardening into my working week with part-time gardening jobs.
In 2018 I enrolled on an evening course in Cambridge to study with the RHS. At the same time, I became a WRAGS trainee gardener, learning under the guidance of a fantastic Head Gardener at a country estate in Norfolk (part of the WFGA’s “retrain as a gardener” scheme). I worked there for two years, completing twelve months after the initial year-long placement.
Now I work one or two days a week gardening and spend the rest of my week illustrating and creating products for Talking of Plants — which combines my two biggest passions in the form of beautifully illustrated homeware and gifts; and practical horticultural advice. It’s 1 part shop : 1 part plant school.
Which gardeners inspire you and why?
This is a big question and I think there are so many different ways to answer this. Firstly the gardeners in my family; my Mum, my Granny and my other half’s parents. Their love for plants and gardening has really rubbed off on me! My Mum always made the garden so beautiful wherever we lived growing up and encouraged me to take an interest throughout my childhood. My Granny’s gardens have always been so full of colour and such a varied mix of perennials. .
My other half’s parents’ approach to gardening is honestly so inspiring and they've proved that a garden can really evolve into whatever you want it to. All you need is a bit of imagination (a bit of time helps enormously too!). They have lived in their current home for over thirty years, so it has had time to mature. It’s an eclectic mix of “rooms” with the likes of NZ ferns, Californian palms and Japaneses acers seamlessly merging together. All this on the fringes of suburban Essex.
Of course, I am inspired by the “big” gardeners too. Monty Don and Carol Klein’s passion for and knowledge of plants and gardening really capture my imagination.
What’s the most ambitious gardening project you’ve completed or have planned?
Personally, the biggest gardening plan that I have ever undertaken is the ongoing project myself and my other half are implementing in our own back garden. We are eighteen months into completely reconfiguring our modest sized garden in the Suffolk village of Stradbroke.
When we moved in it was perfectly lovely, if a bit “obvious” in design with a big lawn and borders around the edges. It had undoubtedly been well loved by a previous owner, but it wasn’t ours. It felt very much like someone else’s garden.
As I always advise others to do, we didn't do anything at all for the first two years – just to really get to know the space and to see what grows through the seasons. It's good to know exactly where we would want a patio to have our morning coffee, or a sun trap to enjoy our evening wine! By the time we did start to make real plans for what we wanted to do, we had adopted three cats; two of whom were deaf and couldn’t go outside without supervision. Needless to say one of the biggest features that we’re constructing is a 30ft catio (cat-patio) and undercover seating area.
We both work full time (both freelancers), so we work on the garden when we can. The ebb and flow of freelance work means sometimes we have a good amount of time to get stuck into things, other times we’re limited to forcing ourselves away from our desks for a lunch time garden wander. Generally it's slow progress, but we want so much to do everything ourselves, so that's okay. When it's more usable (and less like a building site) it will be amazing and we’ll both feel so proud. It’ll be our haven.
We are in the process of building the structure for the catio and undercover seating area, creating a series of small gravel gardens, landscaping a new lawn and laying a garden path. We’re also laying a second patio (in addition to the catio) which will become our sunny evening seating area. Admittedly at this stage, my other half, Tom, is doing most of the groundwork (doing an amazing job at learning as he goes along). He's the Landscaper in this team and I am the Head Gardener!
I have big plans for planting and am itching to get started once the hard landscaping is complete. I'm a real plant person. Until then, I have my succulent-filled conservatory to keep me occupied; as well as my shady front garden and bonus mini-garden down the side of our house.
I share snippets of the progress all the time on my Instagram page and on my Stories.
What is your favourite thing to grow?
Another big question, but definitely succulents. In case you didn't know, I am succulent obsessed! Always have been, way before it was trendy. I am particularly taken with Aeonium and Echeveria, which feature in a lot of my illustrations. I just love the range of colours and the variation of species. They’re so intricate and often so unusual – which I happen to love about them.
Outside I love a huge mixture of plants. I adore the English country garden look and that’s why I have already planted a long line of English Lavender in my own garden. I was keen to create a bee-paradise! I also like structural plants which add height and create a focal point. I plan to plant lots of large grasses such as Miscanthus sinensis, and believe that big plants make a smaller garden look bigger. Despite the list of building works going on in ours, it isn’t actually a huge space!
Anything new you want to try in the next growing season?
This is the first year that I’ve sowed lots of annual seeds for my own garden. I am a big advocate of “working with what you’ve got”. So most of my plants have been gifted to me or have been a cutting or offset from friends’ and families gardens. These are, more often than not flowering perennials, so they give you great bang-for-your-buck as they come back every year. This year I am also determined to inject instant pops of colour and fill in gaps with seed-grown annuals such as dwarf sunflowers. If I run out of space whilst our back garden is under construction, I’ll just have lots of containers bursting with colour. I love planting up pots. I have also got lots of annual sweet peas which I’m so excited to sniff when they bloom. They have the best smell!
Where is your favourite garden in the world, and why?
It's work in progress as I’ve been describing, but honestly it has to be my own garden. It's definitely not the most spectacular (yet) but it's the one that I know every inch of and am injecting every bit of my planty soul into. It's my happy place and the place I spend most of my free time.
Another garden that truly inspired me was the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore. Closer to home would be RHS Harlow Carr, which I visited regularly when we lived in Harrogate. It was fantastic to see it through the seasons. My love for Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ and Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ came from their spectacular winter borders.
What do you wish you’d known earlier about gardening?
I wish I’d known just how rewarding it is. Even on the coldest, wettest days you never come in from a day of gardening and wish you hadn’t bothered. It's my tonic when I’m feeling uncreative or whenever I need a break from my desk.
What advice would you give someone new to gardening?
Simply to start. Start small and don't be afraid of making mistakes because in your own garden (or even on your own windowsill), it really doesn’t matter. If something dies, try to figure out why and then next time you'll be one step ahead. Gardening is all about learning from your mistakes – and everyone makes them!
I know so much more than I did when I started, but have so much to learn and I enjoy that about the vast subject that is “gardening”.
When not gardening, what do you like doing?
It goes without saying that I like to draw. It was this passion that made me pursue it as a freelancer in 2012. I also paint, sew, go to the gym and like sniffing my cats..! I love to be outdoors generally, so I walk in the countryside and love to go to the beach. I’m also partial to a lovely cafe or garden centre.