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Hugh Cassidy

Hugh Cassidy, more commonly known as Horti Hugh by his followers, shares his insights and garden endeavours across social media. With a passion for plants and a really positive attitude - even when things don’t go according to plan - Hugh inspires people to get out into the garden and have a go.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us Hugh, we love your social media posts and YouTube videos, when and why did you venture into the online world of gardening? Have you always been a keen gardener? What sparked your interest in horticulture?

Since my mid-teens, when I first encountered horticulture through working in a nursery/ garden centre, which was open to the public, I was bitten by the gardening bug. Looking, listening and learning. Absorbing all that I could about plants, their native habitats, growing conditions, how to grow them, what to do with them, etc.

And loving it.

So many people would come in to ask questions and talk plants and gardening, and I would regularly hear them say you are so lucky working at what your passionate about. More than a few times retired people would say 'I worked for 40 years behind a desk, and all I got was this lousy watch. If I could do it again, I would work at what I love'.

I spent ten years there, working with a great team, some of whom almost twenty years on, I still am in contact with. At the time many people didn't really understand the word horticulture - 'is that something to do with agriculture?' they would ask... Lol.

About the same time, I studied in the Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, surrounded by plants and people very attuned to growing and the many aspects involved. I hosted a regular garden show on local radio and at one point actually featured on TV to talk about gardening and how great it is.

In the intervening years my professional career has been spent supporting people with abilities and disabilities to live and work in their communities. This meant moving away from the horticultural industry and I found myself at one point sitting behind a desk!

So, over the past 10 years I've been a lot more involved again, in whatever way that time and resources have allowed. Whether this is giving talks on plants & gardens, promoting horticultural events or blogging on social media - and over the past year I’ve become accustomed to delivering workshops on-line!

I believe learning to garden is a journey to travel, rather than a destination to reach. Along this road each of us will have amazing successes and dramatic failures. Build your resilience by celebrating the success, note what worked, the techniques you used, soil or compost type, etc. And use this learning to further your successes. And of course, I believe in sharing this with others, so they too can have success.

Your potager garden is fantastic, how long have you been working on it?

This version of the potager evolved in 2018. Previous to that I had been renting a house with a good sized back garden, from which my original potager evolved. After seven years the lease was up so it was time to move. I found a lovely space in an allotment site that allowed me to redesign a new potager, the one you’ll see me in now, when restrictions are not in place.

A bi-product of having to relocate my potager was discovering a great community of like minded gardening people. Lots of people with lots of different garden styles and interests. For some it’s all about vegetables and salads, others it’s about fruit and others again it’s about flowers, and for many it’s a mixture of all of the above, depending on the space allocated and amount of time people are willing to spend there.

So you can imagine for someone like myself, being interested in meeting fellow gardeners and hearing what they’re about and what they’re growing, this is really interesting. One allotment friend commented recently that it was fair to say I like my flowers... while this is very true, I also like to blend in plenty of fruit, salad and vegetable growing in a blended kitchen garden approach, hence the name ‘potager’, a French term meaning ‘for the pot’, and referring to the this mixed style of gardening, although my interpretation does have a good dollop of cottage gardening woven through too. 

To sum up my style… anywhere and everywhere there are vegetables, flowers and plants of interest!

I believe learning to garden is a journey to travel,
rather than a destination to reach. 

An image of a topiary garden

Which plant do you find often exceeds expectations in that setting?

When out looking at a friend's garden and discussing ideas, one of them humoursly commented that you know it’s one of Hugh’s gardens if you see arches, roses and sweet pea there... and you know what, he’s completely right !

For arches and similar, this is never truer than in a smaller garden, where ground space is limited, sometimes the only option we have is to grow upwards on trellis, pergolas and posts. To this end, last year it was a priority to fashion some recycled old posts I came across into a lovely arch over the entrance to the potager.

On the sweet pea front, you know summer has arrived, not when we get our first week of sunshine, nor when the summer solstice occurs, but when the first flowers of sweet pea appear and you experience the amazing fragrance they produce.

One exciting new development last year was the building of my food tunnel in the potager. I came across some hoops from an old small polytunnel and fashioned a netted growing area for certain crops and flowers, which I found particularly successful. 

What challenges do you face on a regular basis?

One of the biggest gardening challenges for me is when the mollusc army of slugs and snails munches away at our lovely fresh greens, decimating the young fresh growth of seedlings and diving head first into our sun ripened strawberries. Yes, when they get going it’s carnage out there and no matter how experienced a gardener you are, these lads and lassies will impact on your plants and gardens.

So how do I try to minimize the damaging impact they have on the plants and flowers here? Well my main weapon of choice is beer traps.

This is where I’ll set a smallish jam jar half way into the soil, then half full with beer (Budweiser is a favourite with them) and then ensure there is a roof to stop the rain diluting the beer (I normally prop an inverted plate on a couple of bricks). I find these very effective for attracting the slugs into, and once they enter them, they rarely leave. After a few days, before they get too fermented, I'll empty them into the compost bin and refill them.

Patience is a lesson I’m constantly learning. Sometimes it’s just not meant to be, no matter how hard you try.

What has been your most fruitful mistake in all the years you’ve been gardening?

Part of my garden journey has simply meant at times I've learned to 'fail better'. Sometimes repeatedly 'failing better'! Lol.

However, the great thing about being involved in the garden community is that there are plenty of people willing to share their learning.

Talk about what didn't work, problems faced, possible solutions, what you'd change next time. I think this is referred to as resilience, the ability to bounce back after some time of adversity, and after losing a battle with slugs, trust me, plenty of gardening resilience is needed!

After being involved with plants and gardens for more that 30 years, in one way or another, there have been many many lessons, some very pleasant and some where I’ve received a good kicking.

One of my lessons has been to source good information on new things I’m growing, mostly this is from books, sometimes through good social media contacts, and stick to what’s recommended, to begin with.

Another lesson I learned when hauling manure as a young lad, for my dad or grand parents, was to give as much natural goodness to the soil as possible, this will be repaid through the plants.

And patience is a lesson I’m constantly learning. Sometimes it’s just not meant to be, no matter how hard you try.

How have you been managing without being able to access the potager through lockdown? 

Lockdown has meant changes for everyone, and although I find access to the potager has been difficult for me over the past year, it really is minimal compared to what others have had to endure.

Over the years I’ve learned to make the most of what ever space I have to grow in, and this year is no different.

As I don’t think I will be able to access the potager at the allotments in any great way in 2021, I have been busy creating alternative spaces in the area I live, even though there is no garden.

So what I have done is developed an area for lots of my pot collection, I call ‘The Courtyard’. I am also in the process of reclaiming what was a small disused semi-shaded 12ftx12ft space, and designing my ‘mini-potager’.

It’s amazing how people connect with these new projects over social media, and share in the journey with me, particularly those that are inspired to make the most of their small or limited spaces around them.

As you can gather by even the small amount I’ve written here, there is plenty to be getting on with this year. Top of the list is to ensure I can gather as much resources as I can as we head in to the growing year ahead. As always, my funds are very limited so I rely on reusing, reclaiming and recycling to achieve that which I’m looking to do.

Finally for now, while I'm working away here, I am also making a conscious effort to ensure I get out and about to other gardens. These include anything from the larger parks to the smallest patio gardens, in order to continue to generate ideas and inspire me to continue to develop my own. Does developing gardens ever stop? Well for me the answer so far has certainly been no. In each of my garden incarnations I'm always changing, evolving or developing and enjoying the journey !! 

Find out more...

The Sitting Spiritually 'Have a Seat With' series takes a look behind the scenes at how we switch off from the bustling modern-day lifestyle. We speak to people of all sorts of backgrounds and lifestyles around the country as we seek to explore the different ways of relaxing and just taking a moment.

Posted by Martin Young on April 7th 2021

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