Have a seat with...

Mandy Bradshaw

Known by her many loyal followers as The Chatty Gardener, Mandy Bradshaw is an award-winning, Cotswold-based garden journalist, photographer, blogger, and public speaker.

Her work has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines, and online publications over the years, from Period Homes & Interiors and Garden News. In 2018, Mandy was named Garden Journalist of the Year at the Property Press Awards...a prize won the following year by a certain Alan Titchmarsh! 

Sue Biggs and champion tree

Hello, Mandy. Thanks for speaking with us today! 

Can you tell us a little bit about your journey into garden journalism? It seems like you’ve managed to create the perfect career for yourself, uniting your two passions of writing and horticulture!

I fell into gardening writing after many years working as a news reporter, sub-editor, and freelance journalist. A friend asked me to write something for the local paper on her charity garden open day. A few months later, the editor invited me to take over the weekly gardening slot and my horticultural writing career grew from there.

I’d always known that one of my great grandfathers had been a local reporter. Some years after I started garden writing, I discovered another had been a head gardener. I seem to be bringing the two strands together.

Can you describe what a typical day looks like for you?

Generally, every day includes some writing, even if it’s only social media posts for clients or to promote my blog. Other writing includes magazine features, blog posts, newsletters or editorial for clients. Sometimes my work extends into the evening as I give talks to groups. The best days are when I’m on a garden visit, photographing flowers and talking to the garden owner. 

A Garden Well Placed book cover

When you’re not writing, or spending time in your garden—waging war on slugs and growing your own fruit and veg!—what do you like to do in your downtime? How do you like to relax?

I sing. I’ve been part of a choir for around 30 years, currently with Cheltenham Bach Choir. We sing everything from choral classics to contemporary works, often in Latin and sometimes in German – we’ve even tackled Church Slovak! A two-hour weekly rehearsal is hard work but exhilarating and certainly clears the mind of day-to-day worries.

Other than that, I love to walk on nearby Cleeve Hill, the highest part of the Cotswolds and a great counterpoint to being cooped up in my study. I read a lot and am continuing my 40-year exploration of the world’s gins.

As a Cotswold-based journalist, how much is your environment an inspiration for your work? With the rolling hills, meadows, and rivers that surround you, there couldn’t really be a better natural setting!

It is such beautiful countryside and seems to have inspired people to create gardens. I’m so lucky to be a gardening writer in an area that is stuffed with good examples. I can see several of the Cotswold hills from my home and travelling through the countryside to jobs is a delight in any season.

"I love to walk on nearby Cleeve Hill, the highest part of the Cotswolds and a great counterpoint to being cooped up in my study!"

In 2018, you won the Property Press Awards Garden Journalist of the Year—an accolade won by Alan Titchmarsh the following year. How much of an honour was it to win the award against some pretty formidable competition?

I was so surprised you could hear my gasp across the room – much to the amusement of the other guests. It made me particularly proud to be flying the flag for both the Cotswolds and regional magazines, as my entry was three of my Cotswold Life features, which were up against pieces from national magazines and newspapers.

It was lovely to get some recognition. Writing can be a lonely business and you rarely get feedback beyond the editor and garden owner. Winning was a real boost to my confidence.

On your website, The Chatty Gardener, you have a brilliant series called Cheering Up Mondays, in which you showcase a different flower each week to brighten up the day for your readers. How much do you think our gardens—and beautiful plant life, in particular—can positively affect our mindset?

If I’m fed up, I head out into my garden. Seeing a new flower or seeds that have germinated never fails to lift my spirits, while the slow, methodical process of tasks such as weeding, or deadheading are calming. Gardeners need patience and optimism, and I’m trying to perfect both.

As demonstrated by your Cheering Up Mondays feature, you’re also a very talented photographer. Your work has appeared in numerous gardening magazine articles over the years, and you’re a member of the Professional Garden Photographers’ Association. Have you always had an interest in photography, or was it a natural extension of your work as a writer?

I’ve always been the one behind the camera for family shots – my children complain there are few photos of me – but I’d never considered doing it professionally. Like garden writing, it was also a chance development. I complained to one of my editors that the photographers weren’t getting the right shots to illustrate the story I wanted to tell and she suggested I did them.

My photography has improved hugely over the years, and it’s become a really enjoyable part of my work. The members of PGPA are a friendly bunch and they’ve been so generous with their advice.

Sue Biggs summer

"Seeing a new flower or seeds that have germinated never fails to lift my spirits, while the slow, methodical process of tasks such as weeding, or deadheading are calming. Gardeners need patience and optimism, and I’m trying to perfect both."

If you could give one piece of advice to someone looking to start growing fruit and vegetables in their garden, what would it be? Is there anything a novice should avoid putting in the soil on their first foray into self-sufficient gardening?

Choose something that will germinate quickly – salad, beans, radish – as speedy results are a real encouragement. Potatoes are great for novice growers and can also be grown in containers. When they were little, my children used to compete to see who produced the most from three tubers in a tub.

There isn’t really any ‘don’t try’ crop. Experimenting is the joy of gardening. Everyone makes mistakes and has an ‘off season’ but it’s always going to be better next year.

What’s next on the horizon for you, Mandy?

I’ve just taken delivery of a new, bigger greenhouse, which is very exciting. My current greenhouse is so full you need a machete to get in. I’ve lots of plans about what to grow and I fear it won’t be long before the new one becomes a jungle!

Thanks for your time, Mandy!

*Headshot photo credits Stephen Studd

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 Siobhan on October 20th 2022

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