Muddy meets… The Oxfordshire Gardener
What would you ask an award-winning garden designer? What hand cream he uses, if his own garden ever looks rubbish and who's his favourite green-fingered celeb, obviously!
Simon Murfitt, founder of The Oxfordshire Gardener, is jardin genius who does everything from one-off garden rejuvenation gigs right up to full stately home garden landscaping and plantingall around Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, the Cotswolds, Warwickshire and London. He’s also a very patient, diplomatic man – I know this from personal experience as the poor chap once had the dubious pleasure of taming the Muddy jungle (oi, that is not a euphemism).
As well as A-listers like moi, his client list also includes less famous types such as Blur bassist turned Kingham cheese-meister Alex James.
I managed to lure him away from his pruning and planting for a while to have a chat about his work and his life – and nab some great advice. Despite some impertinent questions, he restrained himself from stabbing me with his secateurs.
Where did your passion for gardening come from?
We had a family farm in Cambridgeshire and as a boy I was always outside, helping with the harvest, sowing and growing vegetables. I studied agriculture and worked on the farm until I was about 25. Then I had a complete change and spent the next two decades in the oil industry. At the age of 45, I decided I’d had enough of the rat race so I went back to college to study horticulture and set up my gardening business.
What is it about gardening that brings you joy?
I just love seeing plants grow and flourish when you care for them. The scent of the flowers, harvesting fruit and veg that you’ve grown, improving the soil by composting. And it’s so good for you to be outside rather than in an air-conditioned office.
People are increasingly talking about the mindfulness of gardening.
I’ve always felt that. I lose myself in the moment and being at one with nature. The more we can encourage people – especially younger people – to be out in the garden, looking at what’s in front of their noses rather than their phone screen, the better. In the ‘80s and ‘90s it wasn’t cool to be out in the garden but now there’s much more awareness about the benefits of being outdoors. I think that’s brilliant.
How hardy are you? I bet you’re nails, being outside all the time.
I don’t feel the cold. The weather doesn’t bother me. It’s all about having good quality clothes – decent lined waterproof boots, hand warmers in your gloves, lots of layers to peel off, a Tilley hat to keep the sun off and repel water. And if you’re busy working, you won’t get cold!
How do you look after your hands?
Use a good exfoliating scrub and hand cream. People often buy me the Crabtree & Evelyn gardener’s range for Christmas. And protect your hands by wearing the right types of gloves for the job – don’t wear thin gloves when you’re pruning, for example, wear leather ones.
Do you have manicures? I won’t tell anyone…
Nope! I’ve never had a manicure!
Your must-have gardening accessory?
I won’t go in a garden without my Felco secateurs. Get a holster for them though – if you put them in your pocket, they’ll wear a hole in it.
Does your own garden ever look a bit rubbish? Be honest.
It would probably look tidier if I had more time. I have areas that are more natural – I let them grow wild for the habitat. There are stinging nettles but they’re for caterpillars and butterflies.
What’s your favourite plant?
Osmanthus burkwoodii. It’s an evergreen shrub that flowers early in the spring and has a lovely scent. It needs very little doing to it. And I love wisterias – looking after them is a bit of an art.
What’s the most common mistake people make with their garden?
Not enjoying it and not being out in it enough. Remember to sit and relax outside, especially at this time of year when we don’t get enough daylight or enough vitamin D. It’s only just the beginning of autumn – we’ve got another two months before we go into winter, so get out there, light a firepit, toast a few marshmallows and have a chat. Just because summer’s over, it doesn’t mean you should abandon your garden until next year.
What’s the one easy thing people could do to make their garden look better?
Deadhead flowers to encourage new growth and just tidy up a bit – sweep up the leaves and pull up any weeds.
What’s the most glorious garden you’ve ever visited?
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Trebah Garden in Cornwall is absolutely stunning. It’s sub-tropical with incredible planting and it slopes down to its own private beach. There are lily ponds, pathways where you walk under a canopy of giant gunnera leaves and handkerchief trees which have huge white flowers that look like hankies.
Favourite celeb gardener?
I like Tom Stuart-Smith – he knows how to plant large areas and use water features.
What’s the most memorable brief you’ve ever had?
A client who had a small neglected pond at far end of the garden asked us to create a Monet garden. We built a bridge across the pond, put in weeping willows, water lilies, the lot. And for the first Big Feastival that they held on Alex’s farm in Kingham, Oxon. We were commissioned to create a 3m square kitchen garden in the middle of a field and then take it all down again afterwards. That was an unusual request!