Gardening podcast Mike Palmer

Byther Farm Gardening Podcast – Mike Palmer. Season 2, episode 7.

I’ve known Mike Palmer for around three years and we share a love of gardening, plants and also share a healthy sense of humour! He has a lively Instagram profile, including a regular live Sunday stroll around his garden. He writes a column in Amateur Gardening magazine and writes on his own Substack page, Rambling Prose.

On Instagram – Mike the Gardener

On Substack – Rambling Prose

Find out more about Liz Zorab and Byther Farm.

Podcast transcription

The transcription of this week’s episode of Byther Farm Gardening Podcast with Mike Palmer is below.

This episode was made possible through the generosity of our supporters on Patreon. If you’d like to see videos and hear podcasts before everyone else, become a supporter of Liz Zorab on Patreon to support our work here at Byther Farm Gardening Podcast

I am so excited today. I’m so pleased to be chatting with my friend, writer, gardener, all round jolly good egg, Mike Palmer. Hiya Mike.

Oh stop it, oh go on and carry on then! It’s a bit strange being on the other side of the microphone.

So Mike, you have a podcast, which I’ve been on in the past. And that’s a really lovely podcast. That’s doing very well.

But yes, as the host, it’s a very different feeling. It is, because you know you’re in charge of directing the conversation. So I haven’t got a clue what you’re going to ask me. So yeah, it’s a control thing.

I’ll tell you what, Mike. How about I tell you that we are both in the same boat today? Because I really want our conversation just to go wherever it goes. I have no agenda written down. I have no questions. Let’s just go with the flow. We both love gardens, we love gardening, we love gardeners.

We love talking.


Have we got like three or four hours for this?

That would be good, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t that be great? So I know you through the Garden Media Guild, which is an organisation set up to network and support people who work in media with a focus on gardening. So it is exactly what it says on the tin. But you’re not just like a member of that, you are currently the Chairman of the Garden Media Guild. How did you go from being a member to being Chair?

I’m a co-chair now. Well, it’s really strange because I’ve never been on a committee for anything ever at all. And when I joined the Guild, Tamsin, who was the co-chair at the time, tapped me on the shoulder and said, how do you fancy being on the committee? I thought, well, yeah, I’m not one for saying no, I like to say yes, I’ll give it a go.

So I joined the committee and within weeks, literally weeks, she asked me if I would be co-chair. Well, it was a bit of a shock probably for everybody in the guild because who was this guy who had just appeared from nowhere and was suddenly the co-chair of the Garden Media Guild. So that’s how it came about. And then shortly after that, Tamsin stepped aside and I thought, well, I’m going to do this and I’m going to do it on my own.

So I became chair and I’ve been for two years, but this is my last year on the committee. So to allow someone else to come up and get used to the job, I’m now co-chair with Alexandra Campbell, the Middle-sized Garden blog.

So yeah, let’s just have a little gossip about Alexandra just for two seconds. What a powerhouse of information that woman is!

Oh, I tell you what, she will be phenomenal for the Guild because, as you say, her experience experience in magazines, in videography. She’s got a fantastic YouTube channel. I like doing the odd reels, as they call them, on Instagram. But then Alexandra comes along, and it’s like the female equivalent of Steven Spielberg. I mean, you know what I mean? I’m just stood there with my camera in front of me, chatting away. No special effects, no cut-ins, no B-roll. And then there’s the likes of you and Alexandra, just amazing. What a, as you say, a powerhouse.

Yes, absolutely. So let’s go back to you. Tell me a little bit, because you have actually told me in the past a bit, but not much. And now I’m kind of quite nosy about how people started out. So where, I don’t necessarily mean your earliest gardening memory, but how did you get into like gardening professionally?

Well professionally, I’ve always had a love of gardening, my parents were keen gardeners so there was always something there, I always lived in a house with a beautiful garden. I went through various iterations in my teens. I worked in retail, I worked in a travel agent, I worked in an office, and I became a management trainer. It was all very suits and ties and very business-oriented. And I couldn’t wait to get back at the end of each day to get into my garden.

Then I decided as I was approaching my forties, hundreds of years ago, that I actually ought to learn more. And I love learning. So I got embarked on the RHS courses, got myself qualified, but I was the only one on the course who wasn’t working in horticulture. So, I went to my boss and I said, I’d like to go part time. I’d like to work in the mornings. I will get my work done in a morning shift, come in early, finish at lunchtime, and I’ll go out gardening. And long story short, he said yes. So that’s what I did. I started up my own maintenance and garden design business. And that was it.

Liz – That’s fantastic. That’s an amazing, and what a great employer to allow you to do that.

Well, to be fair, there were some conversations. It wasn’t quite, I have really sort of like taken out the meat and bones of that. But for the sake of the podcast, because we haven’t got four hours. We got there in the end.

So you now live on the south coast with weather that I envy.

Well, maybe not so today, Liz. You can’t clearly see out my window. It’s grey and cold. But generally, yeah, we’ve got a lovely part of the country. We’re surrounded by the Perbecks, which give us this lovely little microclimate. We’re on the Jurassic Coast, or just on the edge of the Jurassic coast. I’m an old dinosaur myself, so I fit in here perfectly. Beautiful. Yeah, I’m lucky. We’re sort of a 10-minute walk from the seafront. Yeah, lovely. Very nice indeed.

Liz – If you’re that close to the seafront, does that also mean it’s quite windy in your garden?

Yeah, we do. And we’re quite high as well. So that’s the one thing. It’s lovely because we’re south facing, but those winds when they come in and how many storms have we had in recent years? And of course, now they’re given names, they’re more aware of them, I guess.


So batten down the hatches here, you have to be very aware of what you’re planting, looking for this shelter belt to protect the rest of the garden?

Liz – Yes, well I think that applies to, there can’t be many places in the UK that would say oh we’re really sheltered.

Mike  – You must be similar where you are.

Liz – We’re in the middle of a wind farm so that’s quite blustery. But you know I can’t, I can’t visualise almost anywhere in the UK where people are going to say it’s not windy here. And I certainly, I know the further, further east you go tends to be drier, but it’s still, you know, and the UK is not very wide is it?

Mike  – So, we’re quite slim aren’t we? Yeah, so, so, you know, the winds are going to find our gardens.

Mike, can you kind of explain the size of your garden and the sorts of things that you grow in it, before I get unkind and ask you things like what your favourite plants are. So I’ll leave that question for now and just tell us a bit about your garden.

Yes, I’ve got an L-shaped back garden which is about 500 square metres and I actually designed the garden for somebody else who was living here at the time and sadly they passed away and we ended up getting the house and the garden. So when I came here I knew exactly what I was going to do. It was a blank canvas. It was just an L-shaped green lawn. And now, of course, I’ve designed it. I’ve planted it. I love my perennials. I’m not a grow-your-own-er. I don’t grow food. And I know I should. And I know in the conversations we’ve had, you’ve inspired me because you can actually plant your food and your vegetables in amongst the plants. So that’s really where I should be going. But I’m a perennial guy. Lots of trees now, this shelterbelt thing, just to try and filter the wind.

Liz – And I noticed recently that you’ve actually got some really, you’ve got sort of tender plants and tender trees in really big pots so you can move them around.

Mike – Yeah, when we moved from our last house I probably had about 150 pots. And there was a really, I’m going to justify that now, the really…

Liz – This is a gardening podcast, you don’t need to justify it.

Mike – And mind you, the other half will listen to this, so just for the purpose of nothing else. We lived in, the garden we lived in before was a woodland garden, so it was very shady apart from this narrow strip across the top of the patio. So it was crammed with the pots full of the plants I love to grow, like the sun. But when we came here, there was this sort of unspoken word, not as many pots.

And in the moving process, and of course, moving the garden was the hardest part of the move, not the house, it was the garden. Pots had got to be reduced back. So they were, they were stripped back to about 20 or 30 pots. But we’re sneaking back up again. And the tenders, I love plants.

The thing about growing in pots is actually it allows you to grow stuff that you wouldn’t be able to keep through the winter in our climate.

Yeah and it’s just again with the winds there, they’re a little bit more portable and I love these little, it’s the word vignettes, vignettes, where you can sort of like something in a pot with some pots in front of it and it’s just a lovely little focal point that’s changeable so you can indulge.

Liz – You need to grow stuff in pots because you need to be able to do things like grow bulbs and you need to be able to put those pots in the flowerbed for those bulbs to shine and be stars for their season and then move them out and change her pots to something else.

That’s exactly it. You’re pushing on an open door but it’s good to actually get this out there.


Because if anyone understands the pot theory, it will slowly tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, sink in. There’s method behind my madness.

Yeah, you’re a man after my own heart. So having said that I wasn’t going to ask you earlier on what your favourite plants are. I’m going to kind of put you on the spot but I’m just going to put a caveat that when people ask me, I always answer for pretty much for what month it is now or what season it is now rather than forever. This is the favourite thing. So, so four, early to mid-spring, Mike, favourite plants?

I’m sort of almost duty bound to say snowdrops. Now I’m not a galanthophile, but I’m a galanthophile in training. I’ve got my ale plates on. I went to Wisley a week ago today, I was there this time last week, and there were swathes of snowdrops. Oh, and they’re just lovely. I do adore snowdrops. But other things, I’ve got a thing about iris reticulata, the little dwarf iris. And of course, they have names. And so you’ve got Pauline, you’ve got J.S. Dyer, you’ve got Harmony. And it’s viruses. So yeah, so dwarf viruses, snowdrops, the obvious hellebores.

Liz – You can’t hear a nod, but I am nodding frantically. So are you a tulip fan? Let’s move forward in the season a little bit.

I am. Again, in pots, not in the borders. I think pots are sort of like a great for tulips, as you said just a moment ago, it puts them in the spotlight. So I’m a little bit fussy with the tulips. It’s a pot per variety. So this year, Apple Dawn, I’ve got, oh gosh, Queen of Night, a real selection of tulips. And they are already, again, tropical south coast. Noses are poking through about an inch up now. So yeah, excited about tulips and always have been.

Liz – I like tulips. Part of me knows, no, no, I don’t like them. But actually, whenever I see them in the garden, I’m always like, oh, that’s really nice. I wish I’d put more in. And here, we can’t have any because the squirrels dig them up and eat them faster than you can blink.

Yeah, well we’ve got the squirrel problem as well, but I’ve also got two cats and they’re sort of told at the sort of the planting time, keep those blimmin’ squirrels away from my pot. And it works, that’s what happens to it, it’s as easy as that. I work with the fairy friends and they’ll do all the hard work.

Liz – So your cats, remind me of their names?

Mike – Benson and Willow. So Benson and Willow are their formal names. Benson has become known as Fred and Willow because she’s so small, is baby. So it’s baby and Fred but Benson and Willow are their sort of like.

Liz – It’s not four cats, it’s two cats each with two names. Excellent. Do you have, because everybody’s going to want to know this, do you have a top tip for keeping cats from depositing in your garden?

Mike -I do know everybody asks me about that, how do you cope with the, they go to the neighbours, it’s almost like they, well this is a show garden, that’s a little bit grand, but they almost know that I can’t do it here, so they don’t, I don’t actually see them do it here. And the other thing is, you probably know, I plant quite densely. So at certain times of the year, they can’t even get into the borders to do whatever they might want to do. This time of year when they’re quite flat, they don’t go there, they go somewhere else.

Liz – Yes, I have that as well. But people often say, how do you keep cats off and it’s obviously how do you keep neighbours’ cats off the garden.

Mike – And now you’ve got Monty haven’t you?

Liz – Yes.

Mike – Yeah, well see our two seem to be the only cats around here so we don’t have many other cat visitors because that is, it’s like when other cats come in and use your garden as a convenience. Yes. Is Monty quite good with yours or does Monty, does he sort of tittle on the tulips?

Oh no, our garden is actually quite a distance from the house and Monty is, he’s a fair weather cat so he will go outside if the weather is dry and nice, which three quarters of the way up a mountain in Wales is not that often. So there are stables and barns and things and he goes and uses those because they’re much closer to the house. So in some ways we’re very lucky or I’m very lucky in terms of he’s not out there in the veg garden. I’m not so lucky that he’s been in a barn. Shall we move on from this conversation?

Mike – Everybody’s keeping their fingers crossed now. We were hoping you’d be talking about plants rather than piddling cats.

Liz – Well, you know, it’s one of those questions that I get asked often and you said, you know, you get asked as well and it is one of those issues for

people. So I think sometimes it’s just worth discussing politely, you know.

Mike – Lots of us, if we don’t have cats, we’re visited by cats and it’s like yes, what do you do?

Liz – Yeah, okay, so let’s move on a bit from there. You have turned your love of gardening into writing and into photographs and videos. So you have your Instagram account which has got loads of lovely photos in it, it’s got loads of nice reels, so that’s short videos. But every week, near enough, you do a wander round the garden.

I do. My Sunday stroll. And we’re coming up, unbelievably, to four years. This was a lockdown baby, as we all went into lockdown. I’d just joined the Guild to write, to be a writer. Went into lockdown, the co-chair at the time, Tamsin, who we mentioned earlier, put a call out, I seem to recall, to say, let’s share our gardens on social media. Well, two or three weeks prior to that, I had seen two guys from the Great British Bake Off do this live on Instagram, and it was a car crash. They had no coordination. They hadn’t thought it through. And I’m quite, I’m a Virgo, I’m a planner, so I think things through.

But I just remember thinking, I could do that. So we went into lockdown. The likes of Anne-Marie Powell and Jo Thompson were doing these gardening lives each day. I thought, now’s the time. And I um-ed and ah-ed for the first week. And then on Friday, I thought, if I don’t do this, if I don’t press that button, I’m going to miss the boat. So Friday the first week of lockdown, pressed the go live button, never done it before. I had the phone in landscape mode rather than portrait.

Six people joined me and I stumbled around the garden and there wasn’t much else to see. But I loved it. It was like, if I’d had six people physically come to the garden, I would have been chuffed. Yes. I was chuffed. And I said to the other half, I’m going to do this every week. And of course, we didn’t know at that point how long lockdown was going to be. No. So here I am, sort of four years later. I don’t go live every single Sunday now, especially this time of year, there’s not loads to talk about. But I get between 160, 200 people join me and a few thousand people watch it afterwards.

Liz – Shall we just say that again? A few thousand people watch it afterwards. That’s incredible, Mike.

Well, it is. But then sort of like when it comes to numbers, it’s, I do it because I enjoy it. And I know other people enjoy it because I get a lot of people write to me. If I say that I’m not here next week, I get messages saying, when will you be back? And oh, we’ll miss you. And where are you going? You have to, it’s not like a podcast.

Cos you and I podcast. And you can edit out the ums and the ahs. But when you’re doing it live, and I can talk. I can talk for an hour and that’s what my other half says, it’s like only you could actually have a one-way conversation where you talk constantly for an hour. But it’s about the plants, it’s about the flowers, the trees, the garden, so that inspiration, I just look around and I’m inspired by what I see. And it’s good humour, well I like to think it’s sort of like fairly humourous, I like to try and put it in a little bit.

It’s good humor, it’s informative, it’s entertainment. It’s that word that we were talking about the other day, edutainment.

Yes. And do you know that stuck in my mind? Because having been a stand-up trainer in a previous life, imparting information to other people is a skill. But I always think it always gets transcribed better if you’ve got a little bit of humor in it so people can actually enjoy the process. So that’s, I guess, just years of being a trainer.

Oh, Mike, there’s nothing worse than sitting through a presentation, and particularly now, online seminars, where someone is just reading blandly off a script sheet, and they’re not interested and there’s no humour in it. And there’s no, because the humour’s a punctuation, humour’s the bit that allows you to, you know, to remember that Mike was going to move his really tall plants from the back of the border forward a little bit or vice versa so that they look.

So that was the one that I remember a wander around your garden, a Sunday stroll in the autumn where you were saying, oh, these plants are at the wrong height here. I want to move them to a different bed. And I’m going to ask you in a minute if you’ve got around to doing that yet, or whether you’re like me. You go, I must do that. And then you forget about it until the next year.

Well, I have to say, doing the stroll, I actually forced myself to say things because I think there is a sort of onus on me then to do it. I have got a little bit, I mean when I first started doing it, if I said I’m going to move this from here to there, I thought well I’ve been well going to do it because I’ve told people that that’s going to happen. And it was nice then to go back a few weeks later and say here’s what I was talking about, here’s where it now is.

So I did find myself saying things just to give myself a kick up the backside to make sure that I did it. I do hear myself saying things sometimes. I think, gosh, I really ought to get that done quite soon. And a couple of those do slip through the net, obviously. But by and large, I’m sort of quite good-ish.

You joined the Garden Media Guild to do writing, you then started doing Instagram and your reels and the live strolls. How far has your gardening, your garden writing got?

Mike – Well I’d had a couple of pieces published before joining the Guild and being a guy of a certain age, I’m a physical gardener, I was a professional gardener and designer. And you come home at the end of a long day and you start to feel it. And so I thought, I’ve always had a love of writing. Since school, I’ve loved writing. And I thought, I’d like to try and supplement my career so when I start to slow down, I can pick up the writing.

So I did the Instagram thing, and that’s been great. But the writing side of things, everybody was talking about Substack about a year, 18 months ago.

Liz – Yes.

Mike – Yes, being part of the Guild Committee, you’re busy, and I was spreading myself too thinly, but it was there. I want to do this, I want to do this, I want to get back into writing. And now I’ve got myself a little bit more time, and so I do the writing on the Substack, which I love doing. It’s largely gardening, again, with a little bit of humour in the writing. But then going back about three months ago, I had a phone call from a mutual friend, Kim Stoddart, who is the editor of Amateur Gardening Magazine. Now I’ve known Kim for, well, since I’ve been in the Guild, she’s been on the podcast. We chatted about her book, The Climate Change Garden. And she phoned just after the Garden Media Guild Awards in the middle of November.

And I get lots of phone calls and emails after the awards. Why didn’t you do this? Why didn’t you do that? Or I’d like to say thank you for what you did. So Kim phoned just out of the blue. So I thought she’s phoning about the awards. And long story short, she was asking if I would write an article in Amateur Gardening magazine. So I was like, absolutely, I’d love to write an article for you.

And then she went, no, no, no, no, you’re not getting this. I want you to have a column. I want you to write a regular column. So yeah, so I’m five editions in to my column in Amateur Gardening magazine. And I love it.

Liz – Brilliant.

Mike – Yeah, I guess it’s still new Liz because I’ve not been in a situation where you go into a shop and you can see a magazine that you’ve got your fizzog on and so yeah.

I’ve got the Christmas issue with me here. Look, here we go. Christmas issue. This was eight great reasons to get outside over Christmas. Look at you with your leather hat. This went on a little venture last week, didn’t it, your hat?

Mike – Yeah, the hat’s become a bit of a signature. It’s become part of Mike the Gardener, which is how I’m known, I guess, now. The hat I bought 100 years ago, Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, and my partner said, what do you want that for? And I was like, well, I’m a little bit folically challenged, so it’s good. Because seriously, you do have to think about being in the garden and the sun.

And it languished in the back of the van for years upon years. And in fact, when I started doing the lives in the first lockdown, and you’ll remember the weather was absolutely glorious.

Liz – It was. I thought I need a hat.

Mike  – So the hat was bought out, mould all over it, so it was cleaned up, given a makeover, and it became my hat. Last week, went to Wisley. As I was leaving, it was one and a half hour journey back, we’re back to the cats conversation now, I had to go to the conveniences. It came out, I met a guy who I’d seen a few weeks ago who said when you when you come to Wisley Give me a call and it was just like that situation and in talking to him and sort of like what are you doing here? Why are you here? I? Went off got back home opened up the boot of the car to take my bag and the hat out

No hat! that was gone! The hat’s got to the stage now where it’s almost as important as a mobile phone. You know, you worry when you have a snap. One story short, phones then they hadn’t got it. And then a couple of days later, they phoned and said it had been handed in. So, I have been reunited with my lovely little hat.

That’s brilliant. So, I’m just going to go back. I’m going to rewind a tiny bit, because you were talking about Substack and I’m not sure that everyone’s going to know what that is or how you access it. So is it, it’s not a paper magazine is it?

Mike – It’s an online writing platform I guess, but any sphere of writing and not just gardening, it’s accessible online or via an app and you can publish whatever you want to on your particular account. Mine’s, as I say, largely about gardening. Some people have a subscription service. At the moment mine is free, so get in there now while Yeah, it’s a great way to be able to use my writing and to reach out to an audience of people who love gardening. It’s growing on there now.

Liz – Yeah, I will make sure that I leave all the important links so that you can find Mike online.
And I’ll leave a link to his Substack in the show notes and over on my website and anywhere else you are listening to this, somewhere there will be the links to be able to find Mike. Because I always think it’s really important when I’m chatting with people that if you’re listening, you can then find the things that we’re talking about.

That’s very kind of you. It’s Mike The Gardener Rambling Prose.

Brilliant. That was a very good, a very good play on words there.

Yeah. You think about titles and things. And I opened a garden. In fact, I had that title when I first started up. And I thought, oh, it’s a bit naff. I’ll leave it. And then I just sort of, Mike the Garden, it’s just boring. It was Mike the Gardener Newsletter. Well, the word newsletter, so I don’t know, just like, hmm. So I changed it just recently. So Rambling Prose.

I like it. I think that’s really lovely.

Mike – Are you going to Substack Liz?

Liz – No, I’m not because I have a website. So I do, I Write on there.  I put regular blog posts up there and, you know, people can access that.

Mike – Yeah, that’s the big thing. It’s we’re busy gardening and then we add more layers on writing, YouTube, blogging, podcasting, and you just have to remember, for me, the day job, the garden, is the bread and butter of everything. So I have to give enough time to myself or it’s not the same. Everybody’s out there. If you’re not doing the day-to-day, hands-in-the-dirt stuff. How can you then create content about it?

Liz –  Exactly, exactly that thing and also the thing that emotionally and mental health wise gets me through the year is being out in the garden you know with the fresh air surrounded by nature and I know most gardeners are the same.

Mike – Yeah and I think a lot, a lot is spoken about mental health and well-being these days. And until recently, I’ve never been affected by that. But I have been in recent months. And in fact, I wrote about it, how some people sort of like have this awful, when they wake up in the morning, this dread of the day. Now, I’ve not got that.

And I, my heart goes out to people who live with this in such a big way, but I’ve had this sort of like feeling of, it’s not anxiety or depression, but just a very mild sort of, it’s been hard to motivate myself. More so, those words that we hear people write about, I’ve actually understood more myself from having been there in a very, very small way. And the garden has, literally, because I’ve pushed myself to go out in the garden more, it’s so true, the words that people write about it, gardening does have this calming, soothing effect on our mental well-being.

Liz – Absolutely. Mike, thank you so much for joining me today.

Mike – It’s my pleasure, thank you for asking me. It’s been nice to have a catch up.

Liz Zorab

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