Spring has officially sprung – if your garden needs a little TLC, we know just the woman…
Her love of gardening has taken her all over the world, but now Corbridge-born horticulturist Dawn Chapman has returned to the North East. We caught up with Dawn to find out how she can help us all spruce up our green spaces
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Corbridge and grew up there until I was 12, when we moved to Whitley Bay. I left home at 16. Looking back, I was so young. I joined North Tyneside Youth Theatre, as I’d always loved drama and acting, and actually got a place in drama school in London, but I couldn’t get a grant. I ended up doing a fair bit of acting and even got some small parts in a couple of TV dramas, but for personal reasons, I ended up moving to Sark, in the Channel Islands.
I did some gardening and farming there and loved it. By then I’d also caught the travel bug, so I began visiting places all over the UK to hone the gardening skills I’d started to acquire. I learned dry stone walling in Alston and Lundy Island and hedge-laying in Devon and Dorset; I worked with Pam Lewis, who is very knowledgeable about creating wildflower meadows, while I was travelling around Dorset, Somerset and Devon too. I studied traditional woodland crafts, worked in an ancient coppice in Suffolk for a winter season, and studied habitat management and gardening.
After some time working in a gardening centre, 11 years ago I took the leap to start my own gardening business in East Devon, and I’ve never looked back since.
You recently moved back to the North East – can you tell us why?
With COVID, like most people, I just started evaluating what was most important to me. My sister is going through her third cancer journey (a second battle with breast cancer), and we’ve always been close, so I just wanted to be nearer to her to be able to support her more. My parents are also just into their 80s now, so seeing them more often has been great.
Generally, though, I missed the friendliness of the North East. I always kept in touch with all my friends up here, so I can’t wait to catch up with them all in person once we’re out of lockdown.
You’ve brought your business, Dawn Til’ Dusk, with you. What kind of services can you offer?
Pretty much any kind of gardening services imaginable! I’m very wildlife-friendly and conservation-conscious, as I’ve been involved with a number of conservation projects all over the world over the years, so my approach to gardening and design is very much with my environment in mind. Whether your garden just needs a bit of a tidy up or you’re looking to redesign your garden space, I’m sure I can help!
I’ve also worked with adults with learning difficulties, day-release prisoners and recovering addicts, so helping others use gardening as a form of rehabilitation is also something I’m interested in.
How did you first get into gardening?
When I was young, I spent my summer holidays in York with my great-grandmother. She had a large garden and grew virtually everything to eat and preserve. I would say that’s really where my interest started. She was an incredible lady. I’ve always loved being out in nature too, so getting into gardening just seemed like such a natural process.
You’ve travelled the world. Where’s been your favourite place to visit?
I have travelled a lot, so I always find it difficult to pick out a favourite place. Each winter I’d normally go off for a couple of months when work’s quiet. Two years ago, I went to Uganda and ended up gardening – the irony! – and showing people there how to compost and make liquid manure. So much for a holiday!
I also did an expedition to Borneo about 26 years ago. It involved a number of conservation and community projects around the virgin rainforest, which had been torn down. One of the projects involved diving in the South China Sea to do some research into cancer and, specifically, leukaemia for the local university. That was incredible.
Where in the North East are you looking forward to visiting again once lockdown lifts?
I love so many places here in the North East. I’m even just looking forward to wandering around Newcastle again, as it’s such a beautiful city. I love the architecture. Definitely the East coast too, Druridge Bay in particular. And just anywhere in Northumberland, to be honest!
What should we be doing to/planting in our gardens right now?
Plant bulbs which will flower in summer, as well as shrubs and perennials. Now’s the best time to lift and divide overgrown clumps of perennials, top-dress pots with fresh compost, or repot plants in bigger pots, and mow the lawn. Cut vigorous climbers, such as ivy and honeysuckle, and just tidy up your garden generally.
What if we don’t have gardens – what’s your best advice for bringing a little of the outside in?
House plants are a great way to filter indoor air and help create a warm ambience in your home. But if you have pets, be sure to check your chosen house plant is pet-friendly.
In terms of plant practicality, salad greens and micro greens can be easily grown in a pot. Sprouters are great for growing alfalfa or pulses too. You can grow plants like chives, mint, rosemary, coriander and basil in pots in your kitchen, and can then use them when cooking.
Aloe Vera is another favourite of mine for practicality; it’s anti-bacterial and is also a great anti-inflammatory. Just nip a bit of its juice and it can be rubbed onto burns or grazes.
What do you love most about your job?
I love being outdoors, although the weather can be testing at times! I love the relationships I make with my customers too, and when I create a beautiful space for them to enjoy it’s so rewarding. I like my independence so being self-employed is perfect for me. And I have a passion for nature, so this really is my perfect job. It keeps me active and keeps me learning. What’s not to love?!
What are your goals for 2021?
It’s been a massive move leaving my old business and relocating, all during a pandemic. I’ve had a good few wobbles along the way. But I’m a confident person so I really do believe it will work out. I can always do one-off jobs and I really enjoy designing, but I’d love to build up a regular customer base here this year, as that’s my bread and butter.
I think, like all of us now, just some normality would be great! I’ve always loved tennis so I can’t wait to join a tennis club again and be able to play regularly. Catching up with family and old friends and making some new ones in this beautiful region. There’s lots to look forward to!
To find out more about how Dawn can transform your garden, give her a call on 07866 566883 or drop her an email: dawn[email protected]