Last fall, London native Paul Epsom spent some time shooting area gardens, including our own Chanticleer, for the PBS TV show The Victory Garden. A passionate gardener, nursery owner and fan of the Philadelphia Flower Show, the former Episcopal Academy teacher managed to put down his trowel long enough to share some of his gardening expertise and philosophies, while offering kudos to Philadelphia Green, the nation’s largest urban greening program, for its aggressive efforts to fight urban decay.
MLT: What are some of your favorite gardens in the area?
PE: I can’t name the private ones, but I’ve not seen better gardens anywhere in the United States than on the Main Line. The houses and garden landscapes weave together beautifully. The public gardens are all wonderful. Twenty years ago, Morris Arboretum was in a state of decay. Now it’s gorgeous. Chanticleer, too.
MLT: Speaking of Chanticleer, how difficult was it to pull off a “cool” theme for The Victory Garden when the temperature was more than 95 degrees the afternoon you visited?
PE: Chanticleer’s staff knows the plant material like the back of its hand. We were running very late, and light was starting to be an issue. But [Chanticleer’s] Jonathan Wright got us to the Tea Cup garden, which was filled with lots of cooling silvers and blues, and succulents. Seeing that and simply saying “winter” made us feel a lot cooler.
MLT: What’s the worst gardening mistake you’ve made?
PE: When I created my raised rock garden, I started running out of money and settled for a cheap truckload of heavy soil, which makes weeding more of a chore than if I’d waited for good soil. I’ve also been known to indulge in plants that are harder to maintain and less disease-resistant, which occasionally puts me at odds with my garden.
MLT: Your biggest challenge?
PE: We have incredibly compacted clay soil where I live, which is very difficult to work with. It’s always a battle keeping it loose. But more so, my problem lies in not finding enough time to look after my garden. I come up with a list of what I want to do every spring. Another challenge is reducing the size of my lawn without my family complaining.
MLT: What are the most common gardening mistakes?
PE: Going for the quick fix, not having a plan, not paying enough attention to soil or to what grows best in your area, and not focusing enough on winter interest. Everyone who wants a garden should live in their house for a while to see which doors and patios or decks they use, what windows they look out of, and what plants already exist. Create an overall design and spread the work and investment over time.
MLT: What’s the most important thing to keep in mind about gardening?
PE: Do the simple chores, get your hands dirty, and get some plants to grow. It’s about caring, nurturing. Not enough kids have the experience of watching something grow. That’s not a good thing for the environment.