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Our Gardening Journey by The Bearded Growers

Updated: Jun 6

Bish and JJ tell us a little about yourselves?

We actually went to school together 25 years ago in the Black Country, we unfortunately lost touch for 19 years as people do when they leave school, JJ moved to Worcester and Bish’s work sent him all round Europe before landing in Kent for a while, once he moved to the Cotswolds we had a chance meeting and reconnected when we saw each other at a 10k race for charity in Cheltenham about 5 years ago.

What were your introductions into gardening?

JJ spent most of his summer holiday’s and weekends over his fathers allotment, admittedly taking little to no interest in what was going on but something must have stuck as in his late twenties he started pottering about in the garden and trying make it look nice each summer, this grew into a passion which spread to growing vegetables at home and then taking the plunge and getting an allotment.

Bish has been thrust into the world of gardening by being free labour for his partner in the garden and on the allotment. His interest has grown and he’s now turning himself into a DIY genius making everything from a shed to cold frames on the allotment with recycled materials.

Who are your gardening inspirations and why?

We are both big fans of Adam Frost, it’s his passion that hooks you in and he’s someone we could both listen to for hours when he’s talking about gardening. But our real inspirations are a lot closer to home, for Bish it’s his partner Sally who grows as much as she can to feed the family and engage the kids in growing your own, foraging and living a sustainable organic lifestyle.

JJ’s inspiration is definitely his dad the original JJ, without all those days spent on the allotment at a young age the gardening and growing bug would not have bitten. We talk endlessly about our plans for our gardens and allotments, comparing notes on how things are progressing, sharing ideas and techniques.

What do you enjoy about gardening?

For us our least favourite jobs, I think we can both safely say it’s weeding, backbreaking and never ending but it’s got to be done! We both practice no dig as our preferred method on the allotment and it must be said the weeds are substantially less using this method, JJ has Bish to thank for getting him to switch from double digging each year to no dig.

The enjoyment of gardening is endless but if we had to pick one each, Bish’s would be sharing time on the allotment with the kids, getting them involved and watching them become enthused by being at the allotment or in the garden. For JJ it’s got to be nurturing seedlings, spring is a fascinating time of the year and he likes to experiment with different growing mediums and substrates to get the best results, basically he likes to get his hands dirty and play in the dirt!

Tell us about your gardening experiences?

We make no secret of the fact we are not trained in horticulture in any way, we are both self-taught through our experiences each year. The best way to succeed in our opinion is to fail, it’s learning from these failures that gives you the knowledge base to change what you are doing and become successful in the garden or on the allotment. It’s important to know your growing space to get the best from it, what works in a book or the guidance on a seed packet might be totally different in your situation. Take notes on what you have done each year and refer back to the successes and tweek any failures to improve next time round.

How did you get to present the UKs No.1 Horticulture Radio Show?

We already had connections to the now closed radio station NCCR as Bish presented a sports show a few years back. When we realised that we both had a shared love of gardening and we both had allotments we decided to take it one step further and asked NCCR to consider us for a gardening show slot on the station. Bearded Growers was born!

After 18 months the station unfortunately closed due to funding but we were approached by Cotswolds Radio, who had heard the show and thought it would be a good fit on the station. We are 2 months in to the new show and it’s going from strength to strength with listener figures on the up and more and more gardeners, house plant enthusiasts and allotmenteers tuning in each week. The show is live for 2 hours every Monday from 7pm. Each week we have live guests in our potting shed interview feature where we have had the opportunity to interview Adam Frost, Frances Tophill, Diarmuid Gavin, Lee Burkhill, John Torode, Nikki Chapman, Lee Connelly (skinny jean gardener) and Michael Perry to name but a few.

What are your plans or goals for your radio show?

Is world domination a bit much? Honestly, we just want to keep this journey going and see where it takes us, since we started we have become ambassadors for Greenfingers charity, we’ve climbed a mountain to raise funding for them and this year we are hiking end to end on the Malvern Hills, 9 miles of pain is awaiting us on the 1st of July! Exciting times are ahead for the Bearded Growers, we will be at various RHS shows this year trying to grab interviews with the great and good of the gardening world and we are actually hosting at the Worcester Show on the 13th of August, so come down and see us as we are handing out prizes and judging the all important allotment competition.

Who is most interesting person that you have interviewed and who would you love to interview?

The most interesting would have to be Adam Frost, we have had the pleasure of interviewing him twice for the show and he is so engaging and honest about his mental health struggles and how gardening helps him.

Our interview bucket list is shortening as we have been very privileged to interview some brilliant gardeners and more importantly brilliant people. That said we would love a chat with Alan Titchmarsh and Monty Don as they are the godfathers of gardening.

What impact or benefits do you think gardening has had on your lives & why do you feel gardening is important?

Gardening has been incredible for both of us, forget the show and the opportunities it’s given us, the gardening has always been the central part of who we are. We have both had mental health struggles and gardening has played a big part in fighting back against depression and anxiety. It’s good to see how the benefits of gardening for mental health are being highlighted but it can go so much further. If you are feeling low, getting out in the fresh air and doing something in the garden helps so much it’s unbelievable, the sense of achievement gives you a high like no other.

How do you try to manage the impacts your gardening has on the environment?

The environment is something we both want to improve and we are both no-dig followers which creates a healthy permaculture below the top level of soil, we both refuse to use pesticides and ‘artificial fertilisers’, read the ingredients, if you can’t pronounce it surely you shouldn’t be eating it? The natural world knows what it’s doing, use that to your advantage. Nettles, seaweed and comfry make amazing plant food, pests will be prevented by companion planting and allowing the natural predators to do the job for you. Pesticides won’t only kill what you consider to be pests but they also kill beneficial insects, birds and mammals. The alarming decline of our natural insects, butterflies, bees, birds, hedgehogs etc must be reversed and only we can do that!

What are your future plans for your gardens?

Garden wise, we are evolving to make them beautiful, natural and wildlife friendly. By introducing natural planting for your area, you allow localised populations of insects, birds and animals to thieve. In an urban space JJ has seen common blue and speckled woodland butterflies in the garden, these species like grass lands and woodlands so the planting must be working for them. It’s always worth seeing what grows in the wild in your area and trying to replicate this. Adding sensory planting to any garden makes it a place you want to visit, plants that you can touch, smell and hear rustling in the wind just give you a more immersive gardening experience.

A huge thank you to JJ & Bish who in our opinion have the best gardening radio show in the world! Tune into Cotswolds Radio every Monday at 7pm and give them a follow on instagram @bearded.growers

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