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Interview With Dr Sarah Wilson

Prior to retiring, Dr Sarah Wilson was medical director of Inhealth – a diagnostic imaging company – for six years.

Prior to retiring, Dr Sarah Wilson was medical director of Inhealth – a diagnostic imaging company – for six years. Before then, Sarah was senior lecturer in public health medicine at Nottingham University and then the director of public health in Nottingham for about 12 years. She then became the medical director and director of public health for the Trent Strategic Health Authority from 2002 to 2006.

My parents had a lovely garden in which I spent my childhood and then I started my own serious interest in gardening when we moved into a new house 30 years ago with just two large patches of rough grass. We ended up opening that garden, in Nottinghamshire, for our open village gardens.

I think doctors are particularly attracted to gardening as it is a very long-term enterprise and most of their clinical work is focussed on solving short-term problems. It also allows for them to express their more creative and artistic talents.

When we moved back to Surrey I completed most of the level 2 RHS courses at Wisley and then began the four-year plant course with Rosemary Campbell-Preston’s Plant School in 2013. This included a wonderful ‘plant hunters’ trip to Crete last year – interestingly there are several retired dentists and doctors in our class of 20 ‘plant mad women’. I am also a member of the Birkbeck Garden History Group and am learning more about garden history.

We bought our house because it had a well-established, large garden – it was designed in a style which was in keeping with the Arts and Crafts style house built in the 1920s. We loved the wonderful old trees and were persuaded to commit ourselves to the hugely labour intensive outdoor swimming pool! Once I retired I set about doing a lot of clearing, replanting, remodelling of borders and building new features. It is now more of a ‘plantsman’s garden’ with some unusual and interesting woodland plants and shrubs and a secret glade at the bottom for children to play in.

It provides me with good exercise, a reason to learn more about plants and horticulture, a place for parties and playing children and an opportunity for making new friends. Since I retired I try to pop out into the garden every day – it is wonderful to see the plants, birds and other creatures change with the seasons.

Nothing in the garden is permanent – I see every cleared border as an opportunity for a new design. We have a beautiful collection of life-size bronze statues by Brian Alabaster which look perfect in our garden.

I probably spend about three days a week in the garden – I fit this in with playing golf, looking after my grandchildren and being a member of the house committee at the Royal Automobile Club with responsibility for the renovation and development of the gardens at the Woodcote Park Country Club. Every day is busy and I love doing all the things I didn’t have time to do when I worked in the NHS. I have found time for designing gardens for friends and relations – the rule ‘right plant, right place’ works every time.

The Trust was set up 25 years ago to ensure that historical gardens were not destroyed by development and building. I became a trustee a few years ago and am now heavily involved in planning lectures, garden visits and study days for our members as well as modernising our approach to marketing – the greatest challenge is getting new younger members.

We try to support local primary schools so they can get the children interested in gardening and we have a programme called ‘Opening all the gates’ where we arrange for groups of disabled and disadvantaged people to visit Surrey gardens.

We open every year for the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) which raises money for charities such as Macmillan and Marie Curie. Last year we made £2,315 for the NGS and £825 for our other charities – NSPCC and the Childrens’ Trust at Tadworth. Visit www.ngs.org.uk – our garden is called Shieling.

The visits are hard work but I always have the garden under control; the tea and cakes are more of a challenge! The women appreciate the plants and statues and the men marvel at the weed-free lawn, the shed full of mowers and the compost bins!

Learn how to prune properly – it makes a huge difference to your shrubs and trees.

Be patient – buying a small plant and seeing it grow is so much more rewarding (and cheaper) than buying a full grown plant.

Plant lots of spring bulbs – they come up every year and remind you that winter is over!

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