Garden Gab

Garden Gab is a monthly profile that features our gardening community's creators and champions of innovative gardens and gardening practices. The Garden Conservancy wants to highlight and share their passion for gardens with our network of garden enthusiasts.

This is featured in our monthly e-newsletters and on social media. Make sure to subscribe to our mailing list and follow us on Instagram and Facebook.


February 2023

Pom Shillingford

Salisbury, CT
Years Gardening: Since childhood and at my current garden for 10 years

Pom Shillingford is a member of The Garden Conservancy and is an Open Days host. Read her profile below!

I came to the US in 1997 with my job in magazine publishing. I thought I’d be here for a year or two. Fast forward 26 years and I’m still here, married to an Englishman with three born and bred American teenagers. We now live in Salisbury, CT, along with four dogs, a cat, and a garden. I can always be found lamenting the weather, despairing of marauding wildlife and driving said husband to distraction with another ‘brilliant idea’ for said garden.

Describe your garden

Ten years ago, we decided to make the leap from living in Manhattan with our three small children to a small town in Northwest CT, where we knew no one and had never been. We bought a wreck of a historic house which, although a falling-down gem, was really a cover for what I actually covetedthe three barren acres of ‘garden’ that came with it. 

My dream, goal, and challenge was to create a modern version of the beautiful Arts & Crafts garden my grandmother had created over sixty years in Hampshire, England. Ten years on, the structure is finishedalmost! We have divided the space with a series of yew hedge-defined rooms, herbaceous flower beds and a large potager/vegetable garden. We have planted two orchards, thousands of spring bulbs and enough boxwood topiary for my husband to threaten divorce. Aside from the very large trees and hedges, we have designed, planted, and do all the maintenance ourselves.

Three years ago, I started a cut flower business, English Garden Grown, focusing on tulips, dahlias, and from this previous year, forced winter bulbs and sweet peas all grown here in the garden.

If you could describe your love of gardening in one word, what would that be and why?


I really began to garden seriously when our eldest child was born. At the time we were living in Manhattan but had a tiny cottage on Shelter Island where we would spend weekends and the summer. Motherhood did not come easily to me and the garden became my absolute refuge. I credit it in no small way for pulling me from the depths of postnatal despair. The mental benefits of gardening have never faded for me since. I am just a much nicer, more resilient, happier person when I garden. 

Gardening has taught me to be flexible, patient, resilient, and an optimist. There is no greater example of hope than planting a spring bulb in the falland I’ve planted thousands! It gives me focus, a never-ending opportunity to learn, and despite whatever misfortune may occur, there is an opportunity for a redo next year.

Gardening has also given me a respect for Mother Nature that I perhaps otherwise would not have. (Nothing like first-hand evidence of climate change to make you change your ways!) Thanks to gardening, rare is the day that there is not something in the natural world that can give me at least a glimmer of joy. 

You visit many of our Open Days, can you tell us what you enjoy most about this program?

Visiting an Open Day is the best way to learn. Starting our garden from scratch in New England with no experience of the climate, growing season, or pest pressure, has led to some frustrating and expensive mistakes. So seeing firsthand from others what worksand what doesn’thas been invaluable.

Having no formal training and developing our own garden in phases has led to times when I’ve been ‘stuck’ design-wise. Seeing and being inspired by other people’s brilliance, being able to ask the gardener themselves the how, why’s and what’sand having the wisdom of their hindsighthas made me a far more confident and inspired gardener.

As for hosting, in my experience, it is incredibly rare to meet a gardener you don’t like. I think gardeners are the happiest, kindest, most generous, enthusiastic, and optimistic breed of people. Being a Garden Host means I get to spend the entire day chatting with wonderful people about my favorite subject. It’s heaven!  

(Plus, there really is no greater motivation than people coming to look around the garden to finally bust out that “To Do List.”)

Can you let us know about your flower farming business? How did it begin, and what do you find most rewarding about it?

I started my cut flower business, English Garden Grown, basically because I ran out of friends with vases. As with all addictions that start small, the number of tulips and dahlias I was growing every year began to get a little, and then very, out of control. The business grew from the need to find homes for all of the flowers I was producing every year.

Three years ago, I took the Floret six-week flower farming course and with the help of a really supportive friend, planted 3,500 tulips. This year I’m up to around 8,500 tulips and 550 dahlias. The learning curve of growing on that scale has been enormous, but I have loved it!

It can be ridiculously hard work. There are definitely moments when I wonder what on earth I am doingor that I should perhaps/definitely have started this when I was twenty years younger. I don’t love some aspects of running a business but the joy of actually growing the flowers, of creating all that beauty, color, and fragrance from those tiny seeds, tubers, and bulbs are worth every marketing email, sales tax return, and stacks of dirty flower buckets.

How do you share your passion for gardening with others?

As my children will lament, there’s nothing I like to talk about more than my garden, or gardening in general! 

When I began my cut flower business, I reluctantly joined the world of social media. How I wish I had joined sooner! I have ‘met’ such lovely people through Instagram who, in some instances, have become friends in real life. I try to post at least four times a week, with at least one, if not two posts focusing on gardening advice and encouragement to grow or source seasonal local flowers.

I also write a monthly column for a regional lifestyle publication, Main Street Magazine, with a focus on growing seasonal cut flowers. This year I will be giving a couple of talks about the creation of our garden to local gardening groups.

Aside from being a host for The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program, we also host an open garden fundraiser every summer for a local cancer support charity which is attended by the local community.

 Photo of Pom Shillingford by Alexander Wilburn. All additional photos courtesy of Pom Shillingford

January 2023

Jessica Dowling

Norwalk, CT 
Years Gardening: 15 @jessicadowlingart 

Jessica is a member of The Garden Conservancy and is an avid Open Days visitor. Read her profile below!

I am an artist and teacher living in Norwalk, CT with my husband Alex. I teach middle school art at a wonderful school and am also pursuing my Master’s degree in art history. I enjoy reading, baking, and being outside, and was probably a garden gnome in a past life. 

Describe your garden

I have a small garden in a suburban neighborhood, where I grow mostly flowers. Every year I look forward to watching it evolve, from the first crocuses in early spring to the asters in the fall. I start most of my annuals from seed, which enables me to grow rare and interesting varieties. Some plants, like snapdragons, poppies, and cosmos, always have a place in my garden, but I also like to try out a few new things every year. Some work out, and some don’t, but I look at everything I do in the garden as an experiment… nature is rarely predictable. My garden really hits its stride during the summer when my favorite flowers, the dahlias, start to bloom. I get so much joy from growing these beautiful flowers - the variety of colors, textures, and sizes is incredible, and they put on a spectacular show for months. I also grow pollinator-friendly and native plants, provide water sources and cover, and always garden organically, as it is important to me that a garden is a hospitable place for wildlife. 


If you could describe your love of gardening in one word, what would that be and why?

Connection. Gardening offers so many opportunities to connect with nature, other people, and yourself. Time spent alone in the garden is very meditative and grounding for me, allowing me to unplug and connect with the natural world. I also love gardening with my husband, Alex. It's so nice to spend a spring Saturday out in the garden together, digging a new bed or planting seedlings. I also really love when someone walks by when I’m out in the front garden and stops to chat or ask questions. Once, our mail carrier came by to deliver a package while I was splitting up perennials, and we got to talking… She left a little while later with a bucket full of daylilies!


You visit many of our Open Days, can you tell us what makes you such an avid visitor?

It is such a joy to be able to tour and admire other people’s gardens. No matter the scale of the Open Days garden, I always walk away with inspiration that I can apply to my own space. I love getting the chance to talk to other gardeners too, whether the host or other visitors. 

How do you share your passion for gardening with others?

I love helping friends plan their gardens. People are often so intimidated by gardening, and it's nice to help them realize that really anyone can do it - no matter their experience or space limitations. Even if it's a few herbs on a windowsill, gardening is so enriching and gratifying. I’m always encouraging folks to give it a try. I also love to talk shop with friends (and people I’ve just met, for that matter) about gardening, and of course, it is always fun to share seedlings and flower arrangements with friends and family.

 All photos courtesy of Jessica Dowling