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Philip Oostenbrink

Expert horticulturist

A self-confessed plant nerd, Philip has been gardening for as long as he can remember. After teaching horticulture and running a gardening business, Philip moved to Kent and after a couple of high profile gardening jobs became head gardener at Walmer Castle. Collecting plants is a passion for Philip and he currently holds four National Plant Collections. He is also the author of 'Jungle Garden.'

Walmer Castle Gardens

Your three favourite flowers? 

I love Iris of any kind, but I. reticulata and I. germanica in particular. I also love Hedychium and Helleborus. 

Tell us about your childhood garden?

Our garden had a lot of grass in the beginning, but as my father and I loved growing plants we created more and more borders. In the end it was just borders, filled with plants, with these small paths in between. It wasn’t a large garden, just average urban sized. When I was 18 in 1998 we moved to a larger garden which was just a paddock. This was about an acre in size and I designed different areas in it. There is a cottage garden, a rose garden, garden for pollinators and a herb garden.

Who or what inspired your career choice?

Gardening has always been in my blood and I have been collecting plants since I was about 4. In kindergarten my friend and I had plans to start a florist shop. Before college I wanted to become a landscape architect or park manager. I went to horticultural college and that ignited my love of plants even more. For eight years I was a teacher of horticulture, but I missed the practical side and dealing with plants. I moved to the UK from the Netherlands in 2008 and set up a gardening business. After having done that for three years I became deputy head gardener at Hadlow College in Kent. Then a move into the head gardening job at Canterbury Cathedral and now English Heritage’s Walmer Castle. I think the main reason for me ending up in horticulture is that I was surrounded by people who loved gardening. My grandmother, father, uncle, neighbour were all keen gardeners as a hobby or professionally, so that definitely influenced me.

What is a typical day in the life of Philip?

I get up at 7 and start work at 8. I am usually up a bit earlier so I can check the emails. My job is about 50% admin and 50% gardening. I catch up with my team and then I tend to do a complete site check. I will then water my glasshouse and check up on cuttings and seedlings. After that I will sort out matters which came up in the site check, or work in an area in the garden which needs a bit of care. Most days we get volunteers in so I will make sure they know what they are doing and who they are working with. Then it is usually a combination of admin, checking how the team is doing and doing some work outside. My team members all look after a particular area in the garden. My own ‘area’ which nobody else looks after is the glasshouse and its display. There is always watering and tidying up to do in there.

No garden is complete without …

Good foliage combinations.

Something we’d find:

·         On your bedside table: My (one-eyed) ginger cat General Martok

·         In your flower arrangement: Scented daffodils

·         In your garden shed: Aspidistra tables

The flaw you wish you didn’t have?

That’s a strange question to me as I believe everyone is unique. What makes a flaw a flaw? 

What would you be in another life?

A chef.

Guiding principles?

Be kind to others, but stand by what you believe is right.

Who is a horticultural hero?

Roy Lancaster. An amazing plantsman and he pointed me in the right direction when I was looking for a publisher for my book.

What is the one flower or plant you’d never plant in your garden, but don’t detest when you see others plant it?

Roses. I just think they are too fussy and prickly. I do love the scent of them though, especially ‘Royal Perfuma’ which we just planted at Walmer Castle.

If there was a fire, and you could only keep one book on gardening, what would it be?

Will Giles’ Exotic plant encyclopaedia.

For posterity, what would you like your work to be known for?

I would like to be known as a plant collector who added unusual jungle plants to a historic moat.

Contact: Instagram: @mr.plantaholic Twitter: @HG_Philip


'A self-confessed jungle plant nerd'

Quick fire: some favourite things 

·         Book (fiction): Roy Grace series by Peter James

·         Film: God’s Own Country

·         Painting: Any from Koen Lybaert

·         Smell: Lemon Verbena

·         Meal: Toad in the hole

·         Travel Destination: Greece

·         A cause near and dear to me: Plant Heritage

·         Place to go for inspiration: Pan Global Nursery

·         A great walk near where you live: Three castle walk from Walmer Castle to Sandown Castle via Deal Castle.

·         Thing to collect obsessively: Aspidistra

·         Museum: Museum of Archaeology in Athens

·         Favourite person to follow on Instagram: Kevin Hobbs, @florafanatica

·         Garden in the UK: The World Garden, Lullingstone

·         Garden anywhere else: Jardin Majorelle, Marrakech

Walmer Castle Gardens where Philip is head gardener


 Image of Philip taken by Sarah Cuttle

Philip Oostenbrink
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