A lifetime of experience at the forefront of horticulture with a great enjoyment of the outdoors, and no-nonsense approach to growing, is maybe the best way to describe Christine Walkden. She is Lecturer, Author, and much sought-after tour leader and guide across the globe. Also, a passionate Photographer. She is also a presenter on Tv and Radio and known to many as the gardening face of BBCs The One Show or her various shows based on gardens. She also is known for floating over others grand gardens in a Hot Air balloon to give a different view, before exploring on foot. And she is of course a regular on the institution that is BBCs Radio 4s Gardeners Question Time.
Dan: Hello and welcome to the Grapevine Christine, how have you been lately during these challenging times?
Christine: The lockdown as allowed me to spend more time at home. I am normally away filming, leading garden tours, working overseas and lecturing all over the UK and internationally. I have been able to plant more for this summer as I will be around to see the displays and enjoy them.
Dan: I imaging you are missing doing you brilliant garden tours and meeting all the different folk that come along?
Christine: This is the first time that I have been brought to a halt. You can’t do what I do while social distancing is in force. Yes I have missed the tours, plants and people, but fortunately all cancellations have been re booked for next year. I now look forward to that. See my website for more details.
Dan: You studied at Myerscough Collage then made your way to Kew Gardens, with some lecturing for the RHS for good measure. All great places to learn the solid basics of horticulture and expand from there, are you of the opinion that anyone wanting a career in horticulture needs to start of in such a way to get a solid base to work from?
Christine: I think it is a combination of practical work and study that provides the building blocks on which to develop a career. The foundations which are laid down then allow you to take the path which way you wish to follow. Practical experience is a valuable asset but combining it with an understanding brings a greater appreciation of all the factors involved.
Dan: These past few months of lock down have created a surge in peoples interest in Gardening, Allotments and Nature as a whole which is great, But the trick will be keeping these people interested going forward, how do you think would be the best ways to do this, for instance should horticulture be included in the syllabus for younger children at school?
Christine: Exposure to any subject can spark an interest. If children aren’t shown something or have the opportunity of giving it a go, they do not know if they would be interested in it or not. I believe every person should be able to grow their own food and that needs an appreciation of what is involved.
I think the support of others acting as a mentor is extremely useful. Joining an allotment or horticultural society means you then have a point of reference for the moments when things go wrong. You can discuss this with a mentor and then try and move forward.
Dan: Tell us a bit more about your own garden? What sort of soil do you have? How did you go about planning it out?
Christine: My garden is long and thin (175 x 35 ft), and in it I grow flowers, trees , shrubs, alpines, bulbs, climbers, and vegetables and fruit. Very much in a cottage garden style. It was never planned. I put things where I believe they will grow and it is my playground to do what I want where I want too. The garden is on a slope and is a light alluvial loam which dries out very quickly and eats organic matter like it is going out of fashion
Dan: I see you had your first allotment at the grand old age of 10! Who for you gave you that spark that ignited the flame for your love of gardening and growing?
Christine: I have no idea where the spark came from. My first thoughts of gardening relate to being given a crocus corm every autumn at junior school and we potted them up in yogurt pots and grew them on. One summer break children was asked to take the plants home from school to look after them while we are all on holiday. I took three of them home – all Campanulas and that started me off.
No family members were interested in gardening while I was growing up so I was very much the black sheep of the family in that sense.
Dan: And who have you most admired over the years for their input into the world of horticulture?
Christine: I am not a great person follower but do admire the work and effort researchers have given to the industry in moving things forward. We are the industry as we are today, because of the work of so many people.
Plant collectors over the years and even in the present day, have provided us with plant material which allows the vast richness that is shown in gardens around the world. Without this input our gardens would be the poorer.
Dan: You are a writer of course and have many popular books and also appear in many articles in magazines, are active on social media and on Tv and Radio, and you garden tours.But do you have a particular favourite medium to get your views across?
Christine: I love both live TV and Radio. The speed of thought that is required and mental agility is a challenge which I enjoy.
Christine you have found yourself stranded on a (Lush Tropical) Dessert Island but fortunately you have One Book, One Song and One packet of seeds. What is you Dessert Island Veg?
My song would have to be Perhaps Love sung by John Denver and Placido Domingio.
My Book The Mystic Garden by Douglas Swinscow.
And my seeds would have to be runner beans for the different ways it could be grown – as ground cover, up trees and shrubs and poles. I love the different colours of flowers and the beans.
Dan: I’ve v much enjoyed your tv shows over the years either appearing on say Gardeners World, or spending A Year In Christine’s Garden which was great fun and full of good practical advice, with your now dearly departed neighbour Reg popping up. Great fun to make I imagine? And with an accompanying book too?
Christine: Yes it was fun but very hard work. All being recounted in the Book of the series – A Year in Christine’s Garden – The secret Diary of a Garden Lover.
Dan: And what a great idea to appreciate the properties from the air first then down to terra firma for a totally different view Glorious Gardens from Above. Was this an idea you had or an amalgamation of ideas/thoughts from various people?
Christine: The series was put together based on my experiences of filming from a balloon for the One Show. The Balloon Pilot, myself and then the BBC developed the idea.
Dan: Excellent idea to use a Hot Air Balloon I’ve been up in one, and it give a totally different perspective and v peaceful outlook looking down from up above, did you escape yourself while floating on the wind?
Christine: No. I find filming a challenge and spent all my time being focused on what I was supposed to be doing up in the balloon and the requirements of the filming. Due to the number of flights needed and the timings we had to be up in the air, deliver the material very quickly and then move on. The schedule was packed and there was no time at all for relaxing.
Dan: I’m guessing you have a good head for heights?
Christine: Yes and it was obvious form the One Show films that I could present from a balloon without any issues.
Dan: Christine we all have a veg/plant that works or doesn’t for us, so Christine what is you Plant Heaven/Hell?
Christine: My plant heaven is when all the plants are growing well and are healthy and my hell is having to deal with ground elder.
Dan: You’re an award winning author and presenter RTS Best Daytime Show 2015 and Amateur Gardeners Magazine Tv Gardener of the Year 2015 is there anything else in media you fancy trying out, maybe a regular spot on a radio show or maybe your own show?
Christine: I would love to be filmed walking across Turkey. Setting off in March from the West and walking through the mountains to the East showing how the diversity of flora develops as the season progress. A major film documentary.
Dan: Many have started to notice the little things in nature that are often drowned out in these quite last few months, what have you noticed more of? And what do you hope that we can do to try to hang onto these moments or make them the new normal?
Christine: Being in lockdown as allowed me to see my garden and surrounding countryside at the time of the year in which I normally don’t spend much time in it, as I am way so much. This as been enjoyable.
Dan: You are a Patron and Ambassador for many Trusts and Charities often doing guided tours of lesser known but fabulous gardens. But is there one garden that you would love to do a guided tour of that you haven’t yet?
Christine: I love seeing and leading in all gardens that I have not seen before either in the UK or overseas. I do not have a particular garden that I would like to lead in.
Dan: Have you got one pearl of wisdom or growing tip for people that is often a problem for many?
Christine: If you fail retry again and again. If you don’t know what is wrong, seek help and advice.
Dan: Exciting news Christine,Henry VIII has just turned up in his new time machine and he wants you to be his guide to all the beautiful gardens throughout history. Many great names from the past and present will be coming along for the ride too. But to help you, he has said you can have three people from any time past or present to help you to explain, inform and guide them through this journey. Who is your Garden Dream Team?
Christine: Carl Linnaeus so he could explain how plant naming was developed.
. Francis Mason the Scottish Botanist who introduced many S. African plants to the UK which are now being used far more extensively due to changing climate and their drought tolerance.
Finally Beth Chatto who developed the idea of right plant right place. Fundamental in the growing of all plants.
Dan: Well with all this excitement surrounding your exploits with Henry VIII you are in demand, but which show will you chose? Strictly Come Dancing, Great Sowing Bee, Bake Off or SAS Who Dares Wins?
Christine:None of them, as they are not what I want to do.
I am a gardener who loves communicating a passion for my subject – gardening and for other subjects that I am interested in such as people, dogs, music, engines and driving fast cars, the countryside and science. I love doing TV and Radio but it has to be something that interests me, rather than me just being on TV or radio.
Dan: Christine as we slowly get back to normality, what plans have you for the future and any exciting developments that you plan to move on with?
Christine: Too do as I am and travel more. I have a very interesting and exciting life, so just hope to continue doing the tours, lectures, filming and broadcasting and everything else that I enjoy. I take opportunities that come my way and this as lead to a very fore filled life.
Dan: Do you have a favourite time of the year?
Christine: Yes two.
Spring for the rebirth of growth and the optimism it brings.
And Autumn for its colours and takingback to the ground of nutrients for next year.
Dan: Lastly am I right in thinking you interviewed the late great Dame Vera Lynn? That must have been a pleasure?
Christine: It was a very memorable day and I felt it a great privilege and honour to have spent the day working with her.
Thank you for joining us On the Grapevine Christine and we hope you have enjoyed yourself.
You can follow Christine on Twitter @ChristineWalkd
And find out all about where and when you can find her on her website www.christinewalkden.com
Her best-selling books “A Year In Christine’s Garden: The Secret Diary of a Garden Lover”, “Christine Walkden No Nonsense Container Gardening” ,” No-nonsense Vegetable Gardening – how to grow vegetables in small gardens” and “The House Plant Almanac” are available from all good bookshops and online stores.
She regularly contributes to Gardeners Worlds and Amateur Gardening Magazine
She is patron of:
The Beth Chatto Trust
The Professional Gardeners Guild Trust
Driftwood Fundraising Group
St Claire Hospice, Hastingwood, Essex
And Ambassador for:
Women’s Farm and Garden Association