The TV foodie reveals the highs and lows of her gardening journey, as she swaps spatulas for secateurs. By Hannah Stephenson.
Wildflower mishaps, vegetable gluts and disappointing fruit bushes have all proved an incredible studying curve for baking ace Dame Prue Leith, who can be a eager gardener.
However her wealth of rising expertise makes her the proper alternative as new choose on this 12 months’s B&Q Gardener of the 12 months competitors, alongside returning judges Matt Childs, Humaira Ikram and Steve Man, with a prize of £10,000 up for grabs.
Round a year-and-a-half in the past, Leith, 82, downsized from her Cotswold nation manor with the gorgeous backyard she had created, to a close-by fashionable home she designed with husband John Playfair on a two-acre plot.
The brand new backyard – featured final 12 months in Channel 4’s Prue’s Nice Backyard Plot – is a piece in progress, she says. Right here, she displays on how she was a latecomer to gardening and shares the triumphs and disasters of her horticultural life…
How did you turn into focused on gardening?
“I grew up in South Africa, we had a beautiful backyard. I spent plenty of time outdoors as a result of the climate was beautiful and we did not have a tv,” says Leith.
“Till I used to be about 40, I did not have plenty of curiosity in gardening as a result of I used to be busy with the kids [she had a son and daughter with her late first husband, Rayne Kruger] and with my enterprise. And the kids have been on the age after they have been nonetheless kicking balls into the herbaceous border and had all of the clobber of sandpits and climbing body.
“After they went to highschool, I began to be taught the distinction between an oak and an ash. I used to be a latecomer however then I turned actually obsessed.”
You like color – how do you utilize that open air?
“I just like the South African look. We had plenty of oak backyard furnishings within the outdated home, which we introduced right here – and we painted a few of it brilliant pink, whereas the terrace upstairs has Kingfisher blue furnishings, like California, and we sunbathe up there.
“The colors of the vegetation are robust, not muted. If I am on the lookout for eryngium, I like essentially the most lovely deep electrical blues. We even have tubs of agapanthus on the terrace.”
What are you on the lookout for within the competitors gardens?
“We have 4 classes: the traditional gardener, the place we predict perhaps hedges and herbaceous borders; the year-round gardener, the place we hope to see winter curiosity from somebody who’s thought of color and form the entire 12 months spherical.
“Then we have got the productive gardener, which appeals to me as a result of it is about feeding folks. We’re not simply anticipating a veg backyard. It will likely be attention-grabbing to see if folks put some greens into herbaceous borders or whether or not they develop herbs in pots and troughs. The opposite class is the eccentric gardener, which will likely be a shock.”
What’s your backyard like?
“My current backyard could be very new as a result of we have simply taken over an outdated farmyard, which was used for contracting to retailer monumental equipment so was largely concrete. We had half an acre of concrete to eliminate earlier than we started.
“We had no mature bushes besides on the very edges, which was once the hedgerow. The oldest factor in our new backyard is the orchard, which we planted three years in the past earlier than we even had planning permission for the home. We simply took an opportunity.”
What have you ever planted within the orchard?
“They’re all native British endangered apples, damsons, plums and pears. Final 12 months, we had our first crop of apples and I started to know why these apple bushes had gone out of vogue and have been now endangered, as a result of so a lot of them are tiny and scabby – and we will not spray them as a result of we are attempting to go natural.
“The scabby apples are too small to be bothered to peel and plenty of them have been bitter. Nevertheless, they made superb apple jelly, which I foisted on my buddies in jars.”
Do you might have a vegetable backyard?
“No, as a result of there are solely two of us, and I’ve had my fill of disappointments with vegetable gardens. It is beautiful to be consuming your individual veg, however by and huge with a giant vegetable backyard, you find yourself with far too many cabbages all prepared on the similar time. The whole lot occurs directly.
“However now we have huge agricultural cattle troughs in our courtyard, that are filled with vegetation and veg and I haven’t got to get on my arms and knees to weed. We’re rising runner beans on wigwams and tumbling tomatoes, numerous herbs and lettuces. Final 12 months, we managed to eat all of it as a result of we had a bit of plenty of issues.”
Have you ever had many gardening disasters?
“A lot. Who hasn’t? After I first moved into my outdated home, it had a really mature backyard once we purchased it. I did not like conifers, so I chopped down an enormous fir tree and solely realised afterwards that it was actually strategic to have been put in that place as a result of it acted as a focus, a column. You usually make errors since you rush into issues.”
Did you might have an issue rising wildflowers?
“Sure. The factor about wildflowers is that I had thought that, like all flowers, they like actually wealthy soil and plenty of compost. It seems that if you are going to have soil like that, the weeds and notably grass simply love wealthy area. The grasses which come up earlier than the wildflowers utterly smother the area.
“When John was getting the brand new orchard prepared, having put in lots of compost and leafmould, grit and good topsoil, I assumed, would not it’s a good suggestion to have wildflowers rising in between the bushes? I purchased a load of wildflower seeds and tossed them underneath the bushes and naturally the grass got here up and smothered all of them.”
What’s your newest challenge within the backyard?
“We have simply planted an avenue of bushes by way of a area which works right down to a stream, which concerned planting 76 bushes – oaks and rowan. Oaks develop very slowly and I am 82, so I am not going to see this avenue in all it is glory. I am hoping nobody will dig them up, as they’re great for future generations.”
What vegetation do you utilize for color?
“We now have two beds, that are half grasses and half color. One aspect has obtained plenty of orange and pink in it and the opposite aspect is blue and purple. The blues embrace eryngium, purple sedum, blue salvias, with Michaelmas daisies and annual white and pink cosmos to fill the gaps.
“The new pink and yellow border consists of grasses with euphorbias, phlomis, Anemone hupehensis, Coreopsis grandiflora, day lilies and fennel.”
To enter the B&Q Gardener of the 12 months competitors, go to diy.com/gardener-of-the-year. Entries should be submitted by midday on June 20