Interview: TV gardener Christine Walkden
YOU won’t find many 10-year-olds who own their own allotment.
But that said, you won’t find many other gardeners quite as passionate about plants as Rishton-born Christine Walkden.
The green-fingered enthusiast had her very first horticultural plot round the corner from her childhood home in Harwood Road before other kids her age had fully mastered reading and writing.
“It just came out of the blue,” said the 50-year-old TV personality. “No-one in the family had the same hobby or encouraged me. It was just something I really wanted to do.”
“We lived in a terraced house with a very small front garden. I planted a few things there but it was too small. One day I saw a woman on an allotment and asked her how to get myself one. I spent all my time with the old blokes down there at the allotments near St Peter’s School.”
The proud Lancastrian has become a regular fixture on television screens. A past presenter on BBC Gardeners' World and Gardeners' Dairy, she also broadcasts regularly on national radio and in 2006 she was handed her own prime-time TV show, Christine's Garden, writing a book titled a Year In Christine’s Garden to accompany the second series.
Now she is the gardening expert on The One Show, with Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley weekdays at 7pm on BBC One.
Christine said: “I did two series of Christine’s Garden. The head of studio with us moved to The One Show and she decided I would be a good addition. I suppose it really is a case of who you know as well as what you know sometimes.
“I love it. I hear from gardeners a lot. They say the gardening section is great and I make ‘em laugh They call me the people’s gardener, so what more could you want?”
After leaving school Christine took her first job with the Ribble Valley Council’s parks department in Clitheroe, which led to lecturing at most of the country’s leading centres or horticultural excellence. Now she uses her expertise to be a freelance lecturer, adviser, writer and broadcaster.
However, Christine is keen to be known as a horticulturist and not a television presenter.
“I am a gardener who does a bit of television, not the other way around. I have never done anything else for a job and can’t imagine doing either. I fancied forensic science but I wasn't clever enough,” she laughed.
As a child Christine attended St Charles School, Rishton, and St Augustine’s, Billington before leaving to work in the south. She now lives in Hertfordshire.
But Christine revealed she is keen to move back home.
“I’d like to move back to Lancashire and live in the Ribble Valley one day. It’s my roots. It’s where I belong. Maybe I can find an even bigger garden there. There’s no place like home.”
It might, however prove difficult to leave behind the 175ft by 35ft garden she has nurtured for the past 20 years.
“My garden is very important to me and if you took that away from you might as well take the lifeblood from me.
“I make time even though I’m busy. I refuse to neglect my garden. That was where it all started. My garden was a big reason for getting this house. I grow all sorts, flowers, fruit and veg.
“All my neighbours come knocking on the door and ask for advice all the time and I love it. If I could give you five top tips to make your garden a success I’d say; Never give up, If you don’t know ask an allotmenteer, don’t take on too much to start with — only small patches and build up slowy — speak to local gardeners to see what does well in your locality and, most of all, blooming well enjoy it,” she said.
The down-to-earth presenter is coming back to her roots this weekend for the Lancashire Garden and Country Fair where she will host a Gardening Question Time. There will be a whole array of horticultural displays over the three-day event, which runs until Sunday at Dowson's Farm, Longsight Road, Clayton-le-Dale.
Christine often speaks of the "soul" of a garden and says she has received thousands of e-mails from fans thanking her for her unique approach.
She added: “The very atmosphere of a garden is its core and when a person dies the soul of that garden goes with them. If a person leaves the garden its never the same again.”
Christine, who believes everyone should at least have bedding plants in their garden, loves working in the outdoors so much that she admits the last thing on her mind before bed is her plants. She has travelled the world to see new species of plants. But her favourite is the humble soldanella, a snowbell alpine and member of the primrose family.
This year Christine presented the Chelsea Flower Show and just this week she received a Gold Award from the Association of Colleges' after being nominated by Myerscough College, where she studied.
So after a long career, which started in childhood, are there any signs of Christine hanging up her trowel any time soon?
“Hell no! I have such a good laugh why would I want to ever stop doing this. I have even trained my one-year-old chocolate labrador, Willow, what to respect in the garden. She learned what 'no' meant very quickly.”
l Lancashire Garden and Country Fair runs until Sunday at Dowson's Farm, Longsight Road, Clayton-le-Dale. Tickets are £5 adults and £1.50 for children.