Welcome to the second part of our Make it Happen series of interviews with leading female horticulturalists in honour of International Women’s Day.
Today we are talking to Christine Walkden, who was kind enough to give us a telephone interview. I had to write very fast to keep up with Christine’s enthusiasm for gardening, but it was a pleasure to speak to such an honest and enthusiastic person.
You may well know Christine from some of her many and varied appearances on television. My favourite has been her appearances in The Great British Garden Revival, and also the Glorious Gardens From Above series. It was so interesting to see gardens from a different perspective, which even included Christine abseiling to do some cliffside gardening at St Michael’s Mount.
What is your first gardening memory?
At school every year from 5-11yrs old we were given a crocus corm, a yoghurt pot and some soil from the playing field to plant the crocus in. We were given them to plant and then they were taken away until they flowered. I loved the planting but it always bothered me that I didn’t get to look after them whilst they were growing, someone else was always given that job. They were brought back out when they were flowering. I wanted to be involved in the whole process. Even back then I loved the growing. It’s all about putting something in and getting something up.
Who is your gardening inspiration?
Mother Nature. I’ve never been one for posters of people on my walls as a youngster I had pictures of flowers on my walls.
Why do you think it is important to encourage young people to garden?
It teaches them about life, the seasons, light, smells patience, understanding, companionship. It’s much more than just sticking in plants. It’s life and death, it’s a softer way to teach some of the concepts of life that can be tricky to get across.
The theme for International Women’s day is “Make It Happen” what are your top tips for helping young girls interested in a career in gardening, and how they can make it happen?
Get as much practical experience as you can, even if that means volunteering for free. You can’t buy experience you can only gain it. Practical experience is so important, you can read things in books or on the Internet but it can’t replace practical experience.
What ideas do you have to help encourage young girls into gardening?
Just do it. If you don’t succeed straight away, sow some more. We all have to learn skills like reading or riding a bike, or learning to drive, some take time, some are tricky. People expect miracles when gardening, why? Some of the skills of gardening can take time to master. Be persistent, don’t give up.The important thing is that people connect with nature, that a plant moves them. That’s what matters. Even if it is the joy of a dandelion, or making daisy chains, the connection with plants is the important bit.
Do you have any advice for girls or women looking at horticulture as a future career?
The same – keep trying and persevere.The money may not always be there with gardening as a career but the reward is. You may not get a “flash lifestyle”. But I have had an amazing life, travelled the world and seen the most fabulous things and had fantastic experiences all because of my love of plants.
Sometimes young people find it difficult to see where a career will take them; some times they are focused more on financial reward than on lifestyle benefits. Gardening was never considered a decent job, but look at me now.
Teaching children the skills of horticulture can start them on a journey that can be continued later in life. It may be that they continue gardening as a career straight away, or it might be that they come back to it as a career choice later in life.
Do you have any anecdotes you would like to share about working & gardening with young people or in schools?
I just love the little kids with their twinkling eyes getting their hands dirty and enjoying it. I love it that they say they now do gardening at home because of me. One child told me they now have a greenhouse at home because of me – that made my day.
A child, who was considered quite a difficult child within the school, brought a plant in to show me, that he had looked after and nurtured. I asked him how he had got it started and he said it started in the garden and I liked it and it looked pretty and I thought you would enjoy it. He was caring for that plant and bringing it on. It was a hairy bittercress plant. That doesn’t matter – it’s the enthusiasm that he showed and the care and perseverance to make that plant thrive. I loved that.
When you are planting seeds with children you are planting a lifelong gift.
If you can tick their boxes and excite them you have them for life.
What is your desert island garden tool & plant?
Oh blimey! A hoe, ho ho ho! You’ve got to keep the blimmin’ weeds down to succeed. And if they get out of control you could always chop things down with a hoe, or use it to dig a bit!
Plant – Soldanella pusilla – it’s an alpine and I love its scale, beauty and tenacity. It can even flower in the snow.
At this point we had a chat about Latin names, and Christine was adamant that whilst Latin names are very important not knowing them shouldn’t hold people back from getting involved with gardening. It’s about engaging with the plant and enjoying it. Don’t worry about the name. That knowledge can come later.
What is your favourite thing about gardening?
The whole experience. The optimism. If it doesn’t work try again, it’s likely to succeed a second time. There’s always tomorrow.
Growing people and growing a garden is the same thing – you nurture a garden just like you nurture a child to get the best results. Make sure it has enough food and water, and that plants aren’t left to freeze in winter or bake in summer and you should be ok.
The gift of gardening can’t be quantified. The magical moments are the satisfaction.
Thank you so much to Christine for taking the time to answer our questions. You can find Christine on Twitter and her website diary will show you where she is appearing at shows and horticultural society talks so you might be lucky enough to hear her in person.