If you’ve watched BBC1’s The Instant Gardener, you’ll have seen some amazing transformations made by Danny Clarke and the team. Bringing unloved outdoor spaces back to life and making the owners really happy. I love it. So, who better to answer some gardening questions at this important time of year than Danny himself ?
How did you get in to gardening and then television presenting ?
Although I had a passion for gardening, my career in horticulture started by accident. Unfortunately a sales company I ran for many years hit upon hard times. A friend of mine had a landlady who was looking for a gardener to help in her plot one day a week and asked if I was interested in working for her. After meeting Jo I was bowled over by her larger than life character and took on the job while still being involved with my sales business. Jo who had a passion for gardens and gardening had extensive knowledge. She was a great teacher and I absorbed as much as I could. What Jo didn’t know about plants could be put on the back of a postage stamp.
Over a period of time I got approached by people to maintain their gardens and soon I made the decision to concentrate on horticulture and kicked the sales business permanently into the long grass. It was a no brainer really as now I was doing something I truly loved.
I have always had an interest in design whether it be gardens, interiors, fashion or architecture. So I enrolled at Hadlow Horticultural College and did a one year garden design course. This gave me the confidence to design and build gardens along with maintaining them.
The television gig came about as a result of my trading title which is The Black Gardener. I received a random email form 12Yard Productions who wanted a black gardener to present a gardening show ( The Instant Gardener ) which had already been commissioned by the BBC. Someone in their development department googled the name and hey presto my website appeared. I did the screen test which was successful and it all went from there.
Which have been your favourite projects so far on The Instant Gardener ?
My favourite project on The Instant Gardener was for Shirley who lives in Manchester. She is a gamester who is mad for the Doctor Who tv series. It seemed pretty natural to design a themed garden based on the time lord. I cut three concentric rings into the lawn. We put slate chippings in the centre and middle strip which were contained with aluminium lawn edging to denote the universe. Random planting of round topiarised standard privet balls and small conical shaped yew trees into the area represented planets and rockets.
A wonky five sided arch made from fence posts constructed by AJ the shows handyman was securely placed in the centre. This was the time portal that would cause Shirley to disappear into another dimension if ever she walked through it. Her shed was painted blue to mimic the Tardis. A narrow strip of the same colour was repeated on the decking by the rear patio doors which became the landing pad if ever the doctor should choose to visit. It was great to get the opportunity to show that gardens too can have humour.
At this time of year, what would you recommend we start preparing in the garden ?
The best time of year to prepare your garden for the coming year is in the winter. It’s a great time to take advantage of the dormancy. This is the season to repair fences, cut back plants that have finished, enrich your soil, prune perennials, weed, divide and plant bulbs. For me it’s the opportunity that shouldn’t be missed otherwise you may spend the spring playing catch up to get your space ship shape.
What tips would you give to someone with a small garden to give the impression of space ?
When giving a small garden the illusion of space it’s important to think big. By this I mean try and put the largest plants and objects such as pots into the area. This way the boundaries will be blurred and your eyes will be concentrated on whats happening within the plot rather than taken to the edges. Buying one large plant can prove to be more cost effective than several smaller ones. And the same principle applies to pots.
Equally, how do you make a larger garden aesthetically pleasing ?
My pet hate is to see narrow borders. Your garden as far as I’m concerned is about the plants. They shouldn’t be lining up like soldiers on duty along the border. They will look and grow at their best placed in the ground further into the garden. This will give your space a more aesthetically pleasing look and will free them from competition posed by a fence, wall or hedge which they will definitely thank you for.
If someone is looking to extend there living space through to the garden, how can they achieve this ?
A simple way to extend the living space into a garden is to repeat or mimic whatever is in your home to the outside. For example the flooring by the indoors can be of similar material to the patio. Repeat colours in your interior walls to a fence or shed. This will give your property a bit of joined up writing by extending the eye line and give the whole property the illusion of seeming larger than it really is. Another good idea is to place the same plants with identical pots in the home and garden.
Which plants and flowers do you recommend for this time of year to add lots of colour ?
March is such an optimistic time of year with the promise of what’s to come. A fab way to release those winter blues is to make sure you have plenty of colour in your garden at this time of year. Hellebores, Chaenomeles ( Quince ), Magnolia under planted with Primulas, Ophiopogon ( black grass ), Pulmonaria ( lungwort ) and Heuchera are particular favourites of mine.
For novice gardeners such as myself – which are low maintenance plants ?
Most shrubs and ornamental grasses are low maintenance. However there are three in particular that will give you stunning season long colour that I would recommend. They are jasmine plants where you have winter and summer options. These only need the odd drink of water in dry spells.
Lavender will withstand the sunniest of areas and poor soil. The only maintenance needed here is a trim after flowering and a spot with good drainage as they don’t like their feet languishing in water.
I’m a massive fan of grasses and Stipa arundinacea is a particular fav of mine. As an evergreen it gives all year round colour turning from green in summer to a yellow and orange with red streaking in the winter months. In August it produces sprays of feathery flowers. If you’re in any doubt what to put next a plant a grass will often do as they provide great contrast to its neighbour.
What projects are you currently working on ?
I am currently working on a garden design and build project near Croydon. It’s been very enjoyable and provided me with work over the winter months. They wanted me to take my cue from their neighbours outside space which has been done to a good standard. So you might say it’s next doors plot that gave me inspiration for the build. The hardlandscaping is almost complete and the plan is to undertake the planting at the end of April. I’m also going to be involved in some more telly very soon for the This Morning show where I makeover a garden for an unsuspecting mum for Mothers Day.
Can you offer advice for anyone wanting to go down the horticulture route ?
Horticulture for me isn’t a job but a way of life. I love it with a passion. And my advice to anyone coming into it is to make sure you have a real joy for the industry. Particularly as it’s unlikely to make you a millionaire. But then again who knows and cares.
A big thanks to Danny for answering my questions and offering up some great garden inspiration. You can find out more about Danny on his website.
Do you have any extra Spring gardening tips ? Leave me a comment below. Always good to hear from you.