We meet celebrity gardener, TV presenter and horticultural writer to talk about his upcoming garden festival at Powderham, encouraging kids into the garden and how gardening can improve mental your health.

Q: Where did your love of gardening stem from?
I’ve always had a love of the great outdoors but I got the gardening bug from my Uncle Bob. He always made growing plants an adventure and in spring he and I would head to the beach to gather seaweed to put in trenches for his seed potatoes. I still remember being blown away when I went back in June to discover the seaweed had turned into a ‘buried treasure’ of edible tubers!

Q: Did you ever expect to make a career from your green-fingered nature?
No. I always thought I’d join the family building business but when I was in school I had jobs on nurseries and I realised I was quite good at it. I still like building though as I like its hands-on nature and the fact that it’s full of little ‘tricks-of-the-trade’ – just like gardening.

Q: Your 2017 Garden Festival at Powderham is coming up on 28th – 29th April. What’s in store for visitors this year?
This year we have BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time expert (and One Magazine gardening writer) Pippa Greenwood talking about growing veg while over in our new ‘Chill and Grill’ zone we have BBQ masterclasses to show you how to cook it! On Saturday BBC Gardeners’ World presenter Adam Frost will be talking garden design and running through both days will be talks on topiary, bonsai (from world expert John Trott) and for those who are struggling with pests and plant problems we’ve the new Grazers ‘Gardeners Pest Clinic’ where you can bring in spotty, nibbled leaves and get the problem identified.

Q: What is it about your garden festival that makes it so popular?
The location is beautiful and the diversity of plants on offer is second to none but what makes it really special is the friendly atmosphere. Unlike conventional garden ‘shows’ where visitors troop in and are ‘shown’ exhibits, everyone who comes to the festival is part of the party and there is such a diversity of interactive exhibits, tasters, talks, demos and live music. There’s something for everyone!

Q: You’ve taken that successful recipe to a new venue this autumn; the stunning grounds of Forde Abbey. How will it differ from the Powderham festival?
Powderham is a celebration of the start of the growing season and Forde Abbey is a knees-up as it comes to the end. We wanted to showcase the crops and flowers that light up the end of summer that aren’t there in spring and revel in the storing, eating and abundance of the harvest.

Q: What tips do you have for any budding gardeners hoping to start growing their own fruit and veg for the first time this month?
Gardening is made up of lots of simple little tips and the more you do it the easier it gets. Also resist the temptation to bite off more than you can chew; it’s easier to start modestly and do a few things well than struggle with more projects and plants than you can keep pace with.

Q: There has been a lot of research showing how gardening can really improve mental health. What are your thoughts on this subject?
So much of modern life is unnatural and alienating. Gardening is so good for the spirits as the smell of the earth and feel of plants reduces stress and connects us to what really matters. It makes us human.

Q: How can people still enjoy gardening with limited space?
Pots are the way to garden where space and time are tight and, as long as they are watered, pretty much anything can be grown in a container.

Q: It’s becoming increasingly popular to encourage wildlife into our gardens. What are some easy ways for people to cater for wild visitors?
Plant flowers right through the year as bees are around even in winter. Schematic Meadows are great too – these are long-flowering meadows made up of ornamental plants which look good and are loved by wildlife. We’re sowing one with Meadow in My Garden at Forde Abbey and it will be featured in our program of talks.

Q: Gardening is often considered a hobby for the older generation. How do you feel about that stereotype and how can we help get kids out into the garden?
The love of gardening often goes hand-in-hand with home ownership and that’s why gardeners for want of a better word are often ‘mature’. However, the knowledge of plants and how to grow is part of our natural heritage and should be a core in the education of all children. Kids love gardening especially when they are given the freedom to do it for themselves without the restriction of too many rules.

Q: Are there any Devon originating plants that are currently at risk that we need to be made aware of?
Actually, the plants that are at risk are large trees. In my lifetime the number of large specimen trees in towns and cities has plummeted partly because of disease (Dutch Elm) and partly because of pressure on councils and land-owners to fell trees in case in the future they become a risk. We need to take a long-term view about our parks and green spaces and plant trees for future generations otherwise these living lungs and havens for wildlife will disappear from our towns and cities altogether.

Q: Finally, what are your top three tips for a healthy, happy garden?
Garden little and often – it’s easier that way and makes you a better more observant gardener. Support local nurseries as they grow more interesting plants suited to Westcountry gardens and always put a seat in your garden where you can take in the view. Gardens require not just work, but a lot of looking at to be their best!

See Toby at his Garden Festival in Powderham on 28th – 29th April. Find out more about this year’s festival by visiting: www.tobygardenfest.co.uk

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