Former pop star and ‘Better Gardens’ presenter Kim Wilde is photographed in the grounds of Capel Manor

Kim Wilde sits cross-legged among a sea of bluebells cradling her four-month-old baby, Rose Elisabeth, as the soft Spring breeze tickles her nose and ruffles her downy hair. As Rose gurgles happily in her lap, Kim surveys the woodland scene and smiles the smile of someone who has finally found true contentment.
‘Coming here changed my life. For a while before I came I was thinking of getting out of the music business and was searching for something which would replace my passion for music. I found what I was looking for in this very special place.’
Kim has returned to Capel Manor, London’s specialist College of Horticultural and Countryside Studies, where she came to study when she was pregnant with her first child, Harry, now two. Set in 30 glorious acres, it’s a gardener’s paradise, with fabulous themed gardens at every turn, including wild gardens, historical gardens, cottage gardens and an Italianate maze.
Already a keen gardener before she came to Capel Manor, Kim was enrolled on some gardening courses. ‘I love the anonymity in gardening – the other students on the course weren’t interested in Kim Wilde, the singer. I was accepted as being just one of them, which was great. It’s a world where I don’t have to play the music star.’
Having been a pop queen for so long, scoring a smash hit with her first single Kids in America when she was 20, and travelling the world supporting Michael Jackson on tour, she’s more than happy now to put her recording career firmly on the back burner.
But it wasn’t a sudden decision to swap the microphone for a pair of secateurs. ‘My parents moved from south east London to Hertfordshire when I was eight and it had a huge impact on me. I hadn’t really seen the countryside before then and I fell in love with it. Although my parents weren’t big gardeners, they grew their own vegetables, which is where I formed my own love of growing things.’
But as the daughter of ’50s heart-throb singer Marty Wilde, Kim was drawn to the music business too, so her career took her to London and the inside world of the recording studio. ‘I really enjoyed my music career, but I did a lot of gazing out of windows, longing to be outside.’
Designing a garden at her recording studio helped her get a regular dose of fresh air, but a little later Kim moved out of town, buying a converted barn in the Hertfordshire countryside she loves. ‘I moved in on my 30th birthday and at first, all my energies went on the interior which needed masses of work. But I dreamed of the day I’d have time to design the garden, which was little more than a field run wild.’
Kim’s garden really came to life after she fell in love with actor Hal Fowler, who she met on the set of Tommy, the West End musical in which she was starring. ‘We got married on September 1, 1996. Hal moved in and we designed the garden that Autumn. Hal had been brought up in the countryside and was just as excited as I was about the prospect of creating something from scratch.’
Aided by their friend Ray, a builder and gardener, they set to work. ‘The three of us sat outside, around a garden table, and made plans – we still have the original sketches, long since marked with countless coffee stains and rain splashes. I wanted the garden to have some formality, but with a cottage garden feel – exuberant with lots of colour.
The 400-year-old barn sits on top of a hill, so it can get very windy. I decided to put in lots of uprights and arches and climbers and pergolas to provide some natural shelter.
‘But the first thing we planted was the vegetable garden. I wanted Harry to grow up in an environment where growing your own vegetables was normal. I wanted him, and now Rose too, to be able to run outside and pick carrots and fruit and to enjoy the outdoors. It’s got to be healthier than sitting inside, stuck in front of a computer for hours on end.
‘I’m very into organic foods, not just because I want the family to have a healthy, wholesome diet, but because organic food tastes better.’
Kim’s eyes light up when you ask her about her current crop of vegetables and reels off an impressive list. ‘We’ve got all our early potatoes in, and Brussels sprouts planted for Christmas, then I’ve got an asparagus bed, which is about to give us its first yield, plus there are the carrots, onions, beetroot, shallots, garlic and parsnips…’
In another part of Kim’s corner of paradise there’s a wild meadow with orchards of apples, plums, pears and gooseberries. Growing nearby are wild strawberries and ‘the most delicious rhubard you could ever taste.’
But not everything in Kim’s garden has come up roses. ‘My pickled gherkins were a disaster, which was annoying as I’d spent a whole season growing them. But my pickled beetroots made up for it as they were so good.’ A more recent disappointment was Kim’s Cosmos – a pink and white garden plant, which fell victim to snails.
Although Kim is chief gardener in the household, Hal does his share too. ‘Hal mows the lawns and helps with the hard landscaping while I look after the rest – the seed buying, sewing, planting and weeding. But he’s a fantastic inspiration because he’s such a good cook and tends to suggest things he’d like us to grow because he wants to use them in his recipes.’
Kim’s particular favourite is curried parsnip soup, while Hal’s specialty is horseradish sauce, ideal for smoked fish as well as beef.
Kim never dreamed that her passion for gardening could lead to her hosting Better Gardens.
‘Granada had done some research at Capel Manor and learned that I’d been a student so they came to interview me. I’d just bought some clementis from a farm nearby, so while I was being filmed I chatted about what I was doing. It didn’t strike me that I was being given a screen test, but obviously they liked what I had to say.’
Kim accepts that at first many people couldn’t grasp the notion that Kim Wilde the pop star could also be Kim Wilde the gardener, but she’s philosophical. ‘I know I’ve a long way to go before everyone accepts that gardening is my life, but I’m prepared to put in the hours, and whether it flowers into a big career or not doesn’t worry me. I’ll carry on one way or another because I love it so much.
‘I’m currently involved in a local project which is going to be fabulous. From my garden I can see a beautiful old house which is run as sheltered accommodation, but the gardens are badly run down. I’ve been asked to design a part of it, so I’ve been busy enlisting the help of local tradesman and gardening companies. The response has been fantastic. It’s brought the whole community together.’
And, of course, Kim still has her work cut out with her own garden. ‘I’m just about to install a courtyard water feature and there’s a lot more to be done around the pond, which is home to shelter and wildfowl that tend to destroy the planting – but for me it’s a pay-off I’m prepared to put up with.’
Not surprisingly, one of Kim’s favourite pastimes is poring over seed catalogues. But she adds that her priorities have changed, and she no longer devotes her time to clothes shopping. ‘I don’t miss it, although it’s probably a good thing I’ve not got the big London designer stores on my doorstep.’
That said, Kim admits that one of the temptations of modelling for a set of photographs for OK! at Capel Manor was having the chance to dress up again. In keeping with the theme, we chose lots of floaty florals inspired by the shades of Spring flowers and greenery.
‘I do feel a bit nostalgic for my former image, so I’ve kept a lot of the stage clothes I wore during my career – I keep the clothes I wore on the Michael Jackson tour in our loft, along with my Kids in America outfits. I’ve got all my stage jewellery tucked away too and one day Rose is going to have a lot of fun dressing up in it all.’
And Kim does confess to another little extravaganza – beauty products! ‘Yes, I have to admit it. One of my big treats in life is spoiling myself with Lancome and Elizabeth Arden products. My mum got me into a beauty routine really early one and I’ve stuck with it. I can just about justify spending money on skincare as I spend so little on clothes.’
For make-up, Kim stocks up in Space NK in London’s Covent Garden once a year. ‘But most days I wear very little. There doesn’t seem much point when I’m just pottering about.’
The one drawback is that Kim’s hands get a hammering because of all the digging and weeding. ‘I try to compensate by slathering on loads of Body Shop hemp hand cream.’
A typical day for Kim is a lifetime away from the wild world of rock ‘n’ roll. ‘I love to get up early and have breakfast with Hal and Harry. Rose is still breast feeding, so when she goes down for her mid-morning nap, I’ll pop into the garden to check on the vegetables. When I look at my garden now, I’m so thankful that my life has turned out the way it has. I’m not saying I’ll never cut andother record but gardening is my great passion. I count myself one lucky girl.’