Kim Wilde swapped rock for well-prepared soil, writes Deborah Blashki-Marks.
Asking '80s rock chick Kim Wilde to choose her favourite plant is like asking her to name a favourite child, the singer turned celebrity gardener says. The diminutive sex symbol has traded her microphone for secateurs, becoming one of the UK's prominent gardening experts with a series recorded for the BBC's Garden Invaders, a spot on ITV's Better Gardens show, monthly articles for Prima women's magazine and a weekly gardening column, "Wilde Side", in The Guardian.
Who would have thought the crop-haired 20-year-old who sang: "We're the kids in America" would morph from queen of youth to expert green thumb by the year 2000? That's not to say she doesn't still enjoy performing, which is the reason she finds herself in Australia, performing as part of the Here and Now tour, also featuring the Human League, Belinda Carlisle and Paul Young (among others). A No 1 in the US with You Keep Me Hanging On has ensured that the girl who once toured with Michael Jackson, has made her musical mark. But gardening it seems, holds a special place in her heart.
"I still pinch myself that I'm in this gardening world," says Wilde. "It's reconnected me with the earth and seasons and it's very humanising. It's a lot to do with people, not just plants. People who have a passion for gardening have a passion for life."
What started as an ambitious attempt to grow fresh fruit and vegetables for her family, became an obsession. "I wanted to build a Garden of Eden for my children. I think we've created a truly enchanted garden," she says. After completing renovations of their 16th-century barn, perched on a hill in Hertfordshire, Wilde and her husband, actor Hal Fowler, along with children Rose and Harry, realised with horror there was no garden.
"Hal and I created sections - now there's a meadow, a vegie garden, a herb garden and a section of perennials. We've just completed another part for tropical plants. It's a small, but long garden that runs the width of the house."
Wilde enthuses about the paths they've mown through the assortment of moondaisies, clover and Achillea to create a meadow for the children to weave through.
"There's just a sea of little white faces," she says referring to the abundant daisies.
The vegetable garden features raised vegetable beds, brimming with corn, beetroot and "amazing" potatoes. "It's all organic. We only buy organic," she says. To the right of the vegetable garden lies the herb garden. "We've prepared the soil really well. It's a great way of growing vegetables. We can grow anything."
In fact she is adamant that soil is the key to happy plants and strongly recommends to all gardeners to nurture their garden by making sure the soil is rich in organic nutrients. Before embarking on her current tour she says she had whipped up a delicious pumpkin soup with son Harry's carefully grown pumpkins. "Harry grew his pumpkin from seed last spring. I think it's great. I think my children learn a lot from gardens and flowers."
But the well-regarded gardening guru is perplexed by her newfound status. "It's been a strange road - my gardening career," she muses. It was the gardening goddess Rosemary Verey, who helped design Prince Charles's Highgrove, who made an indelible mark on Wilde. "Her books inspired my own garden at home and my passion began to grow from there."
While music is her first love, gardening soon took hold as well. In fact, she describes how the obsession came to life when every drive became a dangerous endeavour as she embarked on any opportunity to name the trees as she drove by. By then she knew that she was hooked. Formal training at the Capel Manor Horticultural College in Middlesex was a two-year commitment that earned Wilde a City and Guild certificate in planting and plant design. Her columns in The Guardian reflect a dedicated and informed expert advising on everything from herbaceous perennials to the value of green in your garden.
When challenged by one of her earnest readers on the frustration of green as a rather dull colour, Wilde is quite blunt in her column.
"Dull green plants? Sir, I can assure you there is nothing dull about green", she writes. "Plants that flourish in shade often have striking foliage. Try Hosta 'Frances Williams', or the glossy fronds of Asplenium scolopendrium 'Crispum', or Alchemilla mollis, and I think you will quickly revise your opinion. There's no crime in craving a colour fix, though, and bulbs are a great source. The small, yellow narcissus 'Cedric Morris' flowers from Christmas to March. For spring flowers, try Scilla siberica. But you can't beat the humble busy Lizzie for flowering all summer in the shade."
Whether she's launching the UK's Christmas Card Recycling Program or enduring a week of colonic irrigation in Thailand as part of a British television program called Celebrity Detox Camp, Wilde is never far away from a challenge. "Gardening is so healing. It has such capacity to heal. I'm sure I was driven towards it for a reason. I was disillusioned with the pop world. Gardening has been my therapy. It helped me to reconnect with myself. It will be with me forever, until the day I'm popping up the very daisies I love to grow."
Kim Wilde performs with the Here and Now tour at the Entertainment Centre on Tuesday.
Some recent advice given to Guardian readers
Plants can flourish on washing-up water as they respond to the phosphates in it. Use it in the garden every few days, to allow dilution by rainfall or fresh water irrigation.
Leave bulbs for six weeks after they flower; it helps build up the bulb for next year. Select the best bulbs and remove soil and leaves. Once clean, dry in the sun and dust with fungicide.
Not a major problem; they actually eat small insect pests. If a colony is becoming particularly troublesome, they can be doused with water, boiling or cold. If the problem is localised, for instance on trees, grease 'bands' are available to put around the trunk, or you can use fruit tree grease. Natural predators (frogs) will also help. As for in the house, they hate talcum powder.
Saving roses from black spot
Hard prune infected bushes in spring. Improve poor soil with organic matter, which helps retain soil moisture and strengthens plants. A mulch of leaf mould can deter disease spores, reduces evaporation, suppresses weeds and improves the soil. Roses usually need sun; black spot thrives in darker, damper conditions.