Gardening is my therapy

Her singing career is enjoying a new lease of life – but now this Eighties pop star has discovered true happiness in her garden.

As she is chauffeured to Wembley Arena to appear in a concert alongside Midge Ure and Belinda Carlisle, Kim Wilde’s thoughts couldn’t be further from music. She’s looking at gardens en route, noting which plants do well in which locations.
At 44, she’s still entertaining on a scale that would-be pop idols can only dream about. True, her concert, the Eighties themed Here And Now tour, isn’t as huge as those during the peak of her fame with the 1981 single, Kids in America. But these days Kim sets the pace and, anyway, it’s just one facet of her new life.
More thrilling to Kim than music is her career as a garden designer, which has gone from strength to strength, culminating in her first design for the Chelsea Flower Show, to be unveiled at this year’s event. It’s the low-maintenance, naturally themed Cumbrian Fellside Garden. ‘I’ve been influenced by the more natural style of planting with grasses and perennials rather than shrubs’, she says.
It’s over two decades since Kim became Britain’s answer to Debbie Harry. Back then, she had an entire room full of stunning stage and party clothes, millions of record sales and a tour with Michael Jackson.
‘The pop star thing was secondary, though,’ she says. ‘I just wanted to find someone to love. That was my first priority – a knight in shining armour.’
There were liaisons with Julian Lennon and Mick Hucknall, among others. ‘Each time I’d think: “this could be it”,’ she says. ‘I was always trying to force the issue. My heart did get hurt quite a lot.’
By the age of 30, she’d decided there must be more to life than the pop scene. Kim ditched her London flat and moved in alone to a converted barn in Hertfordshire, near the family home.
‘I began to realise what I actually wanted to do was to be near my family and calm down a bit,’ she says. ‘The barn was the most peaceful place I’d ever set foot in. No one had ever lived in it and I liked that.’
Kim loved the idea of designing her own home and garden – it was a chance to put her creative energy into something other than the music industry and at first she revelled in it. But soon rattling about on her own took its toll.
‘It was very tough living on my own in such a big property. My career was sliding down, I didn’t know what I wanted and I’d just finished a relationship,’ she says. ‘I had everything going for me, yet I was as miserable as anything. I spiralled into depression for about six months, although it seemed to last for ever.’
Kim’s father, singer Marty Wilde, who suffered a breakdown when he was 40, advised her not to let the world push in on her but to push back out on it. At the time, it was the last thing she felt like doing.
‘Finally I looked at the things that were exacerbating the melancholy and cut them out’, she says. ‘I focused on getting fit and doing what my dad suggested.’
Kim’s career began to go in new directions – she presented the Big Breakfast for Channel 4 and appeared in the stage musical Tommy, where she met actor Hal Fowler, who turned out to be the knight she was waiting for. Married for eight years, they now have two children, Harry, seven, and Rose, five.
With Hal, she says, it was easy. ‘He has a generous spirit and he’s very sexy – an irresistible combination! It’s great being married to someone you actually like.’
It was while Kim was pregnant with Harry that her interest in gardening grew. ‘I’d always envied my own gardener at the barn’, she explains. ‘When I’d arrive home from work all frazzled and covered in make-up, he’d be out in the garden and I’d think, “He’s got it right.” He suggested I enrol at Capel Manor College on a planting and design course. At first I found the design side quite confusing, but I loved the planting side, and learning about colour, foliage and how it all works together.’
The gardener eventually left but Kim’s passion for gardening remained. ‘It was liberating’, she says. ‘I could look how I liked and it was good that my appearance made no difference to whether I had a job or not. I felt reassured by that.’
As a child she had spent a lot of time in the garden of her parents’ house in London. “It was long, narrow and fairly neglected.”, she says. Now she has rediscovered the simple pleasure of watching things grow. ‘Being outside and planting a seed and letting it develop is therapeutic,’ she says. ‘The satisfaction of growing your own vegetables and making soup with them or picking peas, munching corn off the cob or getting the first potatoes out of the ground is huge. Some people find God and get born again. I got gardening.’
The obvious attraction of a ‘celebrity gardener’ has proved irresistible to TV companies, and Kim was snapped up by ITV as a presenter for Better Gardens, and then by the BBC for Garden Invaders. ‘All of a sudden I was supposed to be an expert,’ she says. ‘I felt pressured to gain knowledge very quickly.’
Her fellow gardeners, she says, treated her with a certain amount of suspicion. ‘It’s been hard for some horticultural people to swallow – this blonde pop star getting her tongue round Latin names. But I have a genuine passion and I’m in it for the long haul.’
Four years ago, Kim was approached to take part in the Here And Now tour. At first, with so much going on and going well in her life, she was reluctant.
‘I wasn’t sure I wanted to be Kim Wilde, pop singer, again. But in the end I decided it was an opportunity to reinvent myself. I didn’t want to do it unless I got fit and sexy, though – having the children had taken its toll on my body. ‘So she took up running and yoga and, after a few years of being a brunette, went peroxide blonde again. ‘I was really up for looking like the old Kim,’ she says.
Although she enjoyed the tour, she’s certain music is no longer her main passion. ‘I could take or leave it. If someone asked me to make a choice, it would be gardening and being around for the family’. She admits there are times when she feels snowed under by the work she has taken on – the newpaper columns, the books, new gardening projects – not to mention two lively children. That’s when her garden really comes into its own.
‘If I get PMT, for example, I go and get rid of that out in the garden,’ she says. ‘The sight of all my canna rhizomes – I put them in bags of peat substitute in a sack in a shed – gives me real pleasure.
‘My depression used to haunt me because I kept expecting it to come back, but it never has. My husband and my kids, the rest of my family and gardening – they’ve all been my salvation.’

Kim’s 5 favourite plants

Tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis)
Was there life before I was introduced to this plant? This is easy to grow and self-seeding, and the purple scented flowers are a butterfly magnet. The stems reach 2m and are leafless and thin, so they suit any position in the border.

Golden oats (Stipa gigantea)
A beautiful plant best placed where light can catch the stems with their dangling cat-like flowers. Looks lovely planted with daisy-like flowers, such as Anthemis tinctoria ‘EC Buxton’, which has long lasting, lemon yellow flowers.

Common box (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticuosa’)
I wouldn’t be without this dependable, slow-growing evergreen in my garden. The fresh spring growth is a delight and contrasts beautifully with spring bulbs, while winter wouldn’t be the same without its permanence.

Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus)
The silver grey jagged leaves of this herbaceous perennial make a very early appearance in the dead of winter and rise to nearly 2m in summer with purple thistle-like flowers. Give it a sunny, sheltered position in fertile, well-drained soil.

Jerusalem sage (Phlomis russeliana)
The stems and seed heads of this evergreen perennial last right through the winter, bringing much needed structure to the scene. Drought tolerant and attractive to birds and bees, it’s a firm favourite in my garden.