My country memories

Kim Wilde explains how her move from London to rural Hertfordshire in her late twenties revived a childhood fascination with gardening and led to a rewarding new career.

When I was in my late twenties I was working on an album in a studio at Knebworth in Hertfordshire and began to dread returning to London at the end of recording. I was tired of my city lifestyle and realised how much I wanted to get back to the countryside where I grew up. At the time, in the late 1980s, the local papers were advertising lots of barns for sale including one at a farm. I went to view it – an oakframed, 16th-century barn with herringbone brickwork inside and a bit of land attached. I fell in love with the place and decided to have a go at converting it into my home. Having worked on the project fol’ about a year, I moved in on my 30th birthday. It was a very romantic place, but it was enormous and I was quite cut off living there by myself. I felt sorry for myself for awhile but I soon got over that and started becoming interested in gardening.
I’ve been enchanted by gardens since I was a child. I loved digging up worms, having ladybirds scuttle across my palm and enjoyed all the sights and sounds of nature. When I was about nine we moved to a thatched house with a beautiful established garden full of azaleas and silver birches. So when I had the chance to make my own garden I wanted to recreate it. The field and area around the barn were just rough grass so, apart from two willow trees that were already there, I had a blank canvas. I didn’t know much then, but I knew that the Hertfordshire clay soil was pretty tough so it was bcst to plant in raised beds. I wanted to grow vegetables, and to have an ornamental garden and plenty of flowers. I gleaned some ideas from a Rosemary Verey book and planted an avenue of box down the garden that looks wonderful now.
I made quite a few mistakes early on – at one point I had a whole bed of artemisia. It was great that first year when everything was in flower, but really it was an expression of sheer enthusiasm without any skill or experience, I had some idea of shape, composition and texture and knew a bit about colour, but I soon became frustrated by my lack of proper planting knowledge, so I enrolled on an introductory course at Capel Manor College in Enfield. That was when I really got the bug and went from just wanting a garden to having to have one. I was taught by an excellent tutor called Nina Hancock. She made the subject so interesting and had a knack of talking about plants in a way that made me want to put them on a plate and eat them. She would try colours together and explain how and why they had an impact. She helped me to see things in a new light, like the way certain buds would open differently on trees and shrubs. I did the course for a couple of weeks and came back to try things out on the garden here, but I soon realised that I still didn’t have enough plant knowledge so I went back to the college to do a two-year evening class in horticulture and planting design.
About 18 months after I moved to Hertfordshire I met my husband Hal. We now have two children, Harry, six, and Rose, four, and have also made great progress with the garden. My favourite season has to be spring – I love seeing new growth on all the plants, everything is very fresh and clear and the light has a different quality. I enjoy noticing the wildlife in the hawthorn hedges and watching spring flowers emerge. I’m always amazed at how well verbena self-seeds: you find little plantlets in every corner of your garden. And I adore my poppies: orientals, wild ones and opium poppies with their wonderlulseed heads, which I make into decorations. One of my favourite plants is the nectaroscordum. The flowers hang down and you have to turn their heads to see the Art Deco-style design inside: it’s a lovely plummy colour decorated with lime green and cream – like a little painting. I love the way it’s closed up and no one knows unless they lift it and look inside. I’m looking forward to the medlar tree coming out soon with its white, almond-scented flowers, and my favourite rose, ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’, will bloom in June and again in the autumn. But there’s no time to stand and stare, there’s always a job to get on with in the garden.

Kim Wilde, daughter of Marty, enjoyed a successful pop career in the 1980s before becoming a professional gardener, appearing on BBC2’s Garden Invaders. She has recently published Gardening with Children (Collins, £ 14,99).