We meet Kim Wilde

TV gardener Kim Wilde is currently championing a scheme encouraging people to “Rediscover Nature”. After a recent poll revealed that the average Brit spends just four years of their lives outdoors, the scheme aims to get the public to start enjoying the great outdoors once more.

Being stuck indoors is clearly not an issue for someone like Kim Wilde – at least not these days, anyway. After spending the majority of her early life cooped up inside dark studios during her 1980s incarnation as an international pop star (it’s easy to forget – she was huge!), Kim now revels in a completely different life as a respected horticulturist. Her garden at her Hertfordshire home is fast gaining just as much attention as her designs on TV. What’s more, top-quality recognition of her talents arrived recently in the form of the Gold Medal for Best Courtyard Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show which she and Richard Lucas picked up for their Cumbrian Fellside Garden.

We spoke to an extremely buoyant Kim during a brief rest from her promotional duties to talk plants, parenting and pop music…

You seem like the perfect person to get involved with this Timotei scheme. Is it something very close to your heart?
“I’m sure I spend a lot more time outside than most but there are a lot of people out there not getting the benefits of nature who could be and should be. I don’t think they realise the benefits or they just take it for granted. But we all know really that fresh air makes us feel great and that being outside is better than being inside so I think the findings of the Timotei survey are a timely reminder of that. And I’m personally very passionate about being outside and getting others out more.”

It’s probably something to do with the bad weather we have. Can you live with the grey skies?
“Do you know what? For years, my dad would wake up in the morning and if he saw a grey cloud, it would ruin his day. For several years, I used to be like that as well. But I’ve really changed now. The fact is, there are loads of grey days in this country and you’ve just got to get on with it. If you let it ruin your day, you might as well write off half your life! I made a very determined decision many years ago to look on a grey day just as I would a sunny day and see all the positives about what that day can bring. Of course, now I’m a gardener, grey days are fantastic as it means there might be some rain to perk up the plants.”

So you wouldn’t ever consider living abroad?
“Well I could probably create a garden anywhere but to be honest, I’m a real home girl and I love my garden. It’s the trees that we’re planting that would really keep me here if anything. We’ve been planting about 150 saplings a year for the past seven or so years. I want to create my own wood. And for me, one of the great things about growing old will be to watch this woodland mature. The thing I get excited about every winter is all the saplings going in.”

Your garden has gained a lot of attention of late – not least in a feature in The Observer this June. Can you describe its charms to us in your own words?
“It’s a bit of a sushi box! There are compartments with different things going on. At one end, there’s a wild flower meadow with a path going through it and I love that area. There’s a bit of a forlorn vegetable garden which got rather cold-shouldered by its mum this year because of Chelsea. We’ve now also got tons of beautiful opium poppies which have infested the whole garden and really decorate the whole scene. There’s a herb garden as well and a very traditional avenue too, inspired by Rosemary Verey’s one at Barnsley House with the laburnum arch and the alliums. The key thing is that it has a really early start, with loads of winter flowering shrubs and it goes right through to the end of the year when you get all the fabulous autumn colour and then back again to the winter flowering.”

But has it got a “view from a bridge”? Or any “water on glass”?
Kim: “(Laughs) We don’t have a bridge, no. We’ve got a nice water feature though.”

You’ve recently published a book called Gardening For Children all about getting the kids into gardening, written from your personal experiences with your own two little ones. But what about husband Hal? Does he get left out when it comes to gardening?
“No, Hal’s into it too. He does power tool stuff. He’s got an awesome strimmer and he’s developed a really good one-handed method of strimming with a can of Stella in the other hand.”

How did your entry into this year’s Chelsea Flower Show come about?
Kim: “Richard Lucas, who I worked with, is a superb plantsman and I’ve learnt so much from him – we’ve made gardens together up in Cumbria before. So we decided to enter and I actually found out on my birthday that we’d been accepted by the RHS! We were over the moon just about getting in to be honest. Then actually working there, watching other people put their gardens together, the atmosphere of the place – all of it was just amazing. Sure, it was very tiring as we were doing 14-hour days but I learnt tons and met lots of good people.”

So how good did it feel when you found out you’d won a Gold Medal for Best Courtyard Garden?
“It was like that moment in the movie Carrie when she wins the beauty content – before she starts killing everybody, of course! I was in a daze and I could see people smiling and things were happening around me and I couldn’t quite believe it. We were just overwhelmed. We still are actually – totally reeling from it. It’s just wonderful.”

You’re often quoted as saying you still see yourself as an enthusiast, rather than an expert. Do you feel Chelsea has finally raised the horticultural world’s perception of you? Or perhaps, more importantly, that is has raised your perception of yourself?
“You’re quite right on both counts. The perception of myself is perhaps the more interesting one. I haven’t always taken myself seriously as a gardener and I’ve always thought I was on the sidelines looking in, not really belonging in that circle – but still, very, very happy to just skirt around the perimeter. However, now I feel that I’ve made some serious in-roads – not just because of Chelsea, although Chelsea seems to have confirmed it. I feel I am making serious strides in the world of horticulture that are valuable, to some degree – and I accept the responsibility of that. But accepting the responsibility of that is the hardest part, in a way, as you’re really putting yourself on the line. But I may as well. I’ve got away with it this long!”

Things will never be the same again, now you’re a Chelsea winner.
“Well it’s been a really exciting and challenging journey up until this point and now, Chelsea seems to be not the end of something, but actually the beginning of something. I wonder what it is actually the beginning of…?”

We expect your progress in horticulture has been very inspiring to many people. How would you encourage people who wish to embark on a similar journey to yourself?
“It’s all about motivation, really. When I got into gardening, it was to learn how to sort out my own garden. My motivation had nothing to do with a career in horticulture – just like my motivation to get into the music business wasn’t to get on telly – it was to make music and write songs and sing. So, if your motivation is to be around plants and to be outdoors and to interact with other people who like plants, then you can’t do anything better than going back to college to learn about it. I did a two-year course every Thursday night at Capel Manor College which was very do-able for me as a Mum. That gives you the best possible start.”

Since then of course, things have moved extremely fast – from pop star to TV gardener!
“I know. I love the fact that I’ve made the switch and that Chelsea has finally happened. It’s like reading a lovely book and I’m in it and what a great ending! She got a gold medal at Chelsea! But really, it’s just the beginning. What’s gonna happen next?”

Indeed. So no wish to have been performing at Live 8?!
“I tell you what – I was pissed off I wasn’t performing at Live Aid the first time around in 1985 – because anyone who was anyone in the Eighties was there. Apart from me.”

Yes, that was weird, wasn’t it?
“Erm, YEAH! Not that I’m bitter and angry about it all these years later… (laughs). But I was quite hurt at the time. I felt really snubbed and ignored. I don’t really live my life on those sorts of levels, thinking about stuff that upset me in the past, but I have to admit that I do allow myself to indulge sometimes. So when I got the gold at Chelsea, it was moments like that – being snubbed by Live Aid – that came into my head.”

You still perform live every now and again. How often is it these days?
“I get offered a few festivals and they pay me a lot of money to go and have a lot of fun. My brother (Rick) always comes along and we just howl for the whole time, laughing about stupid stuff – and we get to spend a bit of time together which is unusual for siblings our age who’ve got kids and stuff. I don’t take it too seriously and I don’t think the audience do either and I like it – people accept me as who I am now. It’s lovely, and I really enjoy it.”

You’re a gardener now, though. Surely no urge to go back to pop?
“God, no! I’m glad it’s not a big part of my life anymore – mainly because it takes me away from the house and the kids and the husband. I really love our life. I love the school run, I love hanging out with the other mums – I just love everything about that life. There’s nothing that could give me more pleasure than my home life. So I’m very contented!”