Wilde Life Gardening

Not only is Kim Wilde experiencing a renaissance in her pop career (recording with Nena Kerner, she of the ninety-nine red balloons), she has also established herself as a gardener, winning a coveted Chelsea Gold Medal Award in 2005 with her gardening ‘buddy’ Richard Lucas for their Cumbrian Fellside Garden.

Kim Wilde claims that splitting time between her pop and gardening careers is not as difficult as it sounds: she spends the winter recording and the spring and summer months in the garden. This isn’t a conflict most of us have to face, sadly. I spoke to her while she was recording in Hamburg.

The appeal of Wilde’s new book, ‘The First-Time Gardener’, is that it is clear and impasioned but it has also been written by someone who has had another life before gardening. So often one is duly impressed but overwhelmed by the knowledge of gardeners – so much that it is difficult to know where to start. Wilde leads the trembling virginal gardener gently into knowledge and experience.

She moved to Hertfordshire as a child, having lived in urban South-East London and talks of the culture change: seeing people grow and cook their own food, the school being very focused on the natural world, the sights, the smells. This remained a lasting influence.

She became a singer when she was twenty, which clearly took her into another environment altogether. However when her (first) pop career started to decline, she decided to bow out gracefully and moved back to Hertfordshire, where she converted a barn (with apologies to the barn owl who lived there before). She focused a lot of attention on the house but it wasn’t until she was pregnant with her first child that she began to think about the garden.

Although we might mock them slightly now, she says she was very influenced by garden makeover shows, which were at the time a phenomenon – not least for garden centres. She started to plan her own garden, and was particularly influenced by Rosemay Verey’s ‘Garden Plans’.

It was Wilde’s gardener who suggested she should try a couple of courses at Capel Manor in Enfield, which were revelatory, leading eventually to a year’s course in Garden Design. She had some particularly inspiring tutors and found she had a genuine passion for the subject, which led last year to her winning a gold medal at Chelsea. She talks about this as if it started off as a bit of a pipedream – she and Richard Lucas didn’t think their plans would be accepted in the first place.

Wilde’s favourite plants are those that need little looking after and she cites lavender, box and roses in her list of top plants. And, like many professional gardeners, along with the RHS, is committed to gardening with wildlife.

The book is accessible yet informed and designed for the person who wants to know where to start. She says you can’t get away from planning the garden but if you want immediate impact, or to get ideas that might translate into the rest of your garden, you should use containers. Don’t plant anywhere in the garden. It pays to plan.

I have too many gardening books, acquired in those early spring months when plants and gardening hopes start to bud but which languish in the autumn and winter. However this is an optimistic book, written by someone who evidently has a passion for gardens and for life.

I’m off to dig up and rearrange some plants (oops).