Living in a country paradise

Date
Published in
Sunday Express (UK)
Written by
Mark Anstead

Pop star turned gardening guru Kim Wilde tells Mark Anstead about growing up near Welwyn village in Hertfordshire.

When I was about nine years old I moved from a three-bedroom semi-detached house in Greenwich to a thatched cottage near Welwyn Garden City. I was more than happy to make the change. I had just started at boarding school and was very glad when Mum and Dad took me out of there and moved us to Hertfordshire.

Until that point we'd lived in an urban area with just a bit of grass and an apple tree, but all of a sudden we were in what seemed like a country paradise.

There was woodland across the road and a garden full of colour with beautiful azaleas and rhododendrons and even rabbits hopping everywhere.

I started to fall in love with trees and plants. All our neighbours grew their own vegetables and Mum started growing marrows and peas. It's no wonder I developed an interest in gardening after my music career - it felt like returning to my roots.

In the year after we moved, there was an enormous amount of snow in winter and the cottage was absolutely covered. The woodland looked particularly enchanting with the snow over all the branches - it was like a magical wonderland and I was taken aback by how lovely it all was. I'm still a snow fan today.

There were lots of children in the neighbouring houses and we used to play together down our lane. I remember long afternoons with me and my younger brother Ricky tearing around there on our bikes.

There was a tremendous amount of freedom in those days. We were allowed to wander off in the woods by ourselves to discover the mystery. I doubt whether I'd let my children go off alone like that now.

There was also an atmosphere of creativity in the area. Our nearest neighbours were artists and they used to make their own bread, keep a donkey and raise chickens.

The relaxed ambience brought everyone together. Many of the families would have picnics in their front gardens on a sunny day and I will never forget one of the mums sitting and reading Charlie And The Chocolate Factory to us while we lazed on the grass.

The house was only small, but it never felt cramped. My parents' bedroom was on the ground floor and upstairs Ricky and I had attic rooms. Mum and Dad still live there and have extended the place now. I don't think they ever want to leave.

I love taking my children. They can see all the family pictures of me as a child in the same house. Rose is eight and Harry is 10 so they are a similar age to when I moved. I worry sometimes that my children can't taste the freedom I had, although we travel more.

Our artist neighbour had paintings all over her walls and she did portraits of me and my family. She also had two grand pianos in her front room. I remember thinking I would love to have a home full of paintings and now I have. In my home, also near Welwyn, there are paintings by my children, my mother-in-law and some of mine.

And I may not make my own bread, but I do grow my own vegetables.