Wilde’s flowers

With the launch of her popular book, First-Time Gardener, in paperback this month, Kim wilde talks to Philippa Pearson about why she wrote the book and her garden at home in Hertfordshire.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly when the gardening bug kicks in with each of us, but when it does there’s a rush of eagerness to find out everything from what your soil is like to how to sow seeds successfully and re-design areas of the garden. Gardening seems to be full of technical terms, unusual words and far too many plants that you think will survive in your garden, but don’t. So, how do you find out more about the basics of gardening? One way is to pick up a copy of Kim Wilde’s easy to understand book, First-Time Gardener.

Launched this month in paperback, First-Time Gardener draws on Kim’s horticulture and plant knowledge and is packed full of practical tips and detailed step-by-step instructions: this book is the beginner’s guide to gardening. Kim studied horticulture and planting design at Capel Manor College in Enfield and during her studies, was inspired to write the book. ‘I knew very little about the basics of gardening – soil structure, techniques and plants – when I started at college and felt frustrated and overwhelmed by things.’

Originally launched in hardback in 2006, Kim’s aim was to simplify gardening terms and techniques, creating a book that is invaluable for beginners to gardening and handy for the more experienced, too. ‘I’ve found it a really useful book myself, recently,’ says Kim who combines her gardening work with a busy pop career and family. ‘My brother has just gone into landscaping and we’ve been looking through the book during the winter, re-acquainting ourselves with the basics of gardening.’

Kim’s two-and-a-half acre garden at her home near Welwyn had only two willow trees and a huge 400-year-old ash tree, casting deep shade when she first moved there in 1990. She was inspired to start creating her garden after reading Rosemary Verey’s Garden Plans book and, fuelled with her new passion, Kim studied horticulture at Capel Manor. Whilst studying there, she was snapped up by a garden makeover TV series and enjoyed her time designing and creating new gardens. She then went back to the college to study plants and planting design. Kim has fond memories of her time there.

‘I learned so much at Capel Manor, it’s a wonderful place and full of fantastic plants, some which I hadn’t realised existed like the amazing range of winter flowering shrubs such as witch hazel, hamamelis, winter box, sarcococca and daphnes. The fragrance on these is gorgeous and I always try to include winter flowering shrubs in my designs,’ says Kim.

Kim’s passion for plants encouraged her to exhibit at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2005. Teaming up with Richard Lucas, they designed and created The Cumbria Fellside Garden which won a prestigious RHS Gold medal as well ‘best in show’ in the Courtyard Gardens category and the BBC RHS People’s Award for small gardens.

Back in her own garden, Kim is creating a woodland area from a two-acre field, continually planting saplings of hazel, hornbeam, birch and other trees which are underplanted with wildflowers. Her home, a restored 16th century barn, has a more formally laid half acre garden surrounding it that is crammed with unusual and interesting plants and features. Design and structures from her earlier forays into Rosemary Verey’s book still remain but now softer herbaceous planting and species roses spill out from under the alley of hawthorn trees and between clipped box balls as Kim stamps her own palette of plants into the design. A bank of lavender hugs the side of the barn and a lawn area has been made to gravel with ornamental grasses and contemporary planting.

‘I used to have everything coming into bloom at the same time in June with nothing else happening for the rest of the year,’ says Kim. ‘But now I have lots of spring flowering bulbs and plants, late summer colour from perennials and grasses then winter interest from shrubs. I try to have plants that are easy to grow and look after, too.’

Kim works hard at improving the flinty clay soil, making lots of compost and mulching the borders and beds each March. Raised vegetable beds provide lots of produce in the year and it’s an area her children like to get involved in. ‘We start sowing seeds at Easter and the children love helping me. They sow lots of salady things as well as pumpkins and sunflowers.’

Kim likes nothing better than to come home and relax in her garden, an oasis of calm from her busy schedule. Her favourite plant? ‘It has to be the cardoon,’ she says. ‘It’s easy to grow, dramatic and the rock star of the border: lots of attitude, very tall, eye-catching and showy. I bought my original plant from the late Christopher Lloyds’ garden at great Dixter in Sussex and I always think of him every spring when the foliage starts to emerge.’