A gardener’s tale

Words by:
Steffie Shields
Featured in:
October 2022

He’s passionate about the great outdoors but for BBC Gardeners’ World presenter Adam Frost gardening is as much about people and connecting them with the spaces he lovingly creates as the plants he uses. Interview by Kate Chapman.

Known for his successes at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, Adam’s interest in gardening stems from an early age, when he would help his grandparents with their allotment, becoming fascinated with watching plants and vegetables grow, and the wildlife it attracted.

He has devoted his life to the outdoors, working with the great Geoff Hamilton at Barnsdale Gardens, in Rutland, as well as designing outdoor spaces all over the world. He’s also incredibly passionate about sharing his knowledge and encouraging young and old alike to get out in the garden.

Adam has appeared on numerous gardening programmes; he presents BBC Gardeners’ World and coverage of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and when we spoke he was looking forward to his nationwide tour – An Evening with Adam Frost – sharing advice and amusing stories from his lifetime in the garden.

“I cannot wait to get out on the road for my tour of the UK,” said Adam, who lives in Stamford.

“When I first started out, I would have never dreamt that my love for gardening would one day mean I would have a story to tell. It’s going to be great to share with people, hopefully I can put a smile on a few faces.

“For me, gardening is all about people, it’s about space. I like to create gardens that feel like they belong where they are created – they belong to the landscape, the architecture, the towns and the cities around them.

“It’s about people and connecting people with what’s outside their back door, giving them gardens they can immerse themselves in.”

Adam grew up in Harlow, Essex, and moved to Devon with his family when he was 15, where he enjoyed learning to surf. He says his childhood wasn’t without complications and as a result he spent quite a bit of time with his grandparents, whom he affectionately refers to as Tidy Nan and Scruffy Nan.

“Tidy Nan lived in social housing, just outside of London, she had an allotment and a little glasshouse at the end of the garden. The lawn was striped – it was a typical 1970s house. I have these early memories of walking along behind grandad dropping leeks and potatoes in holes in the soil.

“Scruffy Nan and grandad had quite high-flying jobs, but in their retirement their garden was an overgrown wilderness. My nan never threw anything away, there were Belfast sinks all over the place! And I spent quite a lot of time with them too and I suppose that was my earliest connection with gardens and outdoor spaces, before I moved to Devon.”

Adam left home at 16 and got a job with the North Devon Parks Department for a few years before moving back to London where he trained as a landscaper. His first experience of Lincolnshire followed shortly after, when he travelled through the county on the way back from an interview in Rutland. He fell in love with Stamford and has lived in the town for around 30 years, after securing a job with Geoff Hamilton nearby at Barnsdale Gardens – Britain’s largest collection of individually

“That was the first time that I worked with a man who really had an aura about him,” Adam recalls.

“He was talking about things like peat free gardening and urging people to stop destroying the countryside. He was really ahead of his time, and I’ve always gardened with those takes in mind.

“I perhaps didn’t realise at the time, when you’re in your 20s you think you know everything, but really you know nothing. It was 1996 when he sadly passed away, and I learnt a lot from him.”

Following Geoff’s death, Adam wasn’t sure what he would do next but was eventually persuaded to launch his own landscaping company. It quickly took off and by the mid-2000s employed 20 other people. He also progressed to running his own garden courses and garden design business.

A pivotal moment came in 2004/5 when he built a garden at Chelsea Flower Show for designer and restaurateur Sir Terence Conran – it was the springboard to more design work at the prestigious event and Adam has never looked back. Since then, his passion and talent for gardening has taken him all over the world and he’s designed outdoor spaces in Japan, Singapore, Turkey, Morocco and Egypt.

“They might be different climates, but I’m still designing gardens for people – I’m still trying to get people into their own landscape and for me that’s what it’s all about,” he adds.

“I’m still a plantaholic too, I’m always buying new ones from different places and learning about them, but that’s gardening, things take many years to evolve and grow. I like to get to know new plants, and then I can suggest them for my clients’ gardens – that’s the wonderful thing about this industry.”

Adam has a busy few months ahead. As well as his tour, he is also promoting a new BBC book called How I Garden.

“It’s not technically autobiographical but there are some elements in there – it’s more about how I was drawn to the land, and this is how I garden, why I do what I do, all those people who’ve influenced me along the way, the people I meet and work with,” adds Adam.

“The past few years have been incredibly chaotic and stressful for us all – and it’s really made a lot of us stop and reassess our lives. But during that time, I think a lot of people have rediscovered the joy of being out in their gardens. Through lockdown I think there’s been about 2-3 million new gardeners.

“We’re seeing more people now the shows are back, which is great, and a lot of them are younger people. They’ve realised there is that space outside their back door and they’re putting more value on it. I’m the same too, my life has been amazing, but full on and I’m looking forward to slowing down and spending more time with the family.”

Tickets for An Evening with Adam Frost are on sale now at www.fane.co.uk/adam-frost. How I Garden is published by BBC Books.

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