The garden expert who had no garden...By Linda Fort
November 13, 2008
Louise Hampden would peer into people’s gardens, green with envy because she didn’t have one.
Now, 30 years later, she’s an expert gardener and head honcho of Gardeners’ World. She explains how her career blossomed to Linda Fort
Louise Hampden pushed her baby son round Reading in his pram gazing into other people’s gardens.
That was 30 years ago when she lived in a flat with no garden and was fascinated by the shrubs and plants she saw but had no idea what they were.
Now, some 30 years on, Louise has more than a fair idea of the full Latin names of all the plants she sees.
She still lives in Reading, is a qualified garden designer – and produces the ever-popular BBC Two programme Gardeners’ World.
“I really longed for a garden in those days,” she recalls. “I looked into other people’s gardens to see what they had growing there.
“I knew how to deadhead and to weed because I had done that as a child, but I knew nothing about plants and I wanted to know more.”
Naturally, she bought a gardening book – her first was one by the great Dr D G Hessayon – and started to learn.
In time she and her family got a home with a garden in Lower Caversham.
And because her three children had allergies, she decided to get an allotment and grow organic food.
The gardening bug had really taken hold and she embarked on a two-year course in garden design at Berkshire College of Agriculture.
It was then she got a chance to work on a television show called More Front Gardens, presented by Gay Search.
The show transformed groups of front gardens and Ian Mikardo Way was chosen as a project with Louise carrying out a lot of the work.
She was thrilled when leading designer Dan Pearson was chosen to redesign her front garden.
She said: “That basic design is still there although the planting is different now.”
Work then followed with the Gardeners’ World team.
She says: “It involved anything from digging holes and laying patios to moving sheds.”
Louise, 53, has always been a freelance and nowadays she is a producer of top BBC gardening shows including the aforementioned Gardeners’ World, as well as Gardeners of the Decade and a new show called Gardeners’ World Top Tips, aimed at absolute beginners.
She also worked on the series about Royal Gardens and has worked with all the Gardeners’ World presenters going right back to Geoff Hamilton.
As a freelance she worked for nine months of the year, then saves her money for the lean winter months when the show goes off the TV.
That is when she works in her own garden.
She said: “I have to do things at entirely the wrong time of year.
“I work in Birmingham all week then rush home and do all the things that have to be done at the weekend – washing and that sort of thing.
“I do garden but the only time I have for serious work in the garden is in the winter. It may not be the right time for pruning but that is when it has to be done.”
The new show she is working on is for absolute gardening beginners. The Gardeners’ World team offer advice and show viewers how to start from scratch.
It will air every day for two weeks from Monday, December 1 at 2pm on BBC Two.
Louise has also written the book to go with the series called Gardeners’ World Top Tips, published by Random House, which is now on sale.
Louise’s 10 top tips for beginners
- Don’t buy plants from a nursery or garden centre if the pot has weeds or moss growing on it. The plant will have been in the pot too long and will be pot-bound.
- If you have a small garden, look for roses that flower all summer long, as a rose that takes up a lot of space for one month of glory can be disappointing.
- If you have a pond, place a few large rocks near the edge for smaller birds, butterflies and insects to land on.
- Structure is the key to winter interest in the garden, using walls, paths, hedges and architectural planting, alongside colourful barks and scented flowers
- Compost is ready for use in the garden when it smells pleasant, is blackish brown, moist and crumbly and has no large recognisable bits of vegetation in it.
- To save space, train the trailing stems of squashes in circles and pin the stems down with tent pegs to keep them in place.
- Putting almost ripe tomatoes in a paper bag with a banana will speed up the ripening process.
- For winter supplies, dig up a few roots of chives or mint and pot up in autumn for growing on the kitchen windowsill.
- Bright light washes out the cool colours, so blues, greens and purples are better suited to shaded areas.
- A good trick for potting on is to put your smaller pot inside the larger one, fill around it with compost and tap your plant out to fit perfectly into the hole you’ve created.