Adam Frost is an award-winning British garden designer, television presenter and motivational speaker. Best known for his successes at RHS Chelsea Flower Show, he is passionate about inspiring adults and children alike to create their own gardens and watch hedgerows spring to life. Sally Thomson caught up with him to discuss all things green…
We were talking about Geoff Barnwell?
It was originally in North Devon Parks department that I did my apprenticeship and then I went to work for Geoff when I was 21 years old and then spent an amazing mind blowing, not that I think you realise it in your early 20s working 6-7 years with Geoff until he passed away in 96.
An inspirational man I should imagine?
Yes, looking back I don’t think you realised what he was talking about, Peat free gardening, Organic gardening, stop ripping up limestone pavements and destroying the countryside all the things that were way before their time really. We are now 30 years on and we’ve only just decided to ban peat. I think in reality he set my gardening moral compass.
His son has gone into the same line of work also?
He had 3 sons but Nick the middle son was left the garden & nursery, so he’s got Barnwell plants and gardens.
Tell me how the Gardener’s World event went at Beaulieu?
I had a lovely weekend! I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a bit nervous. I had just had my 2nd injection It was the first time I had done anything in a public arena for about 18 months! You realise that all the shows are now your general catch up.
With the pandemic did you find it strange not being out & about with the general public?
Definitely, We run a school as well so we had to close that. I did some stuff on zoom like most people but that’s a very strange experience. I’ve never spent so much time at home or in the garden through the summer months with my wife & kids which was a mixed blessing and gave me time to stop which I don’t think I’ve done since I was 16.
I bet you missed the vibe of being at Chelsea Flower show?
I was due to go back and do a garden in 2020 so that went but it looks we will be able to go back in September and do some filming but I’m not building anything now.
How do you go about building a garden for Chelsea?
It can be 12 months to 2 years planning but at one point I was doing them back to back finishing one then moving straight onto the next one. But it’s fascinating, it’s how I built my career.
How did you feel about your first Chelsea Gold?
If I’m honest, I think I was slightly oblivious to what they actually meant. My dad was a landscaper and he built early John Brooks gardens in the early 70s I recently met Professor David Stevens Garden designer who also worked for John Brooks. We were talking about Chelsea and he said that my dad would have been a few gardens along from where we were. David also taught me a lot about design in that sense.
When you start a design is it from a thought or are you planning it in advance?
It depends on whether its for a client. I think ultimately gardens are about 4 things People, Space, Plants and Place. It’s normally one of those that I tap into first and it might be a bit of landscape it might be an individual picture I’ve seen it might be the shape of something whatever it is that gives me an insight into a person or if it’s a show garden what particular design will drive it that’s how I start and then create from there.
Do you think Beaulieu will be a regular event now?
I think so, I walked in and thought what a glorious piece of landscape and the moment I walked in the gate it had a good feel. People really enjoyed themselves and as a setting it had quite a lovely intimate feel to it, even the stages had an open canopy, and everybody was sensible and had plenty of space. The standard of the displays was really good and Hilliers had gone there and built a garden, so it was great that you had something there of Hilliers quality. I think a positive out of the last 15 months is that people have slowed down have connected or reconnected with what’s outside their back door or in the area. I’ve seen a report saying we now have 3 million new gardeners. Everybody you talk to in the industry says that the hunger from last year is still there which is great. I just hope in a way that stays. I think even the people that knew gardening was good for you physically and mentally, even for me I don’t think I realised how important it was to my life.
I find it very therapeutic and good for the soul
It’s interesting that we are seeing statistics people moving out of cities and into the countryside and are wanting bigger gardens it wasn’t that long-ago people were downsizing and didn’t want a big outdoor space and this time has now changed that.
I understand that you are an RHS Ambassador? What does that entail?
Yes, I’ve done that for quite a few years now. Basically, I help them with stuff looking at helping youngsters to engage more through events and I did a lot of work a while back with Homebase creating apprenticeships so that’s how it started. I also do a lot of community stuff with RHS and I’m just about to start a new project which I can’t say too much about which will be good. I have travelled all over to schools, events for them. I was brought up just outside London and wasn’t the best behaved, I’m dyslexic and obviously I’ve done OK and I think that’s why they wanted me to help.
You are at the NEC in the Summer what will that involve?
I normally go from stage to stage and talk all things gardening and there’s different themes on different stages from talking about Grow your Own, Unusual edibles, soil & compost so all sorts really. What I love about that show is you have the gardens and displays but it also interlinks with food and because its at the NEC if we do have poor weather people can get inside. Because it’s such a large venue everything will feel alright.
Do you do any judging in your role?
I’ve been asked, and I’ve done bits and pieces, but I don’t really like to just turn up and judge other people’s work.
So, at Chelsea for example are you there when the judges come around?
You have a 2 minute conversation the day before to explain if anything has changed or there have been any adjustments to the design. They then arrive at your garden anytime between 7:30 and 9:30am on the day and you must be away from your garden. Then you have another 24 hours until you find out the result.
When did you realise that you had an aptitude for presenting?
I don’t think I did really! I love what I do I think it just happened. I was talking to a Robert Hillier at Chelsea and he said can you remember the conversation we had in 2015 where you said the BBC want me to do some presenting as they think I’m half decent and he said are you sure that’s what you want to do and you said I don’t know but I’ll give it a go and here we are now.
What would you advise our readers to do to their gardens before Autumn?
Don’t disengage with the garden, I think we get to September the kids go back to school and people pack up their gardens. I think our environment has changed so much that you cant month to month garden anymore you have to react to the month you are in September, October and even going into November we can still have some cracking days and only have our first frosts going into December so I would say to anybody there is so much glorious flower colour foliage colour stem colour to be had and the light is different so the atmosphere is different you can still wrap up and enjoy it just don’t disengage. Don’t chase perfection just enjoy the moments.
Adam Frost, along with other gardening celebrities, will be appearing at the NEC in Birmingham from Thursday August 26 to Sunday August 29.
For ticket information, please visit www.bbcgardenersworldlive.com