Jonathan Lovett chats to one of the nation’s favourite gardeners, The One Show’s Christine Walkden, who is also a proud life member of The National Allotment Society
Q. This year’s National Allotments Week runs from August 10th to 16th – what’s wonderful about allotments?
A. There’s the fact you can grow your own fruit and veg, but an allotment doesn’t just help with cultivating plants, it helps with cultivating people. On an allotment you are constantly cultivating friends and relationships and there’s a great sense of camaraderie. So much of modern society, particularly lately, is about isolation but on an allotment you get together as a community and it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, or whether you have three heads or four…you’re just a gardener.
Q. When did you have your first allotment?
A. I was just 10 and by the time I was 14 I had five of them! I didn’t have any family interested in gardening, but I always felt very much at home on one. I started growing mustard cress which I forced my dad to eat and I gardened a little strip outside our terrace house, then I took over next door’s…and next door’s…before a Mrs Hargreaves suggested I take on her late husband’s allotment. I guess it was a bit strange for a young girl to be doing this, but it didn’t seem strange to me.
Q. A lot of people have taken to gardening during the lockdown. What essential tip do you have for the novice?
A. If you don’t succeed first time then try again. It amazes me that we have to learn to ride a bike or pass our driving test but, for some reason, with gardening people think it’s just going to happen. People don’t persevere and I don’t know why but if something in the garden doesn’t happen the first time then some folk just think, “Stuff it!” I had to persevere. When I started out in this business it was very male-dominated. As a teenage girl in the early ‘70s it wasn’t that easy – but I got there.
Q. How have you coped during lockdown?
A. I haven’t enjoyed it and it I can’t say it’s been a good experience. My work is about people and sharing but I haven’t been able to see anybody so I have found it very difficult. It’s also been quite scary that your life can come to an absolute standstill by external forces. My garden has been gardened to death over the past few months!
Q. You’ve appeared on many TV shows, including your own, and are the resident expert on The One Show. What’s it like meeting the A-listers?
A. I frequently have to pinch myself and find myself saying, “How the hell did a gardener end up working with people like Julie Andrews, Ian McKellen, Vera Lynn and David Frost?” One of my favourite celebs is Helen Mirren who is very keen on gardening and always very willing to open-up about what she does and is happy talking to you. It’s an odd couple – myself and Dame Helen Mirren!
Q. And am I right in saying you once appeared on Shooting Stars opposite Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer?!
A. Yes! I was on the 2008 Christmas special. I didn’t really know anything about the programme before I went on and I found it a very surreal experience. But a producer I know told me beforehand “Just give as good as they’re giving you” so I played them at their own game. Afterwards Bob said it took them a minute or two to realise what I was doing! It was as weird as one would expect but I survived!
Q. And was there a moment when you thought – I really would love to be a gardener?
A. I remember our headmistress coming into our class one day. She asked if any kids wanted to take plants home and I put my hand up and took three. When I got home my dad said, “What the hell are you doing with them?!” I replied, “I want to look after them during the holiday,” but he said, “You can’t because we’re going away on holiday!” So I put the plants in a bath full of water in the shed and went away for a fortnight. When I came back I expected them to be dead but I opened the door and they were full in flower! To this day I’ve never been able to repeat that…but it has led to a career!
To get involved with National Allotments Week visit The National Allotment Society