Garden designer, TV presenter & dad Adam Frost, 53, chats to Liz Nicholls about favourite flowers, family & being propositioned ahead of his UK tour.
Q. Hello Adam! How are you?
“I’m all right thank you. Even though this is the worst time of the year; I can’t wait for it to warm up and get outside!”
Q. Please could you tells us about your grandparents’ allotment?
“It was Tidy Nan who had the allotment (I’ve got Tidy Nan & Scruffy Nan, who I talk about a lot). Tidy Nan & Grandad had the allotment just along the lane from their back gate and here was one of my first experiences of growing veggies, following my grandad along, dropping the potatoes in the holes. I had a bed with my name on it in black slate, which I’ve still got. I used to grow the marrows, cabbages. We’d go up there on Saturday and have breakfast. Grandad would have his tie and jacket on and off we’d go.
“Nan would come along later when she’d done her bits and pieces in the house. I didn’t realise it at the time but looking back it was amazing times because I had quite a complicated time growing up but grandparents or gardens were my safe places. I still use it as that; I use the growing veggies as my hobby, which sounds sad from a gardener, but it’s the bit I go to when I don’t want to think about designing or creating. We’d come back teatime and Nan would boil something half to death, because that’s what they did then, bless them. We’d do the Pools on the football results and have a wonderful time. That particular Nan was probably more of a maternal figure. The smell of tomatoes… all that early scent memory is driven from their garden, their greenhouse, their allotment and there’s not a time goes by when I don’t give them a thought. Strange, innit, how we connect to those things? That generation. We miss those times with grandparents.”
Q. The academy you helped found sounds great. Why is it important to inspire a younger generation of gardeners?
“I left home at 16 and was one of those kids who was told be a gardener, be a chef or join the Army. And I was lucky enough to get a placement with the parks department. But it was just at the time of privatisation so I was very lucky to get the end of this training system. When you look back through history, the amount of gardeners who went through these apprenticeships is mind-blowing. First of all I was doing bits & pieces for the RHS/ I’d do talks and go into the schools. The academy was born out of a conversation with a boss at Homebase really – a lad called Matt Compton on a rainy afternoon when I was generally moaning about the lack of opportunity for young people in horticulture.
“Matt and I set up this academy in our head and, bless him, he went and convinced the Homebase board that it was a really good idea. Then we developed this thing over four years and ended up taking on 80-odd students in a year. Sadly it’s gone now but it was probably one of the best things I’ve done, and it’s been nice bumping into people who went through that academy. Horticulture’s strange… I’ve heard people in education say gardening is for kids who mess about and I’ve even heard people say gardening is mainly for the ‘special needs’ kids said around the table… I went mental when I heard this! It’s an industry that covers everything – the arts, the sciences, everything in between. The opportunities are far better than they were 10 years ago. We’re getting more young people look at horticulture as something positive, a great career.”
Q. Do you get accosted while out and about, like a doctor? If so, what’s the weirdest gardening query anyone has ever thrown at you?
“I’m just a lad that’s done all right. The weirdest thing has been dealing with people knowing who you are and just… well, I’ve been more or less propositioned in supermarkets in a romantic way, which is rather bizarre for a 50-something bloke that’s married with four kids. It’s charming that I get recognised but that attention is weird! Some of the things that ladies have said to me, if I’d said to a lady, they’d cause quite a lot of bother but if you’re a bloke you have to laugh! To be fair Mrs Frost thinks it’s hilarious. People are lovely and the other side of that is I do feel semi-adopted by so many people which has been incredible. I just rocked up on telly and didn’t think anybody would take any notice let alone this… That’s one of the things with the tour – I didn’t think anyone would turn up! Then they did and then we even had to extend it. It’s humbling.”
Q. It’s great watching you on TV. How’s your mental health doing, and does gardening and the great outdoor help with this?
“My mental health is in decent shape thank you, even though the winters tend to be dark, gloomy and horrible and I’m better when I’m outside, as I said at the start of this chat. One of the things I’ve noticed from the tour is that a lot of people want to know why I’ve moved.
“Well, Mrs Frost was really poorly in lockdown and she ended up in hospital for about 12 weeks and number three child Amber Lily was about 15 at the time and was self harming and that turned into a full-blown eating disorder. Then about 18 months later I was locked in a room with Covid and sat in front of a doctor and psychiatrist who said ‘you’ve got burn-out and depression’, which was a surprise as I only thought I had Covid. I’ve done quite a lot of soul-searching, talking, sorting out over the last 18 months, so I probably understand a lot more about myself now. When that happened the garden we were in felt quite overwhelming and I was losing my contact with it. And then we simplified life and moved and it was like that connection was reborn. It’s been lovely and I hadn’t realised, Mrs Frost uses the garden quite a lot in the summer as a place to go and connect, slow down. I think the surprising thing was I’ve always used the garden to fix me and when I was poorly I didn’t want to go in the garden.
“I’ve just done a load of podcasts for Gardeners’ World magazine – eight conversations with different people and that was fascinating as well. You think you know it all then you talk to experts and realise you know a bit of it but you don’t quite understand the detail they do.”
Q. What’s your favourite flower, and why?
“Wow that’s like asking me who my favourite kid is. I’ve got a favourite child but it changes… Haha, my eldest is here with me, smiling at me! I sort of haven’t got a favourite but a couple I’m drawn to… Cercidiphyllum Japonicum, the candyfloss tree that makes me smile. I have little oddities like that. Some of the hardy geraniums remind me of my Nan. A lot of the plants I tend to be drawn to are memory-driven choices.”
“A lot of the plants I tend to be drawn to are memory-driven choices.”
Q. We’re celebrating weddings this month. What was the favourite aspect of yours? And what advice would you give for planning a wedding? And a happy marriage?
“As a bloke, as a fella, propose to your wife and if she says she wants to get married quickly let her organise it in eight weeks! That’s pretty much what happened with us. She went into manic wedding mode and organised it incredibly quickly, and I said ‘yes’ a lot. I enjoyed the musical element to the day – we walked in and out to music; all sorts including one particular song by David Gray, and we have a line from that inside our wedding rings.
“I think try to do something that’s going to be a surprise to your wife, your partner. If you’re not the main organiser, add a surprise. I found a beautiful limited-edition painting called Wedding Day of a lady in a slip holding a rose and I bought that to give to Mrs Frost. I was once told by a fella in his 90s that he decided early on that he could either be right or happy… and he went for happy. I would say, 20-plus years on, do romantic things! Do little things! I annoy my missus by writing in lipstick on her mirror if I’m away for a couple of days… Which she pretends she likes but she tells the kids ‘oh he’s knackered the end of my lipstick!’ Make sure you keep the romance going. Cook a meal, do something, find some time.”
Q. Do you still love Chelsea Flower Show as much as ever?
“Yeah I love it. I’ve done it that many years that I’ve probably got slightly addicted to it. I’m probably at the stage that I need to go back and do one rather than turn up and walk around other people’s and tell the nation about them! The whole process from design to build, the people there, they have put 20+ days on site – those big gardens they have put their heart and soul into them and then on that press day morning the place gets cleaned up and transformed, everybody from horticulture turns up and it’s a celebration of the start of the gardening years. On the Sunday, Monday there’s this slow buzz. I think from this year on we’re going to be seeing more abut the connection with nature, we’ve gone from formality, how to create habitats that balance with nature. Our gardens are becoming more precious by the month really. We’re going to see a looser, more relaxed notion of what is a garden, what is a landscape? These filter down into the gardening world. Mental health, physical health. References to these as well.”
Q. What’s the best bit of gardening kit/ gadget that you couldn’t do without?
“Two bits: I’ve privileged enough to have worked in Japan, probably about 10 or 15 years ago, and I have a pair of Japanese secateurs which I adore, and then also a lovely little Dutch planting trail which is the one bit of kit that I get asked about the most. Monty [Don] has a similar one. I get slightly anxious when I can’t put my hands on them.”
Q. If you could make one wish for the world, what would it be?
“Connectivity and that we all look after it a little bit better, stop taking it for granted. We get sucked into the details of the politics of this or that but we collectively all just have to do our little bit.”