'I Just Hope Visitors Don't See a Garden Full of Weeds'; TV's Flying Gardener Chris Beardshaw Has Stayed on Common Ground by Choosing a Combination of British Wildflowers and Recycled Materials for His Chelsea Flower Show Debut. Libby Norman Meets Him

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The run-up to Chelsea is always a delicate balancing act with nature, but while other designers have been nurturing lilies, hothousing roses and praying their pinks will peak, Chris Beardshawhas been tending taraxcum officinale - that's a dandelion to you and me. For TV's Flying Gardener has chosen to design a slice of the British countryside - and that includes plants that send other gardeners in search of a hoe.

Beardshaw is not making an irreverent statement - merely sharing his evangelical passion for the hedgerow, woodland and meadow landscapes we take for granted.

'Native wildflowers are not these big, vivacious blowsy blooms, but they look wonderful and they have this great folklore,' he says.

And crucially, they fit into his philosophy that gardening is mostly about arranging things in the right place. In his appearances on everything from Gardeners' World to C4's The Great Garden Challenge, Beardshaw has reminded us that 'right plant, right spot' is the golden rule. 'Gardening shouldn't be such hard work,' he says. 'These species are 350 million years old so they know how to look after themselves. All we have to do is give them the right conditions.'

At 36, Beardshaw has the wholesome and healthy good looks so beloved of gardening programme-makers, but he'd already built his reputation as a garden designer and lecturer when he was 'discovered' by a roving television crew at the Malvern Flower Show in 1999. And with the words 'you'll do', his second career was born. It's been a frenetic six years as he's appeared on forgettable (Real Rakeover) and memorable (Hidden Gardens) programmes across channels.

He grew up in rural Worcestershire and developed a precociously early passion for gardening - beginning with humble cress.

'I was fascinated that things would germinate, and then there was the sense of responsibility after they'd started growing.' He does place some responsibility at his grandparents' door.

'My grandfather had an allotment and my grandmother was this marvellous gardener who hacked her way through the countryside selecting plants she liked.' Beardshaw recalls that she was forever hopping over fences to snip cuttings.

He studied at Pershore college before joining a plant wholesale business. By 21 he was designing stands for horticulture shows and it was this that made him switch direction. 'I was having debates with my manager who saw plants as products. I knew that it was 50 per cent growing and 50 per cent assembling that made gardens, so I did a postgraduate degree in landscape architecture.'

Beardshaw still lectures and runs his landscape business - though these days he is selective about projects. 'I only take on work that interests me.'

Recent schemes have included schools and a woodland burial ground.

'It was a shared interest that got me involved in this garden at Chelsea,' he adds. His key partner is Wrap (the Waste & Resources Action Programme), a government-funded initiative to get us recycling, composting and reusing resources. …


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