Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Meet gardener, T.V. presenter, author and all-round Renaissance man Chris Beardshaw and learn about his passion for plants and his absolutely fascinating new book 100 Plants that almost changed the World...
Tell us a bit about yourself and the work you do…
I've recently been described as a polymath or Renaissance man which I thought was a very interesting way of encompassing everything I get involved with! Essentially my whole life has been spent growing and working with plants and this love of plants has taken me on a very interesting journey, one which began when I was four years old. I am a trained horticulturalist and landscape architect and these days I teach and lecture in garden and landscape design and history, I present gardening television programmes mostly for the BBC, I write for The English Garden Magazine and Garden News and I run a very busy design practice which gets involved in all sorts of projects and schemes anything from designing a garden for Desmond Tutu to travelling this year to the Moscow Flower Show or helping a local client in the Cotswold's. I get actively involved in many charities and organizations that promote horticulture and thrive on being tested with new and challenging projects.
Have you always had a passion for all things botanical?
Yes. I've often laughed that I prefer the company of plants to that of humans and in a way that's only partly a joke. I genuinely feel happiest outdoors working in the garden and being around trees, plants and the landscape.
Tell us a bit about your fab new book 100 Plants that almost changed the World…
It started life a few years ago in conversations I would have with friends and clients or perhaps one of the many talks I give to garden clubs around the country when I would tell a story of the English obsession with the tea plant or why we eat pineapple with our gammon and so forth and it seemed to entertain, inform and surprise people. Quite a few people suggested that I write these stories down and it's taken some while but I am really pleased with the finished book, the fabulous illustrations and how people are responding to it. It is meant to be a lighthearted read not just for those who like plants and gardening but for anyone who might like a collection of 'I didn't know that' stories.
How did you discover all the amazing facts for your new book?
They've come about through the many years I've been learning, reading and meeting people associated with plants and gardens and I pieced them together by myself because ultimately they were things I wanted to learn about and was interested in which is a continual process, especially in the world of horticulture.
What's one of your favourite plant-based facts you found out whilst researching for your book?
Gosh, there are loads of facts that I love and what I did really enjoy about writing the book is that the stories are so diverse and some of them I have been telling for a long time, such as the Victorian ladies and the datura plant or the Witches and hedgerows. I guess some of the newer information we are collecting on plants makes good reading as harnessing the power and gifts from plant material, such as the story of carrots and battleships or pond weed power, are certainly where great future discoveries and products could come from.
When you're not gardening, running your private design practice, writing columns, broadcasting and appearing on radio panel shows, what do you spend your time doing?
Riding my bike! I love to be out on my road bike doing long distance rides around the Cotswold countrywide where I live but I usually set myself a challenge to aim for and this year I shall be riding the Pyrenees in just 7 days so I am busy training for that as we speak. I love the space it brings, it's down time, thinking time, and I feel much more balanced and happier if I get that time.
The Chelsea Flower Show is coming up soon, how are you going to be involved with it this year?
I have designed and built a garden for Arthritis Research UK to highlight and bring awareness of their work. It's actually quite a personal project to work on as I have a form of Rheumatoid arthritis, which I was diagnosed with in my mid teens and have learned to live around ever since. The garden is set out to portray the emotional journey a person goes on when they are faced with pain and diagnosis of arthritis through to the liberation they feel when they are able to manage their condition and continue living their lives to the fullest.
If you weren't an all round gardening buff what would you like to be instead?
I love sport and was a long distance runner at school before the arthritis affected my feet and for the last 20 years or so on and off I have been a very keen road cyclist so I guess it would be a sportsman of some sort.
What advice would you give to any budding gardeners out there?
Do what you love and don't be afraid to give something a go, too many gardeners lack confidence but you learn through doing and perhaps making some mistakes. Meet as many wonderful plants-people and growers as you can!
Tea and cake or pie and a pint?
Tea and cake!
To purchase a copy of 100 Plants that almost changed the World click here
All illustrations in this article are taken from 100 Plants that almost changed the World: illustrator Shirlynn Chui-Jacobs