The signals of spring are appearing across Northamptonshire. Despite the current cold and wet weather, a couple of recent ventures out into the wilds revealed Prunus sp. and lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) in flower, as well as lots of frisky birds doing their thing. But for me there is no surer sign of approaching spring than the start of a new series of Gardeners’ World on BBC 2. It’s a programme I’ve followed for many years and (as well as useful gardening information) it provides a barometer for how a significant sub-class of the Great British Public (amateur gardeners) thinks about the environment and its biodiversity. It’s also an influential programme that changes behaviours, as I argue in the following piece of writing from last year, when the University of Northampton gave Gardeners’ World presenter and gardening writer Carol Klein an Honorary Fellowship.
Universities award honorary degrees and fellowships to famous people and “celebrities” for a variety of reasons, not all of them laudable and some ethically dubious. But we proposed Carol Klein because of the effect her work has had on how gardeners garden. I had the pleasure of introducing Carol at the graduation ceremony, in front of an audience of a couple of thousand graduands and their families. What follows is the text of that presentation; as I’ve mentioned previously, why waste good words when they can be reduced, reused and recycled?
Following an introduction by the Vice Chancellor, Ollerton steps up to lectern dressed like an extra from a Harry Potter movie, be-gowned and be-capped. He starts to speak…..
Chancellor, insofar as the Council and Senate of the University have seen fit to establish Honorary Fellowships to confer on eminent individuals, I today present to the Chairman one on whom the Council and Senate have determined to confer such an award.
PAUSE – Carol was guided by a Marshall to stand at the front of the stage. Once she was in place and the Marshall had returned to his seat, Ollerton continued….
I am delighted to introduce to you Mrs Carol Klein.
SHORT PAUSE – just for effect…..
There can be no doubt that the British are a nation of gardeners. Whether it’s just developing a window box, a small back garden, or, for the more adventurous, an allotment, horticulture is a hobby that excites both young and old. This is reflected in some astonishing statistics; the Horticultural Trade Association estimated that in 2010 the Garden Retail Market was worth £4.6 billion to the economy, whilst public gardens such as Kew and the Eden Project both host over one million visitors a year.
Much of this public passion for gardening is both reflected in, and fuelled by, the coverage it is given in newspapers, magazines, radio and (most especially) television. And since its first broadcast in 1968, the BBC’s Gardeners’ World has been the pre-eminent gardening programme in Britain and Carol Klein is one of its most popular presenters.
Carol was born in Walkden in Salford, Lancashire and has never lost her accent! Following her school education she trained as an art teacher and taught in schools in London before moving to Devon. There Carol taught at North Devon College whilst developing her own interest in plants and gardening.
This grew, quite literally, into her own plant nursery, Glebe Cottage Plants, which she set up with her husband Neil.
What was once a hobby had become a career. The nursery exhibited at all the major Royal Horticultural Society shows, winning gold medals at Hampton Court, Westminster, Malvern and of course Chelsea. In 1989 a Gardeners’ World feature on Glebe Cottage Plants led to invitations to work as a guest presenter for the BBC and Channel 4.
In 1998 Carol wrote and presented a six-part series Wild About the Garden in which she promoted the ideals of finding space for native flora and fauna in our gardens, something which is very close to the hearts of those of us who teach and carry out research in the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences.
Carol has starred in other TV programmes, including two series of Real Gardens, as well as offering her expertise to television programmes such as Garden Doctors, Time Team and even Water Colour Challenge. Carol’s most recent series, Life in a Cottage Garden, was filmed at her own Glebe Cottage. In December the High Summer episode from the series won the prestigious Garden Programme TV Broadcast of the Year award at the 2011 Garden Media Guild TV & Radio Broadcast Awards.
Life in a Cottage Garden was also made into a book of the same name because as well as her television presenting work, Carol is a prolific author. Carol has written a number of bestselling books including Grow Your Own Veg, with over 200,000 copies sold, and contributes articles for periodicals including Garden News, the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and, of course, Gardeners’ World magazine.
And it is Carol’s weekly appearances as one of the presenters of Gardeners’ World for which she is most famous. Every Friday night between March and October over 2 million of us watch the programme as it is broadcast, with many more catching up with it later on the BBC iPlayer.
Gardeners, whether experienced or novice, cannot help but be roused by Carol’s passionate and energetic on-screen persona. However, this is not an act for the benefit of the audience, it’s how she is! I learned that a couple of years ago when I had the pleasure of working with Carol for a Gardeners’ World special edition called The Science of Gardening. During a long day of filming Carol never lost her curiosity and enthusiasm for the subjects we were discussing.
The programme was filmed at Glebe Cottage. In an article for the Guardian newspaper a few years ago, Carol wrote: “It has taken a long time to get to know my garden – 30 and a bit years – and I’m still finding out about it……..at every twist and turn it unfolds new revelations. A garden is a place to enjoy and indulge in, something you can love, somewhere you can nurture. It stimulates all the senses, and its very unpredictability gives it a vitality not often encountered in our contrived and controlled world.”
This, to me, sums up what makes Carol such a special gardening presenter and communicator – even familiar things excite her, whilst the unfamiliar is approached with a keenness to understand and to communicate it to the widest possible audience. In that sense, Carol’s original training as a teacher has never been lost.
Chancellor, distinguished guests, graduands….
ANOTHER SHORT PAUSE – just for effect….
…..today we are honouring Carol Klein not just because of her work as a public gardening figure but also for her contribution to persuading gardeners to think about and to limit the negative impact of their hobby.
All human activity, including gardening, has an impact on the environment that sustains us. It is Carol Klein’s championing of gardening in an organic, wildlife friendly way which may be her most lasting contribution. Tellingly, a recent Public Attitude Survey by Defra showed that almost 70% of respondents “actively encouraged wildlife in their gardens, for example through feeding areas or specific planting”. It is people such as Carol who have helped to shape public opinion in such a positive way.
As Carol put it in a newspaper article a few years ago, gardening with the environment in mind: “relies on building up communities of fungi, flora and fauna in the soil, and any interruption or chemical intervention sets it back. It’s not a question of being hardcore; it’s about having faith in nature and natural processes.” That faith is more than just “tree hugging” or “Saving the Planet”: the UK National Ecosystem Assessment in 2011 estimated that our natural environment contributes over £30 billion to our economy every year through the provision of ecosystem services such as fresh water, carbon storage, pest control and pollination. Gardeners have an important part to play in ensuring that we do not compromise those ecosystem services and Carol Klein has played a significant role in promoting those values.
Chairman, In accordance with the decision of the Council and Senate, I am privileged to present to you Carol Klein that you may confer an Honorary Fellowship.
Applause from the audience as a very embarrassed looking Carol Klein steps forward to give an engaging and humorous speech. Ollerton goes back to his seat on the stage, relieved his part is over