TV gardener Chris Collins admits he is probably still best known as the Blue Peter gardener. He explains, “I’ve done 8 years of Blue Peter now. When I started no one really talked about gardening, you either did it or you didn’t. I’ve watched it grow in popularity through the media and especially for kids. There is a real ground swell in schools now and I work a lot with 7-11 year olds. From 11, all they want are new trainers and the latest computer game.” He laughs, “As adults we pontificate to kids and that’s the wrong way to engage them. You’ve got to look at the world through their eyes, especially with gardening. That’s why I make a compost bin look like a Darlek. The kids get it.”
The popular hands-on gardener has been enjoying the ‘green life’ for over 25 years, “When I left school I knew I didn’t want a job working inside. I hated the classroom. I started as an Apprentice gardener for Brighton Parks and in just 2 weeks I knew it was for me. Everything I’ve done since has come from that apprenticeship. I learned so much practical stuff. The green-keepers I worked with knew every blade of grass on their patch. Apprenticeships are a big thing for me. We should give kids a trade today, something they can be passionate about. I really try to support people who want to be gardeners. There are many different aspects of gardening. It’s not just about design, you’ve got to be able to maintain a garden not just design and create it; it’s so important to be hands on. The media thinks design is far sexier than cutting a hedge so that’s the bit you read about all the time. “We’d be knackered without gardening,” he continues passionately, “ We have been gardening for thousands of years but supermarkets have only been around for a few decades. And it’s very spiritual, gardening grounds you; I always feel completely connected to everything around me, it’s really important.”
Chris’s recent BBC documentary, The Wonder of Weeds was a great success and he is now working on BBC3’s Young Gardener of the Year. “I’m really buzzed out about it; the contestants are really enthusiastic and creative. The finals are at the end of the month, it’s been great. I’ve also joined forces with Nick Knowles to do a DIY SOS for Children In Need and have got a book coming out in January. It’s called Grow Your Own for Kids and I’m really excited about it; it’s aimed at 7-11 year old and it’s very practical.”
A busy schedule and lots of travelling means he doesn’t have much time for his own garden. “I’m a big fan of container gardening. I worked in Tokyo for 5 years and worked on lots of balconies and roof gardens.” He explains, “I love bedding and veg planted up in potagers. It means I can move them about as I want to as well; I’m a real container man!” find out more about Chris and what he’s up to at www.chriscollins.org.uk
Chris is also Patron of Trees for Cities, an independent Charity established in 1993 which inspires people to plant and love trees worldwide and who are organising the Barefoot Tree-athlon that I am taking part in today. Chris explains, “It’s a great Charity, there are progressive people involved, passionate about what they’re doing. I love starting the race and getting in amongst the crowd giving tips for planting and growing on little saplings.” www.treesforcities.org.