Well known as the Times’ gardening correspondent, Stephen Anderton got into gardening as a teenager, confessing, “I was a bit of a ‘saddo’, it was an unusual interest at that age although I was extremely open minded and developed lots of favourites among plants. These days I buy things that look interesting, plants that I don’t know but that I want to get to know. If I don’t like them I give them away – it’s a bit like picking someone up at a party.” he muses.
“My career developed oddly really; I began at the National Youth Theatre, got a drama and classic degree and then went into Garden Design. I soon thought ‘this isn’t me’; I wanted to work more with plants so I worked my way up the large scaled gardening ladder working in large gardens and eventually doing restoration projects for English Heritage – at a time when beaurocracy was not quite such a fine art as it is today,” he adds.
“Along the way I had been asked to do some writing and eventually got to the stage where I thought I had to choose one or the other. I’m a gardener who writes rather than a writer who gardens, writing comes easily and naturally to me. I like to make people think. God preserve us from people who just write with a passion; focus is more important than passion, there is too much waffle around passion.”
“Which is why I developed www.thinkingardens.co.uk with a few friends. We were weary of the usual garden writing and wanted people to discuss gardens rather than just praise them. After all some of the best theatre reviews are outrageous, why shouldn’t gardening ones be? I like to play the ‘What If?’ game, when I look at someone’s garden I weigh it all up and then start asking, what if you did this? or what if you moved that? I want to persuade people to think about it all a bit more. Our mental juices are not very well served in this country,” he sighs.
Proving the pen is mightier than the spade, Stephen has also just completed Christopher Lloyds biography which he admits, “has brought mixed reviews from the Lloyd luvvies. They think it should have made him a Saint,” he laughs. “I knew Chris well. He asked me to write the book then died a month later before I’d even started writing which meant I could be a bit more open and honest I suppose.”
As the author of Discovering Welsh Gardens (Graffeg), Stephen admits to liking simple and romantic gardens. “I loved Tony Ridley’s garden in Swansea. It’s modern, simple and crisp. Really ambitious gardeners who want to do a lot are much thinner on the ground these days.”
And to prove his desire to stimulate discussions, he adds impishly, “I recently joined a gardening panel at Monacute House in Somerset for a debate on whether women or men were the best gardeners; obviously I was supporting men being the better. What do you think?”