Writer, broadcaster and Garden Agony Aunt, Valerie McBride-Munro admits to having had the affectionate title of Auntie Planty bestowed upon her by grateful gardeners. “Men always laugh,” she adds “but I have the last laugh as it’s a name everyone remembers.” Valerie is a fabulous mix of good old fashioned, hands on ethics as well as being well organized and focussed. “My first husband was in the Army,” she explains “and I spent most of my adult life in the Far East. I had a daily three hour radio show which was very popular and I loved doing it. When I came back to the UK I decided to qualify in Broadcast Journalism. After a disappointing stint in the News Room at Pebble Mill, I realised I had the communication skills but now I needed a speciality. I had always loved plants and aged just ten years old spent all my pocket money on plants for a tiny little inner city garden in Belfast. I was up against rough boys and dogs,” she recalls, “but I loved it; so it seemed natural to do a degree course in Horticulture at Pershore College.”
“Army life teaches you to reinvent yourself every couple of years,” she adds, “it’s as though someone blows a whistle and says ‘right, everyone move’. Wherever you settle, you have to make another life. I have been continually reinventing myself ever since.”
It’s this down to earth approach that makes Valerie much sought after for her talks and tuition. “I helped people solve their gardening problems on the radio, TV and in magazines and whilst it’s a great way to impart advice it’s always general and not dealing specifically with what one has in their own garden. My aim is to get gardeners to create a garden as a place of pleasure for themselves and to establish ownership of their space. People get daunted by perfect pictures of perfect gardens. If people know ‘Why’ they’re doing something the ‘How to’ is far easier to learn. Under my tutelage, people wouldn’t prune roses at the wrong time of year because they would understand why they are doing it. There could be 101 reasons why a plant looks miserable or dies and people tend to think it’s their fault. It seldom is; it’s usually down to the soil or a bug or even the weather. If you have yellowing leaves, where the yellow patches are on the plant will tell you what nutrient is missing. With a bit of knowledge and understanding you can put most things right.”
Valerie’s combined passion for plants and people also proves a great success at Kew Gardens where she is a guide. “I enjoy sharing knowledge and I want to bring what people perceive as a complicated subject down to every day speak. We have enormous fun, I love leaving happy people behind me.”
Be inspired and find out more about Auntie Planty at www.auntieplanty.com.