Dame Prue Leith: From Bake Off Queen to gardening judge

The Tv foodie reveals the highs and lows of her gardening journey, as she swaps spatulas for secateurs. By Hannah Stephenson.

Wildflower mishaps, vegetable gluts and disappointing fruit trees have all proved a excellent discovering curve for baking ace Dame Prue Leith, who is also a eager gardener.

But her prosperity of growing knowledge tends to make her the excellent option as new decide in this year’s B&Q Gardener of the Yr competitiveness, together with returning judges Matt Childs, Humaira Ikram and Steve Person, with a prize of £10,000 up for grabs.

Close to a 12 months-and-a-50 percent ago, Leith, 82, downsized from her Cotswold state manor with the wonderful garden she had established, to a close by modern dwelling she designed with partner John Playfair on a two-acre plot.

The new yard – featured very last year in Channel 4’s Prue’s Great Garden Plot – is a get the job done in progress, she claims. In this article, she demonstrates on how she was a latecomer to gardening and shares the triumphs and disasters of her horticultural lifetime…

How did you grow to be fascinated in gardening?

“I grew up in South Africa, we experienced a beautiful back garden. I used a great deal of time outside simply because the temperature was charming and we failed to have a tv,” states Leith.

“Until I was about 40, I did not have a lot of desire in gardening due to the fact I was chaotic with the children [she had a son and daughter with her late first husband, Rayne Kruger] and with my enterprise. And the small children have been at the age when they have been still kicking balls into the herbaceous border and had all the clobber of sandpits and climbing frame.

“When they went to faculty, I started to study the difference in between an oak and an ash. I was a latecomer but then I turned really obsessed.”

You appreciate colour – how do you use that outside?

“I like the South African seem. We had a ton of oak back garden home furnishings in the aged residence, which we introduced right here – and we painted some of it vivid pink, though the terrace upstairs has Kingfisher blue home furnishings, like California, and we sunbathe up there.

“The colours of the vegetation are robust, not muted. If I am hunting for eryngium, I like the most wonderful deep electric blues. We also have tubs of agapanthus on the terrace.”

What are you searching for in the competitors gardens?

“We have 4 categories: the vintage gardener, in which we are anticipating perhaps hedges and herbaceous borders the yr-spherical gardener, the place we are hoping to see wintertime desire from someone who’s believed about color and shape the full yr round.

“Then we have acquired the effective gardener, which appeals to me mainly because it really is about feeding people today. We’re not just anticipating a veg yard. It will be exciting to see if folks place some vegetables into herbaceous borders or whether they increase herbs in pots and troughs. The other classification is the eccentric gardener, which will be a shock.”

What is your back garden like?

“My existing back garden is really new due to the fact we’ve just taken above an old farmyard, which was utilized for contracting to retail store tremendous machinery so was mostly concrete. We had 50 % an acre of concrete to get rid of right before we commenced.

“We experienced no experienced trees other than on the really edges, which utilized to be the hedgerow. The oldest point in our new backyard garden is the orchard, which we planted three several years ago just before we even had setting up authorization for the home. We just took a possibility.”

What have you planted in the orchard?

“They are all indigenous British endangered apples, damsons, plums and pears. Very last yr, we had our very first crop of apples and I commenced to recognize why these apple trees experienced gone out of style and ended up now endangered, due to the fact so lots of of them are little and scabby – and we won’t be able to spray them due to the fact we are attempting to go organic and natural.

“The scabby apples are also smaller to be bothered to peel and a great deal of them were being sour. Even so, they built extremely good apple jelly, which I foisted on my pals in jars.”

Do you have a vegetable garden?

“No, since there are only two of us, and I’ve experienced my fill of disappointments with vegetable gardens. It truly is pretty to be feeding on your very own veg, but by and huge with a massive vegetable garden, you close up with far as well numerous cabbages all all set at the exact time. Almost everything transpires at at the time.

“But we have big agricultural cattle troughs in our courtyard, which are entire of crops and veg and I never have to get on my hands and knees to weed. We are developing runner beans on wigwams and tumbling tomatoes, a lot of herbs and lettuces. Final calendar year, we managed to eat it all simply because we experienced a minor of a whole lot of factors.”

Have you experienced lots of gardening disasters?

“A good deal. Who hasn’t? When I to start with moved into my previous dwelling, it had a pretty experienced backyard garden when we bought it. I did not like conifers, so I chopped down a large fir tree and only realised later on that it was really strategic to have been put in that put mainly because it acted as a focal level, a column. You generally make mistakes due to the fact you hurry into points.”

Did you have a challenge rising wildflowers?

“Of course. The detail about wildflowers is that I had believed that, like all flowers, they like definitely abundant soil and a whole lot of compost. It turns out that if you might be going to have soil like that, the weeds and significantly grass just really like loaded room. The grasses which arrive up prior to the wildflowers entirely smother the place.

“When John was having the new orchard all set, possessing place in masses of compost and leafmould, grit and superior topsoil, I considered, would not it be a fantastic thought to have wildflowers rising in between the trees? I acquired a load of wildflower seeds and tossed them below the trees and of class the grass arrived up and smothered them all.”

What is your latest project in the backyard garden?

“We’ve just planted an avenue of trees by a area which goes down to a stream, which concerned planting 76 trees – oaks and rowan. Oaks develop pretty slowly and I am 82, so I am not likely to see this avenue in all it can be glory. I am hoping no just one will dig them up, as they are fantastic for upcoming generations.”

What crops do you use for color?

“We have two beds, which are half grasses and fifty percent colour. A person side has bought a whole lot of orange and pink in it and the other aspect is blue and purple. The blues consist of eryngium, purple sedum, blue salvias, with Michaelmas daisies and annual white and pink cosmos to fill the gaps.

“The warm red and yellow border includes grasses with euphorbias, phlomis, Anemone hupehensis, Coreopsis grandiflora, day lilies and fennel.”

To enter the B&Q Gardener of the 12 months levels of competition, check out do it yourself.com/gardener-of-the-year. Entries need to be submitted by midday on June 20

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