Carol Klein on her dad’s hatred of gardening, her love of motorbikes and a major new series for next year
PUBLISHED: 09:19 07 May 2014
Most great gardeners get hooked early in life but Lancashire lass Carol Klein probably takes the record at just two years old.
‘My mum used to tell me that I would carry little buckets of soil into the kitchen and plonk the contents on the kitchen lino,’ she laughs.
Did she get into trouble for creating her own kitchen garden? ‘No, mum probably encouraged it. She absolutely loved gardening but she never had the time to do much.’
Carol’s early years growing up with her two brothers in Walkden, near Bolton, seem like a mixture of great fun and some frustration. ‘My dad had a TV shop in Walkden but the reality was that my mother ran it.
‘My two great loves were gardening and art but my dad said he couldn’t see the point of either. In fact, he hated gardening.’ There is no hint of bitterness in her voice when she adds: ‘Still, it takes all sorts.’
Lancashire may have lost Carol – she lives in rural Devon when she’s not filming with Gardeners’ World - but she hasn’t lost the wit and warmth associated with the red rose county or her husky accent. ‘Dad’s passions were for motorbikes, smoking, drinking and having fun and that seemed to have run in the family. Dad used to race bikes and I’ve inherited his love of speed.’
Carol, who was born in 1945 and went to Bolton School, adds: ‘In fact, I’m thinking seriously about getting a motorbike. My brothers are trying to talk me out of it but I’m keen to have one. When I was a teenager I shared a Matchless 350 with a group of friends.
‘We were learning to ride on some fields near home and I remember breaking very sharply at the same time as I opened the throttle. I went flying and I recall my friends running over – not to check on me, but to make sure the motorbike was all right!’
Carol left school when she was 15. ‘I think I was quite close to being chucked out. I loved art and biology but in those days you had to chose between the two subjects. I was fed up about that.’
The young Carol wanted to go to art school but her father wouldn’t hear of it and she ended up selling buttons and stockings at the Kendal Milne department store in Manchester.
But she always maintained her love of gardening. ‘I learned a bit from my granddad and my mother. I remember being impressed by the Peace Rose that came out after the war. I used to chat to men over the garden fence about their gardens. I don’t suppose that would be allowed today!
‘I used to love being on my grandfather’s allotment. I think most youngsters learn from their grandparents because mums and dad just don’t have the time. I would love to be able to pass on my knowledge but don’t tell my two daughters!’
Carole eventually gave up selling buttons and got that wished-for art degree. She went on to become a teacher in London before moving to Devon with her husband, Neil.
‘I don’t believe in green fingers. When I taught art I realised that everyone can draw and it’s the same with gardening. My best advice to anyone wanting to learn is to look. Observe what happens in the garden. All gardening is ruled by natural laws and you need to try to emulate them. It’s not difficult – if you have a plant that grows very well by the sea, don’t try to grow it in wet, heavy clay. Patience is also required - you don’t have to only buy plants in flower.’
Would she ever come back to Lancashire? ‘I love my garden in Devon too much but I often think of gardening in Lancashire. The soil was like coal, thin and black. My mother used to be amazed – we’d put in the same plants at the same time, hers in Lancashire and mine in Devon. Mine would do so much better because the soil is so fertile here.
‘I’ve never had any formal horticultural training. I’ve always loved plants but everything that has happened to me has been accidental. I admire people who plan their careers but that’s never been my way.’ Many fans were bitterly disappointed when the BBC failed to make Carol the lead presenter on Gardeners’ World. With typical Lancastrian humour, she was reported as saying she had ‘hit the grass ceiling.’
But Carol had just completed five days of filming for Gardeners’ World at Abbotsbury in Dorset and she was excited about a new project planned for BBC2 next year.
‘I’ve not told anyone this yet but we have the funding for a programmes called Plant Odysseys which goes back to the origins of many plants that we take for granted.
‘We are basing it on four plants – the rose, the iris, tulips and either the water lily or the poppy and tracing them back to their origins. It will follow the journey plants have made to get to our gardens and the adventures they’ve had along the way.
‘We’ll look at the changes we’ve made to the plants and the changes they’ve made to us. Wars have been fought over plants and economies have been ruined and they’ve influenced art and culture. Just look at Lancashire and the red rose.
‘Plant Odysseys will mean some travelling – I’ve already been talking to someone about getting to Kazakhstan. Apparently, visa are difficult but the good news is we have booked the packhorses!’
Carol will be of the VIPs at this year’s Southport Flower Show – an event that has fond memories for her.
‘It was the first show I ever went to,’ she recalls. ‘I was taken by my gran so I couldn’t have been older than eight. I loved every moment of it and I’ve exhibited there several times over the years. I particularly remember meeting the Iddon family who have been well-known gardeners in Lancashire for many years. I’m really looking forward to going back – it’s such a friendly show.’
With the pending World Cup in Brazil, this year organisers have opted for a Brazilian themed show with entertainment, events and garden designs all taking their inspiration from Brazilian styles and culture.
The show runs from the 14-17 August, and will attract up to 70,000 visitors, to the four day event.
For tickets and all the latest information on the show, visit www.southportflowershow.co.uk. or call 01704 547147.