TV Garden expert Christine Walkden on growing up in Lancashire and why she loves the Southport Flower Show

PUBLISHED: 00:00 15 May 2017

Christine Walkden

Christine Walkden

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The One Show’s Christine Walkden is one of the VIPs at this year’s Southport Flower Show. She spoke to Roger Borrell

The Victoria Gate entrance to Southport Flower ShowThe Victoria Gate entrance to Southport Flower Show

TWO childhood events – one a puzzle and another that made her really angry – sparked Christine Walkden’s early passion for gardening.

‘I can remember at school, they were growing crocus corms in yoghurt pots,’ she says. ‘But I wasn’t allowed to look after them. I was seriously hacked off about that – goodness knows why!’

By Wakes Week, she had calmed down and was given three campanula plants to look after. ‘My dad asked who would look after them while we were away for a fortnight…I hadn’t thought of that.’

The young Christine submerged them in a bowl of water and placed them in the shed at their home in Rishton, near Blackburn. ‘I was convinced they would be dead by the time we got home. But when I opened the shed door, they were in full bloom. I couldn’t believe it,’ she says.

Christine still can’t quite believe it. ‘I’ve tried to repeat the experiment but they have always died - of course they would! So don’t try that one at home. It won’t work.’

She was hooked on gardening to the extent that she progressed from mustard and cress on the window sill to pulling up the paving slabs in the family’s backyard so she could start growing plants.

‘Then, one day I was walking along the road and spotted through the back door of a garage what I discovered was an allotment. I was only 11 years old but I signed up for one as soon as I could.’

Her fellow allotment holders, mainly old chaps, taught Christine what she needed to know to grow fruit and veg and set her on the path to becoming a professional horticulturist, appearing on Gardener’s Question Time, Gardener’s World and The One Show.

She is one of a band of Lancastrians to make it to the top of the professional alongside Roy Lancaster and Carol Klein. ‘I don’t get home too often these days – my parents are both dead - but I’m still extremely proud of my Lancashire roots.

‘I’m not sure why we have so many successful gardeners from the county but it’s probably something to do with tradition. People worked in the mines, the factories and the mills and gardening was a form of escape into the outdoors plus it provided a much-needed source of food.’

Christine honed her skills at Myerscough College near Preston and decades later became one of its Fellows. ‘That was pretty special,’ she says. ‘Just like the old boys on the allotment all those years ago, I believe in giving something back so I’m very keen on teaching children about growing.’

Christine is also very keen on the Southport Flower Show. She describes it as ‘blinking good – as good as any RHS show.’

She adds: ‘Good old Southport – I have so many happy memories. I went every year as a kid from the age of 11 to 18. It was like Alice in Wonderland seeing all those wonderful gardens.

‘It really is the Chelsea of the north and people travel for days to get there. When you consider that it is independently run and managed by locals who rallied around to keep it going, it shows remarkable passion and enthusiasm. It’s a fantastic event.’

As well as being a prolific writer of gardening books and a regular on the lecture circuit, Christine is starting a new series on the The One Show with Bake Off champion Nadiya Hussain. ‘I grow it and she cooks it,’ says Christine.

Has she picked up any cookery tips? ‘Well, I’m quite a good cook,’ she says. ‘I think Nadiya was a bit surprised by that. Let’s say I’m better at blending eggs than she is at digging!’

Southport Flower Show

The theme for this year’s Southport Flower Show is the Curious Garden with organisers aiming to showcase the sense of wonder and discovery that inspires all gardeners as they unravel the mysteries of the natural world.

The show will take place across four days from Thursday, August 17 to Sunday, August 20. For tickets and further information go to www.southportflowershow.co.uk or call 01704 547147.

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