'The world doesn’t end if you get things wrong': Adam Frost talks ahead of BBC Gardener's World Live in Birmingham
He ought to have been a drop out. No, wait. That’s precisely what he was. A difficult and unconventional childhood left Gardeners’ World star Adam Frost on the scrapheap. Before he’d even began.
At the age of 16, he’d left home – anywhere was better than there. But that was the beginning of his journey, rather than the end. And his love of the great outdoors, of nature in all its guises, gave him the most remarkable career. From nowheresville to working with Sir Terence Conran, from hopelessness to starring in front of a TV audience of millions, from being given no chance to winning seven Gold Medals at Chelsea Flower Show; Frost turned his life around and discovered latent potential.
His trophy cabinet is almost as impressive as Real Madrid’s. He’s become a galactico of the garden, a hero of horticulture, a league winner at landscape.
“It was never part of the plan,” he says, shrugging off our compliments. “I didn’t think any of this would happen.”
Frost will be joined by a host of culinary and horticulture stars when the BBC Good Food Show and BBC Gardeners’ World Live return to the NEC in Birmingham from June 13 to 16 for four fabulous days. The event will be packed with the latest products and trends, inspirational tips and advice topped with a host of famous faces.
A star-studded line-up of some of the world’s top chefs and gardeners has just been announced, with Ainsley Harriott returning to the show for the first time in over a decade. He will take to the Big Kitchen stage alongside Michelin masters Tom Kerridge, Raymond Blanc and Michel Roux Jr, and Show favourites Mary Berry, Nadiya Hussain and TV cook and author Prue Leith.
Visitors can browse, shop and taste their way around an amazing selection of hand-picked artisan producers and well-known brands. From the latest and innovative kitchen gadgets to the freshest seasonal produce and exciting products, they can dive into a food lover’s paradise and discover new delicious flavours just in time for summer.
Gardeners’ World Live will feature such green-fingered royalty as Monty Don, Alan Titchmarsh and Carol Klein who will all be doing on-stage demos, giving people a helping hand with their garden problems, revealing the hottest gardening and getting gardens ready for summer.
Along with new celebrity faces, Blue Peter gardener, Lee Connolly will be leading the show’s first ever Children’s Activity Trail, weaving families around the show and taking families on an adventure into the world of gardening and getting youngsters involved in practical sessions.
BBC Gardeners’ World Live will also host one of the largest Floral Marquees in the country. Visitors can immerse themselves in the sweet scent of summer and get lost in the haven of flowers and plants. From orchids to lilies, dianthus to alliums, the Floral Marquee will be a one-stop shop for spectacular displays and seasonal inspiration for gardens.
Frost will be present – and he can’t wait. “Gardeners’ World Live is a great place for the gardening community to come together and celebrate what we love. It’s the perfect for anybody looking for exciting garden inspiration to try at home.”
Michel Roux Jr., who will be cooking live in two Big Kitchen sessions, added: “There aren’t many events that compare to the BBC Good Food Show Summer. With live entertainment, cooking inspiration, shopping and tasting – it really is the ultimate summer day out for food lovers.”
Not that Midlanders have to wait for the fun to begin. National Gardening Week starts on Monday and runs until May 5. The annual event started eight years ago and has grown in popularity every year with National Gardening Week 2018 seeing hundreds of events taking place around the country and thousands of people sharing their ‘passion for plants’ on social media.
National Gardening Week is the nation’s biggest celebration of gardening and raises awareness of the difference that gardens and gardening can make to the lives of everyone in the UK. It inspires more people, particularly the next generation of gardeners, to experience the joy of growing and visiting beautiful green spaces.
Edible Britain helps to highlight that everyone has space to grow something delicious to eat, whether it’s a single pot of herbs on the windowsill or an allotment overflowing with courgettes and potatoes.
Frost hopes people will get involved. And he also hopes they’ll be inspired by his remarkable story, realising that gardening can be a force for good – a transformative past time that brings succour and joy, catharsis and pleasure.
The award-winning landscaper, gardener and broadcaster and believes there’s inspiration all around us – in nature, architecture, art, people and food – we just have to take the time to stop and look around. He draws on memories, special places and people who have been influential to the way he designs. And he cares that his garden designs are about creating personal spaces that people can feel comfortable in, places that actually feel ‘real’, as well as being beautiful.
He also has a powerful message: if he can do it, anyone can.
“I didn’t plan for things to work out the way they did,” he says. “I guess things started for me because of my connection with Geoff Hamilton, who passed away in 1996.”
And yet before he started working for Hamilton, another famous figure provided him with his own lightbulb moment. Frost had been working for Habitat founder Sir Terence Conran when the entrepreneur ignited a spark. “I’d done some work for Sir Terence and I was standing there next to him. He asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I’d really like to have a go at Chelsea. We had a giggle about it; I didn’t think it would be possible. But he told me I’d get bored if I didn’t strive to make my dreams happen.
“He stopped me in my tracks and told me anything was possible. He said: ‘Remember, young man, I started off as a joiner’. That started me thinking.”
Around the same time, Frost had been working on a rose garden project and was owed £18,000. He decided to risk it on his dream. “I spoke to Mrs Frost and asked if we could have a go at Chelsea. At the time, we didn’t have £18, let alone £18,000 – that money was the world to us.
“I told her I wanted to go and build a Chelsea garden. It was one of those little moments. And the normally sensible Mrs Frost said if I had to do it, I should go and do it.” So he did. And he won a gold. And the next year, he built another garden on Main Avenue and won another gold. As the years passed, he became addicted to winning; securing seven Gold Medals.
“It’s an incredible thing to do. I went to school in Harlow; I’m an Essex boy, but I got moved to Devon when I was 15-years-old and that didn’t go down well. I left school with not a lot of options. Moving a kid from the East End to Devon is not the best thing to do. The choices were to become a chef, join the army or be a gardener. So I left home at 16 and got a job on the parks department. A couple of old lads, one called Jim and one called George, sorted me out. The more I gardened, the more I loved it. I came back to London as a landscaper and at 21 applied to work with Geoff Hamilton.”
And then the fun began.
A complicated and difficult childhood had been spent in large part with two sets of grandparents; both of whom had been keen gardeners. “If anything, I felt safe with the gardening and I sort of semi-understood it.” It was his comfort, a place for tranquillity and relief.
He got the job with Hamilton, not realising how it would change his life. “He was incredible. I didn’t have an idea how influential he was. He was decades ahead of his time, talking about peat-free and environmental issues before anyone else. He was a bit of a mentor for me, not in terms of telling me what to do – when I was 26/27, he was still calling me boy. But he was a mentor in the sense of getting on and doing it. I only had to watch him to realise how to be a man. He led by example.”
Working with Hamilton didn’t cast Frost into the spotlight, though it helped him understand the madness of TV. Instead, Frost paved his own path, largely by succeeding at Chelsea. There, he’d be asked to do bits to camera, for The One Show or for gardening programmes. And, like Hamilton, TV producers discovered a man with the common touch; a broadcaster able to articulate clearly and connect with his audience.
“People like the story that Geoff opened the door, but that’s not what it was. It all started off slowly but gradually grew. It feels weird thinking about it even now. I’m a gardener, I still don’t think of myself as being a TV host. I just treat the whole thing as though I’m having a conversation with someone about gardening. I feel incredibly privileged. I talk about what I love, someone films me and they stick me on the box. It’s great.”
The thing he enjoys most is being part of a team, with good cameramen, soundmen, producers and directors. He enjoys the banter, the sense of camaraderie. “90 per cent of them are really good, fun, hard-working people.”
There have been many stand-out moments, like interviewing Prince Charles about bio-security. “That was pretty big. Me and Charles, it was a couple of gardeners having a chat, mate. It wasn’t the future king of England talking to some kid from Harlow. It was people trying to talk stuff through and looking at what we can do to build things for the country. Come his 70th birthday, I think people are realising he’s a good guy who knows what he’s talking about. He was laughed out but so much of what he’s done is right.”
He credits the remarkable Mrs Frost for keeping him on track. She’s been the one who supported him when confidence waned or ambition wavered. “I don’t think most of it would have happened without my missus. In those little moments when you really need someone to back you and encourage you, she has. She’s never been ‘don’t’. She’s always been ‘do’. She gives me a kick up the a- when I need it.”
He’s proud to be following in the footsteps of Hamilton, his inspiration and friend. And he believes Gardeners World will survive for many more years.
“It’s been going for so long, it’s 50-odd years. I think when you get to Friday night, you know, and Monty comes on with the dogs, people just breathe a sigh of relief. People are sat there with the cup of tea and the world seems a better place, it slows down, it takes you nicely into the weekend.
Even if you haven’t got a garden people like to live through Monty’s garden. I think the scary thing about gardening is that even if you work with the soil, you can only ever know half of it.”
He hopes people will take the opportunity to get involved as National Gardening Week kicks in. “In the world that we live in, that connection with the soil is away from everything that is our modern life. I know it helps so many people. Friends of mine and people I know, they’ve had difficult times and it helps. It’s therapeutic. It’s a world I understand. Even if I’ve had a busy week, I have four hours in the garden and it sorts me out.”
And before he leaves, does he have one tip for Weekend readers who want to get the most out of their plots?
“Mate, every garden is different. The climate and light, the soil and moisture, the way things interact with people and gardens. The world doesn’t end if you get things wrong. You just have to give it a go. And you have to remember that the answers are in the soil, the answers are all in the soil.”