Posted 20th Feb 2013
LandLove's Natalie Mason caught up with expert gardener Charlie Dimmock to talk gardens, Ground Force and seasonal tips as the spring planting season approaches
What first got you interested in gardening?
I was very much a tomboy growing up. I lived in the New Forest, so we were often out on bikes and walks, and I spent a lot of time in the garden with my grandfather - my grandmother was more interested in trying to put me in frocks and curling my hair! When I was in junior school we had gardening lessons twice a week and I helped my grandfather on his vegetable patch. Then, when I was a bit older, I got a job in a garden centre and my interest in gardening really grew from there.
Many of our LandLove readers will know you best from your Ground Force days. What was the highlight of working on the show for you?
There are so many highlights from the show; we got to travel the world and do projects in places like Jamaica and Ethiopia, and meeting Nelson Mandela has to be a highlight. We never thought we were going to be doing his back garden but we did! We went to some fantastic places and of course working with the team [Tommy Walsh & Alan Titchmarsh] was a highlight because of the camaraderie between the three of us.
What was the biggest garden challenge you ever had whilst working on the show?
Well one garden we went to was terraced, and when you stood at the back of it you could see straight into the first floor window it was that steep, and made of just solid clay! The researchers for the show were the ones who chose the gardens and of course there had to be a cross section of ages, locations, problems and garden types, so we had many different challenges. Really the biggest problem whilst working on the show was the weather, as we only had two days to finish each garden. We worked in some awful weather with lots of rain and mud, but we still had to finish the garden and work professionally. The other problem was, where we were being filmed, we had to make sure that the film crew didn't keep walking over the same parts of the garden which was a nightmare.
On one occasion I remember the weather was so appalling whilst working on a garden in Cumbria that we actually finished early - we just got our heads down and worked in this horizontal rain to get the job done. On another garden we were working on we got up the next day and it had snowed! What made it worse was the guy who we were surprising had been sent on a course, so we were rushing to try and finish, then he called to say he was taking his wife to France for a few days!
As it's coming up to spring we'd like to know what are your top tips for gardening at this time of year?
With all the rain at this time of year it's important to keep off lawns and beds until it's dry enough, as they need to drain off sufficiently. If you haven't already cleared them up from autumn, then you should pick up all of the fallen leaves and lightly dig over borders - which helps them to drain ready for bedding plants. You should also put together a schedule, but don't make it too big. Plan your garden but don't go mad buying so many plants that you can't keep on top of them. If you're watching the pennies then get hardy annuals that you can sow directly into the ground. Packs of seeds are cheap and easy as well; look for cornflowers, poppies, Californian poppies and that kind of thing.
What are your next projects you're going to be working on?
I'm a patron of the Chichester Cathedral's Festival of Flowers, which doesn't actually happen until 26th June 2014, but we are in the planning stages with the florists and getting ready for that. I also do a lot of environmental stuff to do with recycling and for an organisation called Be Plant Wise; which advises people on what plants are invasive and what they should avoid planting in their gardens as these may escape into the wild.
Finally, do you have any favourite gardens you like to visit that we can recommend to our readers?
Longstock Park Water Garden in Stockbridge is one of my favourite places to go, as water features are my background. I love their waterways and there are lots of water lily and bog plants to see. I also like the Chelsea Physic Garden by the Royal Hospital, it's a real tranquil oasis in the middle of London. Wisley Gardens are also really good for ideas as they have small gardens as well as big landscapes, and I like to visit Stourhead in the autumn as the colours are really beautiful all reflected in the lakes, it's lovely.
You can see Charlie at the Gloucester Quays Home & Garden Party, happening from 30th March to 1st April. Click here for tickets and further details.
Enter our competition to win a VIP experience at the Gloucester Quays show here