TV presenter and author Alys Fowler is looking to boost the nation’s love affair with gardening by cultivating children’s curiosity in her brilliant new book
Apparently, according to the people who know about these things, an extra three million of us have taken up gardening during the pandemic, and as a someone who admits to being “obsessed with gardening” Alys Fowler sees that as a silver lining to what otherwise has been a very black cloud.
The broadcaster and writer, probably best known as a presenter of BBC Gardener’s World, says she wants as many of those people as possible to carry on planting, pruning and cultivating when life begins to return to how it used to be. “The upswell of interest in gardens over the past 12 months is a result of the fact that people haven’t been able to go anywhere or do the things they used to do,” says Alys. “I really, really hope that as many as possible stick with it and continue to love gardening as much as I do.”
The adopted Brummie, who moved to the city 15 years ago to join the Gardeners’ World team at the Beeb, has passed on her expertise in a number of best-selling books, such as The Thrifty Gardener, The Edible Garden, The Thrifty Forager, Abundance and The Modern Herbal. Now, she is turning her attention to young gardeners with her first book for children. KEW: Grow, Forage and Make – Fun Things To Do With Plants is aimed at children aged between five and nine with activities in that can take anything from less than an hour to a whole weekend. Beautifully illustrated by Heidi Griffiths, it’s a really involving book, full of ideas for kids to do on their own but also with parents and other family members.
“I’ve had quote strong ideas about wanting to do a children’s gardening book, a book that is about expanding their experiences,” Alys explains. “Traditional children’s books about gardening can be ludicrous. It’s important to understand the attention span for a child is very short unless you can really involve them. All kids love being outside and are inherently curious, so they can learn about all sorts of things in the book – from growing their own air plants to foraging for edible flowers. They don’t even need a garden or any fancy equipment – a homemade pot and watering can, seeds from the kitchen cupboard and a sunny windowsill will do.”
With Alys’s expert guidance kids can grow their own avocado tree, make wildflower seed paper, forage for tasty roots to add to favourite recipes and even grow neon pink beetroot in the dark! Alys’s own background is the perfect example of the fascination of young minds with the great outdoors, plants and flowers. Originally from rural Hampshire, Alys’s father was a doctor while her mother had various businesses – including keeping chickens and training gun dogs. Her love of gardening inspired daughter Alys who went on to study at the Royal Horticultural Society and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew where she developed her interest in more organic and accessible landscape gardening. She also studied on a scholarship at New York’s Botanical Gardens in the Bronx.
ALLOT’ GOING ON
After beginning work as a gardening journalist, she became a researcher for Gardeners’ World before being head gardener at the BBC’s garden at Berryfield in Stratford-upon-Avon, and a regular presenter on the popular weekly TV show. Alys published her first book, The Thrifty Gardener: How to Create a Stylish Garden for Next to Nothing in 2007. She continues to write regularly as a contributor to the Guardian.
Alys welcomes the big surge in popularity of gardening. “People come to gardening for many different reasons,” she said. “More people are using our parks too – I see that in my own part of Birmingham.” Alys has her own allotment in Highbury Park and was straining to get back to the environment she loves best. “It feels like it’s been a very long, hard winter,” she said. “I can’t wait to get back to the allotment once I have finished speaking to you!”
Hint taken, Alys…
FLOATING POND: Alys is excited to be involved in two special local projects – working with Grand Union Gallery in Fazeley Street and the Canal and River Trust to create a floating pond in the canal, as well as a project at Coventry City of Culture’s festival site.