TV gardening expert and award-winning designer Chris Beardshaw wants to make the nation’s gardens ‘greener’ – and he tells David Johns how his mission is starting right here in his Midlands home
Gardening expert, internationally renowned landscape gardener and multi-award-winner. Chris Beardshaw has done it all, travelling the world designing gardens from China to Chelsea. But next month he is returning to his roots in the West Midlands at the beginning of a new and exciting mission.
Known to millions for appearing in hit shows such as Gardeners’ World, Hidden Gardens, the Flying Gardener and Beechgrove Garden, the Pershore College, Worcestershire-trained master gardener is looking to give back to the region where he grew up as he becomes the official ambassador to the RHS Malvern Spring Festival, which attracts more than 100,000 visitors each year.
“I know, I know….” says Chris, tongue-in-cheek. “Becoming an ambassador of an organisation can often be seen as getting a reserved parking space and a nice lunch. But this is not what being ambassador to the Spring Show means to me. I’m aiming to use this unique role to bring about some real changes to what is already a wonderful event – and hopefully make it even better!”
Chris has been a regular at the show for more than two decades. Along with the Chelsea Flower Show, it is one of his highlights of the year. He designed his first show garden at Malvern in 1999 and has since been awarded 13 RHS Gold Medals and six times Best in Show. “To be asked to be an ambassador for my local show is a real honour,” he says. “I have been involved in gardening events in the UK and around world and I am really looking forward to flying the flag for the show and helping to attract gardeners and plant lovers from throughout the UK to come and visit us. I am working with the show’s team in the development of some interesting new ideas which will confirm Malvern as the best family day out in the gardening calendar.”
Chris is trained in Landscape Architecture and Horticulture. His enthusiasm for plants, good design and the desire to work in harmony with the natural landscape and wildlife is reflected throughout his work. He set up his successful design business more than 18 years ago and he works with private and commercial clients on a wide range of projects across the UK and internationally.
Two of his key aims are to encourage more young people to become interested in gardening and to make it more eco-friendly. “My role at Malvern is a wonderful opportunity to encourage both of these,” he says. “I’m so familiar with the show and have seen it from all angles, growing up and visiting as a student at Pershore College and taking my own students there since. Growing up just a few miles away from the showground, I have wonderful memories of Malvern as an inspirational place to visit.”
He adds: “When they asked me to become ambassador, I told them that I just don’t want a badge and a parking space, I want to influence the show and encourage them to look at a range of plant materials and support bio-diversity opportunities for gardening by highlighting best practice and materials.”
Chris says that as a ‘green profession’, horticulture and garden design needs to look at itself more critically. He explains: “One of the things that is embarrassing is that our own children are much more critical of the way we treat the environment than we are. We must change that by educating people – and that’s where I see my new role with Malvern fitting in.”
He gives an example of one small but significant change. He wants every exhibitor and grower at Malvern to use only non-peat growing compost. He’s also championing a clampdown on the use of plastic – whether the bags used in the floral marquee, or the pots and containers plants are sold in. He also wants to see an end to the use of the green foam used in flower arranging.
“Malvern is a wonderful show, the country’s first major show of the year, and it makes it feel like spring has really started. I will be using this year’s show for careful observation. Then moving forward I will be feeding in my ideas for changes and improvements for greater sustainability and bio-diversity.”
As well as returning to the Midlands, Chris is busy on some new TV work. When we spoke he was due to start filming a new series of Beechgrove Garden for BBC2 which will screen every Sunday through to the autumn. He and his team are also working on various garden projects around the world and he continues to lecture at universities in Europe. He has lectured in the past at Birmingham University and says he would “love to go back”.
He adds: “It’s important to me that we harness the optimism of youth and allow it to flourish moving forward so we have gardens and gardening that’s constantly getting better for the environment.”