CAROL KLEIN: A NATIONAL TREASURE
We celebrate the work of a great reader favourite
CaRol Klein is a one off: a whirlwind of infectious enthusiasm for all things horticultural, who never fails to leave a trail of inspiration in her wake. Despite having no formal training, she is one of the UK’s best-known green-fingered gurus, whose husky voice has been a familiar sound on TV’s Gardeners’ World since 2005. She has also fronted popular series such as Grow Your Own Veg and Real
Gardens, while no coverage of flower shows such as Chelsea and Hampton Court is without her expert opinion on the season’s must-have blooms.
She has also written numerous books, including best-selling guides to propagation, and growing wild flowers and fruit and vegetables – her Grow Your Own
Veg was the UK’s top-selling gardening book for two years running. Plus, she’s an ambassador for the Royal Horticultural Society’s new Bridgewater garden, located close to her childhood home.
No fewer than three flowers have been named in Carol’s honour; readers of
Yorkshire Women’s Life Magazine voted her the nation’s favourite gardener in 2016; and there was a public outcry when she didn’t get the lead presenter’s job on
Gardeners’ World following Monty Don’s departure in 2008, with Carol quipping that she had “hit the grass ceiling”. So what is it that keeps the Salford-born mother of two at the top of her game and makes her a horticultural heroine to so many?
The answer has a lot to do with the fact that there’s nothing fake about Carol's unbridled enthusiasm for growing plants, or her eagerness to ditch the mystique and encourage others to have a go. She is a fully paid-up member of what Jekka McVicar calls “the dirty fingernail brigade”: a handscomplete
on gardener who’s not afraid to pull on her wellies and get stuck in. Carol sowed her first seeds as a child, and she knows what it’s like to create a garden from scratch because she did just that – at home in Devon, clearing the plot of debris, smashing up concrete with a pickaxe and moving 15 tonnes of hardcore in a wheelbarrow before planting could begin.
the voice of experience
When she explains how to strike cuttings people listen, because they know she has done it herself, countless times before. And reading Carol’s books, it’s hard not to be carried along by her passion for nurturing plants; the sense of magic she feels when seeds push up tiny shoots; the thrill of seeing new roots formed on material taken from other plants.
Another reason for her longevity is her natural, down-to-earth approach and easy way with people. Some might call it the common touch, a quality honed while teaching art in London and, later, Devon.
One of Carol’s last jobs in education was filling in for a term at South Molton Community College near Barnstaple. Head of design and technology Andrew Goode remembers her time there, particularly her “quirky and different approach” and use of natural resources to interest children.
“She was very enthusiastic: she had lots of creative ideas and approached things in an imaginative way, which enthused the students as well,” he reveals.
However, it was not just in the art studio that Carol made her mark. Says Andrew: “I can still see her walking along and stopping to deadhead a flower in the school gardens, then popping it into a bin.”
The seeds for Carol’s journey from art teacher to TV gardening presenter were sown when she gave up fulltime teaching to concentrate on her Devon nursery. She gradually developed an impressive reputation for her plants and began exhibiting at RHS shows in 1990, going on to be awarded six gold medals from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Her first appearance on Gardeners’
World came in 1989, when Geoff Hamilton paid a visit to Glebe Cottage. Despite being nervous at the prospect of speaking to garden lovers all over the nation, her knowledge and passion shone through. Further invitations to appear on the small screen followed, leading to her being made a fully fledged Gardeners’
World presenter in 2005.
Carol ran her plant nursery for 30 years, until 2011, when it closed after a dispute with her neighbours. However, she still lives at Glebe Cottage with husband Neil, and continues to tend her organic garden, putting her faith in nature and natural processes, and acknowledging the ‘privilege’ of being able to tend an outdoor space.
Far from resting on her laurels, Carol is now busier than ever, with appearances on TV and at numerous flower shows. At 72, she shows no signs of wilting. In fact, in April she will be hitting the road with her
Life in a Cottage Garden Show, which follows her successful six-part TV series (screened in 2014) and subsequent book.
One person who isn’t at all surprised by Carol’s longevity is her old colleague Andrew. “She has been very successful,” he says. “I love watching Carol on the television and seeing that her enthusiasm has not diminished.”
“At 72, she’s busier than ever, and shows no sign of wilting”
Come rain or shine, Carol’s sunny nature and enthusiasm for all things horticultural make her one of gardening’s best-loved personalities
When not presenting, writing or attending flower shows, Carol can be found doing what she loves: gardening
Filming for the BBC at Chelsea in 2014. Since her TV debut in 1989, Carol has become a regular on our screens