Gardens Illustrated Magazine

‘Geoff Hamilton will always be my gardening pin-up’

Actress Caroline Quentin is a keen gardener and artist, and has combined her two loves in her book, Drawn to the Garden. Here, she talks about her literary loves and what gardening means to her

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,Why did you write this book? Drawn to the Garden was inspired by my lifetime love of gardening and drawing. I’ve been a grower and a painter for most of my life. My early ‘gardening’ was in window boxes and containers and then in small urban spaces. What started as a love of growing lilies in London led me to a big vegetable plot and an orchard in Devon. During the Covid pandemic, I started to share my garden and my interest in the natural world on Instagram (@cqgardens) and very quickly, I found I had a community of likeminded followers. I’ve always painted and drawn what I grow so, instinctiv­ely, I shared my artwork too. People seemed to like my watercolou­rs so when my publisher Quarto asked me to illustrate Drawn to the Garden, as well as write it, I was thrilled.

What did you learn from writing it? I didn’t intend the book to be such a personal reflection on my own mental health, my childhood and my outlook on life in general and gardening in particular, but writing it taught me that, just as the experience of gardening is unique to each of us, it’s also something that brings individual­s together, sometimes physically but often metaphoric­ally. The gardening community is a group of like-minded people, even though some of us are fascinated by root vegetables and others rare orchids, we speak the same language and share a sense of wonder.

What advice would you like to share from the book? Try it … whatever it might be. Don’t feel foolish and don’t let your inner critic stop you, whether it be growing a cucumber from seed, planting a meadow or sketching a hornbeam. Don’t let the ‘experts’ put you off – we all have to start somewhere and with gardening, no one dies; occasional­ly a peony may bite the dust, but generally gardens are a safe space to make mistakes. You can always dig it up and start again and this is a lifelong love affair. Likewise, if your sketch of a hydrangea looks more like a bonfire don’t despair; it’s meant to be enjoyable, do it for yourself.

What first sparked your interest in gardening? A combinatio­n of the miracle of mustard seeds sprinkled on blotting paper at primary school;The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (her illustrati­ons of Mr McGregor’s veg plot were incredible); and visiting Monet’s garden at Giverny when I was 17, and seeing an exhibition of the waterlily canvasses at Jeu de Paume in Paris soon after. And Geoff Hamilton on Gardeners’ World – he was, and always will be, my gardening pin-up.

What is your current garden like? My big beautiful garden in Devon came with a big house and it was all getting a bit too much for me. My husband Sam and I are renting a lovely cottage in Somerset and are looking for a cottage nearby where I can start a new garden and a new gardening adventure. Hopefully smaller, but a perfect balance of fruit, veg, flowers and wildlife habitats. Oh, and I’m desperate to start bee keeping.

What was your biggest gardening mistake or failure?

I didn’t look after the fruit trees when I first planted them. I had young children and I was super busy. I should have cleared the grass from around them and mulched more. And I didn’t prune them soon enough. Next time I’ll get it right. The kids can look after themselves; pruning will be the priority.

What’s your guilty gardening secret? I always sow too many seeds. It’s so wasteful, not just of the compost and the seeds but of my time. I will never be able to grow as much as I’d like, but every year I get excited by new offerings in the seed catalogues, particular­ly heritage veg.

What’s your favourite garden or landscape to visit? Although I love to visit gardens in the UK, it is the olive and lemon trees in Corfu that make me swoon. I adore the full stops and exclamatio­n marks of the cypress trees that fringe the craggy mountain; the Greeks call them Dachtila tou Theo, which means finger of God.

One day, when I’m grown up,

I’d love to make a garden there.

 ?? ?? DRAWN TO THE GARDEN by Caroline Quentin Frances Lincoln, £20 ISBN 978-0711290556
DRAWN TO THE GARDEN by Caroline Quentin Frances Lincoln, £20 ISBN 978-0711290556
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