The Daily Telegraph - Saturday
‘IT HAS GIVEN ME A PASSION AND A SECOND CHANCE AT LIFE’
Ross Lee, Suffolk
In 2007, Ross Lee left his secondary school in Aldershot. Aged 16, his focus was on friends and having fun, but that quickly soured. “My parents split up when I was 14,” he says. “It was my first real-life trauma. And when I was kicked out [of the family home] two years later, I saw it as a holiday; I had no parents and I was with friends all the time.” Lee relied on local youth hostels.
“I was in a really bad place,” he admits. “My behaviour was just awful and I didn’t care about anything. The hostels were dark places and didn’t have the best people in them.”
To cope with the stress, Lee developed an alcohol dependency, his behaviour deteriorated further and that led to sleeping rough. “I was sleeping in car parks and stuff,” he says. “I spent many years living in and out of hostels. Once that’s your life, it’s hard to get out.”
Eventually, in 2011, he came to live in Stowmarket, Suffolk.
The move was a good decision: for a few years, Lee lived in hostels in Ipswich before eventually settling into the Heart Foyer in Suffolk: a youth housing project with full-time staff.
“It wasn’t just a hostel,” he says, “There are social workers and you have goals to achieve. It was like a programme, really, which I’d never had before. Once I left school, there was no support from social services.”
In 2014, Lee got a job at a local warehouse that gave him enough money to eventually move out and rent a house in Gislingham. This, he tells me, is where his gardening journey began. “In 2015, I had an inflatable swimming pool on the lawn and once I removed it, the grass underneath was dead. It looked hideous,” he said. To remedy this, Lee went to the garden centre to pick up plants to cover the bald patch. “I couldn’t stop buying plants,” he laughs. “Suddenly, the lawn was dug up and they were everywhere.” The garden took 10 months to create and is now filled with plants. It stars on Lee’s YouTube channel, Plant Porn, started in 2015.
In 2016, Lee successfully applied to become a part of the National Garden Scheme and, since then, the 29-year-old has started a horticulture course at New Suffolk College. He plans to do further study as a garden designer. “Gardening has given me a second chance at life. It’s given me a passion that I never knew I had inside me. I have a goal and a career path and, apart from that, it’s helped me meet loads of people.”
Ross Lee’s garden opens by appointment June-Sept to raise money for St Elizabeth’s Hospice and The Blossom Appeal. It is also open for Gislingham Gardens, August 7&8, for the National Garden Scheme. Visit ngs.org.uk to book tickets or to arrange a visit.