You may know Ann-Marie Powell from her TV appearances on shows including The Alan Titchmarsh Show, Garden SOS, Real Gardens and The Great Garden Challenge. Or from her books, articles, blog and more recently her instagram page My Real Garden, where she documents her own garden journey. Ann-Marie is a huge source of inspiration and we loved catching up with her to find out more about how she got into garden design and horticulture.
The multi-award winning garden designer, television presenter, journalist and author.
When did you start gardening?
I started gardening in my early twenties. I’d recently moved in with my boyfriend into a new area and we had a garden! Having spent a childhood moving from house to house as an army child, to suddenly be able to put down roots was an absolute revelation – his mother, Janet, a keen gardener helped my enormously. She gave me plants from her garden, I sowed seed, and it ALL GREW. It was like proper MAGIC and I was immediately hooked – I couldn’t believe that these beautiful flowers arrived from pretty much nowhere, and with the flowers, the bees and butterflies. When Peter and I went travelling in India, Nepal, Singapore and Thailand, witnessing an even wider range of plants and landscape made me realise that I wanted a career dancing to the beat with Mother Nature, not suck behind a desk wearing a suit. I also remembered the words of my coal mining grandfather who spent his days in the dark underground, and gardened when he could on his infrequent days off ‘Don’t be like me, Rie’ he said ‘Do a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life if you do’.
When we returned, I enrolled an a garden design course and have never looked back.
Though my relationship ended in my late twenties, I still to this day keep in touch with Janet – my first real gardening friend, who sowed the seed of gardening in an inquisitive mind and made it grow.
How much knowledge of gardening did you have when you started?
Absolutely ZERO – but I have an addictive personality – once I started, I was OFF. I got up at dawn to garden before I went to work and gardened until dark afterwards. I read EVERYTHING I could get my hands on (twas before the days of the internet!), borrowing library books, Janet’s gardening magazines and learning by trial and error.
Was gardening a thing in your household when you were growing up?
My parents were not gardeners at all! I remember my dad growing some annual seed when I was about 7, and then doing that stand on a rake thing where he got hit clean in the face with the handle – the rake was thrown across the lawn amongst a tirade of unrepeatable expletives! My grandfather gardened though – My dad’s father lived in Leeds, on a small income raising 6 children with my grandma Rita – they lived on council estates and finally in a small back to back terrace with a front lawn so small he used to cut it with the kitchen scissors! He did have a small allotment at one time, where he grew food for the pot to supplement his income. A quiet, gentle man of very few words, (if I’m honest, I think he was completely overpowered by his loud, noisy, hilariously funny brood – there’s nothing quite like being with The Powell’s – a side splittingly funny bunch of comedians!), but gardening was definitely his thing. Something enveloping where he found peace.
Who else gets involved with your plot? Is it a family affair?
It’s mostly me – although Jules was a professional gardener for 15 years or so (I dragged him from the dark side of print media graphics soon after we first met – he recently retrained as a barber due to ailing knees and back – we’re getting old aren’t we!), I like to get my hands dirty.
Having thought I’d never have a desk job, modern garden design is a world of computer aided design, graphics and spreadsheets – and the more successful you become as a garden designer, the more deck work there is to do.
My garden is my sanctuary – I sink into it after work – it’s my playground, my living notebook, my experimentation ground, my mental wellbeing, and through lockdown became my world.
Jules does help, but it’s mostly tidying up after I’ve had a good old flail around!
Where do you get inspiration and gardening advice from?
Goodness – big question – inspiration comes from growers and nursery folk, architecture, nature and the natural landscape. I also get a lot of inspiration from Instagram from the Instagardening community but also from interior designers, lifestyle, fashion – anywhere and everywhere really!
What are you planning to grow this season?
As much as possible in this average sized plot! More unusual veg, annuals and bulbs – sometimes I wish for a bigger garden. however, in reality, I can only just cope with the garden I have gardening it pretty much single handedly around a full time job and two children!!!
How does gardening have an affect on your lifestyle?
It IS my lifestyle – it’s the first thing I think about when I wake up, and the last thing I think of when I go to sleep. Someone recently asked me what I’d do if I wasn’t a garden designer and horticulturalist. It was unimaginable! Almost horrifying!! I simply couldn’t imagine it – gardens are not just what I do, they are integrable to who I am.
What do you find most challenging in your garden?
Time, always time.
What has been your greatest success?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have some very lovely things happen throughout my career. My biggest personal success is always the last flower that opened – makes my heart sing every time.
Any big growing challenges you plan to take on in the future?
My biggest challenge will be NOT TO BUY ANY MORE PLANTS!!!!
Three top tips you would give someone starting out?
- Just begin – there are no mistakes in gardening, it’s ALL learning
- Plan your borders – write a #naughtyspends list – if you just buy what you like the look of on the spur if the moment your garden will never look cohesive. And when you buy the plants on your list, buy at least 3 of things, repeating the groups of three to make a border a cohesive whole.
- Buy the best quality tools you can afford – if you do they’ll last you a lifetime.
Three people you’d recommend following on Instagram?
CAN I HAVE FOUR PLEASE – so hard to narrow it down as it is!!!
@arthurparkinson_ for obvious reasons really
@jimiblake_huntingbrookgardens – Will someone please tell him to shorten his insta name!!! I just love his enthusiasm, his energy, generosity and of course his garden
@chilternseeds – constant inspiration
@peter_nyssen – BULBS BULBS BULBS