Gardens Illustrated Festival 2017: 5 minutes with Andy Hamilton

Andy Hamilton is an author, gardener and keen forager. He will be speaking at the Gardens Illustrated Festival in March 2017 and here you can find out more about his upcoming talk, 'A Wild Life in Gin'. 


Andy Hamilton is the bestselling author of Booze for Free and is known for his wild food knowledge and love of home brewing. As well as writing books, Andy has appeared on television and radio and contributes to magazines, including Gardens Illustrated.

Andy will be speaking at the Gardens Illustrated Festival 2017, 25-26 March held in the house and gardens of Westonbirt School. Ahead of his talk, 'A Wild Life in Gin', he reminisces about the wild places of his childhood and how they have inspired his approach to gardening and love of foraging. 





Q: What is it about gardens and plants that you love?
A: I love what you can do with plants. Not in the traditional sense, but for the flavours they can yield; I now see plants as an extension of my drinks cabinet. In my own garden I'm attempting to 'grow' vermouth. The grape vine should yield grapes next season and I have purposely not weeded out many of the plants because I'll need to add complexity to the flavour of my vermouth.

I've always loved gardens and my favourite ones have a wild patch, just like the one in our family home. Tall Scots pine trees dominated the bottom third of the garden and my Dad hated them as the thick carpet of shed needles meant that nothing could grow. For us (me and my twin Dave) it meant we could play down there without fear of damaging a prize-winning plant or expensive shrub. I can remember once, when returning from a long holiday, racing down the garden to be confronted with a bloom of fresh chickweed along a ditch we'd dug when making a base for our action men. It was beautiful and it felt like we'd created it. Just being among plants from that early age I think helped kick-start my lifelong love affair with them.

Q: Who or what inspires your approach to gardening?
A: I guess the wild, I let things come in and take seed. I let them grow and observe them. Once I let some Himalayan balsam grow just to see if the bees really did neglect the other plants around it, they didn't. My Dad doesn't quite understand my approach to gardening and he once, very proudly, told me how he'd weeded a big patch of things growing between my patio slabs. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I wanted it that way.
Q: Is there a style of planting you particularly love? Name a garden or place where this style can be seen.
A: I can remember the first time I saw a bee corridor [a strip of nectar-rich planting to help feed foraging bees]. It was at Netham Common, a local park in Bristol and it looked phenomenal to me. A whole array of wild plants had been planted, including some of my favourites such as yarrow, burdock and daisies. I've since seen similar planting along roadsides and on roundabouts. When done properly, wild blooms appear all year round. It’s a lovely sight.

Q: What one plant could you not be without in your garden?
A: At the moment it’s wormwood. It is a hard plant to come by when out foraging and so it is one I need to grow myself.

Q: Why should more people be encouraged to take up gardening?
A: More people should be encouraged to spend more time outside. A day spent foraging or gardening can really set you up for the week. With depression and suicide rates among young males on the rise, it could be a lifesaver. As I write, I've come back from an hour spent picking rosehips in the autumn sun and I feel great.
Q: What are you most looking forward to at the Gardens Illustrated Festival?
A: Although the line-up of lectures and talks looks great I'm not sure how much I'll see, because I’m hoping to get a chance to explore the parkland that the venue sits within. It will be a rare time away from my young family and a chance to recharge. I do hope to find a really good tree to climb and watch everything below from a distance. 

Q: Which talk would you most like to go to yourself?
A: If I'm there early enough on the Sunday I hope to catch Noël Kingsbury. My nature-inspired garden is still very young as I only moved into my house six years ago. It will be good to find out what worked for Noël and I'm sure if I get the chance I'll bend his ear too! Jekka McVicar is always an inspiration and I often refer to her book of herbs.

Q: What can we expect from your own talk?
A: My talk is what it says it is, my life in gin form. I've been told my style is high energy, which is perhaps because of the excitement I have for my subject.


Andy will be speaking at the Gardens Illustrated Festival 2017, 25-26 March at Westonbirt School near the Cotswold town of Tetbury. You can book tickets to Andy's talk on the Sunday, 'A Wild Life in Gin', and find out more about our other speakers from




Gardens Illustrated Festival 2017: 5 minutes with Jinny Blom
previous feature Article
How to prepare the garden ready for winter
next feature Article
We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here