To celebrate February’s heritage issue of Gardens Illustrated, which looks to the future of gardening and garden design, director of the Garden Museum Christopher Woodward picks 30 of the most influential people in gardening today. Don’t miss February’s issue for even more of a roll call of horticultural talent.
GODS AND GODDESSES
Alan Titchmarsh © Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images
1. Alan Titchmarsh
The nation’s gardener. The only person, except for HRH The Prince of Wales, who can put gardens on the front page. No TV gardening show will ever come close to the success of Ground Force. But he is also the living proof that gardeners are nicer than other people. Oh, he’s also one of the cleverest people you will ever meet.
Monty Don © Nick Harvey/WireImage
2. Monty Don
Monty makes you believe in gardens. The man with words in his fingers has flexed his success to help bees, soil, and organic growing. And has opened British eyes to gardens of Japan, America and the Islamic world. Also, in a world slickened by Piers Morgan and Love Island, we need a hero who doesn’t iron his sleeves.
RHS Director General Sue Biggs
3. Sue Biggs
‘There’s not enough money in the north for a Flower Show’, a very tall, very grand, former President of the RHS once said to me. Since becoming director general of the RHS in 2010, Biggs has begun the new show at Chatsworth and out of the derelict Worsley New Hall in Salford wrenched into existence a great new garden.
Charles Jencks © Photo by View Pictures/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
4. Charles Jencks
Charles Jencks, architect and writer, died last autumn but the Maggie’s Centres he co-founded to share his late wife’s vision of cancer care continue to open. Twenty-two Maggie’s have been built, each putting a garden designer side by side with a ‘starchitect’. Who else has commissioned Arabella Lennox-Boyd and Cleve West, Piet Oudolf and Dan Pearson? Maggie’s might just be the most innovative client of garden design ever.
5. Anna Pavord
As gardening correspondent for The Independent from 1986, Anna Pavord treated readers to a voice unique in garden writing: gorgeous but lucid, precise but fair. Her book The Tulip (1999) – which has been recently re-issued to mark 25 years since its original publication – showed that horticulture could be cultural history too. And as former chair of the Gardens Panel of the National Trust. If horticulture has pearly gates, Anna would be entrusted with the key.
6. Alice Vincent
Sit on a cactus, and the two of you will soon be talking about Noughticulture, the newsletter and Insta-hit set up by Vincent while music critic at The Telegraph. More than any garden centre or RHS Committee, Vincent has put her finger on why and how plants matter to Millennials. Her new book Rootbound will be an On the Road for a generation of young London gardeners on bikes.
Charlie McCormick © Ben Pentreath
7. Charlie McCormick
Gifted gardener and Times writer the charismatic Charlie McCormick is single-handedly reviving the village flower show. This year he is exhibiting plants and vegetables from his Dorset garden at 17 shows. There are rumours he’s becoming a judge.
Cleve West © Photo by Emma Peios/WireImage
8. Cleve West
At last year’s Society of Garden Designers’ conference the buffet lunch was vegan. The only designer to win Best in Show at two Chelsea Flower Shows back to back, West has used his status to challenge how we eat. Out this May is The Garden of Vegan, which shows another way to value plants. His allotment in Bushy Park, the subject of Our Plot (2011) is one of the most beautiful places on earth.
9. Richard Mabey
Britain’s greatest nature writer. Almost fifty years ago Unofficial Countryside and Food for Free changed how we see the wet, weedy and wild; Nature Cure (2005) was a masterpiece which began the ‘wellbeing genre’. Every horticultural student should read The Serendipitous Garden first published in Gardens Illustrated and reprinted in Turning the Boat for Home (2019): a eulogy to nature’s spontaneity in the garden.
10. Alys Fowler
Britain continues to be the land of the private not public paradise, of Sissinghurst, not The High Line. One counter-balance is Fowler, former Gardeners’ World presenter and Guardian columnist. In Hidden Nature (2016) she paddled through Birmingham’s canal network in a canoe. Which other garden celebrity would have campaigned to save Gerry Dalton’s garden of concrete statues in Westbourne Park?
WHAT WE GROW
11. Kim Wilkie
Landscape architect Wilkie’s designs derive their unprecedented, dewy beauty from shapes drawn out by the land. Supported by a photogenic herd of Longhorn cattle on his farm in Hampshire, he’s become a persuasive advocate of a new tenderness towards what we tread underfoot. It’s no coincidence that the government’s new farming bill puts a value on investing in soil exhausted by commercial agriculture.
Founded by Peter Clay and Mark Fane, the online retailer has transformed the gardener’s palette, giving every gardener the pick of Britain’s specialist nurseries. If a Victorian head gardener travelled forward in time to 2020, you wouldn’t get him off the Crocus website. Plus, they’ve built nine out of the last twelve gardens to win Best in Show at Chelsea, from Tom Stuart-Smith’s cloud-clipped hornbeams to James Basson’s Mediterranean jewel-dust.