Gardeners' World presenter Arit Anderson – from fashion bunny to gardener
The BBC Gardeners’ World presenter Arit Anderson on how a butler’s sink full of herbs took her from a career in fashion to helping solve the nation’s garden design dilemmas. Words Jodie Jones, portrait Charlie Hopkinson
In 2010, at the age of 44, Arit Anderson moved from a flat in north London to the southwest of the city in search of riverside walks, a greener life and her very first garden. “I liked the idea of pottering around with plants after a hectic day in the office, although I had no idea what to do with it.” Today she is a familiar face on BBC Gardeners’ World and other programmes, with her own successful garden design practice, and plans to improve the environmental impact of the whole landscaping profession. “Design wasn’t part of a plan,” she says. “I have never even thought of myself as being artistic.”
Born in London, Arit grew up in a lively, happy house in Hertforshire’s green belt, with four foster sisters and a brother, her birth sister Lisa, and a single mother who was far too busy looking after her extensive brood to have any spare time for gardening.
At school, Arit considered becoming a haematologist, until dissections put her off taking biology A level. Instead, she decided to become a pharmacy technician, but soon realised she wasn’t suited for a job that would never allow her to be a decision maker. “I’m not scared of change, so I walked into an employment agency to see what was available, and they offered me a customer admin role at the headquarters of Country Casuals ladies’ clothing brand.”
For the next 25 years, barring a brief detour into events management, Arit worked for a variety of fashion retailers, and reached senior management level. “I’ve always loved fashion so I really enjoyed being part of that world although, throughout that period, I also studied and practised part time in a range of alternative therapies.
“Holistic therapies have interested me since my early twenties. I’m a qualified masseuse and reflexologist, I’ve taught hot and cold stone therapy and studied crystal and spiritual healing at the Vibrational Healing Foundation and the College of Psychic Studies,” she says. “My drive to help others is second nature.”
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It’s not an obvious career path for a gardening television presenter. “No one thought I would go from fashion bunny to gardener. But I always said I didn’t want to do fashion at 50, and my new garden was giving me so much joy that I thought that might be a sign.“It all began with a butler’s sink. I put three herbs in and was amazed when they didn’t die. Soon I was buying a plant here and a plant there and discovered that I loved it. I ended 2011 sitting on the end of my bed thinking ‘I’m going to be a gardener’ – although by 1 January 2012, it dawned on me that I really knew absolutely nothing about gardening!”
She enrolled on a garden design course at Capel Manor and took a job in retail consultancy that would provide an income while giving her the flexibility to study. “From then on my life was chaos. I had to keep my drawing board in the back of the car so I could work on college projects wherever the job took me, but I loved every minute of it.”
A year later Arit, along with fellow students Anna Murphy and Sarah Jarman, won the Fresh Talent competition at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and in 2016 she was awarded a gold medal at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show for a conceptual garden that highlighted the need for renewable energies and how climate change might impact the future of gardens.
“My first appearance on television was talking about that garden. At that moment I certainly wasn’t thinking about a career as a presenter but, on reflection, I saw it could be a way to satisfy my growing desire to teach, while designing gardens for paying clients,” she says. “To be honest, appearing on television can be a bit daunting. I am never going to know as much as Monty or Carol, but maybe my value is exactly the fact that I am a late starter. I understand how it feels when you don’t even know where to begin. And I have also proved that you can succeed if you are prepared to have a go.”
These days Arit feels much more relaxed in front of the cameras, but what she really appreciates is the platform her TV profile has given her to promote the causes close to her heart. “I have things to say that are relevant to everyone. The effect of climate change on the planet, is quite literally on our back doors, and people need help to know how to combat it. I am so grateful I have had the chance to talk on screen about the need to reduce the use of plastic in our gardens, and on the power of the natural world to protect and restore our mental health. These things really matter,” she says.
“I used to think it was a bit random that I ended up being a television garden designer, but when I look back at everything I’ve done, I can see a path that leads directly to this point, and from here on into the future.”
Useful information The current series of Gardeners’ World continues on BBC Two on Fridays at 8pm until the end of October (2020).
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