Congratulations to former Blue Peter gardener Chris Collins, and keen supporter of Food Growing Schools: London (FGSL), who has become the new Head of Organic Horticulture for Garden Organic, FGSL’s lead partner. Garden Organic asked Chris to tell us how he became a successful gardener.
A CV most gardeners can only dream of
Chris has a CV most gardeners can only dream of, taking in two Royal Botanic Gardens and the green space at ‘The Queen’s church’ Westminster Abbey. With a long TV history, Chris has popped up on everything from Blue Peter – where he ran the iconic London garden for nine years and then created a new one at the BBC’s MediaCityUK studio in Salford – to Gardeners’ World, This Morning, Children in Need, Garden Invaders and Turf Wars.
A familiar face to many schools gardeners
Chris is a familiar face to many schools, supporting a wide range of school food growing projects in London and across the UK – and taking selfies wherever he goes! Chris has supported many FGSL projects including our FGSL Schools Marketplace at City Hall, Growathon and numerous schools competitions, the School Food Matters Young Marketeers project at Borough Market and Edible Playground projects as a patron with Trees for Cities – to name but a few. FGSL look forward to working with Chris even more closely to achieve our dream to get every school in London growing food.
Inspiration for young gardeners
Chris trained at the Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh before working on diverse projects all over the globe, including Africa’s oldest botanical gardens in Cameroon and a stint in Japan teaching British gardening techniques. Chris returned to the UK in 1998 and his career blossomed further at Kew and Westminster Abbey. He is also an RHS Chelsea Flower Show medal-winner!
Garden Organic asked Chris some questions about his career and this is what he said:
How did your career begin? “I come from quite a rough background and when I left school I got an apprenticeship on the Brighton Parks. I planted an elm tree in my first week and I knew straightaway that this was what I wanted to do with my career. That tree’s now 45 feet tall. Gardening has given me a fantastic life and I owe it so much. I don’t know whether it’s fair to say gardening saved my life, as you never know what path you might have taken, but it certainly lit things up for me, and still does.”
What was it like running the nation’s most watched garden? “There were so many hilarious moments looking after the Blue Peter garden. I’ve worked with Scooby Doo and Buddhist monks. I’ve been eaten by a giant plant. For a feature on composting, we made little Daleks with Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston. There was always something fun going on and I had the chance to direct what we were doing. The greatest thing was that it was really successful at reaching children. My endgame? Is always to spread the message about horticulture.”
What’s the best way to inspire the next generation to grow their own? “I’m a big fan of gardening being taught in schools. The key thing is to have someone come in once a week to drive the project and share their enthusiasm. Get some raised beds, sow some fruit and veg, nurture them week by week, let them see the growing cycle. This is how you teach kids properly about growing.”
Top tips for anyone getting started? “My advice is to start small, at home, even if you only have a balcony or a few pots on a patio. Make it a family project to see what you can grow, whether it’s crops or flowers or a combination. Going out and about to I’m a big fan of gardening being taught in schools. The key thing is to have someone come in once a week to drive the project and share their enthusiasm. Get some raised beds, sow some fruit and veg, nurture them visit places for inspiration makes it more fun.”
Congratulations to Chris on his new role as Head Gardener with Garden Organic. FGSL look forward to working with him even more closely to achieve our dream to get every school in London growing food!
Read more about Chris Collins on the Garden Organic website.
Find out more about careers in horticulture – and support young people to grow their futures.