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Danny Clarke: 'Gardening is good for the soul'

SOWING THE SEEDS OF LOVE: Danny has had an affinity with nature since he was a young child – and he says that working in gardening now takes him back to those exciting early foundations

HE’S A familiar face on television and has worked wonders with his green fingers as a professional garden designer, maintenance practitioner and landscaper, but Danny Clarke admits he only found his calling by accident.

Talking to Life & Style, the Oxford-born son of a British Army officer, who initially considered embarking on a military career or as a professional sportsman, admitted it was his extensive travels abroad which inspired him to pursue his love of nature and the great outdoors.

His career in TV has gone from strength to strength and he has had the honour of presenting for the BBC at the iconic Chelsea Flower Show and the RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park.

ROOTS: Danny Clarke's love of gardening can be traced back to his childhood

Clarke has a number of exciting projects in the pipeline, but we wanted to get down to the deep roots of the dreadlocked gardener.

Life & Style: Life and Style are aware of the other things you could have done with your life, but what was the definitive thing that made you decided to get into horticulture?

Danny Clarke: It was a midlife crisis, I guess. I had my own business selling coffee machines, what you might call capital sales equipment, and I was selling to companies at director level.

Things got a bit tough – this was in the early 1990s when we had all of the negative equity and nobody was really buying our equipment.

A friend of mine was looking for a gardener. She was a landlady, so I went to work for her one day a week.

I’d always had a passion for gardening, it had always been my interest. At one stage, I had the most perfect lawn in Kent – I used to mow it three times a day – I was obsessed with it.

While I was working one day a week, people would ask me to come and do their garden, which brought me to a cross roads. Then I had to decide what I wanted to do, stick with the vending or move into horticulture. For me, it was a no-brainer.

L&S: That doesn’t sound like a usual transition, if indeed there is such a thing?
DC: I think the seed was planted when I was a kid. I remember my parents throwing me out into the garden and telling me to cut the grass with a pair if shears. It would take me forever and I used to curse them, but in my own way I kind of enjoyed it.

I remember my dad telling me to go and look for a four-leaf clover and I am still looking for one. I got involved with nature at a young age and I think as I got involved with gardens when I got older, it brought back all of those childhood feelings for me.

When I smell certain flowers, it reminds me of things I did as a kid.

L&S: What’s the most satisfying part of what you do today?
DC: I would say the plants. I design and build gardens and the thing that I really enjoy the most is the planting.

Obviously, I do landscaping, but that is just the framework for everything else. It is the plants that really excite me.

Getting up close and personal with them, putting them in the ground, doing something really creative with them gives me a nice feeling and is really satisfying.

NATURE LOVER: Gardening is a source of joy for Danny Clarke

L&S: Do you have a favourite flower or plant, or does it change depending on the time of the year?
DC: I would say my favourite flower is the Agapanthus [Lily of the Nile]. It comes in blue or white, but it’s the blue one I really enjoy the most.

It’s a semi-evergreen and flowers late summer. In the mild winter it will hold on to its swordlike leaves, so it has interest all year round.

L&S: What’s the reaction when you tell people what you do?
DC: I think people are quite impressed.

To me, though, it’s just what I do. I don’t think it’s a big deal, I’ve got used to it now.

It helps my business, there is no doubt about that. I get better quality work than I did before.

Being on TV gives me better credibility, I guess – they can see the work I do and they know I am not going to do anything dodgy.

L&S: How would you advise somebody out there like you on how to get a foothold in the industry?
DC: Well, I would say if you do any job, if you want to be successful, you have to have a passion for it, you have to enjoy it. Gardening is a joy for me.

It’s good for the mind, it’s good for the soul and you’re close to nature. It’s a way of life rather than a job.

L&S: What ambitions do you have now? Are there any gardens in particular you would like to work on, and how do you stay motivated to keep improving?
DC: There is a potential project for me in Kenya and I would love to go around the world doing gardens, if I could.

I have got the travel bug, which I suppose goes back to my youth.

So for me, circumnavigating the globe, building gardens and getting all of those influences, which would impact on my style of design, that’s what I’d like.

L&S: Who inspires you?
DC: There are two guys who have inspired me. Alan Titchmarsh is an obvious one. He’s really the reason I got into it and I did tell him the story when I met him.

The other guy who I really admire is Diarmuid Gavin. He’s an Irish garden designer and the thing I like about him is that he takes things to the limit.

You know fashion shows all over the world feature wacky clothes that never get into the stores, it’s always a watered down version that gets replicated, well he’s that guy. He does all of the wacky garden stuff. He’s a pioneer, I like him.

L&S: What’s the flower to have this summer?
DC: I don’t know, if I am honest. I know there is one every year. I’ll tell you what, let’s make it the Agapanthus. I’ll be a leader and everyone can follow!

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