Chris Beardshaw on why you should open up your garden next summer

If you know gardening, you’ll probably know of Chris Beardshaw – the broadcaster, award-winning garden designer, author and speaker. Despite his busy diary, he found time to give the RNLI a Gardener’s Question Time of our own. 

And if you’re considering showing off your garden next summer as part of our new fundraising open garden events, Chris explains why you should ‘just go for it’.

Chris Beardshaw, award-winning garden designer

Photo: Richard Kendal

First off, Chris, so many communities and professions have been affected by the health crisis – what has it meant for the world of gardening?

Perversely, I think it’s actually benefitted gardening as a whole. People lucky enough to have gardens in lockdown were at home appreciating and looking at their own plot. We are now all acknowledging the positive, emotional and spiritual benefits that gardens have.

It’s all about that moment of reevaluating priorities – gardening is where we can interact with one another and nature, and it’s positive that our nations have realised that.

Let’s hope it also encourages lots of people to open up their gardens for the RNLI in 2021! But some gardeners are very modest and might worry about doing it. What would you say to them?

There’s never a perfect moment in a gardener’s mind to have visitors to their garden! I’ve been to some of the best in the world and the first thing the gardener says to you is ‘if only you’d been here last week’. 

But the other side is that visitors who know gardening accept that it’s not a perfect art. The appreciation of the finery is why they are there – they aren’t there to find the jobs you haven’t done. 

I understand that some gardeners are reticent to open the gates, but I would say this: only by sharing our green spaces can we allow others to grow themselves and see our gardens through the lens we see them through. Whatever it is that gets us to fall in love with our own gardens is what we should be conveying when we welcome people in. 

Share the bits you have fallen in love with, rather than reeling off an apologetic list of what you don’t like! People are very understanding. Visiting gardeners will have patience and a sense of seasonal change – they will absorb and enjoy what is presented to them.

When it comes to interacting with nature, gardening isn’t your only passion is it?

I love the sea. Over the years I have spent lots of time canoeing, sailing, diving and open water swimming. I find I have a real affinity with coastal landscapes, which is bizarre as I grew up in rural Worcestershire, but there’s something within me that finds maritime landscapes and seascapes captivating, whatever the weather. 

It demonstrates how insignificant we are as human beings. With diving underwater especially, you have a sense that you are just a visitor. Your respect for nature is galvanised in your mind as it’s not your environment. I have dived at Eddystone rocks off the Cornish coast and seen some of the best soft corals you’d see anywhere in the world. It was like meditating. 

I guess there’s a link between a love of the sea and a love of gardening for me – it’s about the detail of nature. 

Is your love of the sea what led you to support the RNLI too?

Yes, because when I started diving, that was the moment I realised how quickly conditions change. You can go from placid day out to needing help quickly.

I’ve seen divers taken out of the water by the RNLI and that showed me the professionalism and complete focus of the crews. That is what is so striking during a rescue. When you are out of control, you need someone who assumes that control and I have witnessed that on several occasions. 

They are unique bunch of individuals, fabulously skilled at what they are doing. And we are island nations, so everyone who has that sense of what the sea is capable of should appreciate the importance of the charity.

Chris officially opening the RNLI garden at National Memorial Arboretum

Photo: Jane Sebire

Chris officially opening the RNLI garden at National Memorial Arboretum

You lent your time and talents to designing the RNLI’s garden at the National Memorial Arboretum – but that’s not the only way you have supported the charity through gardening is it?

Well, a rosegrower got in touch and said he had a new rose that needed a name. I thought he meant he wanted me to come up with a title, but actually he wanted to name it after me! I had been asked to give my name to various plants and not fallen in love with them. But I do share that British love of the garden rose. So I said yes, but my condition was that a percentage of the purchase prize went to the RNLI. 

So that was a way for me, as a gardener, to support the charity. Now I’m really pleased to hear about the RNLI open gardens fundraisers next year.

There’s nothing better you can do with your garden than open it for a charity – or visit one and make a donation yourself. So go for it!

Interested in our 2021 open garden fundraising event? Pledge your support today!