I recently had the amazing opportunity and absolute pleasure of talking to Frances Tophill.
If somehow you don’t know who I am talking about, switch on your TV! Frances is one of the presenting team on ITV’s Love Your Garden and BBC’s Gardeners World in the UK.
Her enthusiasm and passion for gardening and conservation is infectious! As you know I’m already obsessed with growing my own produce, but after speaking with Frances I’m even more hooked which I didn’t think was possible.
I apologise in advance because I didn’t ask two apparently key questions according to my Instagram followers….where she gets her clothes from and why she isn’t on Twitter? I will try find out the answers to those two crucial questions at a later date. In the meantime with the birds singing in the background, here is the questions I did ask.
I know for me and my love of growing my produce, it’s the magic of nature and a tiny inconspicuous seed that gets me excited every time. What is it about gardening that makes you so passionate?
Very like you it’s watching things grow, I always hate sowing seeds then as soon as they have germinated it’s like oh my god! *Squeal* I have a whole windowsill now full of everything and I know it sounds ridiculous but it’s just so exciting. It’s also being outside and a bit of hard work, feeling like I am doing something really useful and that nice tired feeling at the end of the day. You are genuinely tired, you’ve caught the sun or you’ve been out in the wind, it’s that feeling of being connected to what’s going on outside that I find really exciting and rewarding.
I know you are also very passionate about enthusing young people into horticulture and the RHS schools campaign, what do you think is the secret?
I think the thing is to get them to try it, not everyone will like it but an awful lot of people will be surprised when they do try it by how much they actually enjoy it. When I was at school, I never ever tried growing anything, maybe in a biology lesson but that was kind of science and I never thought I liked science. When I visit schools with the RHS campaign that have got a wildlife or veg garden, however small or big, the kids just love it. It’s just really key to give kids and young adults a chance to have a go where they never really have before. The school system need to realise too that it’s an important part of unwinding and learning; making the time and enabling provisions for funding.
With less gardeners, conservationists and botanists there is a massive range of opportunities within the industry. If schools do their bit, it creates a small chance that the kids might go on to actually think, I want to do that as a career.
You completed your gardening apprenticeship, followed by achieving your Bachelor’s degree in Horticulture in Edinburgh in 2013. By which time you had already began filming with Love Your Garden. I have just been juggling university and work life myself, could you explain how your journey happened and how you managed juggling studying and TV?
When I rang up the head gardener about the apprenticeship I was working in a shop just above minimum wage, so when he said it was a £2 an hour drop it was massive, so I kind of went oh right ok I didn’t realise. He discounted me from the applicants which I didn’t know but I kept ringing him and turned up at the gardens one day. That day he walked me around and it was that moment I thought I don’t care about the pay drop, I just want to be working here. I was there in total as a gardener for two and half years but felt like there was more to learn and wanted to see more of the world. I chose Edinburgh to study next because I thought it was a great city and would give me the opportunity to meet lots of new people, but I am so glad I did. Working at the Botanical gardens and learning from the world leading experts and lecturers is an incredibly amazing experience, I loved it!
In regards to Love Your Garden, an email was sent to my college in Edinburgh and a few of us were like let’s just go and see. So we all went to London on a trip and came back from the screen test thinking that was really hard. I was offered the job and just thought, I will see, I’ll try it. Luckily the college was so accommodating enabling me to work filming around studying. So, the last two years of college I was also filming at the same time which was quite full on but worth it.
As well as Love Your Garden, I personally loved your recent Gardeners World trip to Barbados, what an incredible experience! I won’t ask how you managed to get that opportunity or if it involved an arm wrestle with the other presenters. What I will ask though is, your RHS seed trial segment in last year’s show was relatable for so many viewers, what are your top tips for newbies to the world of GYO?
Just try it! The great thing is that gardening is really flexible, it’s quite hard to get something completely wrong. If you do, then you learn from it and the next year you don’t do it that way. Generally plants kind of want to grow, it’s in their make up. As long as you stick them in the ground somewhere, they may not thrive but they will do ok. That’s an encouraging thing to get people to try it that never have, it’s easier than you think. I think people get bogged down with the rules of it when you don’t always need to.
If you are unsure you will like it; buy a packet of seeds, a pot, some compost and that’s it. By the end of the year you will either hate it or be completely hooked.
Amongst your busy schedule of gardening, volunteering and filming, you are also finding the time to present on the super theatre at the Gardeners World Live on the 15 – 18th June. Other than to see the amazing gardeners on stage, why do you return every time and why should new people get the date in the diary and make the trip?
You get a real variety of what’s out there and it’s a great way to meet people who have similar interests. I went last year and met a succulent grower who was based just down the road from me, I had no idea! After speaking to him, now that is where I go to get my succulents. It’s for people in the industry and those just passionate about gardening. Having so many people in one small space, all the ideas they bring and the new kinds of species, there is an awful lot there. For a day out, whether celebrity spotting or to learn more, I think it’s a really interesting learning experience.
Thank you very much for your time today and congratulations on your new book; The Container Gardener which is out now!
I hope you enjoyed reading our thought provoking and inspiring conversation. It certainly has got me itching to get up the allotment this afternoon and excited for Gardeners World Live in June.
Have you got your tickets yet? If not, how do you fancy winning a pair of tickets for yourself and a friend? I have not one, but two pairs to give away.
Well here is your chance and it’s really easy to enter!
1. Head to Facebook and make sure you’ve clicked ‘like’ on my page Life at No.27.
2. In the comments box of the Facebook blog post, tell us why you want to go!
3. Click on ‘share’ to share the post with your friends.
Competition will close on Sunday 30th April at 10pm.
TWO winners will be drawn at random at 10am UK time on Monday 1st May 2017. Competition is open to Facebook fans in the UK only and tickets exclude Saturday entry.
If you are too impatient to enter and just want to secure your tickets now, I don’t blame you! I had mine secured as soon as they were released. So for that reason I am delighted to also bring you an exclusive 20% discount on tickets!
Just head to the BBC Gardeners World Live website and quote BL20 to save 20%* on tickets, including general admission to BBC Good Food Show Birmingham Summer. So that’s tickets from £18.80, saving £4.70.
I would love to know what questions you would ask the GW presenters and if you are planning on visiting GW Live. Comment below and let me know!
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*Offer ends 18/06/17. Not valid on VIP, VIP Luxe or with any other offer. £1.95 fulfilment fee per booking.