How Does your Garden Grow? Daphne Ledward reveals all…
Few gardeners are as knowledgeable or as headstrong as Surfleet’s Daphne ‘Daffers’ Ledward. The reluctant broadcaster soon found herself imparting knowledge with a warm, down-to-earth manner as a keen advocate of creating gardens that are places to enjoy. Now Daphne is hoping to return to writing and offer help to those seeking to create beautiful outdoor spaces…
How does your garden grow? If it grows half as well as the pretty packed cottage garden of Surfleet’s Daphne Ledward, you’ll be doing well. Whilst it’s unsurprising that Daphne has curated a beautiful lush oasis in the Fens, given that she’s a former gardening author or co-presenter of shows from BBC Gardener’s Question Time to Jimmy Young’s JW Show, what may surprise you is the gardener’s insistance that any garden should be a place to enjoy, rather than one to endlessly labour in.
You’ve been a Yellowbelly longer than you’ve been green-fingered?
That’s right. One side of my family are from Stamford, so I spent a lot of time around the area and moved around South Lincolnshire six times, from Bourne to the Deepings, to Easton on the Hill, to Theddlethorpe on the East Coast for a couple of years and finally to Surfleet.
And you’ve lived in your present cottage for 30 years?
Yes. I moved to the cottage in Surfleet with my mother in 1981. She began to exhibit signs of dementia and was diagnosed with Alzheimers in 1986. It was about the same time that I met my second husband John, a BBC sound engineer.
Who would later develop the condition?
John was diagnosed with Alzheimers and after four years looking after him I lost him two years ago. It hit me hard because we did everything together and spent a long time looking after the garden. He was also a rare combination of intelligent whilst being really practical as well. He was a terrible gardener but we worked well together.
Being a carer finished my career, and we had to sell the five acres of woodland and the arboretum we’d created in Surfleet Cheal, which was awful. It’s been a difficult time but I’ve now returned the garden to a condition I’m really happy with, and I’ve a few books bubbling under. I also helped a friend create her garden so I’m feeling more able to take on new projects… in between looking after my four dogs.
You were a keen gardener, but a reluctant broadcaster?
Gardening was always a hobby. Neither of my parents had an interest in gardens, but working in Kesteven as a Welfare Assistant in 1965 at 20 years old, gardening was an antidote to an office job. I loved gardening, but became disillusioned by changes in welfare policy, eventually leaving social services in 1972 to set up Daphne Ledward Landscapes.
And your broadcasting co-incided with your design career?
My initial idea was to design a garden, but then hand it over to the householder and let them create it. Of course, that didn’t work; people want the whole service. I had to do the manual labour too.
I had some time over the summer heatwave of 1976 when absolutely nothing would grow and so I began writing articles on gardening. I was listening to the newly established BBC Radio Lincolnshire in 1980 and thought they could do with a gardening expert. I naively thought I would supply the material and they’d present it… this wasn’t the case and after my first – really – uncomfortable broadcast, I think it took my pulse three days to settle down.
In 1981 a letter was printed in the Radio Times to the effect that men grow veg, whilst women are ‘amenity gardeners’ and that the BBC should look for a woman to present its gardening output.
What happened next?
Radio Lincolnshire’s commissioning editor Dave Williamson and the station’s first manager Roy Corlett, ensured the station achieved record listening figures. It became very popular and so, as its gardening presenter, I was put forward to BBC Leeds to present BBC1’s Gardener’s Direct Line show.
And that was alongside Radio Four’s Gardener’s Question Time?
It was. I co-presented Direct Line until it was axed and also presented on Radio Four with Peter Seabrook and the late Geoffrey Smith. I then fronted Classic Gardening Forum and Garden Hopping.
Moving to BBC Radio Two to work with Jimmy Young?
Yes. Jimmy was a wonderful broadcaster, working with BBC Radio Two from 1973 right up until the end of 2002. Jeremy Vine had covered for him and subsequently became his replacement. He never really recovered from that, even though he appeared on the station for a 2011 90th birthday special and co-presented a show with Desmond Carrington.
And your role as a presented segued with your career as an author?
I’ve written for the Readers’ Digest for a number of years and have written or co-authored 11 books on gardening. I enjoy writing and I would be happy to return to it, but to create a book, I think you have to have a unique idea and looking at all of the books that have been written on the subject, it’s difficult to think of how to approach the subject differently.
Perhaps your own relaxed approach to gardening?
Well necessarily, with everything that’s happening in my life, my garden has occasionally had to drop down on my list of priorities. Conventional wisdom suggests that a garden has to look immaculate but I never believed that. There’s absolutely no point having a garden if, every time you go to relax in it, you see jobs to be done and work. Don’t ruin a garden by making it a chore or an obligation!
A garden should be something of pleasure, not labour?
Yes. I try not to obsess about weeding, for example, because I’d rather see greenery than patches of bare soil between what I planted. Most of the plants in my garden are still in pots, too. Again, conventional wisdom tells you to transfer plants from pot to soil. I disagree. Keep them in pots – the roots will soon reach down into the soil and by having as many plants in pots as possible you have the option to move them around and keep changing the layout of your garden.
Any other tips?
Likewise, don’t obsess over pest control. Nature will give you a hand, with birds taking out slugs and snails. I’m not too concerned with over-pruning or losing plants to under or over watering either. Nature grows; most plants will come back or probably re-grow so if you start to lose a plant, don’t worry too much… I try not to be a ‘plant hypochondriac.’
Just enjoy the garden… like the dogs do!
As we speak Dixie, Fawn, Honey and Tommy are snuffling round. I always wanted a dog but John was resistant. As it happens Carl – a stray greyhound who we saved from being put to sleep – found us whilst working on a garden in 1997 and we’ve had several greyhounds at the same time ever since.
I have so much time and respect for The Lincolnshire Greyhound Trust, Fen Bank Greyhound Sanctuary and of course for the dogs themselves. They’ve always been such great company and they all have unique personalities. They’re wonderful companions!
See www.daphneledward.com for more about Daphne’s life and career.