Adam Frost: rooted in Devon
- Credit: Archant
From cutting the grass in an Ilfracombe park to presenting Gardeners’ World, Adam Frost takes a trip back in time with Catherine Courtenay ahead of his appearance at Toby Buckland’s Garden Festival
Hocking’s ice cream. It’s the first thing garden designer Adam Frost says when asked what he loves about Devon and it instantly reveals the depth of his association with the county.
The ice cream, made in Appledore to a generations-old recipe is revered by north Devonians, and is one of the area’s best kept secrets.
It turns out no less, that the multi gold winning Chelsea Flower Show designer, RHS ambassador and now Gardeners’ World presenter began his career, tending the flowerbeds and lawns of North Devon’s parks.
Adam moved to Combe Martin from north London as a 15-year-old, where his grandmother had bought a market garden at the top of the village. His gardening grandparents on both sides, ‘Tidy Nan’ and ‘Scruffy Nan’ he calls them, both ended up in North Devon and were hugely influential, as was getting the job at the council.
“I worked right across; I did Ilfracombe parks, the seafront and did time in Barnstaple with the grass cutting gangs. I went all over the place,” he says. “My old foreman saw me on Gardeners’ World and sent me an e-mail. He said he could remember this lanky kid carrying bedding plants at the top of the nursery in Ilfracombe.”
“It was lovely the fact he remembered and got in contact,” he adds. “As you get older you realise a lot of people have influenced you along the way, and that time at the parks department was really good.”
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It wasn’t all easy coming to Devon as a teenager though. “A bit of a shock to the system,” he says, remembering turning up at Ilfracombe school, where he not only dressed differently, but also had trouble understanding the locals. The boy in his Pringle sweater couldn’t understand phrases like ‘where be that to?’ and why girls were called ‘maids’.
“It was like going back in time. I was taken from London and put in the countryside and they couldn’t understand a word I said; and to be fair, I couldn’t understand them either. I remember going to school in Farah trousers and a grey Pringle jumper and they still had Sta-Prest pressed trousers with white socks showing. I might as well have been blue! It was like everyone was looking at me, the weirdest thing in the world. I thought a maid was someone you had when you were rich!”
Accents and dress sense aside, being outdoors in the Devon landscape made a huge impact on Adam, whether it was through sport (he played for Barnstaple Town football club) or exploring the countryside, particularly the moor and the coastline. He constantly refers to his love of the “ruggedness” of the landscape that surrounded him; a natural beauty which has informed his subsequent garden designs, including the first of his seven Chelsea gold winning gardens.
“Exmoor is one of the most beautiful places in the world. And the ruggedness of the North Devon coast. It’s beautiful. And it scares me that we are creating a generation which is disconnecting with that.”
This fear may partly explain why Adam was keen to become a Royal Horticultural Society ambassador for education and community gardens. Like those who influenced him as a youngster, he wants nothing more than to pass on knowledge and encourage others.
“I wasn’t the best behaved young man in the world but now I travel the world and talk pictures. I found something I loved doing and now I’m in a position where I can stand up and talk about it. Everything I am, everything I’ve got, the life my kids and wife Sulina have got, is because I’ve done ok at what I do. So it’s a case of giving something back.”
The person who made the biggest impression on him was undoubtedly Geoff Hamiliton, for who he went to work as a 21-year-old, soon after training as a landscape gardener.
“It was a privilege,” he says. “He introduced me to a completely whole new world of plants. I thought I knew a bit when I went to him, but he opened my eyes.”
Adam marvels at how Hamilton, the longest running presenter on Gardeners’ World, could “stand there on Friday night in front of six million people and then get them out gardening on the Saturday morning”. He also admires current presenter Monty Don. “Monty’s got that… the world seems a better place when he comes on,” he reflects. As for his own style: “I suppose I’m a little bit more, ‘let’s get stuck in and have a go’,” he says.
“If I bring anything to Gardeners’ World it’s trying to break down the fear factor.”
Picking up from the last series, Adam will continue to take viewers through the development of his own garden at his home in the Lincolnshire village he and his family moved to last year.
It’s a beautiful old house, bedecked in wisteria (one of the things that sold it to him) and the garden is big. It seems a huge project, and a daunting one considering he’s also just launched his own Garden School, alongside his existing projects; but Adam has a way of making things seem achievable and pleasurable. Even when it come to garden design he insists it’s basically about thinking in terms of shapes and where to position things, just as you would inside the house.
“I like to take people on a little journey to show it’s not as difficult as some people think it is. And it doesn’t really matter if you go a little bit wrong in your own garden. We can dip in and out of gardens, as much and when we want to.”
He’s looking forward to his visit to Devon later this month when he appears as guest speaker at Toby Buckland’s Garden Festival, and visitors will no doubt hear a few more tales of his early Devon years, as well as more practical advice on garden design. And he’ll be spending some downtime in North Devon later this summer, a welcome return to his beloved coastline.
“I do miss the sea, massively,” he says. “We live not far from the Norfolk coast and you’ve still got that very bleak ruggedness in the winter. There’s also a lovely piece of sand at Holkham, which is the closest feeling to Woolacombe.”
“So we’ll go down to Croyde, take out the body boards and splash in the sea for a week.”
And no doubt enjoy a Hocking’s ice cream or two.
Toby Buckland’s Garden Festival runs from 28-29 April at Powderham Castle. Tckets cost £10 per day if bought online in advance.
The event includes talks and Q&A sessions with various speakers including Toby, Adam (on Saturday) and BBC Gardeners’ Question Time regular Pippa Greenwood. Talks take place both in the main tent and in the castle’s Victorian Kitchen.
More than 100 nurseries will be at the festival along with stalls selling garden items.
The Artisan Tent hosts artists and craftspeople and there’s a wide range of food stalls from across the West Country. With music and children’s activities all set around the beautiful castle and its grounds.