The Black Gardener's mission to get us in the garden

The Instant Gardener, Danny Clarke, is returning to the BBC on Monday and his first task is to help of a flooded garden in York. Catherine Scott reports.
Helen Skelton and Danny Clarke
Photographer: Kerry RichardsonHelen Skelton and Danny Clarke
Photographer: Kerry Richardson
Helen Skelton and Danny Clarke Photographer: Kerry Richardson

With The Chelsea Flower Show in full swing a lot of people’s thoughts will turn to their gardens.

Someone enjoying all that Chelsea has to offer is Danny Clarke, aka the Black Gardener.

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“Chelsea has been brilliant this year,” says Clarke who will be on our television screens again from Monday with a second series of The Instant Gardener.

The series kicks off with Clarke and fellow presenter Helen Skelton being called into a badly flood hit garden in York.

“The garden was in a pretty bad way,” explains Clarke. “The garden backed onto the river and there was a massive privet hedge which blocked the view. I decided to take inspiration from the nearby Minster and created a turret in the hedge which opened up the view.”

Clarke came quite late to professional gardening after a career in sales, but his love of the outdoors started much earlier.

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“I’ve always had an interest in gardening, although it was latent for a while,” he says. “As a child I remember being asked to mow the lawn using one of the old-fashioned push mowers and shears. It would take forever but there was something about it I just loved.

“But I went away from it for a number of years until I decided to have a career change and move into horticulture.”

He set up his own garden design business, but it was only when he changed the name to The Black Gardener that his career really took off.

“There isn’t a lot of diversity at the high end of gardening. There was a farmer who called himself the Black Farmer because he was pretty much the only black farmer and he got very positive feedback and so I thought I’d do the same. The reaction was amazing. People with mixed race children would come and thank me for showing that it was okay for black people to be called black.”

The change in name also lead to Clarke’s television break.

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“It was pure luck,” he says. “I got an email from a production company saying they wanted me to do a screen-test for a potential new BBC series. I thought it was someone having a laugh or trying to get money out of me, but my sister checked it out and it was for real.

The result was The Instant Gardener.

“The idea is to give people the confidence to get out in their gardens and have a go,” says Clarke.

“People can get overwhelmed when they have an over grown garden, but they should just take it a little bit at a time, then have a break, then they will get hooked like I did.

“Everyone has green fingers, they just need to be observant and look at their plants. If a plant is drooping then it probably needs watering, it’s no more complicated than that.

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Gardening is incredibly good for you both physically and mentally. I saw Alan Titchmarsh at Chelsea and he looked amazing - in his fifties rather than his sixties. He said it was all down to gardening.”