Words by Jessica Peace
Photography by Neil Marshment
Danny Clarke is a professional garden designer, maintenance practitioner and landscaper. A self confessed “friend of the earth” Danny is not only an experienced horticulturalist, but also an established TV presenter and expert (you may have seen on him on the telly presenting for RHS Chelsea Flower Show).
WHY ‘THE BLACK GARDENER’?
I went on a course and I said, “I’ve been thinking about calling myself The Black Gardener” and the guy nearly fell off his chair, he said “if you get nothing else out of today you must change your name to The Black Gardener… it’s tongue in cheek but also there’s a serious message behind it if you choose to want to find it” … And the moment I did that, things just changed.
People would see my name on the back of my Land Rover and say, “My kids are mixed raced but people keep referring to them as ‘coloured’, I know why they do that because they feel that ‘black’ is offensive - it’s great that you’re using the word ‘black’ because you’re re-owning it … you’re saying it’s alright to be called black.” Or I’d be stuck in traffic and someone would toot me and give me the thumbs up.
YOU’VE BEEN DOING THIS FOR OVER 20 YEARS NOW, WHAT’S BEEN YOUR BIGGEST LESSON?
I’ll tell you what the big thing that it’s caused for me - and I actually got it from a lady that give me my first job. She was an amazing woman in many ways, I worked for her for about three years til her death. But, you know the lessons she gave me were invaluable and she taught me to see the beauty in the little things… the pay was rubbish but I didn’t mind because she taught me some invaluable lessons. The house was falling down but she had a beautiful garden, she was one of these people that had an all year round tan, who was always outside doing stuff and what she didn’t know about gardening you could put on the back of a postage stamp.
I’d arrive and it would be pouring down with rain and I’d think, “I don’t feel like working today” - and she would see it, she’d detect it in my demeanour I guess and she would say something like, “Danny great to see you, what a dramatic day!” And I’d think, “hang on a minute she’s right”... Her attitude was, look at it, it might be grey but there’s a beauty in that grey.
WHAT ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT WHEN YOU’RE MAKING GARDENS?
I’m just thinking about how I can make it better all the time, that’s all I’m doing… You know what, it’s my garden until I’ve finished, until I’ve put that last plant in then I’ll hand it over to the client and they can get on with it.
IF YOU COULD MAKE US ALL DO ONE THING WITH OUR GARDENS WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Well I think we should all be very conscious of the environment and attract as much wildlife into the garden as possible, and we can all do that in very simple ways.
And one of the things I’d like to do is make weeds trendy - weed’s have gotta become trendy, nettles, butterflies and bees love nettles and what we should do is have a corner of the garden we just let go.
PETAL, PALM OR POTATO?
Capability Brown. We talk about ‘instant gardens’, instant gratification basically, whereas he wouldn’t have got gratification from what he built, we’re reaping the benefits now because he put trees in which would be like saplings and he wouldn’t of seen the full fruition of the gardens he built in his lifetime, but we’re getting it.
FAVE FLORAL SPACE?
Great Dixter, the late Christopher Lloyd’s garden. He did something that was ahead of his time because they had a rose garden and he dug it up, I think in the late 80’s or 90’s, and to the shock and horror of the gardening aficionados he put in a tropical garden… It’s just the way he puts things together in a very natural style I admire.
No, I don’t rely on anything, cos gardening keeps me fit and healthy anyway - I hardly ever have a cold. I think I do benefit subconsciously from herbs and stuff in gardens… If we brush past these things, we share 40% of our DNA with plants, basically we and plants came from the same speck of dust. So I think that by just being amongst them we benefit.
FINISH THE SENTENCE: ‘PLANTS ARE…’
The most wonderful addition to anyone’s life. How’s that?