My country memories: Carol Klein
Gardening expert Carol Klein's love affair with gardens started with a childhood encounter of wild orchids in North Wales - now she loves hills!. By Ruth Chandler
'I'll never forget seeing wild orchids for the first time. I was on a car journey with my parents and younger brothers, Bill and Pip. We'd just gone over a hill called the Great Orme on the way to visit relatives in Colwyn Bay on the North Wales coast and suddenly came across a field full of different varieties. There was another place soon after we'd crossed over the Welsh border that was covered with primroses and violets. It was such a thrill because I'd never seen any back home in Manchester.
'Whenever we went on this trip, Mum and I would look at each other as we approached this spot and tell Dad we needed to spend a penny so he'd stop at that field and we could get out and look at it. I remember taking off over the humped-back bridges on the way in a beautiful red Austin Atlantic - my father loved fast cars.
'It was wildflowers that interested me first - I was always spotting them growing on odd scraps of land near our home - but even when I was very small I enjoyed making gardens'. Piling a heap of soil onto the linoleum kitchen floor was my favourite game at one time. I've loved the feeling of earth in my hands ever since I can remember. We lived in a Victorian semi-detached place in Walkden, just off the A6, so there wasn't anything remotely rural about our surroundings, but that didn't stop my mother growing things. Sowing nasturtium seeds with her in our tiny backyard when I was six is my first memory of gardening proper. My grandfather was very green-fingered, too - he kept a little allotment a couple of roads away and I'd often potter down to visit him.
'When I was really small I used to hide in the rhubarb patch. There were plenty of fish in the brooks near where we lived - a product of the old cotton mills' dyeing ponds. It was pretty mucky but I found sticklebacks to watch. They mate and build a tube-like nest that the male then guards and keeps a flow of water running through it - I thought this was incredible. I also caught a young pike once and took it home and put it in a bowl of water for observation. Uncle Ernie, whom I never liked very much, didn't seem very impressed with my catch, so when he stuck his hand in the water and the pike bit him I was delighted. I brought frogspawn home and kept it in the back yard, too. Returning from school one day, I found my mum tearing her hair out as the garden was full of baby frogs.
'When I won a scholarship to Bolton School, I was thrilled that we had a nature study class and thought our teacher, Mrs Growser, was the bee's knees. I still have the book with my pictures of the nature table, including a hyacinth in a vase and horse chestnut buds. The school even had its own wood, so I learned how to identify trees and birdsong. I've always had a passion for birds.
'My best friend Alex and I shared a pet jackdaw that he kept in his back yard - I can still remember its brilliant-blue eyes. This interest in birds was fuelled by a trip to Cornwall when I was eight. The holiday started in the car: on the long journey down, we stopped in Herefordshire and heard a nightingale and I also spotted a kingfisher. We stayed in a cottage in a village called Mawgan Porth, near Newquay, for a fortnight and I went watching birds on the beach with my granddad. The hierarchy between the herring, black-headed and lesser and greater black-backed gulls fascinated me. We also saw wheatears, stonechats and choughs. When I was filming for "Gardeners' World" on the Isles of Scilly recently, the first bird I spotted as we approached Tresco was a wheatear - and I hadn't seen one since that childhood holiday in Cornwall.
'Now, I live in north Devon and love its rough and ready landscape - a combination of both wild and farmed country. Hills are really my thing, which is why if we go away we'll head to Herefordshire, to the beautiful wooded valleys around Ross-on-Wye. My husband and I moved to Glebe Cottage, our home and nursery, in the late 1970s. Peas were one of the first things I put in the garden; I cleared a patch and sowed the seeds in textbook fashion. The local vicar was keen on growing things so when they hadn't come up I went over to ask him why. Of course, I didn't check them before I set off and when I returned with him to look at the bed, sure enough there were tiny shoots all over it - each one had germinated. I can't help wondering if God had a hand in that. Even now, every time a seed sprouts I still get a real thrill. I think the urge to grow things is an intrinsic part of being a human - it's second nature, just bubbling under the surface of all of us.'
Carol Klein is a gardening expert, broadcaster and writer. Her new book 'Grow Your Own Garden' (BBC Books, £20) - about growing plants from seed and cuttings - is out now. Click here to buy 'Grow Your Own Garden' for £15.99 from the Allaboutyou bookshop