An Evening with Joe Swift

On Thursday 28th February, the Burton and Rossett Horticultural Society was proud to host ‘An Evening with Joe Swift’ at Darland High School in Rossett.

This was our fifth “An Evening with…” event, following talks from Chris Beardshaw, Christine Walkden, Bob Flowerdew and Anne Swithinbank, and—as the nearly 200 guests will attest—Joe’s talk was equally as informative, engaging and entertaining.

As those of you who watch the BBC’s coverage of RHS Chelsea will know, Joe has been a regular on television for two decades, and he showed a number of fascinating photos, accompanied by anecdotes and (surprisingly technical) details of his “20 years in TV Gardening”.

The first few minutes were a touching tribute to his father: the wonderful actor Clive Swift, known by millions as Mr Bucket (“…it’s Bouquet!”), who sadly died earlier in 2019. Along with his mother, Dame Margaret Drabble, Joe is obviously very proud of his family heritage, though he himself took a slightly different route to success via the “University of Life”.

Joe’s journey to Chelsea—both presenting the television coverage and becoming a winner of a prestigious Gold medal—is a fascinating one. He travelled extensively when he was younger, learning vital landscaping-related trades along the way, returning to the UK with not much in the way of qualifications, but plenty of life experience.

Deciding it was time to “get serious”, he attended the English School of Gardening at the Chelsea Physic Garden, and started designing gardens for a living and the rest, as they say, is history. The opportunity to try out for a short segment on Gardeners’ World led to regular spots on the show, a friendship with Alan Titchmarsh, and programmes of his own, including ‘Small Town Gardens’, ‘Garden Makers’ and ‘The Flower Pot Gang’.

But one of the most interesting sections of Joe’s talk covered his experience at Chelsea as a designer, and the garden he created with Homebase for the Teenage Cancer Trust. He took us through some of the details of planning, developing and actually creating a Chelsea garden; the expense, effort and sheer commitment required; as well as the rewards for almost-perfect execution: Chelsea Gold and a few minutes with royalty.

If all this wasn’t enough, Joe spent time after the interval and cheese and wine answering audience questions, which ranged from: where to start when designing your own garden; to how to get invited to Chelsea (spoiler: you don’t!); to how best to encourage the younger generation to get involved with horticulture.

The Committee would like to thank Joe for a wonderful evening’s entertainment. As always, we would also like to thank Bellis Garden Centre for sponsoring the event, and providing every member of the audience with a free gift. And finally, we would like to thank our audience—members of the Society and guests—for continuing to attend our special events in such high numbers.