Find out more about the inspiration behind Sue Kent's Beautiful Border
Sue Kent is an award-winning garden designer, TV presenter and RHS disability ambassador. You’ll be able to see her ‘My Escape’ Beautiful Border at BBC Gardeners’ World Live 2023.
She first hit our screens in June 2020 as an amateur gardener when she featured on BBC Gardeners’ World, talking about the beautiful garden she has created at home in Swansea over the last 30 years. Sue’s upper body limb disability makes some gardening tasks challenging and she discussed adaptations she has made to make the most of her garden, like using her feet for weeding and planting. Sue’s home video proved such a hit that she is now a regular presenter on BBC Gardeners’ World.
Sue has designed a headline Beautiful Border for BBC Gardeners’ World Live 2023. Unique to BBC Gardeners’ Word Live, Beautiful Borders are compact 9m2 spaces, packed with imaginative design features, planting and materials, and provide inspiration for small gardens and challenging spaces.
Sue Kent’s Beautiful Border, My Garden Escape, will be at BBC Gardeners’ World Live at the Birmingham NEC from 15th-18th June 2023.
Sue, the theme for this year’s Beautiful Borders at BBC Gardeners’ World Live is My Garden Escape. Your design pays tribute to three of your great loves: colour, scent and painting. Can you tell us more about it and about the ways that, for you, a garden is a haven to escape to?
Pink is my favourite colour, scented flowers are my joy, and painting flowers is my escape. My Border will encapsulate all three of these things with bright pink flower colour fusing to white pink and many scented blooms. My Border will include glass art and an area for an artist to paint. I hope to include roses, perennials and annuals, possibly some grasses.
A flower garden is a gift for the senses and becoming aware of scent, colour, texture and, in some cases, taste of a plant, together with the sound and sight of insect life that plants attract demands the attention and releases the mind. I like to pick flower heads to study and paint in detail. By doing this, I learn more of what their individual beauty can offer to a planting scheme. This creative process is fascinating and absorbing, and before I know it, the stresses of everyday life have disappeared.
Visitors to BBC Gardeners’ World Live come to the show with a keen eye for ideas and inspiration. Which elements of your Garden Escape Border do you think might attract visitors’ attention for their gardens at home?
Colour affects our energies and emotions. By keeping to one colour in all its shades, I am creating a space for visitors to absorb and assess how that colour makes them feel. Pink always makes me very happy so if they’re looking for pink plants for a mixed border, my Border will be packed full of inspiring flower form, colour and scent.
The Beautiful Borders competition is a great opportunity to gain first-hand experience of building a small show garden. What advice can you give any budding first-time designers out there that might be thinking of giving it a go next year?
My advice is to be flexible on your plant choices with options available so that you can get the best plants in on the day. Plan on graph paper and make a sketch or painting for how you want it to look. If you’ve got the space, mock it up, and measure and measure again to get the proportions right. Before planting the border, put your glasses on and pimp your plants! Remember to include transportation and dismantling costs in your budget. For anyone keen to try designing a Beautiful Border, come and talk to me. I’ll be on my Border at various times every day during the show and will be doing a daily talk on the Let’s Talk Plants stage about my Border design and inspiration.
You’re a keen veg grower with a strong history of veg growing in your family. What’s the appeal of growing your own food and what’s on the menu for the coming season?
I’m an organic grower. I want my food free from pesticides and I want to know how it’s been grown. I also love to eat vegetables and the taste of fresh homegrown vegetables is second to none. As well as the usual suspects this year, I’m growing a lot of beans to dry so that I will have my own pulses through the winter months. I’m also trying hibiscus so that I can make my own hibiscus tea.
As a passionate advocate for inclusion and accessibility in the gardening world, what are some of the changes that you would you like to see in the coming years to broaden access to gardening to people living with disabilities?
I am still researching this subject with the RHS but some of my initial thoughts are that I think there should be more journalism opportunities for people with disabilities in the garden publications to write about gardening. What suits them can often make gardening easier for others. At the garden shows, I’d like to see a quiet time set aside for people with physical disabilities, people with autism who don’t like crowds, and importantly, for wheelchair users, so they can get a good view of the gardens. Also trained volunteers to accompany people with visual impairment and provide descriptive input where necessary and the opportunity to touch the exhibits. On a personal level, I would like to work with tool manufacturers to improve designs of some of their tools and to create some new ones.