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Interview: Sue Biggs, RHS Director General

Interview: Sue Biggs, RHS Director General

The head of the Royal Horticultural Society talks to Jodie Jones about her horticultural life

My earliest gardening memory is of my mum giving me a trowel, a pack of Virginia scented stock seeds and a square yard of the garden for my seventh birthday. I was miffed to just get dusty seeds, but the magic she promised came two months later as they turned into beautiful scented jewels. I was smitten.

My horticultural heroes are Geoff Hamilton, Christopher Lloyd, Piet Oudolf, Roy Lancaster and a whole host of others who we work with today, so I won’t embarrass them, but I am so full of admiration of the talent in our industry.

One unexpected source of inspiration is taking the colours of non-horticultural items and then transferring them into the garden. I once saw the most stunning Manuel Canovas orange-and-pink wallpaper that I translated into a combination of ‘Ballerina’ and ‘China Pink’ tulips in my front garden pots. They made me smile every time I looked at them.

My proudest achievement is opening up the Royal Horticultural Society to hopefully become a more open and friendly society, and bringing younger people and different communities into horticulture. I am also proud that our great profession is increasingly being recognised for the many and various skills it possesses.

If I could only grow one group of plants it would be trees… But having said that, when I looked around the Festival of Roses at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, I was totally switched on to glorious roses. And on just the same day, when I walked past Downderry Nursery’s amazing lavender stand in the Floral Marquee, I fell for that most beautiful plant all over again. I love them all.

The garden I most like to spend time in is Wisley in Surrey, because despite being a nearby member for 30 years, and working there for almost six years, there are still corners I haven’t explored yet. It lifts my spirits to see what beauty our gardeners create there. And over the next three years we have ambitious plans to design several new garden areas – watch this space.

I’m happiest in my own garden when the sun’s shining – I’m afraid I’m a bit of a fairweather friend and gardening in the rainy grey summer hasn’t been much fun so, being an eternal optimist, I’m hoping for a fabulously sunny September.

My guiltiest secret is that I have had to ask my colleagues to stop me buying more plants. I only have a small garden and I keep adding more plants and trees every time I go to one of our plant centres or shows. I’ll either have to control my addiction or move to a house with a much larger garden.

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