Model, actress, radio and TV presenter Lisa Snowdon can add gardener to her CV. An ambassador for today’s Garden Day, she tells Laura Craik why she loves lush leaves both indoors and out.
Gardens are often referred to as ‘extra rooms’, but none of us could have imagined quite how ardently they would come to fulfil this role in the spring of 2021, when government guidelines still only allow different households to mix outdoors.
All of which makes this year’s Garden Day – a national celebration of our greenery, from houseplants to lawns – more compelling than ever, and Lisa Snowdon’s enthusiasm all the more inspiring. Fresh-faced and looking far younger than her 49 years, I can barely see her for all the plants blooming in her home office. ‘I’ve got them everywhere,’ she beams. ‘They help me concentrate. It’s so important for me to be around plants, and be in nature. I feed off that energy.’
If the inside of the Epping Forest home that she shares with her partner, entrepreneur George Smart, is a mini-greenhouse, the conservatory and garden are even more lush. ‘I bought this house 25 years ago, largely for the garden,’ she admits.
‘The previous owners had passionflowers growing in through the conservatory, up the windows and into the actual house. It was pretty wild and a bit draughty, but I thought it was gorgeous. Then I walked out into the garden and there was a palm tree and a monkey-puzzle tree – it was so kooky and exotic. I mean, this was Essex!’
That’s when Lisa’s love of gardening started. ‘I wasn’t massively green-fingered then but I’ve got better. In winter, it always looks like some things aren’t ever going to come back and I’ll think, “Oh no – I’ve killed it.” Then the buds start returning every spring.’
Lisa’s modesty is endearing, given her obvious horticultural skills. With its cornucopia of ferns, munificence of pot plants, lush lawn and verdant flowers, her garden is an oasis of calm that offsets sunny spots with cooler areas of shade. Little wonder she is hard-pressed to name her favourite flower. ‘The magnolias are beautiful. They don’t last long enough. But it’s all fleeting, which in itself is really beautiful.’
As someone who struggles to keep a cactus alive, I ask whether there are any plants that are impossible to kill. ‘Ceanothus,’ she says. ‘It’s a lilac, and lilacs take well and are easy. Palm trees are also quite hardy, as is wild grass. Our garden isn’t pruned back: it’s quite wild, and I love that because we have bees, birds and butterflies. We’ve created a really cute little ecosystem and love just sitting watching the birds fly in and out.’
If lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that these simple pleasures can be where unexpected happiness lies. The Royal Horticultural Society says traffic to its website increased five-fold last year, as Britons sought advice on how to compost and grow vegetables at home, while numerous surveys have found gardening to be the nation’s most popular lockdown hobby alongside baking.
Lisa isn’t surprised. ‘Taking time out in nature is scientifically proven to alleviate stress and boost your mood. It releases dopamine in the brain to be around flowers. Even if you take your shoes off and walk around in the grass, having that connection with the earth will help to rebalance you.’
A garden isn’t a luxury afforded to everyone, however. ‘If you’re in a flat, you can still have a window box and grow flowers or herbs,’ suggests Lisa. ‘If you don’t have any outside space, you could try succulents, rubber plants or spider plants – they’re all really easy to grow.’
For today’s full Garden Day programme visit gardenday.co.uk.