Joe Sugg, YouTuber, Strictly star and TV celebrity, has found that in a world dominated by screens, his garden has become his haven.
He and his partner, professional Strictly dancer Dianne Buswell, moved to the Sussex countryside from London 18 months ago, and the 31-year-old former thatcher couldn’t wait to get his hands dirty in his one-acre north-facing garden.
“It was during the third lockdown, and we had this new garden to explore, so we breezed through it because we were busy working on the house and going in the garden,” he recalls.
His love of gardening, reconnecting with nature and the great outdoors is captured in his new book, Grow.
“Whether it’s been long country walks, getting to grips with the garden, spotting wildlife or creating an oasis of calm via the medium of houseplants, I’ve fallen back in love with a world I’d lost touch with, thanks to the fast-paced digital world I’d become so entrenched in,” he writes.
Here, he discusses the positive impact gardening has had on him.
How did you get into gardening?
“I grew up in a National Trust village called Lacock in Wiltshire. My mum had always been a very keen gardener and we were very fortunate that every house we moved to, the garden was a big part of the property. It was always a project Mum and Dad would work hard on.
“I was always picking up things by watching my parents. but it’s not until now that I thought, actually I’m at an age when I want to do that myself. My mum got her gardening knowledge from her dad, my grandfather, who grew up on a farm in Somerset, so it has been passed down.”
What’s your garden like?
“It has quite a steep slope, which I really love, because you get a beautiful view of the house and it poses a good challenge for gardening ideas. It’s a big blank canvas. It was quite overgrown when we moved in. The previous owners weren’t keen gardeners, but the people who lived there before them were, and had done quite a bit of work. I found evidence of where a greenhouse used to be and an old irrigation system which used to water the plants.”
What have you done with the lawn?
“I’ve not mowed the lawn once since we’ve moved in. I’ve kept it as wild as possible, just to see what does grow.”
And your current project?
“There’s a slope with steps leading to an old, cobbled patio area with old flower beds and a little rockery. I’ve taken on that little bit, which has become my wildflower garden.
“I’ve managed to grow potatoes, a whole bed of wildflowers. It’s amazing how many more bees and butterflies that area has attracted.
“I got a lovely oak wooden chair from Dianne for my birthday – they call it a storyteller’s chair – and I’ve put that down there and planted two buddleia and wildflowers all around it. I think I’m trying to make a scene from an Enid Blyton book! It’s my own fairy-tale garden.”
How has the garden helped you switch off?
“In this social media career, every day is different, so it has been quite hard to maintain a routine. By knowing that as the sun’s going down – or as it rises early in the morning – it’s time to water the plants, it’s already given me more structure.
“It takes you away from everything. Unless I’m going out purposefully to make content, I don’t normally think about using my phone in the garden.
“Even when I lived in London, I was fortunate to have some outside space. I had olive trees and started making terrariums. Even having a balcony would bring me a sense of detachment and disconnect, to have a no phone zone and to be around nature.”
What are your favourite plants?
“This year, we’ve had a lot of Granny’s Bonnet (aquilegia) spring up, and I’ve been going around collecting the seeds and scattering them.”
Does Dianne garden as well?
“Not as much as me yet, but her mum is a very keen gardener. We had them over recently from Australia and instantly bonded over the garden. But I think in time she will – we did go out and buy her a veg patch. She’s a pescatarian, so we’ve made our own salad garden, planting rocket, baby leaf lettuce and spinach, so she now has her own patch.”
What’s your garden vision in 10 years’ time?
“There will be different areas of the garden in different compartmentalised groups. Potentially, some parts will be tiered, there will definitely be an allotment area and I want to bring the pond back, with a pond house at the bottom, which I would want to thatch. It would be great for me to give that a go again, because I did love that job. I want to incorporate parts of who we are into the garden.”
Do you use any gardening apps?
“I’ve started using the Picture This plant identifier. If you’re using your iPhone, you can take a picture of a plant, swipe up on the picture there’s a button on it that will identify the plant without an app.”
Do you see yourself presenting garden shows?
“Maybe. I feel like I’d have a bit of ‘imposter syndrome’ for now. I need to meet my heroes first, like Alan Titchmarsh, Carol Klein and Monty Don – and have their blessing – but maybe I’ll aim more at a younger demographic.”
Grow: How Nature Can Restore Balance In A Busy World by Joe Sugg is published by Michael Joseph, priced £20. Available now
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