Horticulture Week Podcast: TV Garden Ninja Lee Burkhill on passing on garden knowledge

Lee Burkhill and Matthew Appleby

Garden designer Lee Burkhill - better known as the Garden Ninja - is a career changer (from law in an IT setting).

After a part-time RHS garden design course (which he thought of as a passtime), couple of competitions and RHS shows later, his career took off, "like being strapped to a rocket!

"I suppose it has been incredibly rapid compared to people that maybe went to horticultural college or university to study design. But having said that, it really feels to me like it was always my passion."

He advises entrants to horticulture to take maximum advantage of any opportunities to gain knowledge: "If you can volunteer for someone, do it, you'll learn something. If there's a competition, if there's something, something or some way you can get involved, you never know what's going to come of it.

Lee never planned a career in TV, but the opportunity on BBC's Garden Rescue programme (co-starring Charlie Dimmock) came about after Lee had built a profile on YouTube with gardening advice. But gardening TV is not a bed of roses he says:

"It's been a tough year for garden media...The fact there's a cost of living crisis, all of these things impact on a huge level because for a lot of people hort design plants are a luxury. They're not a necessity. So it's the first thing to go. 

"There's Garden Rescue, there's Gardener's World - that's still the two main garden shows that have funding...looking at the viewing figures and the response from the public, it seems to be a show that has a really good feel-good factor."

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Lee explains what inspires him to keep coming up with fresh design ideas, the working dynamic with Charlie Dimmock, and what he hopes to add to the show:

"Since I've joined, I've been really pushing for more knowledge. Like, let me explain the 'why' about these plants, the why about the design, so that people can then interpret that to their own gardens rather than just showing them lots of nice things, nice plants, nice layouts.

He is also passionate about the need to improve diversity in horticulture, to get horticulture into schools and address career issues such as wages:

"We should open our doors a bit more, explain things more, help people, welcome them in. You know, there's enough cake for everyone in terms of hort and gardening."

While he's not planning any more shows for now, "when I next do one, I'd like it to be sort of a bit left field, the next level of Garden Ninja",he says. "I'd love to create a garden that looks like Mother Nature's finally got revenge on what we've done to the planet...kind of like scary garden [with] flame and smoke and a crevasse and stuff like that."

And he's got a few ideas for his own show: "not necessarily a makeover show like garden rescue, but something that just gets me really hands deep in design and plants and the why - why does this work?"

Presenter: HortWeek editor Matthew Appleby
Producer: HortWeek digital content manager Christina Taylor

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