Ex-model and TV presenter Kate Durr has been a familiar face on our screens since 1999, but she has always been passionate about gardening. Married to actor Jason Durr, she and their three children have settled in Wiltshire, after having lived in Los Angeles for several years. Kate studied at the renowned Cotswold Gardening School and designed and built her first RHS show garden at the Malvern Spring Festival, where she won a RHS Gold medal and was awarded the Best Festival Garden prize. She talks to Lynda Clark about her interesting career.
FTB: Tell us about your property experiences.
KD: The first home I bought was in Shepherds Bush in London, which was a two bedroom, basement garden apartment. Having a garden was high on my agenda as I have always been a country girl at heart and I’ve been passionate about gardening all my life, so I certainly needed something bigger than a window box. When I bought it, the garden was a very ugly concrete space, so even though I was on a tight budget, I set about transforming it. I dug up some of the paving and put down pebbles in between and also added trellis with plants growing up which really softened the space. The garden was a major selling point when I eventually decided to move on. Luckily, the inside wasn’t too bad and I painted the rooms to make them light and airy. I had never bought before, so I had no idea what to do really, but I did masses of research and asked lots of questions. At times it was quite terrifying, but I never let it put me off. Now we live in an old farmhouse in the Cotswolds with three acres of garden and a large field – where we keep a flock of 16 Zwartbles sheep. I am busy creating a cottage garden here and we are also a traditional potager.
FTB: Have you always been interested in gardening?
KD: We lived in a very small cottage when I was growing up and kept chickens, sheep and goats, and had a huge vegetable garden too. It was quite normal for me to pick the beans and the potatoes for Sunday lunch. I adored being outside and I had my own little patch where I grew things like pansies. My whole world was in the garden and I would spend hours out there, making up stories about flower fairies and making pretend dandelion stew! I have had a completely different career, but I have now come back to what I love doing the best.
FTB: Tell us about your past career.
KD: I was a model for nearly 20 years and flirted with an acting career too. I was then asked to do some broadcasting work and co-hosted the very popular Saturday night family show, Guinness World Records for ITV with Ian Wright. I also fronted the scientific game show, Simply Complicated for BBC3 and was a reporter for a travel show called Dream Ticket on LWT. I worked on a great many shows and was a roving reporter for The End of the Week Show on LWT, where I scoured the
country to cover the week’s weirdest and most wonderful news stories. It was great fun, but my heart has always been for creating gardens and working outside.
FTB: How did the transition from TV work to gardening happen?
KD: Even when I was working in TV, I would get my hands dirty in the garden whenever I could. When I had my family, I decided I wanted to be at home with them when they were very young. I have a 10-year-old and twins aged five and a half. While they have been growing up, I have always managed to find time for the garden. I would put them to bed and then rush outside and I often think it kept me sane, as bringing up three children is very hard work, and my husband Jason was often away filming, so I would be doing it on my own. I have always created gardens for friends and family, but I never had any proper training. So, when the twins went to school, I decided to do it properly. I studied at the Cotswold Gardening School and I now have a diploma in professional garden design. It has been a very tough course, as much of it is very technical and complex, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.
FTB: You won an RHS Gold medal, tell us about that.
KD: I was only seven weeks into the course and my tutor suggested I put forward a design for the Malvern Spring Festival. It was quite daunting, but I put together mood boards, ideas and a master plan and won a bursary from the RHS to create the garden I had designed. My garden was called Constraining Nature and I won an RHS Gold and was awarded the Best Festival Garden. I was thrilled. I now speak at gardening seminars and I might do a garden for Chelsea next year.
FTB: What was it like to live in Los Angeles?
KD: We lived there for three years, while my husband was working, and I created a garden at our house, which was fascinating as you can grow all the plants that only grow in a greenhouse in England. It was a new experience and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there.
FTB: What is your favourite plant or flower?
KD: I love Euphorbia characias wulfenii, they flower from February to June. In February, your garden can be very dull, but this plant has the most amazing bright acid green blooms, which works as a wonderful foil to the bright spring bulbs that follow.
FTB: What advice do you have for FTB’s?
KD: Never overlook your outside space as you can create a gorgeous oasis anywhere. If you only have a balcony, you can hang containers off the railings and also have pots, which will give you masses of colour and a fabulous scent. Herbs can be grown in window boxes, so there is always something you can do. My advice would be to water everything very regularly and be careful to choose the right plants. Perlagoniums, for example, are very drought tolerant and look wonderful too. It is important to get a colour scheme and limit the palette you choose – to maybe just two colours. You can look in magazines to get ideas, but do keep it simple and the harmony flowing. You don’t want to end up with a smorgasbord, or mish mash. If you have grass which needs regular cutting and you don’t have much spare time, then don’t be afraid to loose it, as there are some very good imitations out there like Easigrass, which is so realistic and requires no maintenance.
FTB: What are your plans for the future?
KD: I am very busy creating my kitchen garden, with Jason as my under gardener – he has a great eye and built a wonderful rose arbour. I have my own garden design practice as well and I am never happier than working with clients, transforming spaces into special places where memories can be made and treasured.