Outdoors: Small is beautiful, with Christine Walkden

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Gardening consultant, author and sometime TV presenter Christine Walkden has no intention of swapping her compact plot for anything bigger

WITH her Lancastrian accent and laid-back approach to gardening, the cheery horticultural lecturer, writer and presenter Christine Walkden has a fan base that reaches almost cult proportions.

Although it's over a year since her BBC 2 series, Christine's Garden, ended, she is still regularly approached in the street and asked about the show.

"An awful lot of people enjoyed that programme," she says.

"It hasn't been on the box for yonks, but I still get a lot of e-mails and letters. I went shopping today and somebody stopped me to talk about it. In fact, there have only been three days since December 2005 (when the first instalment aired) that somebody hasn't said something about it to me."

The series captured viewers' imaginations simply because, as well as offering heaps of down-to-earth gardening advice, it allowed us into Walkden's world. We got to know her charming octogenarian neighbour, Reg, her dog, Tara, the film crew and all her other friends. We also learned about all the botanical ins and outs of her small, but very beautiful, garden.

A new paperback version of A Year in Christine's Garden: the Secret Diary of a Garden Lover is out now and is just as appealing as the television programme. Designed to accompany the series, it's written in a readable, anecdotal diary format; a style that she felt very comfortable with.

"When BBC Books approached me to do it they didn't have a concept yet," she says. "But, because I was going to have to write it while filming the first series, I thought the easiest thing to do was to document what was going on, as it happened."

As Walkden has always enjoyed writing, she didn't find it hard to sit down and record daily events. Employing a ghost-writer might have speeded things up, but that's just not the style of a laid-back lady who lives in an Essex council house.

"I've always kept a diary, since I was a kid, so that was not a problem," she says. "The troublesome issue was that I'm a two-finger typist, so I'd have to scribble things down in a book, then sit down for a couple of whole days at a time, to type it out, very slowly."

A quick flick through the final product reveals a busy year in the garden. Your eye might alight upon suggestions on how to use herbaceous perennials in your borders or tips on ways to grow leeks from seed.

These appear alongside less garden-relevant musings – perhaps upon the taste of her friend Pat's prize-winning apple pies – "the pastry melts in your mouth and the fruit has just a hint of tartness" – and a list of the songs she chose when she made an appearance on BBC Radio Lancashire's version of BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs. One of her favourites, What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong, was played to close the final programme in the first series of Christine's Garden. It's a tune, she says, that sums up her views on life.

The book's seductive mix of anecdotes and no-nonsense tips may be the reason why many green-fingered fans who bought it have found their non-gardening partners are making their paperback copy look dog-eared.

"I was at the Royal Horticultural Society Hyde Hall gardens in Essex last week and was looking around to see if my book was there," Walkden says.

"The woman who works in the shop said that they keep half of them with the gardening books and the others in the general reading section. It's a good read for everyone, even if you're not bothered about gardens."

The book's wide appeal has already been proved – the hardback version has been out for a year, and was on the top 20 bestsellers list for most of this spring.

Its popularity may follow the recent boom in allotment-keeping, but Walkden, never one to follow fashion, has been way ahead of this trend for growing your own. She has been a horticulturalist since the age of ten, when she acquired her first allotment and started growing vegetables and flowers.

Later, when she was at secondary school, Walkden sold her produce to teachers and local residents. Such apparent early entrepreneurship is misleading, however. Her career has never been about money; rather, it's been driven by a pure passion for plants.

If proof of this were needed, consider that she still lives in a small house, with a wee garden, which she's transformed into a postage stamp-sized paradise. You might think that with the book deals, TV appearances and 30 to 40 horticultural lectures a year she would be thinking about moving to a luxurious pad with a huge backyard. She sees things differently. With such a busy life, she knows she suits the kind of practical garden that's made to measure.

"At the moment, a small garden is ideal for my lifestyle," she says.

"There's no point in being a slave to a garden. I'd love a few more trees, but if it was too big then it would deteriorate and I couldn't have that." SM

• A Year in Christine's Garden: The Secret Diary of a Garden Lover is published by Ebury Publishing, priced 8.99. Readers can buy the book for the special price of 7.99 including p&p within the UK. To order a copy, tel: 01206 255800 and quote the ref "Scotsman".

• For more information visit www.christinewalkden.com

• For a host of exciting new plant products, visit www.vanmeuwen.com/scotsman