Television gardener Katie Rushworth has an awful confession to make: “I can’t look after house plants to save my life. I can’t stop them dying on me.”
It’s not the sort of admission you’d expect from a gardening expert who’s been on ITV’s Love Your Garden since the programme first aired nearly six years ago, but then Katie just can’t help being honest… it’s in her Yorkshire blood!
Teaming up with the show’s star presenter Alan Titchmarsh, an exiled Yorkshireman, 33-year-old Katie ensures there’s a more than adequate White Rose presence on the telly programme that encourages home owners to make the most of their patch of ground without being too highbrow or scientific about it.
She’s also quick to praise the avuncular Mr Titchmarsh for helping her on her way as she literally blossomed from a nervous TV first-timer into a confident presenter and favourite with the viewers.
“I remember the first day filming,” she recalls. “I had to plant an acer in a container. Alan was sitting there the whole time watching me plant it. I was absolutely terrified. At the end of it he came up and said ‘You’ve given some great tips there. Well done.’ I went ‘Phew!’
“Alan is very good at his job. He’ll reel off all this gardening knowledge, and he knows exactly what the director and cameraman want from him. He’s good to watch.”
Being both home-grown Tykes – she’s from Leeds, he’s from Ilkley – makes recording the show a pleasure for both.
“He’ll laugh at me because I’ll say words he doesn’t use so much any more. He’ll often come up to me and talk to me in his best Yorkshire accent, because he’s lost it somewhat now. It’s good fun. I like to think I bring out the best in him.
“I’m a totally different presenter now from when I first started. The nerves are still there, but I get massive enjoyment out of my job. I love working on the programme. We do some amazing stuff, and I get to work with loads of fantastic knowledgeable people, people who are great company, so I’m very lucky.”
Unlike most TV gardeners, horticulture hasn’t been a lifelong occupation for Katie. She actually started work in the world of fashion, working part-time at H&M while still a pupil at Agnes Stewart High School, Leeds. Her first fulltime job was in menswear at Harvey Nicholls, and her career in fashion progressed onwards and upwards through jobs like personal shopper and store manager to buyer.
So what prompted her leap from a clean well-dressed job to getting cold, wet and mucky for a living?
Alan was sitting there the whole time watching me plant it. I was absolutely terrified
“I had my daughter and at that time I was covering the north of England. I was on the motorway every day, and that’s no good if you’ve a young baby. So I left that job and it was a perfect opportunity for a career change.
“I was helping out one of my friends who’s a gardener and just got the bug. I got to know a lot of good stuff.
“My parents weren’t gardeners but my grandparents definitely were. Their back yard at their terrace house in Harehills was tiny but they’d fill it with containers full of plants, about 100 containers. There’d be plants up walls, all over the place.
“It was the only garden in the area with a bit of green in it, and it won awards. I helped with watering it and looking for vine weevils. I remember going out in the evening and trying to kill those vine weevils. They were the bane of grandma’s life.”
Katie studied at night school and embarked on a part-time garden design degree course through Bradford University at Craven College, Skipton.
“We were on the auction mart campus. It was lovely. I’d go every Friday, and the drive there was delightful in itself. There’d be the auctions in the afternoon and the canteen would open for pie and peas. It was all rural and idyllic, and I loved going to college there.”
Katie’s breakthrough into the world of TV gardening came about during her final year at university. By now in her mid-20s, she realised there was a lack of young talent on gardening TV and it needed some new blood, but didn’t particularly want to go in for it herself. Then a friend mentioned receiving an email from a TV production company and suggested Katie should have a go.
“The email said they were looking for a new presenter for a gardening programme. It said ‘You don’t have to have a background in presenting but if you know a bit about gardening, apply, so I applied.
“It was like a gardening X Factor. There was a set of auditions I went to, a knock-out round, and it went from there. It was about six months before I found I was doing it, and then I only found out three weeks before my first filming date.”
The rest, as they say, is history, and Katie is now working on the seventh series of Love Your Garden. Not only that, she also runs her garden design business called The Queen of Spades, she had a book Plants, Beds and Borders published last year, she’s been on Norwegian TV and is set to go on again, she has been running garden retreats in Barbados for holidaymakers keen to learn about exotic gardens, she is working with a charity called Growing Together, and she has produced a series of gardening advice for Silverline Tools on Youtube.
Busy? “It’s a bit like spinning plates,” she admits.
Any good garden design has materials that reflect the local area
When she gets round to doing the garden, she’ll be following her own advice.
“Any good garden design has materials that reflect the local area and the house itself,” she says. “So if you can tie in your garden materials with what your house is made from, or the local neighbourhood, then regardless of fashions it gives it a timeless appeal. If you just go with the new fad then lo and behold, within ten years it looks terrible. I think you should just go with materials appropriate to your house.
“I’m definitely not a garden snob. If someone has given their garden a bit of love, if they like it and it encourages them to get outside, I’m fine with that. Lots of people fear gardening. For some reason or another they think if they don’t know anything about it they can’t do it. I think it’s just about getting back to basics.”
Katie is inspired by walking in the Dales near her home at Baildon. “I live near Shipley Glen and I find it so inspiring. I walk my dog there every day and it’s stunning. We’ve some beautiful drystone walls and sweeping countryside. It’s beautiful all year, even on a bleak day.
“I get inspiration from the landscape. I love Yorkshire very much, especially the Yorkshire Dales. I walk round places like Otterburn and Airton, and I think there’s nothing more inspirational than the landscape we live in.”
As for those dead house plants: “I might have green fingers when it comes to outside but I still make mistakes, and stuff still dies on me. It’s just about having another go and finding something else that’s going to work instead.”