Gardening is not something you would associate with Dame Vera Lynn, but Lancashire horticulturist Christine Walkden once uncovered a mutual love of all things flowery and green.
The 59-year-old has toured many celebrities’ gardens but her most memorable experience was speaking with the iconic war singer four years ago as part of her residency at the BBC’s The One Show.
Christine recalls: “I loved interviewing Dame Vera Lynn. The chemistry was there and she was very gentle. It was an interview my mum and dad would have loved to have seen.
“They would have been proud of me. She talked about her relationship with the garden. She had great intimacy with plants as they meant a lot to her.
“She often missed them when she was abroad.”
Christine’s varied knowledge led to her being called upon to share her expertise as she spoke on local radio.
Her work gained her a Gardener’s Writers’ Guild Broadcasting Award for the best local radio phone-in programme 1997 and she is also a panellist on BBC Radio Four’s Gardener’s Question Time.
As she gained notoriety she was asked to appear on Gardener’s World and Gardener’s Diary and she made two BBC2 television series entitled Christine’s Garden, in 2006 and 2007.
The former Myerscough College student was also on The Great British Garden Revival on BBC2 and has appeared on the Chelsea Flower Show and the Hampton Court Flower Show.
She was also the Royal Television Society award winner in the Best Daytime Series 2015 category for Glorious Gardens From Above and she is now the resident gardening expert on The One Show on BBC One at 7pm.
But one TV appearance she would like to forget was on BBC comedy show Shooting Stars in 2008, with Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer.
She says: “I felt it was just nonsense. It was a game show and not very relevant to what I was doing, but sometimes you have to do these things.
“I enjoy doing TV work because it allows me to put my subject across but when I am asked to do other things, I am not bothered.
“I do TV to communicate about gardening. I don’t do it for self adulation.”
Christine admits that she never intended to enter the world of TV and was unsure when she was first approached to do Greening the City for Granada. She says: “To be honest I had mixed feelings about doing TV work. I didn’t know if I wanted to do it at first as it was taking me to a different world.
“My first TV appearance was for Greening The City. I was quite nervous and I didn’t particularly enjoy it.
“It takes a lot of time to settle into TV.
“But I just wanted to share my knowledge of gardening and it is nice when people say they enjoy it.”
It is almost a different world from when Christine first grew a crocus bulb under the stairs as a school project, almost 50 years ago.
She was asked to perform the task by a teacher at St Charles RC Primary School, Rishton, when she was 10.
She reminisces: “The process of growing fascinated me.
“I was so surprised that you could plant something in the ground and it would grow.
“I then started growing things and got an allotment behind St Peter’s School when I was 11.
“I was the only child there. It may have seemed strange to the blokes there, but I loved it.
“Secondary school (St Augustine’s, Billington) allowed me to go on day release to Burnley Technical College and Lancashire College of Agriculture for the block release sessions to gain a City and Guilds in horticulture.
“Then I went to Myerscough College which was fantastic. That experience you get when you go to a college or university and learn new things is amazing.”
Christine, who was a member of Rishton Horticultural Society, then worked at two experimental horticultural stations, before moving to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where she looked after the growing side of the seed physiology unit.
After several more jobs she did further training at Pershore College, in Warwickshire, and completed her finals at Writtle University College.
This led her to become a freelance horticulturist, lecturing nationally and internationally. She leads tours across the country and around the world, doing demonstrations and talks.
She also writes for Amateur Gardening Magazine, where she won the TV Gardener of the Year Award.
Her affinity with Myerscough College is further strengthened as she was awarded an honorary fellowship in 2012 and she regularly works with the college and its horticultural department.
She beams: “Receiving that honour from a Lancashire college of agriculture was special.”
With a passion to share the simple joy nature brings, her book A Year in Christine’s Garden: The Secret Diary of a Garden Lover is a personal account of octogenarian neighbours, living with a film crew and helping friends with their gardening needs.
Her narrative paints a picture of the day-to-day beauty that surrounds her.
She likes being outside, she likes walking her dog Tara, she likes watching the light change and she enjoys those little moments when everything seems right in the world.
She adds: “I enjoy the freedom and flexibility of doing what I want, when I want.
“I love the diversity of what I do. I would get bored just doing one thing all the time.
“I have never stayed anywhere too long - I always like to move on.
“I want people to enjoy the joys of gardening and see what it is all about.
“I still get the same thrill of sowing a seed as when I was a child.
“It is about the start of life - the optimism of things.
“My favourite plant is the soldanella which is a little alpine. It is a tiny little thing which reaches three inches. It survives the harshest conditions up in the mountains and I think it is just beautiful.
“Spring and autumn are my favourite times of the year. Spring is the beginning of it all and autumn is the end as it all absorbs back into the ground to be eaten.”
Her written work also awarded her a place as a finalist in the 2103 GMG Practical Gardening Book of the Year Awards with Christine Walkden’s No-nonsense Container Gardening.
Always keen to return up north and encourage more gardeners, Christine will be giving a talk at St Andrew’s Church Hall, in Tulketh Road, Preston, on September 19, as part of Preston Gardening Society’s golden anniversary.
Tickets are £12. To book visit www.prestongardeningsociety.com.
She adds: “If anyone was interested in gardening, I would recommend they join a club. You would get so much out of it.
“You get to share other people’s experiences and you can learn from each other. There is a great sense of community.
“I will be coming back up north in September to talk about the life and times of a gardener.
“I will be talking about the thrills and spills of working in the industry and in TV.
“I am looking forward to coming up to Preston and talking to people. It is always nice to come up north. I don’t get to come back much.”
For more information on Christine’s work visit www.christinewalkden.com.