Ken Crowther: Changing seasons and sexy novels
PUBLISHED: 11:57 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:26 20 February 2013
Ken Crowther talks to to Pat Parker about his love of the radio, writing raunchy novels and why he feels global warming is just part of the changing seasons
A bed of roses
TO listeners of BBC Essex, landscape gardener Ken Crowther is something of an institution. For more than 20 years, he has been answering questions on gardening and his two-hour Saturday morning show is one of the busiest phone-ins on the station. Ken is well-qualified to deal with listeners queries. For more than 40 years, he has run his own gardening business and the award-winning company, which moved from Abridge to Epping four years ago, has clients throughout Essex and beyond.
Ken describes Essex as a county of keen gardeners. You get a great diversity of gardening here, from gnomes and coloured paving to parkland estates. Its a dry county and most of the soil is clay, which is good for roses and some vegetable crops, but it does create some problems. I love colourful annuals like begonias, but sometimes the low rainfall in Essex means they are hard to keep from drying out.
Youd think that all this would be enough to keep any 63-year-old fully occupied, but most recently the ever-energetic Ken has also ventured into the world of publishing. Two Weeks in Nice is his second and latest novel and follows the exploits of Jack, a young gardener on holiday with his mate in the South of France. As well as vivid descriptions of the Mediterranean fauna, it also recounts Jacks varied sexual conquests during his fortnight in the sun. It is, in fact, unexpectedly raunchy. As Ken, like Jack in the novels, was an apprentice gardener with London Parks in the 1960s, it is natural to ask how much of the novels are autobiographical? Not much it mostly came from my imagination, Ken insists, but Im sure I detect a twinkle in his eye.
I think temperatures are rising, but Im not convinced its
down to mans activities
Ken, whose father worked in banking, was born in Woodford and grew up in Chigwell. He was always keen to help his dad look after their quarter acre of garden and at 15 he got a weekend job at Chigwell Nursery where he gained invaluable experience. He soon decided that gardening was what he wanted to do as a career, which came as a surprise to his middle-class parents. But they backed him, and helped him gain an apprenticeship at London Parks where he looked after many of the citys most beautiful gardens.
He admits he was a fairly stroppy apprentice. I was a bit of a rebel a pain. I always wanted to do things my way. They kept moving me from place to place because I was awkward, but it meant I gained a lot of experience. Parks were great because you mixed with such a vast array of people. My old dad reckoned you got a far better education there than at university.
Despite being difficult, he was eventually offered a foremans job by London County Council, but, to his parents consternation, he turned it down. Hed decided he wanted to set up his own landscape gardening business. Id looked after a couple of gardens for people including the manager of the Festival Hall, so I reckoned there would be a market, says Ken. I decided I was going to do it differently charging people a regular monthly fee for garden maintenance.
He borrowed money from an aunt to buy his first pick-up truck and his parents gave him a mower for his 21st birthday. My dad didnt give me any hand-outs, but all my birthday and Christmas presents were spades and forks.
Back in 1966, when Ken started, most people had no concept of landscaping or garden design. Your average garden was a lawn, with borders and a vegetable patch, says Ken. That has changed completely over the years. Nowadays, gardens are an extension of your home. We live and eat outdoors far more. Its also about status. People want their garden to look as impressive as their living room.
Love at second sight
Love blossomed when his mum happened to mention that the daughter of some erstwhile neighbours had opened a floristry shop in Loughton. Being a nosy blighter, I went to have a look, laughs Ken.
He hadnt clapped eyes on Vivienne since she had moved from his road at the age of four, but the pair fell in love and married in 1971. The couple combined their expertise and developed the business, moving to a disused site in Abridge in 1977 and opening a retail nursery and a design shop in addition to Kens landscaping business.
He also offered his services to BBC Essex, but they already had a gardener lined up to answer listeners questions. However, when they dropped out at the last minute, Ken was there. BBC Essex phoned me up in a panic asking me if Id step in. Half an hour later, I was on air giving advice.
The show evolved to include interviews and features as well as gardening advice. Radios personal. As soon as Im in the radio station, I get that rush of adrenaline, which I love. If you dont get that, you shouldnt be on radio.
He now does a two-hour Saturday gardening show as well as a new Monday show, which allows him to explore his keen interest in local produce and environmental concerns.
Ken is keen on conservation and recycling but, surprisingly perhaps for someone keen on green issues, he is a bit of a sceptic when it comes to global warming.
I think temperatures are rising, but Im not convinced its down to mans activities, he says. I think these things go in cycles. Back in the early 1960s they were talking about a new ice age. Now, the earth is undoubtedly getting hotter, but, although humans are not helping, I think its largely down to natural causes.
Writing had always been a passion for Ken and he still has exercise books full of stories he made up as a youngster at school. His first book took him 20 years to finish. He contacted around 100 agents and publishers before he finally found one who would accept the book. Four years ago, Jack the Gardener finally leapt out of Kens notepads on to the published page. The sequel, Two Weeks in Nice, only took three years to write pretty speedy by comparison.
So at 63, does he have any thoughts of retirement? Ken laughs. I wouldnt know what to do with myself.
Get the book
Two Weeks in Nice written by Ken Crowther is published by Vanguard Press
and is available in local book shops priced at 8.99. ISBN: 978 184386 528 5