At the age of 16, Jamie Butterworth, now 23, was a finalist in the BBC’s Young Gardener of the Year contest. He has since become a Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) ambassador and the horticultural consultant for bespoke paving and patio company London Stone. From 2015 to 2017, he was show plant manager at Hortus Loci nursery in Hampshire, southern England, which supplied six gold medal-winning Chelsea Flower Show gardens. He is a founding member of YoungHort, a scheme to develop talented young gardeners.
What initially drew you to gardening and horticulture?
I’ve had a passion for plants since I was nine, after watching [BBC show] Gardeners’ World . [Presenter] Monty Don was sowing seeds at the time. I still remember the excitement of watching a seed germinate and flower. It was only a cornflower, but to a nine-year-old it was real-life magic.
How would you characterise your style?
Relaxed, informal, fun. For me, gardening is all about enjoying it. As an industry, horticulture has quite a stigma. We’re seen as an industry of outdoor cleaners, in part thanks to comments by [then UK prime minister] David Cameron in 2011 when he grouped gardeners alongside litter-pickers. It couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s incredibly fun and rewarding and it’s so much more than weeding or cutting the grass.
Name your top three influences
Chef Jamie Oliver, because of the way he has brought cooking and baking to the masses, showing that it doesn’t have to be scary or daunting, and by relaxing the rules, playing with ingredients — exactly the sort of thing we need in horticulture. James Alexander-Sinclair, the garden designer and broadcaster, is someone I idolise. He is such a talented and inspiring plantsman. And third, Sue Biggs, director-general of the RHS, is a huge inspiration.
What has been your favourite project?
Cleve West’s 2016 RHS Chelsea Flower Show for headline sponsor M&G Investments. It was a masterclass in garden design and planting plans.
If you weren’t allowed, who would design your garden for you?
Harris Bugg Studio, which is run by two RHS Chelsea gold medal-winning designers, Hugo Bugg and Charlotte Harris. I am a huge fan of the gardens they create, and I have had the privilege of working with them both on their last few Chelsea gardens. The attention to detail and thoughtfulness of their designs is simply phenomenal.
Is there anyone in your field that you particularly admire?
Garden designer Matt Keightley. I’ve worked with Matt on several of his projects. He first let me work on his planting team at Chelsea in 2014 on his Help for Heroes garden. He’s one of my favourite garden designers as he is constantly finding new and exciting ways to use materials.
What is the one object you would never allow in a garden?
Plastic plants. I appreciate that there is a place for them, but plants have adapted over millions of years to grow in the toughest of environments and do all sorts of things, from reducing pollution to alleviating stress.
Strangest project/object/request you have ever had?
Jo Thompson’s Saga cruise ship. The brief was to create a vegetable garden to go on the top deck of a Saga cruise ship heading to the Canary Islands for 14 days. We had to choose, grow, and install a range of plants that would look good in Britain in October but also withstand the salt and arduous conditions at sea, and then the heat of the Canary Islands.
What do you look for in a client?
Someone who will consider all options, and comes in with a flexible approach to using different materials and plants.
Could you name a favourite garden?
RHS Garden Wisley. I have a personal connection, having trained there, but also because Wisley is going through a transformation and I can’t wait to see the result. The garden’s incredible woodland on Battleston Hill is my favourite part. At this time of year, there is nowhere I’d rather be.
What is the best way you’ve found to incorporate hard and soft landscaping together?
Better education for hard landscapers in plants, and vice versa. The better educated we all are, and the greater respect we have for what everyone else does, the more beautiful gardens we can all create.
What are young gardeners doing differently to their older counterparts?
Relaxing the rules. Yes, there is always a “right way” to grow plants, but for me, it’s much more about just giving it a go.
Which plant do you turn to most often?
Sanguisorba, a versatile perennial, which is ideal for most gardens. “Sangui” means red; “sorba” means to soak. It was initially used as a medicinal plant; the roots were applied to wounds to stop bleeding. They are commonly called “Bobble Heads” as they tend to bobble around in the wind. Drifted through other herbaceous plants, they are truly stunning. My favourite is S. “Cangshan Cranberry”.
Given that more people live in cities and are pressed for space, if you had a small city roof garden, what would you do?
I live in a small one-bed, north-facing apartment in Hook [in southern England] — not ideal for an avid plantsman! However, what it has taught me is that no matter how little space you have, you can always grow something. Even if all you have is a balcony, patio or windowsill, be clever and use plants that work for you and look good for months on end. You don’t need to have a garden to garden.
What do you see as the overriding trend in your field at the moment (even if you don’t subscribe to it)?
Gardening and growing in small spaces. Nearly 40 per cent of the British population live in rented accommodation, so we need to look at ways to appeal to Generation Rent. At the RHS Malvern Spring Festival I will be curating a new show garden category all about gardening in small spaces called Green Living Spaces, which I am really excited about.
Photographs and final illustration: firstname.lastname@example.org; Lynn Keddie/Hortus Loci; Jonathan Ward; Alamy; Andy Bending