There are some really cool gardens in East Anglia says This Morning's Michael Perry
TV presenter and self-confessed plant geek Michael Perry shares how the seeds of his successful career were sown in East Anglian.
If you’re a self-confessed plant geek like Michael, growing up in East Anglia must have felt like being in paradise.
“Have you’ve seen the new book by Barbara Segall, Secret Gardens of East Anglia? I’m learning about all these gardens I didn’t know existed which look really really exciting. There’s some really cool looking ones which I would quite like to see,” he says when I catch him before he heads to Kew Gardens.
Touring gardens on his spare time sounds like a busman’s holiday.
“It kind of blurs when you have a career that you love I guess (but I enjoy) Helmingham Hall for sure. I really love East Ruston, which is right up on the way to Cromer.”
The TV presenter, This Morning gardener, speaker and product developer grew up in Ipswich. He got his love of gardening from his grandparents who reared exhibition quality chrysanthemums and dahlias in their super long greenhouses.
“They were doing quite a lot of exhibiting at local flower shows and some judging as well, they were very involved with the WI market too so the gardening and horticulture that was going on in the town was ingrained in me,” says Michael, who in 2015 was listed in the top 20 most influential horticulturists by The Sunday Times.
“When you’re a kid you tend to spend more time with your grandparents, because they’re often babysitting or you prefer to be there because your parents are never quite cool enough. Somehow they’re enjoyable to spend time with and their interests tend to rub off on you. So since I was five I was rooting, cutting, helping with the dead heading. I was soon selling plants at the end of my driveway and taking over my parents’ garden. It was what I always wanted to do really and what always came naturally to me.”
Michael, who went on to work for Thompson and Morgan for many years, was pleased when his careers advisor suggested horticultural college and did a national diploma in horticulture where plant ident classes and garden design and care seeming to be his forte.
He’s been freelance since last September, splitting his time between Suffolk and America where’s been presenting. Painfully shy as a teenager, you’ve probably seen him on various shopping channels sharing his passion for plants and shows like Good Morning Britain, The One Show and The New Great British Garden Revival.
Michael loves the open space and calmness you don’t get in the States and the region’s history, which our Atlantic cousins also lack.
“What I love about Suffolk, the UK, is there’s a distinct centre to each village and you can almost orientate yourself using that; that’s much nicer. Villages and the seaside can be quite chocolate box... I love Aldeburgh, Southwold but also Felixstowe which has its own charm with the the amusements. I was always quite lucky on the penny slots.”
Whenever he’s away, he’s transported home when he hears the accent.
“It’s really cool and you realise how distinctive and different. Whenever you would hear that around the world that’s your connection.”
The lack of transport when you’re in the countryside is an issue for Michael, although it’s not all bad.
“I did a photo shoot in Great Blakenham at the weekend and the only way to get there really was by taxi. I don’t have a car while I’m in Suffolk so obviously I made a rod for my own back.
“At at the same time, I walked back which makes you realise the beauty you can soak up in Suffolk; walking by the Gipping River, the wild flowers...”
Splitting his time between the UK and America, the difference in customer service is something he both likes and dislikes.
“Americans are obviously very friendly, but it’s on a superficial level. Suffolk people, countryside people, are potentially more guarded but once you get behind that there’s genuine friendliness; it’s not just like it’s being switched on for the convenience.
“With customer service there seems to be a real inflexibility sometimes, you’ll just get an answer in a shop which is just robotic, there’s no discussion... you go to a restaurant in the provinces and last orders are at 8.30pm and there’s no way to get any food.
“Something I really struggle to find in Suffolk is there’s a really poor choice of Asian food, I know it sounds crazy,” he laughs. “It’s only just recently that we’ve had a sushi restaurant open in Ipswich. I don’t know if it’s lack of demand or imagination.”