I catch up with the marvellous Michael Perry, also known as Mr Plant Geek. Michael has been obsessed with plants for over 30 years, and is responsible for introducing hundreds of new varieties into the UK. In this exclusive interview, he tells me all about his favourite plants, his Plant Based Podcast – and how he became one of the most sought-after TV gardeners.
Where did you grow up in Suffolk and have you always been based in this area?
I grew up in Ipswich; lots of my younger years were spent in my grandparents’ garden. I was living here during my career at Thompson and Morgan, but have been somewhat nomadic for the last three years.
Did you always dream of having a career in horticulture and where did you study for your National Diploma in Horticulture?
I studied at Otley College, and had a really great time. The course was quite varied. That meant there was a lot that I excelled at – and also a lot that I was really rubbish at. Driving tractors, for example! However, I was excellent at plant identification and the garden design side of things.
You have such a busy schedule! When did you launch Mr Plant Geek and what was the idea behind it?
I launched Mr Plant Geek about three years ago now. It is a very busy life, but that’s because I keep being offered new opportunities all the time. I absolutely love it – you never know what email is going to drop into your inbox next. It is very stimulating, and I have worked on some very, very cool projects that are completely outside the box.
How did you end up with your own TV show on QVC…Michael Perry’s Garden World Show?
Again, I think most of my success has been down to having a good honest knowledge of plants. In addition, I’m also able to deliver that knowledge in a very down-to-earth and everyday way. That of course lends itself well to QVC! (Pic credit: QVC)
What do you enjoy most about working in front of a camera?
Do you know, I don’t often think about the camera. It is amazing how the most unusual things can become normal very quickly once you start doing them more. I just enjoy inspiring people to love plants as much as I do. I also enjoyed the challenge of different types of filming. I am lucky I get to do live TV, in addition to pre-record and web videos, for example.
You have had guest appearances on loads of great TV shows. Have there been any memorable or funny encounters while you’ve been on set?
Oh good question, I’ll have to have a think. For my early appearances, I just remember being incredibly nervous. In fact, when I watch that first Alan Titchmarsh show I can see exactly how nervous I am. Hopefully the audience didn’t notice it though! I must say that working on ITV’s This Morning is really fun. I think people don’t realise how organic the production of a TV show is behind the scenes. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors!
I see your work has enabled you to travel extensively around the world. Which countries are still on your bucket list to visit and why?
I have been very lucky to be booked for work all around the world. Furthermore, my partner has also worked abroad a lot. I’ve also been able to pick up work wherever he is at the time.
I am really enjoying the global lifestyle, but of course it can be tiring too. That said, I would like to discover more of South America, and also hop around Asia a little bit more.
You have an eye for such unique beautiful plants, what are your favourites?
I was trained in this career from the age of 18, so it feels like second nature now. It’s true I have introduced plenty of new plants, but I also develop new plant concepts. Climbing petunias and ground cover lilies are two examples. I often claim my favourite flower is Iris. It is just so beautiful. I even have an early memory of painting an Iris onto a stone for my nana.
Do you get much time to spend cultivating your own garden?
Next question!! Because I’ve been so nomadic for a few years, I have no garden of my own. My partner is working in China, and I have decorated the apartment there with more than 50 house plants. So you could say that’s my part-time garden. I also stay a lot with a friend just outside Cambridge, and have certainly filled his patio with exciting, unusual plants!
What are the most common gardening mistakes people make?
Killing plants with kindness. Especially where house plants are concerned – people overwater them. You know how it is, each time you walk past your plant you give it some water. Stop that! Instead use a saucer from below, and the plant will take up what it needs, when it needs it.
Can you tell us a little bit about The Grubby Gardeners?
We are a cheeky fundraising team that has raised more than £25,000 for charity. We have created naked calendars, and lots more! Gardening is actually a very smutty world. We just highlighted that to our audience, and had a lot of fun in the process. (Pic credit: Jonathan Ward)
When did you start your podcast and how’s it going?
The Plant Based Podcast is going very well. I run it with my friend and colleague Ellen Mary. We simply love plants, but in every format. So we get to talk to lots of interesting people. Upon release, we even knocked the RHS off the top spot!
What’s been the most ‘pinch me’ moment of your career so far?
Oh, I really don’t know, I don’t tend to get that star-struck. I just try to appreciate everything that I do. Perhaps sometimes when I am working in Japan, I realise that’s a very cool place to be. But to be honest, everything is very cool.
What new plants should I be getting excited about?
I think you should be getting into peonies, but not just the traditional ones. These days there are lots of new hybrids with new colours and better growth behaviour. Aside from that, there is so much to recommend, I suggest that you follow me on social media to keep up!
You have a great sense of style. Do you work with a stylist to help plan your outfits, or do you enjoy shopping and creating your own look?
It’s true I seem to have picked up a lot of work as a model, as well as a gardener. I just like distinctive pieces, different materials, different colours, and I am quite daring.
How would your friends describe you in three words?
Crazy. Loyal. Clever. (I hope!)