Garden designer Ann-Marie Powell chats about the unexpected triumph of My Real Garden.
No one is more surprised at the success of her lockdown project than Ann-Marie Powell. The popularity of her daily Instagram Live posts from her garden is, she says, simply astonishing.
Begun on day one of lockdown and broadcast every day since, the My Real Garden account now has more than 9,500 followers, making it more successful than her official design Instagram feed. In fact, it’s become such a part of her life she’s planning to keep it going even as lockdown eases.
Ann-Marie has turned a corner of her garden into a 'studio'
The award-winning designer and RHS judge started the My Real Garden feed after being inundated with requests for gardening advice from friends as Britain went into lockdown.
“There was a bit of a mad panic and I think a lot of people thought ‘Oh, I’m going to have to grow my own’ having no horticultural knowledge. There was loads of WhatsApping going on.”
Lockdown sowing included using old tins
Someone suggested she put the advice online and base it on her own Hampshire garden, which had been sadly neglected while her house was done up.
“My garden was literally full of weeds because it had not been looked after for two years,” she says.
“I like to be doing so I thought it'll motivate me, it'll be like a bit of a diary and if I put it out there that I’ve got to do it. I didn't realise that so many people would be interested!”
Broadcast live every lunchtime, My Real Garden followed Ann-Marie, who trained at Capel Manor, as she shaped her lawn, planted fruit and chose plants for shady spots. There’s been advice on watering and deadheading to keep summer displays going.
Interviews with people from the horticultural industry have been a regular feature
“At first, it was just me just waffling on but then when people started watching and I could see that they actually wanted real advice about how to do things and that I needed to be organised because I didn't want to let any anybody down.”
The feed gradually took on a weekly structure with regular events, such as Wednesday Words, an interview with someone in the industry.
“It’s people that I know quite well and that I can be really blunt with and they feel quite comfortable. It’s a bit like being on FaceTime and you forget that everybody else is watching.”
Friday is both Floral Friday, a nod to her role as patron of the Greenfingers children's charity, and also Feeding Friday when the My Real Garden community feed their plants together.
“It's brilliant, because I feed my plants every Friday, and everybody else does as well.”
The Friday dress code is anything floral
The Sunday Social began as a question and answer session but has developed into a general garden discussion with followers sharing their own plots.
“We’ve all got to know each other quite well now in the virtual sphere,” she laughs.
It’s this sense of community that Ann-Marie’s reluctant to lose as lockdown eases and her own design business gets back into full swing not least with a huge project to create 2.5 acres of garden at RHS Wisley.
My Real Garden reaches its 100th consecutive broadcast today, July 1, and will now become a twice weekly rather than daily event with the Sunday Social at 12.30 BST and the new Wine and Water Wednesday at 7pm when followers will join Ann-Marie to water their gardens with wine in hand.
'My Real Garden' will continue twice a week on Instagram Live
Although she’s done television in the past, it’s the freedom of the Instagram Live that Ann-Marie has loved: “It's been really lovely just being in charge of what I say. I can be as silly as I want, have a bit of a laugh, and God knows, haven’t we needed to have a laugh.”
And she’s made virtual friends from as far away as Canada, Belgium and Detroit.
“It's just been amazing to just have this nurturing, lively, thriving community of like-minded people.”