Daphne Ledward, Garden Planner, Gardener, Author and Broadcaster


Daphne Ledward describes herself as a native ‘Yellow Belly' (a born and bred Lincolnshire person), although she was actually born in Bradford, West Yorkshire . Her mother was of Lincolnshire/Yorkshire stock, and her father Liverpudlian.

Daphne moved with her parents to Essex when she was three years old, which was when her interest in gardening started, when her father arrived home one day with an assortment of flower and vegetable seeds and involved her in the preparation and planting of a small bed.

Neither parent had much knowledge of gardening, and were unaware that the cold Essex clay they were working was one of the most difficult soils to cultivate, but there was a 100 per cent success rate, and Daphne still cannot resist growing things like radishes, beetroot, marigolds and zinnias, which gave her so much delight as she watched them daily to emerge from the earth.

When her parents separated, her mother returned to her beloved Stamford area and Daphne took on the role of ‘housekeeper' and ‘gardener' when she reached her teens, while her mother took full-time employment.

Daphne Ledward - younger self

A young Daphne

Daphne's interest in all things horticultural continued throughout her schooldays, although during her secondary school years at Stamford High School , an academy placing much emphasis on professional qualifications, it did not occur to her to make a career out of horticulture in any form. Her primary intention was to qualify as a veterinary surgeon, but she received little encouragement from the universities to which she applied; one even told her categorically that they would always give preference to male applicants as women were likely to waste their training in leaving the work to run a home and family – but that was in the 60s, when it was acceptable to make such statements openly.

Disappointed at the school's inabilities to treat Sixth Form pupils as young adults, Daphne decided to leave at the end of the Lower Sixth Year and train as a quantity surveyor, an idea she got from a boyfriend of that time. She obtained a position in a local office, studying by correspondence with the College of Estate Management by night and undertaking general office duties during the working day. This also was less than successful, as she was treated as a general office worker and was not encouraged to become involved with the specialist side of the business, so found studying alone without experience and with virtually no knowledge of the building trade extremely difficult. She was also uneasy with the 60s style of architecture and attitude towards environmental issues, and decided to make a break when the time was right.

A spell in hospital at the age of 19 convinced Daphne that she wanted a more social career, and she applied for a post of Welfare Assistant with Kesteven County Council, now an administrative district of Lincolnshire County Council.

After six months and the untimely death of her senior officer, she successfully applied for the post of District Welfare Officer for South Kesteven. She thoroughly enjoyed the contact with the residents of the Stamford and Bourne areas and the surrounding countryside, but in 1971, after six happy years in the work, there was a national, complete reorganisation of the Social Services system, and Daphne found herself undertaking work she was not experienced to do nor interested in, and downgraded to part of a large team under strict supervision. It was at this time that Daphne started a parallel career writing short stories, mainly for women's and teenage magazines; this was her first attempt at being published, which gave her great satisfaction.

In 1972, having met a local nurseryman who rekindled her interest in horticulture, and after a gardening correspondence course and several holidays working on local nurseries, she decided to take the plunge and leave social work forever to start up her own business in landscape gardening.

Her original intention was to design gardens for the clients themselves to construct and plant, but she found that most customers wanted the whole job done, from start to finish, so Daphne of necessity became proficient in demolition, paving, turfing, rotavating, concreting and all the peripherals that are involved in landscape gardening and maintenance.

In 1973 she was recommended for a landscaping job with Brian Ellis Mailing Services in Bedford, a direct mail company, where she developed an interest in marketing, and in 1974 established a small direct mail plant business, with the nurseryman who first kindled her idea of entering gardening professionally supplying the plants and BEMS undertaking the mail shots.

This did not make the profit Daphne and her associates had hoped for, and Daphne decided to concentrate on her landscaping and let the mail order business lapse.

In 1980 Daphne joined the newly opened BBC Radio Lincolnshire as gardening presenter. This launched her radio and television career, and in 1982 she became the first woman panel member of BBC Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time and BBC 1's Gardeners' Direct Line. This led to many other regular television and radio appearances, including Classic Gardening Forum and the Jimmy Young Show, and in 2001 she presented her own television series, Garden Hopping, which is regularly shown still on BBC 2, UKTV and is now being screened in America. Television and radio has made her much in demand as a magazine writer and author of books on gardening. At present she is a regular gardening writer for the Spalding Guardian, and acts as writer/consultant for Reader's Digest Gardening Books.

Daphne met her second husband, John Hands, in 1982, while working on the programme Gardeners' Question Time. He worked as a sound engineer for BBC Midlands.They got together in 1986 and were married in Jersey in 1992. John now runs a photographic plant library and helps Daphne with the practical side of her business.

Daphne's lifetime passion for gardening has not diminished since making her hobby her career, and derives much pleasure from her cottage garden and her 5.3 acre field three miles away, where she has an orchard, greenhouses, experimental vegetable garden, and is establishing a 4 acre native wood, small wildflower field and arboretum. Her advice is always ‘hands on', believing that one cannot be a gardening icon without up to the minute experience, and she intensely dislikes the modern ‘makeover' gardening culture, where any garden can supposedly be completed in two days. “The best gardens take a lifetime to mature,” she says, “although there is no reason not to have something of interest in months rather than years.”

Daphne’s time is at present occupied with the research and follow-up for her various writing projects. In addition she takes on a very limited amount of private garden planning and consultancy when time allows, and lectures to clubs and societies on a wide range of gardening topics. Her fundraising work with various local charities raises a great deal of money annually.

Although her aspirations to become a vet were thwarted in her teens, Daphne relates to all animals; she now has 5 greyhounds that were found unsuitable for racing as young dogs and ended up on the greyhound scrapheap early in their lives and a young, three-legged lurcher who was thrown out of a van with a smashed elbow and introduced to Daphne and John by their vet while trying, unsuccessfully, to save the leg. Appearances at local dog shows during the summer months keep both Daphne and her greyhounds busy.

In December 2007 Daphne was diagnosed with what turned out to be Stage 2 uterine cancer. She had a major operation immediately after Christmas that year, declined a follow-up offer of radiotherapy which was not considered to be essential, and is now fit and healthy again. She was not prepared to let a minor nuisance like cancer affect her life, and immediately after discharge from hospital produced her latest published book ‘Ask’ (‘It kept me sitting down to recuperate’, she says).

Daphne is Patron of Fen Bank Greyhound Sanctuary; Patron of Donington (Lincolnshire) Horticultural Society, for whom she provides support of various kinds when needed, and an Honorary Member of Darley Dale (Derbyshire) Horticultural Society, to whom she has given several lectures and made appearances as a team member of Gardeners’ Question Time. She is also a committee member of Celebrate Surfleet, a local organisation aimed at kindling a community spirit in the village, which, to date, has organised three fetes, each one more successful than the last, and two dog shows in aid of Fen Bank Greyhound Sanctuary.

Obviously, time does not allow for many hobbies, but Daphne and John are constantly at work on their 18th century Lincolnshire thatched cottage – Daphne usually the ‘brains', and the inventive John, the ‘brawn' (“he's much better at DIY than I am!”); and the wood and wildlife project at The Patch. Because of the dogs, they usually travel the country by caravan, and the few holidays that time will allow are also spent in the UK. ‘When I've seen all the beautiful places in Britain and become tired of revisiting them,” states Daphne, “only then will I look abroad for my holidays.”