Sheffield childhood sowed seeds of a life in gardening for RHS chief

Caption: Sue Biggs, head of the Royal Horticultural Society. 

Sue Biggs, RHS Director General.
Caption: Sue Biggs, head of the Royal Horticultural Society. Sue Biggs, RHS Director General.
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As director general of the Royal Horticultural Society, Sue Biggs is one of the key players in setting the agenda for gardening nationally.

Though as a young schoolgirl growing up on Caxton Road in Broomhill, Sheffield, she initially took some convincing that the green-fingered life was really for her.

“For my seventh birthday my mum gave me a pack of seeds and a little baby trowel.

“I thought ‘What a rotten present’ – I opened the seeds and they were just these grey dusty things,” she recalled.

“But I got my own square yard of the garden, and my mum said ‘No, no, trust me’, so we planted them, watered them in and I waited, and she said ‘In 12 weeks time you’ll get your real present’.”

The unprepossessing gift turned out to be Virginia scented stock seeds and, within a short time, ‘all these amazing jewel-like flowers came up’, Sue said.

“I couldn’t believe it. It was like magic and I’ve been hooked on gardening ever since.”

Life took Sue away from Sheffield, first to Nottingham University and then a home down south, but the connection to the city is still strong – sisters in Crosspool and Ranmoor, and regular visits to her ‘favourite place in the world’ – Chatsworth, set to be the venue for the biggest new RHS show in years next summer.

The gardening celebration will happen from June 7 to 11, 2017 in the grounds of the house, joining the organisation’s calendar of events, including shows at Tatton Park, Hampton Court and Chelsea.

Last month the Sheffield Telegraph reported that the site will cover 28 acres, dwarfing Chelsea’s 11-acre plot, the turnout is estimated at 80,000 over five days and the cost is set to run into millions.

Plant exhibitions themed around habitats such as woodland, Mediterranean and jungle will be held in a 14-metre-tall recreation of gardener and architect Joseph Paxton’s Great Conservatory, which was built in 1840 and demolished in 1920, and three large ‘floral bridges’ will span the River Derwent. Show gardens will have a theme of ‘cutting edge design’ and ‘future heritage’, with a deadline of August 8 set for entries.

Advance tickets are on sale now, priced from £32.50 for each full day and £21.50 for afternoon tickets.

n Visit www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chatsworth-flower-show to book.