Dirty Nails Survey: Graham Ross

Gardener, author and television presenter Graham Ross has been playing in the dirt for 66 of his 70 years. His obsession began early – planting sweet peas with his dad aged four, learning to smell roses with his mum and talking to plants with his grandmother. From these fertile seeds grew a lifetime of love for gardens and plants, played out on television screens and radios nationally.

Graham has been the face of Channel 7 television show Better Homes and Gardens since it’s first episode, hosts one of the longest running radio programs on Australian radio (the Garden Clinic on 2GB every Saturday morning), and is the founder of the Garden Clinic Club, alongside his wife Sandra and daughter Linda (green genes!). We managed to catch Graham between flights (he reckons Sydney Airport is his second home) to find out more about what is getting under his nails.

Can you please tell us a little about your life with plants? I started gardening with my dad when I was four years old. I planted sweet peas, learnt how to prune roses, fertilised citrus and mucked out local horse stables with my maternal grandfather to collect manure for his veggie garden. By the time I was 11 I was working every weekend – this continued for 10 years (yes, until I was 21) – at our local garden centre. I grew to be a skinny, 6’ tall boy and I knew enough for the manager to give me a job. Of course, my real plant knowledge took off when I commenced my horticulture and gardening certificate training at the Ryde School of Horticulture at 15 (now Ryde TAFE).

What’s getting under your fingernails right now? Lots of dirt, compost and some fresh chicken manure from our coup.

What story would your hands tell us about you? A lot of cuts, Bandaids, rough skin, torn cuticles, split nails, and dry skin from washing with soap every time I come in for a cuppa… They’d say ‘this bloke loves gardening regardless’.

How do you feel about dirt? I absolutely love real dirt. It’s the source of a majority of beneficial bacteria that kids end up with in their gut, balancing their intestines for a long life. The biggest issue today in society, according to Jeff Kennett when I interviewed him on radio recently, is ‘children growing up in high rises without getting their hands in the dirt and dirt under their fingernails, up their nose and in the mouth’. I totally agree, a massive problem ahead.

What are you growing right now? Everything! Roses, daffodils, perennial asters, grafted rare camellias, kangaroo paw hybrids, magnolias, new hydrangeas, Stanhopea orchids, sweet peas, lawns, new northern hemisphere hibiscuses, a full range of vegetables, pansies, calendulas, succulents and my glorious Ginkgo.

Gloves or no gloves when working in the garden? No gloves for weeding but I always wear gloves when handling bagged or potted product – this is essential to ward off any bacterial infection. I’ve always worn gloves on Better Homes and Gardens when handling bagged products, it’s the only responsible thing to do when on television. So when TV presenters don’t that it also ‘gets under my fingernails’.

What did you learn from your family about plants? From my mother I learnt to smell the roses, weed properly, patience and enjoyment of beauty. My parents took the family overseas in 1956 to different countries with different climates. I was inspired by the plants I saw at a young age, it changed my life forever. I also knew then that the world was a fabulous place for gardeners.

My father taught me how to cut edges neatly and mow lawns correctly. I later qualified and worked as a green keeper. My parents were lifelong bowlers so I learnt to appreciate quality turf from 10 years old.

From my birth my grandmother taught me to talk to plants, admire and look closely at them every day. She gave me my gardening genes that go back to 1660 and a connection to working for the Royal Family. I owe her everything.

Tell us something about gardening we can’t find in a reference book. Patience, patience, patience then reward, reward and reward. Then of course failure and success. And after that passion, passion and more passion. And finally, friendship, friendship and more friendship – It’s the fourth dimension of gardening that is possibly the most important yet least written about.

If you were a plant, what would you be? Why? I absolutely love ginkgo trees. I always have from teenage years. My decades of research have only resulted in more admiration for the tree. It was once an Australian native, around here before dinosaurs, probably the source of our coal and diamonds today. In China, and increasingly worldwide, it’s the source orfimmeasurable human health benefits. In 1963 I worked with Paul Payens, an amazing propagator, to create Gingko biloba ‘Fastigiata Winter Gold’, a glorious columnar form that has butter-yellow leaves in late winter. I’ve sold a few hundred over the years. It’s a unique conifer with amazing leaves.

Do you have a remedy for gardeners hands? if so please share it with us! Funny question because Norm, the manager at my first garden centre job, hooked me on barrier cream four times a day – it worked a treat. Sadly, I stopped using it in my late twenties.

Check out Graham’s Garden Clinic Club WEBSITE 

Image at top of post by Luisa Brimble. All other images supplied by Graham Ross.