Big Allotment’s Fern Britton: ‘I’d like to see Richard Gere stroking his beans!’

TV presenter Fern Britton has pulled on her wellies for a new BBC2 series, The Big Allotment Challenge, a celebration of Britain’s love of all things horticultural, which pits nine pairs of passionate amateur gardeners against each other in a bid to be crowned Britain’s Best Growers.

Under the watchful eye of a panel of experts – award-winning horticulturalist Jim Buttress, floral designer Jonathan Moseley and preserves expert Thane Prince – the contestants will face challenges such as growing perfect radishes and carrots, making jams and curds, and creating a hand-tied bouquet.

Here’s what Fern told the Daily Express about the six-part series…

Is the show only for experienced gardeners?
“Not at all. I hope that new gardeners will come to the programme and learn a lot from it, as well as the seasoned gardeners who will enjoy testing their knowledge against our experts.”

The series feels similar to The Great British Bake-Off. Can it be as successful?
“It would be wonderful. But, more than that, we just hope people watch it and enjoy it. Gardening is accessible to everybody – it’s not sexist, it’s not ageist, anyone can do it. Let’s hope we make an impact. The garden centres should be on standby.”

Did the contestants have any disasters?
“Yes, but we can’t tell you what they are! They’re definitely coming. Each episode is divided into three challenges – grow, make and eat – and there’s usually something very exciting in the grow element, when Jim stands over the teams and watches them dig something up. Sometimes, the produce isn’t quite what they intended, and it’s a great moment of jeopardy.”

Were there tears?
“Yes, and I would give them a big hug and tell them that I knew exactly how it felt, because I’ve stood under the spotlight on Strictly Come Dancing. The contestants all respected each other, though, and encouraged each other every week. The competition was fierce, but friendly.”

There are several naughty double entendres through the series, aren’t there?
“Well, when you start talking about melons, and things ripening, and stroking your runner beans… We couldn’t help it. It certainly provided a few laughs.”

You have a passion for gardening, too, don’t you?
“I’m a keen gardener, yes, but definitely an amateur. Both my parents are very good gardeners and when I was a very little girl, my mum used to put me in the vegetable patch to look after the potatoes and peas. As I got older I gave it a go myself – I wasn’t very good at it, but I’ve gradually learned and my garden has grown.”

What’s your proudest achievement in the garden?
“I’ve had a lot of success growing sweet peas and I love Cosmos.”

What would judge Jim Buttress would make of your garden?
“I often wonder that… I don’t think I’ll be inviting him round.”

Who would be your ideal gardening partner?
“I rather hope that Richard Gere would be a good gardener. I have a bit of a thing for him. I’d like to see him stroking his beans!”

How would you fare teaming up with your husband [chef Phil Vickery]?
“Phil is one of those people who is full of energy and enthusiasm, and always has something on the go. Whatever happened, I’d end up being his lackey. He is very easy to work with, up until that moment that all chefs have when they explode. So I’d be doing the gardening equivalent of chopping and washing up, and he’d be marshalling everything else.”

The Big Allotment Challenge, BBC2, Tuesday, April 15