My goodness, it doesn’t seem that long ago, but it was twenty five years ago, whilst I was sitting in the BBC Radio 5 Live studio doing my regular Saturday morning gardening slot on the Morning Show when the presenter, Jon Briggs, mentioned that he was just about to become a launch presenter on a new shopping channel called QVC. He said that they were planning DIY shows, so why didn’t I contact them to see if they were interested in having a gardening show as well?
I did get in touch and a few months later, in February 1994, I guested my first one hour gardening show on QVC. It was a wet Saturday afternoon, and I spent the entire hour talking about five garden tools. The big challenge was that we had no props, no boxes of soil, so I had to talk about each tool (trowels, forks, digging spades etc.) for about ten minutes and had no way of demonstrating how to use them. It felt as far removed from proper hands on gardening as it could be. Much to my amazement, the buyer rushed in at the end of the show to say how well it had done, we’d had £1300 of sales in the hour. Subsequent shows did £300 and £400, and considering the huge overheads, I was concerned that although QVC was a brilliant idea, it might be unsustainable and that the American owners would pull the plug. But, thank goodness, they had faith in it, QVC started to attract some great brands, and the sales begin to really take off.
Initially the shows were called QVC gardening but then, in 1998, the name changed to Richard Jackson’s Garden, and this coming weekend we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of these shows. Initially, we just sold garden sundries, but the big change occurred when we started to sell plants too. I’d been lobbying for this for a few years as I felt it would give us a much more balanced show, and, also, I’d get the chance to talk about some of my favourite plants. I introduced Thompson & Morgan to the buyer and then was given the hugely enjoyable job of working with T&M to choose and develop a special range for me to sell on QVC. I just loved it, and so did the QVC customers, we had some amazing sales and some fabulous sell-out Today’s Special Value offers on plants.
A few years on, the gardening industry began to realise just how big QVC gardening had become and I was delighted when other top names like Hayloft Plants and Luxform joined us. And today, our current range of plants and products is even better than ever, and I really do feel that our shows are, as I often say ‘just like a friend taking you around a garden centre and picking out the best you can buy’.
It’s been such fun over the years working with the different presenters, Julia was one of the first I worked with and she’s been a wonderful friend ever since, encouraging, helping and guiding me over the years. All the presenters are great fun to work with, mind you, one or two of them are getting very cheeky. I was called a little garden gnome the other day! As you may know, I have an earpiece, and the production team can talk to me during the show and, occasionally, they tease me too, which is why, on one or two occasions, I have ended up crying with laughter. Once, at 1.30 in the morning, Dale and I were discussing some apricot shades begonia tubers when our producer, Clare, made a very funny comment and the two of us ended up laughing so much, we couldn’t speak. For more than two minutes, live on air!
But there’s one thing that has given me more pleasure than anything else in the past twenty years. It’s the number of customers who have got in touch to say that they’ve got into gardening because they’ve watched us on QVC. And that having bought a pack of plants or a tub of Flower Power from us, they’ve found they’ve started to like gardening. We’ve helped them discover a new hobby and, over the years, I hope they get as much enjoyment from it as I have.
As I celebrate my 20 years of Richard Jackson’s garden on QVC, I’m delighted to say that another member of my family will be joining the QVC family soon. My son Nick, has developed a healthy and gluten free pasta, made from chickpea and lentil. It’s 40% lower in carbs, higher in protein than ordinary pasta and tastes so much better than the gluten free options I’ve tried from the supermarkets. Nick will be launching his pasta on QVC the Andi Peter’s Food Fest in May. Discover more on rootonefood.co.uk
In the meantime, tune in from 9am this Saturday 14th April and all day Sunday 15th for my gardening show, when we’ll have loads of plants and gardening tools to get you in the mood for gardening plus Will Gowing will be with us to answer your questions on Social Media.