The Express – TV gardener Alys Fowler of “Great British Garden Revival”: ‘My style is messy but colourful’

By: Tricia Welch
Published: Sun, May 4, 2014

Alys, 36, started gardening at the age of eight. She went on to study at the Royal Horticultural Society and New York Botanical Garden before presenting the BBC’s Gardeners’ World, her own series The Edible Garden and Great British Garden Revival, which is back later his year. Alys lives in Birmingham with her husband Holiday, an artist, and their dog Isobel.

How would you describe your style?
Messy but colourful.

Which shapes and colours suit you best?
I suit old, particularly 50s-style dresses, which is a good thing as most of my wardrobe comes from second-hand shops. I love patterns, sludgy colours, autumnal tones and brights.

What is your favourite fashion era?
I like them all. Every era has at least one fashion moment, even if the rest of it is best forgotten.

What is your favourite high-street shop?
Toast. They make really good jackets and dresses, and have excellent sales. And locally there’s a fab vintage shop run by a friend who’ll ring me if something great comes in.

Who are your favourite designers?
Marni, Marc Jacobs and Bottega Veneta – but only to look at.

What is your best beauty secret?
A face cream called Honey Balm made by a friend of mine who’s a beekeeper.

Are you a hoarder or do you clear out your wardrobe each season?
I never throw anything away. If I don’t wear something any more, I’ll recycle it around friends and family.

Are you a fan of vintage?
Yes, through and through. I love the skill and labour involved in the design and sewing, which you don’t get in modern, mass-produced clothes. I also like the rarity value – you are unlikely to bump into someone wearing something identical.

How many shoes and handbags do you own?
I don’t own any handbags – I have rucksacks and use an army bucket that my dad bought for me when I was 17 to carry my everyday stuff. I have a lot of work boots and wellingtons (over 20 pairs) but fashion wise, I like Swedish Hasbeens clogs and Salt Water sandals, which are great for gardening.

What is a typical gardening outfit?
I wear my everyday clothes. I know a lot of people put on their scruffiest things but because I garden all the time, I’d look homeless if I did that. I made a conscious decision long ago to look as nice as I can. Plus I find it easier and more comfortable to garden in a dress.

So fashion and gardening can be compatible?
Yes. I think if you like fashion, you are going to like gardening. They are both about texture and colour and design. Both processes are very creative.

What is the best piece of fashion advice you have ever been given?
At 20, I was lucky enough to have lunch with Quentin Crisp when I was living in New York. He told me fashion isn’t important but cultivating your own personal style is. Looking around the restaurant, he picked out the best-dressed people and none of them was wearing the latest trends. I’ve followed his advice ever since.

What is your current favourite outfit?
A 70s Welsh blanket cape that goes over everything. Most people say it’s hideous but I think they’re wrong – it’s so cool.

How much do you spend on clothes each month?
Very little. I tend to splash out on one quality item each season, then wait for the Toast sale. I reckon I spend around £300 a year.

What is the most expensive item in your wardrobe?
A pair of Swedish Hasbeens clogs that cost about £240. My best bargain was a 50s dress I rescued from a skip.

What did you wear to get married in?
A vintage Empire-line wedding dress that I bought in the King’s Road – it had a really long train with embroidered cherubs. I wore it with the train wrapped around my shoulders – a bit like a toga.

What is the oldest item in your wardrobe?
Most of it is old.

What is the one item of clothing you couldn’t live without?
A dress that my mother made from an African print fabric that I wore throughout my twenties. It’s falling apart now but I still love it.

What is your favourite piece of jewellery?
A coral and silver necklace that my friend Anna gave me. I wear it constantly.

Have you ever made a fashion faux pas?
Tons.

What is the most crushing remark anyone has made about your clothes?
I like to think it’s more endearing than crushing when my husband comments on my outfits. A typical observation is “that’s very Robin Hood” or “you look like a Hobbit”.

What item of clothing would you save from a burning house?
Nothing. I’d just grab my dog. Don’t get me wrong, I love fashion but it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It’s not life or death. Like gardening, I think you should take it to a point but beyond that you need to let go. It’s not good to be fanatical about anything.