Meet Attitude's brand new gardening columnist Michael Perry, aka Mr Plant Geek

2016-08-25
Michael Perry, aka Mr Plant Geek, set tongues wagging when he appeared on ITV’s This Morning earlier this year, and now he’s sharing his green-fingered tips with Attitude readers. From home-grown fitness and healthy eating to sprucing up your home and garden, there’s no better expert when it comes to homo horticulture. As he joins Attitude, we caught up with the "small town boy from Suffolk" turned "modern day plant hunter" to find out a little more about him... So where did your interest in horticulture start? It started with my grandparents when I was 4 or 5 years old; they would babysit me and they were into plants and gardening so picked it up from them really. When you’re at school it’s not cool to be interested in plants, so I used to hide that from my friends. And when I was at home and wasn’t out with my friends on bikes or whatever, I was in the greenhouse, doing things with my magical garden of plants. And by the time I was 12 or 13 years old I was selling plants through a small mail order herb nursery I set up. It was super embarrassing, but I loved it and that’s what I wanted to do. So you felt like you had to hide you passion for plants at that age? Yes. I mean I often think about this. It’s quite different now, youngsters are encouraged to be individuals but when I was young you had to almost be the same. You really stood out if you were different. Having an interest in plants and working in the school garden was marking me out as really different, and I wanted to hide that. And to look at it a bit deeper, I guess the effeminate side of me, I was trying to not show that either. Do you still feel that gardening still has those effeminate connotations? Yeah, I mean that’s what got me into it initially. I often say it's the only thing I was good at, which may be a bit harsh, but it was definitely the one thing that came naturally to me! per Was gardening something you turned to more as you came to terms with your sexuality? You know what, it’s the first time I’m actually thinking about it! But the fact that I used to spend most of my spare time on my own in my parents' garden, perhaps I was escaping from the fact I was different from my friends. I didn’t necessarily have that many friends when I was at school, and perhaps I was in hiding from the fact that they wouldn't accept me. I didn’t come out until I was 21, and I didn't even have that awareness about my sexuality until I was about 19 or 20. I'd developed this real keen interest [in gardening] that distracted me from my sexuality. There was a lot tied up in that, I guess gardening and plants were a release from facing up to reality. In this era of healthy eating, clean living, do you feel like there's been a renewed interest in gardening, especially among gay men? I think more and more people want to get outside and be active, and one of the best ways to be active is actually to get out in the garden and dig - it's good cardio! There's also a big range of things you can grow, whether it's health foods for smoothies, things like that. It all goes hand in hand. And it is proven that people can feel a lot better mentally if they are outdoors and active. When it comes to relationships, do you look for other green-fingered individuals? [laughs] Not really, but it is surprising how many homosexuals there are in the horticultural world! They do seem to come hand in hand. To be honest there’s a real subculture of the LGBT community in horticulture. A lot of people who are gardeners in stately homes are homosexuals. And I'm part of a group called the Grubby Gardeners, which is made up of people that work in horticulture and I'd say 75% of them are gay, which is interesting. Your appearance on this This Morning a few weeks back certainly made an impression on viewers - how did you find that attention? [laughs] It was really flattering. It was nice to raise awareness about gardening, but I’ve not quite got heartthrob status yet! You get some odd comments from people on Twitter, but I've become quite immune to it.  Sometimes people can be a bit too graphic! per 2 Your work must be a great way to keep yourself in shape too. Yeah, I’m a keen cross fitter, and heavy weights. I’m more of a geek than a gardener when it comes to plants, but for some events I’ll be lugging heavy plants around. I think getting outside and being active, gardening, and eating healthy food helps. Healthy eating and gardening go hand-in-hand. Were you ever conscious about your body? I think we're all fussy about our own bodies. I always wanted to be a couple of inches shorter! I always felt very tall and lanky, like an unattractive bean pole! So three or four years ago I tried to build up a bit, especially my chest. My body and looks have changed a lot in that time. As a show gardener, I take a lot of time to make sure I look as good as I can. It’s hard to keep eating healthy, but I try my best! What would you say to someone thinking of taking up gardening? I'd say that wherever you are, even if you've just got a balcony or a window box. Everyone can grow something - whether it's tomatoes, herbs or edible flowers. Think about the things you’d like to grow or eat. It might not work out the first time, but it’ll be worth it when you taste it for the first time! So just experiment, it doesn’t have to be hard. It should be fun. Look out for Michael's columns on attitude.co.uk. Follow him on Twitter @mr_plantgeek, and be sure to visit mrplantgeek.com for more. 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