Geoff was born on 15th August 1936 in East London and moved, shortly after, to Broxbourne in the heart of the Lea Valley, where he began to develop his passion for gardening at the back of the new family home. School holidays were spent expanding his knowledge, whilst helping out at local nurseries. In 1959 he gained a National Diploma in Horticulture from Writtle Agricultural College in Essex.
The skills and techniques he learned at college gave him the platform to set out as a freelance landscape gardener, and from there he began to expand his knowledge and gain the all-important experience that he later passed on with huge energy to his sons: Stephen, Nicholas and Christopher. Always a forward thinker, in 1970 Geoff moved his family to Kettering in Northants to begin a new project; a Garden Centre. A dilapidated building on a plot of land was soon transformed into a thriving business where Geoff promoted the plants above all else, which was quite unusual, even then. The Garden Centre is where Geoff really developed his deep love of plants and it was this passion that stay with him for the rest of his life.
During this time Geoff also began writing for Garden News, which soon led to him being asked to present 'Gardening Diary' on Anglia Television. In 1975 he joined the Garden News Team. Two years later Geoff was asked to take over as editor of Practical Gardening magazine, where he began his crusade to inform everyone about the joy and pleasure to be found in gardening. By this time, he had moved into a house on the Barnsdale Hall estate and was renting some land at the top of the hill. It is this plot of land that featured in the pictures that supported his magazine work and it was during this time that he was asked to do a guest appearance on Gardeners' World from what is now known as 'The Original Barnsdale'.
As a natural in front of the camera, Geoff soon won a permanent place at Gardeners' World and in 1979 he joined the team. Filming from the original site was a huge success, however, Geoff found that there was little room to experiment and so he began to look for a suitable alternative. In 1983, he found it. Just one mile away, a Victorian farmhouse with over 5 acres of land - 'Barnsdale' was born! Two years later Gardeners' World was well established in its new home with Geoff's down to earth style making him a hit with the viewers. It was here that he continued to present the show, developing the individual garden designs, experimenting with plants, themes and ideas to inspire the nation to get outside and have a go. And it was here that he earned the reputation of being the ‘People’s Gardener’ – and this spirit lives on today at Barnsdale Gardens.
Geoff was a firm believer and pioneer in organic gardening and Barnsdale was his 'great experiment' in peat free and chemical free growing. These techniques have been continued and the gardens at Barnsdale remain an outstanding example of these organic principles.
The work that Geoff started not only continues in the gardens at Barnsdale but also through the charity set up in his memory. Geoff's passion was gardening, in all its many varied forms, and his mission was to encourage as many people as possible to experience the pride, satisfaction and downright joy that gardening can bring. He felt both amateurs as well as professionals could benefit in all these ways from being in the garden, which is why he always said that there was nothing better than a career in horticulture. Therefore, Geoff Hamilton's New Gardeners' Foundation was created in Geoff's memory by a donation from Catalyst TV to support students at his old college, Writtle College in Chelmsford, Garden Organic near Coventry and here at Barnsdale Gardens. Annual bursaries are given of up to £4000 for students of any age and level studying practical horticulture. The foundation is funded by donations and by the sale, both at the Gardens or via the this web site, of a video compiled from Gardeners' World programmes, showing Geoff working on projects and seasonal jobs in the TV gardens at Barnsdale.
For further information, please see the official web site: ghngf.org.uk.
For information on how to apply to work and learn at Barnsdale Gardens, click here.