Michael is Suffolk's own Plant Geek
PUBLISHED: 20:00 08 May 2019 | UPDATED: 11:16 10 May 2019
Suffolk "Plant Geek" Michael Perry is the ambassador for Garden Day on May 12. Here he talks about his life with plants and the how gardens contribute to mental health and well-being.
Being celebrated nationwide for the first time in 2019, Garden Day is a non-commercial, community event encourages people to set aside their trowels and dibbers and spend the day with friends, family and neighbours recognising the benefits that gardens, plants and outdoor spaces bring to our mental health and wellbeing. It marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week on May 13.
Ambassador for Garden Day, looking florally appropriate, is Suffolk's Michael Perry, aka the Plant Geek - that's the description he happily embraces, not something I made up.
He says: "I'm a plant geek and always have been. Of course, during my cool teenage years, I tried to hide it."
Now he makes no attempt to hide it. "You just need to check out my website and social media feeds to see that the obsession shows no signs of letting up..."
It has long been said that an Englishman's home is his garden. And although the world seems a much more indoor place, today, with people glued to television, computer games and social media, gardens have never been more popular and Michael Perry, whose interest in plants dates back to when he was just five-years-old, is one of the great advocates of the joys of gardening.
"I have more than 18 years experience in the horticultural industry, and seem to have become a recognisable face in the plant world (possibly thanks to my relaxed attitude to selfies with my favourite plants!)."
Michael has travelled the world in search of plant life, often taking on 100km treks but he adds: "You also need to know that I'm possibly a tiny, tiny bit lazy. But, this means I'm one of the best people to come to for gardening shortcuts (hacks). Gardening has a habit of seeming quite over-complicated, and it doesn't need to be that way.
He is keen for people to find gardening a simple pleasure... which, to me, reinforces his East Anglian credentials. He says: "I was born in Suffolk to a father from Essex and a mother from Greece. I went to school in the area, and had my first 18 years of career in the area too. Even though I now travel around the world, Suffolk is always very close to my heart, and I really appreciate its beauty. My 18 year career with Thompson and Morgan really gave me fantastic experience in the industry, and was right on my doorstep."
Thompson & Morgan, which sells plants, seeds and other items worldwide, was founded in 1855 and is based in Ipswich.
His high profile today is in contrast to his shyness as a boy.
"Until, perhaps, my mid-20s, I was very shy and retiring. However, as I became more confident in my career, things change. Also, plants became more mainstream, which meant in turn that I was no longer embarrassed about my one passion in life."
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Confusingly for older journalists, Michael calls himself "a digital nomad". What is one of those?
"It's somebody that doesn't necessarily have a full-time location, and they manage their work by means of mobile devices, whether that's a phone or a laptop. My life has been fantastic for the last three years, travelling all around the world lecturing and demonstrating my love of plants. Being a digital nomad has helped me to do this, and I don't have one particular place I would call home right now! Quite a freeing feeling!"
It seems to me that Michael is the natural successor of the great plant-hunters of the past - the likes of John Tradescant who lived from the 1570s to 1638. Gardener to royal favourites, he travelled was also a naturalist, plant collector and traveller... and was probably born in Suffolk.
Michael smiles when I make the association. "Perhaps I am (their successor)! I have good contact with the whole network of plant breeders around the world and have visited many over the years, To be honest, social media and the internet has really helped really helped that reach."
Like Tradescant, Michael has been responsible for introducing hundreds of new plants into the UK, most notably novelties such as the Egg and Chips plant and the Fuchsia Berry
Which plants does he find the most fascinating - and what does he grow in his own garden?
"Oh gosh! This question is always really hard. My usual answer would be an iris. I have fond memories of painting an iris onto a stone for my grandma when I was very young. I also love the beauty of the flowers, and a wide range of colours shapes and styles that are available.
As the ambassador for Garden Day, what will Michael be doing to mark the occasion?
"I will be having a day that combines two of my favourite hobbies, which are lovely flowers and vintage cars. I'll be attending a classic car rally and also enjoying the wonderful gardens of Burghley House. I will also have a nice picnic on the lawn, surrounded by beautiful plants and classic cars!
"I've loved being outside ever since I was a child. Interacting with nature is so good for us, yet many people find it easier to laze indoors. I am supporting Garden Day because I want to change that. There are so many benefits to getting outside, learning about plants and spending time with family and friends. You don't even have to have your own garden to enjoy the benefits.
It is accepted that there is a relationship between plants and gardens and a state of good mental health, which Michael welcomes.
"The intrinsic link between plants and well-being has been recognised more and more, and I couldn't be happier. I think lots of people are looking for the opportunity to slow down, and realising the plants give that outlet."