Gardeners' World star's secret Devon day job and life behind the camera

Frances Tophill in her allotment on Gardeners' World
Frances Tophill in her allotment on Gardeners' World -Credit:BBC

Gardeners' World's Frances Tophill has been delighting viewers since her debut on the BBC show in 2016, but there's much more to this green-fingered presenter than meets the eye. Launching her television career while still at university without any prior TV experience, Frances quickly blossomed into a household name.

She first graced our screens alongside Alan Titchmarsh on ITV's Love Your Garden, having responded to an email seeking enthusiastic gardeners. Since then, she's been involved in programmes such as Grow Your Own At Home With Alan Titchmarsh and Eat, Grow, Love, not to mention authoring five gardening books. And she is now a firm favourite on the Friday night BBC 2 show Gardeners' World.

Away from the cameras, Frances Tophill dedicates herself to a full-time role as head gardener at the Sharpham Trust Gardens in Devon, reports Birmingham Live.

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Despite her busy TV schedule, in 2023, Frances hadn't taken a single day off. She spends five days a week nurturing the gardens at Sharpham and reserves weekends and her 'holidays' for filming Gardeners' World.

Yet, Frances thrives on this bustling routine. She shared her thoughts on balancing both worlds: "I have always struggled with just being a TV presenter. I don't feel it's authentic and I don't get to do the thing I love which is working outside and being with people on my own terms without there being a camera in my face.

"I am always keen to make sure I am working for real as well. I have to book holidays when I want to go away for filming. But Gardeners' World has been very accommodating."

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Frances first delved into the world of gardening while working for ex-Gogglebox personalities and fan favourites, Steph and Dom Parker. As an apprentice gardener, she worked on their prestigious Grade 1-listed Salutation mansion in Kent - a creation by famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and home to award-winning gardens.

Frances spoke about her journey stating: "I'd left school without an idea of what to do, got a job in Marks and Spencer. But there was a gardening job going nearer to home the Salutation Gardens. So, I wandered down to the garden and just asked about it.

"It was Dom and Steph's garden before they were on Gogglebox. They lived in the house and we gardeners kept to ourselves. The apprentice my job did the clearing of the drains, the turning of the compost and made the tea in the mornings for the head gardener."

She credits this opportunity as a classic Victorian-style gardening education that laid the groundwork for her future work. Frances adds: "It was a classic education in Victorian-style horticulture, which was a good foundation for everything that has come since. I have now rejected that wholeheartedly, since moving to Edinburgh and seeing community gardens where everyone works together. It was a real eye-opener."

The presenter has dyslexia, a common learning difficulty that can lead to challenges with reading, writing and spelling, but has not allowed it to impede her career. She has authored five books, including "The Modern Gardener" and "The Container Gardener," and earned her BSc in horticulture with plantsmanship from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in 2013.

Frances shared insights into her academic journey and growing television career: "My degree course was supportive of me doing the TV work, but they never imagined I would ever have a career in TV and it would never have occurred to me.

"I was really shy as a child. When I was a teenager I used to be in bands with my sisters and found it so nerve-wracking I had to give it up. If you had told me then I was going to be a TV presenter I would have said, 'no, no, no!'.

Discussing her initial introduction into television, Frances admitted, "I was terrified when I first did it. I am still very shy. I have to channel something to do it; I have to find something internal that says it isn't really me. I would never have imagined my life as it is now. It's weird, strange and unexpected but it's good."

In terms of her living situation, until recently, Frances had been alternating between staying in her friend's spare bedroom and her reliable van, which she uses for work trips, accompanied by her cherished rescue dog Rua.

She explained: "I got into TV presenting at the age of 23 while I was studying for my degree at Edinburgh Botanics. I had no idea what I was doing or where I was living. I moved back home to Deal in Kent for a bit, then I moved to Bristol, then back home again.

"I now have my own place in Devon. It's my first home. It's very small but I love it. I haven't got all my books and my piano there yet. I'm still in the process of moving in."

Frances also shared that Alan Titchmarsh had expressed concern over her house-buying journey, saying: "I called him the other day to tell him about my new home because he was very concerned about me. I'd been trying to buy a house for years, then it was the pandemic, and it was all very competitive.

"I said if I didn't get it, I could just buy myself a little field and live in my van. He said, 'you can't do that! ' So, I called him to say I got my keys. I will keep my van, though. I need to have a home on wheels."

"It's really important for me to have a space that feels like home when I'm so far away from actual home when I'm filming. Katie Rushworth, my co-presenter on Love Your Garden, often joins me to sit in my van for a tea. And I have Rua, who comes to work with me. He's a great gardener's dog."