Soho’s Secret Gardeners – Andre Smith: Cultivating Emotional Wellbeing through Gardening

What does gardening mean to you? Secret Gardeners explores our connections to nature and community, and the reasons why we love to garden. 

In this edition we had the pleasure of visiting gardener and presenter Andre Smith’s tranquil balcony garden in Soho, where we spoke about his gardening journey and the joy he finds in green-fingered pursuits.


Name: Andre Smith

Location: Soho, London

When we visit Andre’s home, it’s entering the Summer months and the balcony has an array of roses, campanula, bright red geraniums, an acer, yucca, rosemary, and his favourite: Arum lilies (Zantedeschia).

 Andre Smith in his balcony garden in Soho

Above: Andre in his garden

It’s a wonderful sight for the eyes, and we wonder if the garden has an ideally located position or other secret of mother nature which has allowed the plants to thrive (Andre has had one of his plants for 30 years!) But, as Andre explains, the balcony faces east and only has two hours of sun per day. “People say that you must have full sunlight or the right conditions to grow plants like this on a balcony,” he says, “but as long as plants have daylight then they’ll grow!”

Balcony gardens: the outdoor vase

Having a relatively small space to work with, Andre treats his garden as ‘an outdoor vase;’ the arrangement and variety of flowering plants are changed and refreshed each season to bring colour to the balcony at different times of year. As one would cut blooms to arrange as part of an indoor ensemble, Andre’s balcony is a gloriously assembled collage that tests the boundaries of indoor/outdoor planting when your garden is an extension of your home – and everything is in pots.

The tall Brugmansia (Brazil’s white angel trumpet) enjoys a sunny spot indoors ahead of its flowering season, when it will grow magnificent trumpet-shaped white flowers, but as an evergreen plant it is equally happy to grow outdoors during the warmer months. As the plants are not in fixed positions, they are able to be removed, replanted, and rearranged as though they were in a vase.

Brugmansia Brazil's angel trumpet flower

Above: Andre's Brugmansia

Andre’s approach to gardening involves piecing together a series of ‘moments,’ each designed to give the owner the environment to enjoy what it is they need from their outdoor space. As we talk about his balcony and the joy it brings, his passion for enabling others to find joy in their own gardens is evident.

Digging Deep: from backyards to the big screen

Back in 2006, Andre co-hosted the heartwarming BBC series Digging Deep, alongside his then gardening partner, Amanda Brook. Together, they transformed gardens with an aim to improve the owner’s wellbeing.

SFG: How did the two of you come together as a gardening duo? 

AS: Amanda, who was a friend of mine, asked me one day if I was free to help her in the garden. When we got out there, I remember asking questions about her space and found I held a language of gardens that I didn’t even know I had.

Andre and Amanda then began working together as a duo called Glorious Gardens, transforming gardens into beautiful spaces designed for their owners. Their interests and skills complemented each other; Andre was passionate about the spiritual side of the garden as a healing space, and Amanda knew the Latin name for every plant and how to look after them. One day, they found themselves working for a TV producer who was captivated by their personalities as a duo – and the rest is history.


“Gardening was never something I had decided upon, most of my life I’ve just fallen into these serendipitous moments where I say yes to things, and it’s been quite an adventure.” – Andre Smith

SFG: Gardening can be incredibly therapeutic. How does your garden contribute to your own emotional healing and happiness?

AS: I’m entering my 30th year of living in this flat. My garden started out as just a few plants, and over the years it has grown into itself; it’s my moment of joy. It’s very easy in a block like this to live in a municipal way and not have a single plant, but I think it’s good for your mental well-being. Every time I come out onto my balcony it makes me smile and I feel better. I tell my neighbours they’ll feel better, too. It’s a part of me, in a way. I’d really miss this if I didn’t have it. 

Red geraniums grow on the balcony

Above: red geraniums grow on Andre's balcony

SFG: As an experienced gardener, what advice would you give to someone who is new to gardening and looking to start their own green space, even if it's just a small balcony like yours?

AS: My balcony is such a small space it's difficult to plan a design for it, but you don’t need one! All you need is a planter to hang from the balcony railing and some small flowers. It doesn’t matter if they die, you’ll feel better for having them. (If Andre’s plants die, he heads to Columbia Road in search of hardy replacements.)

What flowers does Andre recommend? Geraniums are a hardy favourite and will grow even in the adverse conditions of a windy balcony. “It doesn’t matter if you forget to water them, they lovingly just keep blooming and blooming.”

Success isn’t a garden worthy of a medal; to Andre, success is found in how your garden can help and heal.

SFG: Do you have a favourite plant?

AS: I like things that announce themselves and have presence. The Zantedeschia (Arum lily) flowers between May and June to give the most gorgeous cream flowers. They are dramatic but don’t demand attention.


Arum lilies grow in Andre's garden

Above: Andre's Arum lily (right), and his Acer (left)

SFG: What’s the garden tool you use most?

AS: I can’t get a big spade out here, so my small hand fork does the job nicely.

SFG: What’s next for your space?

AS: I wait until the garden tells me it’s tired and exhausted before I start thinking about the next move. As we’re increasingly having mild winters, we’re able to grow plants for longer after the summer months if the frost isn’t too bad. When my summer flowers die off, I’ll get some shady plants like Euphorbias and Fatsias, and in the winter I might get plants like Cyclamen. 

The roof garden above Andre's building

Above: the community roof garden

After we tour Andre’s balcony, he shows up to the rooftop. The garden spans the length of the block and is filled with a vast array of plants – from towering trees to beds planted with flowering summer plants in bright colours.

Cistus purpureus and a flowering cordyline

Above: a flowering Cordyline and Cistus purpureus (rock rose) on the roof

SFG: It’s a lovely example of what a community can put together and keep as a space for everyone to enjoy. How did the garden come about?

AS: There was a grant given to the residents some years ago, which helped to get the garden started with some furniture and containers. The garden is a huge space and it’s looked after by the residents. I will water some of the plants, and my neighbours will water others. For those of us that want to, we can come up here and relax or do some gardening.

Arum lilies and Erigeron grow on the rooftop

Above: Erigeron and Arum lilies amongst the planting on the rooftop

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With thanks to Andre for showing us around his beautiful garden.