Graham Ross finally learnt the family secret his grandmother had always kept from him, just before she died.
The Better Homes And Gardens star was astonished to discover his great uncle was also a horticulturalist who worked for two kings and three queens, and helped landscape the grounds of Buckingham Palace.
‘I knew nothing about it until my grandmother was on the verge of dying, and I was absolutely gobsmacked,’ says the veteran radio and TV favourite, who has entertained and inspired Australia’s green thumbs for more than 50 years.
‘She didn’t tell me beforehand because she wanted me to find my own path in life, not be influenced by other people,’ he laughs. ‘But it was pretty clear what I was going to do by then, so she thought it was safe to tell me.’
Graham turns 70 in October – about the time his third grandchild is due – but it takes more than age or several life-threatening bouts with cancer to slow him down.
‘I’ve had a couple of nasty skin cancers, and I’m a prostate [cancer] survivor,’ he says. ‘They thought I had bowel cancer there for a while, but at the moment I don’t, which is good.
‘I lost my whole bottom lip a while ago – had to have it razored off – that was the most serious. There was a major skin cancer heading down my cheek into my throat, carotid artery and lymph glands.
‘The doctor told me if they hadn’t got to it when they did, if it had been just five or six weeks later, I wouldn’t be here now.
‘Australia is full of it, you know, and with outdoor hobbies like gardening you really need to be very careful, so I always warn people to watch out and use plenty of 50+ sunscreen.
‘When I was head of horticulture at Ryde TAFE I had 76 teachers working with me, and 32 of them have died of cancer. We were exposed to the worst, most carcinogenic chemicals back then, which is why I’m so keen on organic gardening today.’
Seemingly indestructible, Graham has been with BHG since it started in 1995, some 945 episodes ago, and has helped the show grab a record-breaking 12 Logie Awards.
Graham has also broadcast his three-hour radio show, The Garden Clinic, every Saturday and Sunday for the past 37 years, and runs the world’s largest specialist garden tour company with wife Sandra, 71.
Gardening since the age of four, he was just an 11-year-old schoolboy when he started part-time at his local garden centre in Sydney’s southern suburbs.
Qualified in horticulture, park administration, greenkeeping, landscaping and agronomy, Graham has worked as a seeds man, arborist, landscaper, nurseryman, park superintendent and teacher – and won a slew of international industry honours.
‘It’s only gardening, it’s not brain surgery,’ the father-of-two says modestly. ‘I never dreamt my TV and radio career would go on this long, but people and plants are my absolute passion.
‘I love talking to people, and I’m a real old-fashioned storyteller who can talk under water. There aren’t too many people with my qualifications who can do what I do, so I guess that’s why I’m still around.’
For the full story, see this week’s New Idea – Out now.
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