Fitness Interview: Gardener Joseph Ford
Gardener Joseph Ford reveals how botany can sculpt the perfect body, and why his destructive addiction to sugar changed his diet for the better
Images > Markus Bidaux
How long have you been a gardener?
My family has links to Great Dixter, a Tudor house in Kent with a famous 20th-century Arts and Crafts garden, where my grandfather was one of the gardeners and my grandmother was the housekeeper. I would like to think that some of that horticultural knowledge distilled down into me. My parents were also farmers, and even after they sold the farm, I still had a real passion for plants, particularly orchids, that grow in our woodlands. I went to college in Lewes to study general horticulture and that was, gosh, nearly half my life ago. Since then I have trained with the Royal Horticultural Society and done conservation work in Ecuador. I have honed that experience and now run my own consultancy business. I do everything from complete garden makeovers to acting as head gardener for an existing garden. I also lecture and do horticultural tours.
Do you find manual labour helps you keep fit?
The actual work a gardener does is very much on your hands and knees all the time. I am toiling and trying to manipulate my body into tight spaces in amongst plants that are very delicate, like the dainty ramifications of a small Acer with fine twigs that I don’t want to break off, but I need to move a 25kg concrete planter next to it without snapping anything. So I find myself stressing and straining my body in ways you really shouldn’t.
What does your fitness routine consist of?
I really enjoy waking up and having a very healthy, leisurely breakfast and then doing increments of press-ups, interspersed with abdominal exercises, pull-ups and lots of squats. I am really trying to work on my glutes and leg muscles to balance my body more because I, like most people, am lazy and bend from my back. I want a bigger arse so I can better support that strength. After work, I like nothing more than thrashing out some laps in the pool wearing my waterproof headphones. In the garden I get to have a lot of fun, too. I can often be in a situation where I’m up a tree pruning something and I can then start swinging around like a monkey.
How do you keep yourself motivated?
Now that I have hit 30-plus, I have noticed my body does not respond as quickly as it used to. The fact that I started putting on a little weight scared the hell out of me. I started with less than half an hour of exercise a day and just built that up over time. Then I started to see results, as the fat began to strip away and the muscles tone and grow. It’s true what they say, that as soon as you see growth it becomes addictive. Now I can’t go a day without doing something, as it is so exciting to garden my own body and bring about this state of growth and potential.
How important is food to your regime?
I discovered I was allergic to sugar after seeing several health specialists. I had damaged my pancreas so much from my sugar abuse that I can now no longer process normal foods properly, meaning I’m not getting the full nutrition out of everything I eat. This forces me to eat highly- nutritious, low-glycemic foods very regularly every two to three hours. The sweetest thing I can have is cucumber and avocado. Beyond that, I eat loads of leafy greens, cabbage, kale, broccoli and radishes. I have loads of garlic and ginger, and then masses of protein, which builds and repairs everything in my body. This all does me a treat. I feel energised, youthful, my skin feels better. I have hardly any fat on me and my head feels clearer than ever. And all that keeps me going when I have to eat every few hours from six in the morning to nine at night.
What foods and drinks do you avoid?
I avoid anything in brightly-coloured packaging! I even avoid fruit, as it is actually very high in sugar. When I go shopping, I buy bare-naked ingredients; organic if I can source it. I haven’t drunk alcohol since I was 16 and had a misdemeanour in college when some of us got very drunk and managed to set fire to a wing of the building. No one got hurt, and I’m sure the insurance paid out handsomely and the college got a brand-new wing, but it scared me off drinking for the rest of my life. So I have not had a drink in 17 years.
Do you take supplements?
I have to take chromium, because it heals my pancreas and suppresses my cravings for sugar. I also realised when I started drinking over two litres of water a day that my body loves taking in water. This does not work for everyone, but I often drink six litres of water a day, which helps stop my craving for sugar.
In the morning, I have a special cocktail of psyllium husks for fibre, in a pint of water, with two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar for the probiotic goodness that helps me strip away fat and keep my gut healthy, a mouthful of turmeric for its brilliant anti-inflammatory properties, and a sprinkling of Himalayan pink sea salt, which kicks my adrenalin into action for the rest of the day. All together it’s gross so I add some lime juice to try and improve the flavour. I take branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) and creatine if I feel I’m not getting enough protein or I’m doing a heavy weights session.
Do you have any grooming tips?
Get sugar-waxed! It’s my favourite thing in the world. I love that feeling of clean, fresh skin. I get a lot sugared, from my nose hairs and the back of my neck to my shoulders, back and further down all the way beneath the undercarriage.
I have been moisturising since I was at primary school. And for the past decade I have been using an SPF 5-15 moisturiser.