||Tom Hart Dyke first shot to international prominence in 2000, when he was kidnapped in the Panamanian jungle on a plant hunting expedition that went dangerously wrong.
Tom and his travelling companion, Paul Winder, were taken hostage while trekking through ‘The Darien Gap’, a dangerous place abandoned by all to warring guerrilla factions.
Tom and Paul were captured on Tom’s sister’s birthday - 16th March 2000 - and were held for nine months; released in time for Christmas on 16th December 2000.
The idea for the World Garden was born in the depths of despair in the Colombian jungle. At Midday on June 16th 2000, three months into their kidnap ordeal, Tom and his fellow captive Paul Winder, were told to prepare to die that night. Paul spent the afternoon of that fateful day in prayer, but Tom decided that the best course of action would be to spend his final day on Earth designing his dream garden! He spent the day drawing plans, in his diary, for a World Garden – containing the plants he’d collected from across the globe, planted out in their respective countries of origin.
Luckily for Tom, Paul and their families, the boys were not executed. After Tom’s return home to his ancestral home of Lullingstone Castle, near Sevenoaks, in Kent, Tom and Paul (Winder) penned the best selling book The Cloud Garden (Transworld: 2003) detailing their experiences in the jungle. Tom’s jungle antics – building gardens in the mountains, much to the annoyance of his captors - cemented his reputation as a ‘plant nut’.
A Dangerous Obsession
In 2001 Tom travelled to South East Asia with KEO films to make A Dangerous Obsession (Channel 4: 2002) – the story of Tom’s search for an orchid to name after his beloved Granny Mary Hart Dyke (nicknamed ‘Crac’ by Tom). Tom’s search for an unnamed species was fruitless but the subsequent programme brought him to the attention of many. Kathryn Flett from The Observer named him ‘the new David Bellamy’ for his enthusiasm for his beloved subject – ‘orchids’.
Since his release from captivity, Tom has been busy building the 'World' in his back garden at Lullingstone Castle. Under the watchful eye of KEO Films/BBC, the man, known locally as 'the Plant Nut', was filmed commandeering his Granny’s 18th Century Walled Garden, within the grounds of the Castle, to create his jungle dream (see clips from Save Lullingstone Castle and Return to Lullingstone Castle here (under 'Documentary')).
Every stage of Tom’s jungle project was filmed for the BBC’s 12-part series. The garden opened to the public in March 2005 and has seen a steady stream of visitors entering through the 18th century moon gate, and traversing the pathways (or seas) as they literally walk 'around the world in under 80 minutes'.
Tom’s garden won the prestigious British Guild of Travel Writers UK Tourism Award in 2005.
Tom is busy working in the World Garden and fighting hard to save his ancestral home of Lullingstone Castle – a historic mansion frequented by Henry VIII and Queen Anne and home to the Hart Dykes for 20 generations.
Tom was born in Kent in 1976.
Tom is heir to Lullingstone Castle in Kent and is the 20th generation of the Hart Dykes to live at the Castle. The Castle was a favourite of Queen Anne and was visited by a young Henry VIII.
Schooled in Kent at St Michael's in Otford, and later at Stanbridge Earls School in Hampshire, Tom’s horticultural passion, nurtured by his late grandmother Mary Hart Dyke, led him to study tree surgery at Sparsholt College (Hampshire).
Funded by his tree surgery work, Tom spent his early twenties travelling the world in search of rare orchids and plants. One such trip, a three week ‘cycling’ expedition from Kent to Lisbon in Portugal to see wild flowers in their native habitat, resulted in a very sore bottom.
Tom continues to plant hunt around the world, gathering new plants for the World Garden.
Tom was made President of the Australasian Plant Society in 2011.
With his Granny’s encouragement Tom started early, aged 3, with a trowel and a packet of carrot seeds, he says; ‘I’ve never looked back!’
Tom’s orchid fascination began at his primary school; ‘I came across the wonderful bee orchid and was hooked - the bee orchid mimics a randy female bee by emitting pheromones to attract the bee - ensuring pollination!’
Tom’s inspiration: ‘without a doubt my life’s inspiration is my horticulturally endowed granny who gardened away here at Lullingstone well into her 90s!!’.
Crac’s delight: In 1999 Tom finally found a hitherto unnamed plant species that he could name after his Granny. It was named ‘Penstemon Crac’s Delight’ in 2005.