Inside the city garden of Foals lead singer, Yannis Philippakis

Foals lead singer and guitarist Yannis Philippakis
Credit:  Andrew Crowley

Personal Growth is an occasional column that asks how people become gardeners, what they love most about their gardens - everything but the gardening.

What kind of garden do you have?

I basically have a yard – it’s very much a city garden [in Peckham, 
south London]. But within it I’ve put in some raised vegetable beds, and I also have a flat roof with grow bags. It’s not as green or as large as I’d like, but it’s good that I’ve got the two different spaces.

What do you grow?

I grow all sorts – courgettes, beetroot, carrots, a few potatoes left over from last year, kale, spring onions, radishes and chard. My long- suffering partner has to tend to the garden when I’m away on tour, particularly this year, where I was only around for the early stages. It’s quite sad missing out on all the harvesting, but we’ve still got some beets and carrots to go. She takes the credit for this year’s produce.

Who’s more of a gardener, you or your girlfriend?

I think I’m slightly keener on it, but I’m not sure she would agree. I met her in Vancouver and she lived in a house with a garden, and one of the first things I did when I visited her was to sort it out for her – it needed a bit of love. Of course, I got teased for it as all my friends said she was getting cheap labour, but I did it out of love.

Where does your love of gardening come from?

I think it stems from being asked to 
do chores in the garden by my mum when I was young, things like cutting the lawn. We had a long, narrow garden with plenty of apple trees. I didn’t enjoy it particularly at the time – it was just another thing that got in the way of sitting on the sofa and going skateboarding.

When did you start getting serious?

After I got back from touring our second album, I returned to Oxford where we were living in a house with another band, and it had a big garden. I got this overwhelming craving to go to the garden centre and buy some roses. So I did, and I still have some of those roses today – I potted them and took them with me when I moved to London. I think the gardening kind of lay dormant within me for a long time, and when I began touring it became a way of grounding me.

Did you get all your know-how from your mum?

Yes, had I not had that basic grounding in gardening, from doing all the jobs I thought nothing of at the time, it would have been much more of a stretch to get into it now. Coming back to gardening I knew 
a lot of the basics about how to look after things. I’m really appreciative of my mum for getting me out into the garden – even if I wasn’t at the time.

How does gardening 
help you cope with life 
in the music business?

There’s the surface level of enjoyment you get from being outside and doing something practical. But then there’s the commitment it requires – being committed to one space for a period of time, and tending to it regularly and watching it develop. That type of anchoring to one place is the perfect counterbalance to all the movement and the excess that comes with touring, the mania of it all. Being somewhere quiet that you consider to be your sanctuary is very important.

Are any of your bandmates green-fingered?

I’m probably the keenest. But there’s a domestic divide among us; gardening and cooking. I’m not a keen cook, but a few of the guys throw themselves into cooking when they get home. I’ve brought my veg backstage before and it always goes down well – I brought my home-grown carrots for us all to share backstage at a festival once, and it’s a really good feeling.

What type of gardening interests you the most?

All, really. I think I grow veg here because it’s the most practical use of the small space – I don’t want everything to be in pots – but I do like other plants and flowers. Like a lot of people, I’d love to have a wisteria, and there’s this particular tree called a Persian silk tree [Albizia julibrissin] that I’d like to have. I also came across something called an Indian bean tree [Catalpa bignonioides] on tour; they have really showy flowers, and I want one of those one day, too.

Persian Silk tree Credit: Getty Images Contributor

Where do you find ideas?

If I see something I’ll always look it up and find out what it is. I’m naturally inquisitive, so I like to teach myself about things like native tree types, and I love going out into the countryside at the weekend. But the Persian silk tree, for example – I spotted that when we were playing a show in Corsica and there were lines of them down the side of the road.

What does your future garden look like?

Larger! I want a greener garden with more of a maturity to it, a sense of history. The idea of having nothing more than a patch of grass and a shed at the bottom really bums me out. I want to go somewhere where I 
can really grow things. When I dream of my future, I see myself spending time in a beautiful garden. That’s where I want to be.

Foals’ new album, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Pt 2, is out now.