Tom Dyke Hart will be the guest speaker for the Chairmans Official Lunch at the Kent County Show on Saturday 11th July. It was under difficult circumstances that Tom gained international prominence. Tom and his travelling companion, Paul Winder were kidnapped in the Columbian jungle on a plant hunting expedition that culminated in tragic circumstances.
Tom lives in Kent with his family and helps garden and landscape the ancestral home – the 15th century Lullingstone Castle. His passion for botany took him all over the world but it was in 2000 that his mission to find a rare orchid took him deep in to the Colombian Jungle, an inhospitable place home to violent local guerillas. Tom had met another intrepid explorer in Mexico and the two had decided to travel down to the area known as ‘The Darien Gap’ a dangerous place abandoned by all to warring guerrilla factions.
He told the Daily Mail in an interview in 2014 “For all I knew, my life was going to end in a hail of bullets that day. As it turned out, my ordeal was barely better than death: ten months a prisoner, beaten, sometimes starved and threatened that each day would be my last”.
The two men were kidnapped at gunpoint on 16th March and were regularly threatened with execution during this ten month ordeal. However, whilst in captivity Tom spent much of his time dreaming of creating a garden containing plants collected from all corners of the world, to be housed within the two-acre walled garden at his home. Since his release, Tom’s experiences have been the subject of two television documentaries, and a best selling book ‘The Cloud Garden’ published in 2003 and described as ‘A True Story of Adventure, Survival, and Extreme Horticulture’. Tom has also been instrumental in two documentaries about his home, produced by KEO Films for BBC2; ‘Save Lullingstone Castle’ and ‘Return to Lullingstone Castle’.
Tom also took part in a film entitled ‘A Dangerous Obsession’ directed by Andrew Palmer this film took place only a few months after his release. The film details Tom’s journey to search for plants in Papua on the tropical island of New Guinea, one of the remotest jungles on the planet. Papua is thought by experts to contain the richest concentration of plant life in the world; This programme follows Tom through Papua, on his obsessive search to find the orchids, despite the ever-present threat of being kidnapped once again.