Alan Titchmarsh: A Spring In His Step

What does the evergreen Alan Titchmarsh, probably the UK’s most trusted garden expert, love most about this time of year?

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What encourages you to get gardening year after year?

I am a creative person, and gardening is a physical, creative process – you’re creating things that are three dimensional. It keeps me sane, if you like – that connection with the earth, that for me is reality. This is real. When I wake up, it’ll still be there and it’ll be growing, God willing, long after I’ve gone. I like that permanence, that continuity – it gives me a sense of achievement in having created something, but also a kind of inner peace.

What do you love best about spring in the garden?

There’s a day when you can smell when spring has arrived. It’s something in the air, in the same way as autumn. When you see those first shoots breaking on an apple-tree branch or a hawthorn hedge, you know it has come again. As a gardener, you always have a little wobble in February when you think maybe this year it won’t happen, but I love that moment when the first green haze comes across the country hedge.

To add to the hours you can spend in the garden, what’s your favourite way to use lighting?

I like the quality of lights in the garden, but if you’re going to do it, it’s important not to interfere with the wildlife. There are certain lights you can use which do highlight things; I’ve got a tall hedge with urns in front of it, and I’ve put a couple of lights in them. They look wonderful. They go on in the evening for a couple of hours and then switch off at 10 o’clock. Looking at these urns as they are spot-lit against the dark green hedge is a lovely bit of evening pleasure.

Do you have any thoughts on the new trend for growing in small containers due to limited outdoor space?

You need to find out a bit about your plot in terms of sunshine and shade, find out its capabilities and then you can grow all kinds of things in tubs and pots and troughs. Just because it’s small doesn’t mean it’s hard to find things to grow in it. It’s easy to grow salads in a small space, or even dwarf fruit in large pots. No, you won’t be self-sufficient, but you know that you grew it by yourself.

How do you cope with plants that are perhaps, despite your best efforts, refusing to grow properly?

For years I couldn’t grow carrots because I had stony soil, but once I’d built a raised bed I was away. When you’re trying to grow plants that aren’t really suited to where you are – be it in terms of soil or situation – that’s where disaster lies. You learn to grow the things that want to grow in your garden. Everything wants to grow, it’s just up to us not to get in the way of that.
There are sometimes great frustrations in gardening, but it is (no pun intended) a grounding kind of pursuit. It reminds you what reality is all about, and it’s about things that grow and our responsibility for the landscape on whatever scale that might be. It’s not an onerous responsibility, it’s a delight to be involved with it.

Is there one plant you could never be without?

I do like roses. They’re so-and-sos sometimes, they claw at you, but a garden without a fragrant rose isn’t much of a garden at all.

Mr Gandy’s World Tour, the new novel by Alan Titchmarsh published by Hodder & Stoughton, is available now.