Alan Titchmarsh became my nemesis almost 16 years ago. A few months after my mother and step-father moved into a new-build home, he left for the affections of the blonde euphonium player in his brass band (well this is the north….) Being left with the pain of betrayal and abandonment after 15 years of marriage was only matched by the pain of being left with an area of around 60 x 40 feet of uncultivated, undue solid clay.
Time passed. Grass grew. My mum tackled the bumpy patch with the Flymow. She hurt her back. It looked like a field not a garden. It was a sad reminder of a broken family, the end of a relationship and the inability to control the garden suggested a deep metaphor. This ‘garden’ was joyless and labour-intensive. Who would like gardening? Then in 1999 a BBC gardening programme caught my mum’s eye and her imagination and this is when my disaffection with Alan Titchmarsh began.
We needed to do something with the garden. For deserving people, Alan and his team could make beautiful, joy-filled, easily maintained gardens in days and, by implication, could do the same for your life. It could be done. We could do it. All we were short of was the funds, the muscle, the equipment and the expertise. We had none of those things. I suggested a lawn as the most cost effective way of covering a large expanse of earth and eliminating activities like weeding.
My efforts were rejected on the grounds – or should I say the Ground Force – that the oracle that was Alan Titchmarsh favoured gravel for easy maintenance. I felt a little for-lawn (sorry …) but accordingly we amended the plans and after some back-breaking digging, levelling, bodge-it flag stone laying and a lot of gravel, we had something which resembled Dungeoness.
Like a new love affair, my mum’s interest in gardening was awakened by Sir Alan and with her new found enthusiasm fuelled by a horticulturally well-informed friend who supplied her with cuttings and membership of the National Trust, which inspired her, she began to create a garden. It flourished. Everything my mum planted thrived. Our telephone conversations were dominated by her commentary on what she’d planted, what had grown and progress reports on everything.
Himalayan honeysuckle, laurels, acanthus, euphorbia, old-fashioned geraniums, lily of the valley, love-in-the-mist – my mum stuck some small cutting or potted sprig in the ground and next time I visited it had not only grown and multiplied, but its extended family now occupied huge swathes of the garden. One small pot of violets became a swarm across the shingled expanse and mum spent hours weeding them out in an attempt to bring some order to nature’s profligacy. The creation became unmanageable. Nature had won and a source of love and pleasure had once again become a burden
So last year we began ‘The Garden Project’. Failing to live up to Alan’s promise and suppress the weeds – let alone the violets – a large part of the gravel was to be discounted in the new brief and replaced with …… a lawn!
So over a number of weekends over the past year, mum and I have dug – yes all 24,000 feet of it – and planted a lawn and created some beds, and dug up saplings and tree roots and moved flag stones and made some slightly wobbly, but functional areas to walk on (carefully!) and sit on and admire the beautiful plants which still bloom with abandon, but now we can see them properly.
Today I visited RHS Chelsea Flower Show and saw the most perfectly designed and orchestrated gardens filled with exquisite flowers and plants that have been cultivated and tended with infinite care – and money. The cost of one show garden at Chelsea costs ten times what has been spent on my mum’s garden in 16 years.
I love digging. I love gardening and I love my mum. My aversion to Alan Titchmarsh and his Ground Force programme is because it propagated (sorry again…) the idea that you could spend two days and a lot of money at the garden centre and create a garden. I disagree. My mum’s garden may not be perfect or fancy and it’s certainly not level (despite hours of raking) but my mum’s garden has flowers, trees, shrubs; the birds like it, the butterflies and bees like it and most importantly it’s a labour of love that my mum and I have created with a lot of sweat, aching muscles, a bend fork and a rust-ridden wheelbarrow which is at least fourth generation.
From a large barren patch of earth which represented the end of a relationship and the break up of a family, my mum and I have created some happy memories and a space to create some more for the future.