Alan Titchmarsh: The gardener and broadcaster on Nelson Mandela, financial success and the curse of open doors

Titchmarsh tells Adam Jacques:  'I'm patient with plants but not with rude people'

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The Independent Online

Gardening used to be what you did if you couldn't do anything else I became an apprentice gardener in 1964 and I used to say to people that I was in horticulture, as it sounded better. So it's been interesting to watch the situation change through the 1970s and 1980s, to a point in the late 1990s and early Noughties, when shows such as Ground Force were getting 12 million viewers, and gardening books outsold cookery books for the first time.

Britain is the best country in the world to garden in Gardening in the tropics is the same day in, day out, month in, month out. We have seasons, which is the greatest refresher for any garden. And winter is time to catch up, assess what new to plant and decide that next year will be better than this.

I'm not a workaholic so much as a stimulationaholic In my third year teaching at Kew, all I was having to do was repeat myself to people who sometimes didn't even want to learn. I found myself one day in my office, standing against the wall, gently knocking my head against it. I thought I had better move on.

Nelson Mandela had a good sense of humour I designed his garden at his home in Qunu in the Eastern Cape [for Ground Force]. He had a powerful yet quiet charisma. He told me a story about the first meeting he addressed after he'd came out of prison. "It was at a church meeting outside," he said. "I stood on a box, and up the hills and down the sides all I could see was heads." Then he winked at me and said, "It took me two weeks to count the collection."

I'm patient with plants but not with rude people While presenting The Alan Titchmarsh Show I had to send off [horse-racing pundit] John McCririck, as he was very rude to a fellow guest, Ingrid Tarrant – Chris's ex-wife. The way the conversation was going, I would have bodily pulled him off if he hadn't left voluntarily.

My waxwork at Madame Tussauds has to be cleaned of lipstick They used to have to do it several times a week. Though that was a while ago; I doubt they would need to now. My family think it's hilarious – I get raised eyebrows from my wife.

Anyone who seems to have a few bob and has done well gets it in the neck We revere Lottery winners who get millions by filling in a coupon, while anyone who has worked like stink to make their millions, well… The word "millionaire" is used pejoratively now.

Reality TV has an audience but so do road accidents I don't find it edifying to watch people eat maggots and argue, but an appetite for disaster seems part of our psyche. I would far rather watch Foyle's War or Lewis: what my kids call "old fogey television".

I'm a little bit OCD I see it as just being overly orderly. But I couldn't sit down to my supper with a cupboard door open; I have to get up and shut all the open doors first.

Everyone can relate to 'The Wind in the Willows' We all have a bit of Mole's shyness and Ratty's practicality, and we occasionally feel taciturn, like Badger, or outrageous, like Toad. It's always been my favourite book, partly because it also helps people relate to the countryside – which is valuable now that we're so much more removed from how the land works.

Alan Titchmarsh, 65, is a gardener, TV and radio presenter, and novelist. He is narrating a stage adaptation of 'The Wind in the Willows' at the Vaudeville Theatre, London WC2, until 17 January