Education: Passed/Failed Alan Titchmarsh, TV Presenter

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The Independent Online
ALAN TITCHMARSH, 49, presents Gardener's World and Ground Force on BBC2. He was Supervisor of Staff Training at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Deputy Editor of Amateur Gardening magazine. He has been Gardening Writer of the Year, Yorkshire Man of the Year and No 12 in Elle's Hip 100. His 32 books include How to be a Supergardener and, just out in paperback, Alan Titchmarsh's Favourite Gardens. His novel M. MacGregor is out on Monday.

All Rhodes lead to loam? Harry Rhodes, my teacher when I was nine at Ilkley Church of England Junior School, was a lovely man. He was a keen cactus-grower and the first plants I ever bought were his cacti in little pots, costing sixpence at the school bring-and-buy sales.

I would taken them home and leave them on the loo window. They thrived on neglect - and I gave them a lot of neglect.

Stony Ground? I failed my 11-plus and went to Ilkley Secondary Modern. I really hated it. They weren't encouraging. I was always having "See me!" on my essays because they were written with too much imagination. I once wrote a synopsis of A Midsummer Night's Dream. This got 17 out of 20 - but also with "See me!"

When I asked why, the teacher said, "You used the word `reciprocated'. Where did you get it from?" I said, "I know it". She thought I'd copied it.

Everything in gardening's lovely? From about 12 I knew gardening would be my career - I built a plastic greenhouse in the garden. At school I wasn't doing the subjects I wanted.

I was in the A-stream, and in the first term we did "rural studies", but then we were considered too clever for gardening so only the lower streams did it. I took my Art GCE a year early, then left at 15 to work for five years in the Parks Department Nursery.

To hell on a handcart?

My peak period was between fifteen and twenty. I took a City & Guilds in Horticulture on a day release scheme. There were a lot of no-hopers on the course, because you had to go there if you were an apprentice, but I thought, "I can do this". Instead of being at the bottom, I soared ahead to the top.

Gardening was not so sexy then as it is now, and it was very embarrassing to be seen by people still at school when I was watering the hanging baskets at home; it was that terrible age when you blush very easily. One of the guys at work sold me his greenhouse and my dad wheeled it home on a handcart: my second major embarrassment.

Personal growth area?

I then went to Hertfordshire College of Agriculture and Horticulture, full-time for a year, for my National Certificate of Horticulture. This was my first time away from home. I was in a residential block - with my own washbasin! I thought, "I'm a big boy now" . Occasionally this meant you were up at five in the morning, washing leeks for market in cold, muddy water. I took the "Amenity Option" which was a bit more colourful: beds of heather, shrubs and flowers for flowers' sake, not for commercial reasons. College was a bit commercial for me; it taught me I didn't want to grow tomatoes and lettuces for a living.

Join the Kew! Then I went on to the Royal Botanic Gardens for a three- year Diploma Course: Dip. Hort. (Kew). You worked in all the departments: Tropical, Temperate, the Arboretum. Afterwards I taught there myself. I thought I wanted to teach but, after two years, I discovered I didn't.

I'm now about to start a series of lectures in theatres called "An Evening With Alan Titchmarsh". Talking to an audience is lovely: they want to be there. In teaching, they don't want to be there.