'How I fell in love with Alan Titchmarsh'


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The Independent Online

I think I might be going a bit granny doolally where Alan Titchmarsh is concerned. It could be the signs of impending old age, because I didn't always love the Titch. For a start, he appeared on my TV radar just after the tragic death of committedly green Gardeners' World presenter Geoff Hamilton.

It was a long shot, Al trying to distract us from grief by cheerfully shovelling (non-renewable) peat in his potting shed. It didn't work. Geoff was always on about threatened limestone pavements and eco-mulch, and here was Titchmarsh undoing all his good work in a moment, with such blithe unconcern it made me want to shriek or weep.

But recently Alan has grown on me. I find myself increasingly fascinated as I watch him, for the umpteenth year in a row, treading out a path through a temporary flower-show garden. He does his work in circumstances that would put others off (that is, in front of a roped-off crowd of gawping idiots). But Al remains focused, intoning the garden's virtues in soft Yorkshire tones as if he'd just pondered them. Yet in actual fact, he's remembering a script while following a complicated series of camera marks for the crane hovering overhead. Grudging respect, then, at the very least.

TV professionalism aside, Old Al has horticultural virtues that weren't apparent on first acquaintance. He can explain how to prune something with infinite sagacity. And in his new book, My Secret Garden (BBC, £25), he invites the reader for a personal tour of his own plot (above), which has infinite charm. It's nice to know Alan has the same irritating issues and weird enthusiasms as the rest of us: "I never tire of mowing," he writes. "It is thinking time… A time of just being in my garden and endeavouring to exercise some kind of control over it."

For my money, there's almost nothing more interesting than reading someone on the subject of their own garden. It's an area where they have unique expertise. And he's fantastically good at explaining it all: the good and the bad. Al's yearly choice of tulips, his odd terracotta statue of landscape gardener Humphry Repton, his lead pigs, his duck island… whether or not you agree with it, it's all cherished. (And what's not to like about a man who says of his post-parks-department years: "It took me ages to stop being too tidy"?)

His nest box cameras, his beehives, his leylandii hedges, his 16 camellias, closely guarded from the limey soil he's chosen to garden on, his gypsy caravan (Al's boho side, a surprise to me); Mrs T's dim view of Mr T's noisy water feature; and finally even his quotes from Salman Rushdie (seriously). When Alan uses a word such as "mither", I'm delighted. When he calls a horse chestnut "a conker tree", it makes for a broad grin. And I'm even seduced by his occasional turn for the philosophical : "Winter is neatly crafted by the Almighty to make Britons pause and take stock: rest even, and think about next year – hopefully rather than reluctantly."

Alan Titchmarsh, may you live long and prosper.

Tips from the Titch

The flowers Alan has three pink and purple tulips together – Negrita, Attila and Gabriella – for gorgeous spring effect. £5.99 for 15 of each, jparkers.co.uk

The abomination Don't buy him wind chimes! "The bings and bongs of some new age confections crafted from copper pipe and baler twine". But if you fancy one, a classic chime is £12.95 at thewindchimeshop.co.uk

The wellies The Titch's desert-island luxury: "neoprene-lined wellingtons". Hunter's are £89 in smart black. wellywarehouse.co.uk