Monty Don has spent the winter battling the elements in his two-acre garden, Longmeadow. “Today is the first day when it hasn’t rained,” he sighs. The 57-year- old Gardeners’ World presenter has had a long, hard winter. Longmeadow stands on low, flat ground in Herefordshire. If Don hadn’t planted over 1,400 trees and hedges when he and his wife first moved here 20 years ago they would now be living on a semi-flooded, frozen plain. “We could have left it that way, open and flat, exposed to the elements, but we decided to do something different and plant a garden with shelter,” Don says. “I don’t regret it at all, but I cannot stress how difficult the conditions have been this year. The garden is, essentially, a quagmire.”
But Don has a television programme to film and most of it happens in his garden. Although he has said in the past that gardens are “personal, private and, above all, intimate,” the two million-plus viewers who watch Gardeners’ World feel utterly invested in Longmeadow. It’s our garden as much as it is his. So we, too, are dealing with the after-effects of the winter, of flooding, of all that snow and frost.
“Well, gardens are hardier than they seem, especially when you almost feel nothing will bloom again,” says Don. But he has had to make adjustments. “I always like to go with the rhythm and the flow of the seasons, and this has meant our plans have been delayed or interrupted.” One plan is to plant a Writing garden. “There’s a hut in the garden where, in theory, I write when it’s a nice day. It’s surrounded by grass and cow parsley and the idea is to channel the cow parsley idea, a beautiful April to October garden that is peaceful.”
There will also be a new greenhouse. “It should be up and ready now but it isn’t!”
There is also a project he hasn’t started yet. “I call it The Mound. It’s basically a glorified rubbish dump, full of all the soil that’s been dug up over the years and, after two decades, it’s pretty sizeable. I was going to cart it away but now I’m going to convert it to a rose garden. It will be like a plateau of roses.”
Don has 24 small gardens contained in his plot of land. We, the viewers, have watched them in varying stages. I remember going to see him a few years ago to look at the Jewel garden, a wonderful walkway leading through a garden planted with many beautiful balls of flowers, somehow glinting in the sunshine, small flames of colour. This is, for me, his unique skill – the ability to create an ever-changing, absolutely fascinating, almost ethereal set of small intimate gardens that feel accessible to all of us.
But, after all this, all his intense and thoughtful planting, does he find the fact that the garden is now public property difficult to handle? Does the presence of cameras make life tricky for him, his wife Sarah and their three children?
“Well, it’s true that we have to live here, but the BBC is very respectful of that and we only shoot 40 days a year. All the rest of the time, it’s my garden; our garden. We have been here for 20 years. It’s a long time to have your garden to yourself.”
Don admits, though, to not liking other TV presenters working in his garden. “When other presenters want to come in, I find it difficult. It would be nonsensical to say I didn’t but I accept it’s part of what happens. It is tricky because it’s my creation and part of the idea of it is that it has hidden parts. There is a private element to the garden. When you are in one bit, you glimpse another but you never see it in its entirety.
“I develop an intimacy with my garden that I foster and nurture. I can see this and so do two million other people. It’s hard to remember that we live here, it is attached to our house and for some days a year it’s as if we live above the shop but we have two decades of private history that resides there. I accept the fact that there is an element of people thinking it is their garden. I am prepared to share it on television. It hasn’t been a problem so far – touch wood.”
What is appealing about Don is that we see him actively creating his own garden with new ideas, hopes, fears, failures and successes. He gardens from the heart.
“My feeling is that nothing is fixed. I change. We change. There is a flow that happens around the garden. Yet I am constantly learning. I spent a lot of last year in France (for his series on French gardens) and now I see things I might well include in my garden that I would never have thought about before. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and absolutely know I have to move a plant or rethink certain things. It’s about energy.
“The garden has become itself, for better or for worse. It took ten years for it to come into its own and now I feel I am a custodian in a way. I don’t control the garden. I have adapted to it, become part of it. I am part of something bigger that has a life of its own. It’s not slipping away, just that it has established itself as a garden in its own way. I am happy with that.”
Read more about Monty’s garden plans in Gardeners’ World magazine, on sale now, £3.90. Spring subscription offer: 12 issues for £25, call 0844 848 9707 and quote code GWXRT313
Gardeners' World is on Friday at 8:30pm on BBC2