As Gardeners’ World turns 50, we visit the green Edens of four of its presenters
Carol Klein: ‘It’s my favourite place in the world’
Klein, 71, made her television debut on Gardeners’ World in 1989. She has two daughters and she and her husband Neil have lived in Devon for 39 years.
Our garden at Glebe Cottage is about an acre, but we’ve just bought six-and-a-half acres next door, so it’s getting bigger. I’ve grown almost everything in it from seed, and it’s my favourite place in the world. I interviewed the plantswoman and garden designer Beth Chatto the other day, and she got it just right when she said, “It isn’t the achievement; it’s the achieving.” It’s the process. It’s waking up and wondering if a particular plant has bloomed or is progressing.
Different parts of the garden are my favourite at different times of year. I never like to show too much favouritism because it doesn’t seem fair to the next plant. In the spring I love what I call the Cinderella plants – the ones that get up first and get everything done before the others come along. The spring garden has been spectacular, but now all the peonies are coming out and there’s sweet rocket everywhere.
The tree I’m sitting under is called the cercis or Judas tree, which originates from a pod my mum picked up on the pavement in Portugal. She grew several, and gave us one of them 35 years ago. Right now it’s a glorious mass of near-puce flowers. Lots of my plants have connections to people and places, each with a story.
What I love about gardening here is that everything changes all the time. It’s not like the tropics, where everything stays the same all year. Here you’re constantly aware of the seasons just by looking at what’s growing. Planting is my favourite job, but I have to steel myself to prune because it means cutting chunks off a plant. Blokes love doing it. They like being in control. Women are more inclined to let plants be themselves. I have to make sure that everything gets a chance to do its own thing. I don’t mean I leave it to its own devices, but it’s a very measured process. Besides, plants won’t necessarily do what you want or intend.
The idea of a finished garden is the opposite of what is meant to be. Gardening isn’t like papering a room and sticking the furniture in and it’s done. But even though it’s never finished, it’s so restful. Focusing on each plant is great therapy. It’s like yoga – you just find yourself breathing out and feeling well.
Monty Don: ‘It’ll always be a work in progress’
Don, 61, first presented Gardeners’ World in 2003. He and his wife Sarah have lived in Herefordshire since 1991. They have three children.
As many know from the programme, my two-acre garden at Longmeadow is divided into 19 areas. My favourite area depends on the time of year. I was in the Spring Garden this morning and nothing could be more beautiful, so that was my favourite today, but it won’t be in a month’s time. It’s very much a question of which bit captures the essence of beauty at a specific time. With a garden designed like mine, you’d expect at least three or four areas to be ravishing at any one time, meaning that by the same token at least three or four will be not so good – but that’s an unaffordable luxury if you’re gardening for TV. At least 15 of the areas, if not all 19, have to be looking good all the time, which is tricky.
There are always wondrous plants coming through. I love the cow parsley, the irises in the Jewel Garden, the peonies… I absolutely adore the simple primrose, which starts flowering in early March and seems to me a symbol of fragile hope at the end of winter. It makes my heart sing.
I do love the Copse, which we planted here along with everything else. It’s our tiny wood – perhaps 100ft by 50ft. It’s so cool, beautiful, calm and shaded.
There’s nothing better than digging a hole and planting in it, although tidying up after planting isn’t fun. I’m also very happy pruning, whether it’s hedge-cutting or fruit trees or topiary. There’s a sculptural element I love, and I’m also interested in the relationship between man and nature, control and abandonment – the point at which the hand of man creates something out of nature, and the point at which it spoils nature. That balance varies, but is incredibly rewarding.
It took me 12 years to realise Longmeadow will always be a work in progress. For the first ten years or so I was working towards a fixed goal. I had an idea of how various things would be. Now I realise some of the things I wanted are either a mistake, or I no longer want them. Some things have failed: hedges have had box blight or trees have blown down; others have outgrown their welcome – trees blocking light, say.
Any gardener will tell you that it’s what is growing that is of interest, not what has grown. So by definition it’s always changing – hour to hour, day to day, season to season, life to life. It never stops. And yet change is restful. Accepting change is the healthiest mindset you can have.
Adam Frost: ‘It’s my playground’
Frost, 46, joined Gardeners’ World last September. He and his wife Sulina have four children. They moved to their current home in Lincolnshire a year ago.
I’ve never gardened in this much space of my own. It’s three acres, and the largest I’ve owned before this was about 100ft by 65ft. Having so much space to play in is something I’ve dreamt of for a long time. In its time it would have been a beautiful old garden, but it needs bringing back to life. For me, as a garden designer, it’s a playground.
Gardening my own space is so fulfilling. I can map out my whole personal history by the gardens I had or was working on. I was started off by my two nans, who loved gardening, and I’ve been a professional gardener since I was 16. I wasn’t the most confident young person; every part of me that has evolved has done so through gardening.
I think about the new garden all the time. Ideas don’t come when they’re meant to – it’s when I wake up at three in the morning. Some days the scale of it is daunting and I think, “What have I done?” But mostly it’s exciting; there’s a lifetime’s work here. If I ever get to the end, I’ll start again.
Joe Swift: ‘I’m not a potterer’
RT’s gardening writer Swift, 52, has been a Gardeners’ World presenter for 19 years. He has lived in Hackney, north London, with his wife Cathy and two children since 2003.
This is a proper city garden, just 55ft by 22ft, although it is south-facing and sunny. I’m reclaiming it now that my kids are university age. Having a green space is very therapeutic, an urban escape. I can completely lose myself here, even though it’s so small. In a far corner is a garden studio where I write and listen to music. And there’s a decked area that’s very secluded and shady. I go down there with a paper and completely forget I’m in the city.
I’m not a potterer – a few times every year I blitz the garden, cutting back, planting, getting bulbs in. My favourite job is pruning. I love trying to get the elegant shape while getting the light through the plants. Even a small garden is never finished.
You’re constantly tweaking composition, or thinking about different colours, squeezing in another plant… But it’s important never to feel overwhelmed by it. The gardener must always be in control of the garden, or you’re doing something wrong.
Gardeners’ World is on Friday at 8pm on BBC1