Words: Alison James Pic: Graham Stone, Rex Shutterstock
Alan Titchmarsh is an easy-going, happy-go-lucky kind of chap. It’s one of the reasons he’s such a favourite with us all. But there are a few issues about modern British life that he finds really rather upsetting... the way more and more of us are paving over our front gardens, for a start.
According to a report by the Royal Horticultural Society, the number of front gardens in Britain that are entirely paved, concreted or gravelled has tripled from eight per cent in 2005 to 24 per cent today. That’s 4.5 million front gardens completely vanished, plus another 7.2 million that are ‘mostly’ covered. “I understand that people want somewhere secure to park their car but it’s so sad that they pave or concrete over their entire front gardens to do this,” he says. “It’s not necessary. To park a car, you need two tyre strips – that’s all. You can still grow low-growing herbs and plants in the rest of the garden. You really don’t have to forego a front garden just because you have a car.”
Another thing that Alan finds upsetting is the way people drop rubbish, littering our gardens, pavements, parks and roads. “People who chuck their rubbish from car windows or while walking along drive me nuts,” he reveals. “I sometimes pick up tin cans and the like and give them back to the people who’ve dropped them. My two daughters say I shouldn’t do it, that I don’t know what these people are like or how they’ll react but I’m sorry, it’s just not acceptable. I can’t bear bad manners and a lack of consideration for others. People who live without a thought for anyone else...”
Love Your Garden, the fifth series of Alan’s popular garden makeover programme currently being broadcast on ITV on Tuesdays at 8pm, is the opposite of this. It’s all about thinking of and helping others as Alan and his team (above) travel the country to give surprise garden makeovers for some of Britain’s most deserving people.
“The people we feature have incredible, often challenging life stories and the programme is the combination of showing a garden transformation that anyone may be able to achieve at home, plus reminding everyone how much joy a garden can bring,” he says. “Working in a garden can really enhance your life and being the custodian of your own little patch of ground and the nature that is in it is so fulfilling. Each episode features a different style of gardening, and the life stories and experiences of our people are very different, too. You’re briefly going into the lives of people who’ve had to live through difficult circumstances and it’s very emotional – but you hope you’re giving them some kind of respite.”
The last time we spoke to Alan, he said he was planning on taking life easier. Is he succeeding in this? “I’m trying,” he smiles. “I haven’t quite succeeded as well as I probably should do when it comes to relaxing and slowing down. I am working on it, but that’s a bit of a problem when you’re doing something you love. My daughters tell me off and say I should say no more often. They say I should only do things I want to do. But this week I’ve been visiting the gardens of some stately homes for another programme I’m doing, and it’s been an absolute joy. I’m gazing out of the window at my garden while I’m on the phone to you now and I’m itching to get out there! I still enjoy it every bit as much as when I first started back in the Sixties. I’m so lucky to do a job I’m good at and which I love. It’s what we all want.
‘You’re briefly going into the lives of people who’ve had to live through difficult circumstances’
“The other side of my life is writing, and I still love that, too. I have my newspaper columns, which I find so fulfilling, plus I’ve also been lucky enough to write fiction. I’ve got my tenth novel to write this year – I can’t imagine how I’ve managed to get to ten! However, I do know the importance of getting the balance right between work and being at home with the family.”
Alan’s family is growing. He has three grandchildren and the fourth is on the way. “Being a grandparent is wonderful,” he says. “I’m loving it. The children give me a feeling of total completeness. I see them a lot as they all live just ten minutes away. They come and run around the garden and it’s lovely. A joy.”
Alan (66) is a firm believer in joy and enjoyment. “Enjoyment is good therapy,” he goes on. “I don’t mean over-indulgence but just enjoying life with people you love. In addition to my family, my wife Alison and I are lucky enough to have a group of very close friends whom we’ve known for 45 years. When we all get together, we just laugh and laugh – it’s true what they say about it being the best medicine. I come away aching from all the laughing – and it’s just marvellous.”
Psst… Alan shares a secret
He doesn’t make a song and dance about it, but he does have a strong faith. “I’m low church C of E,’ he says. “It’s the way I was brought up. I’m not evangelical and don’t make a big thing out of it, but I do go to church and my strong faith underpins everything I do.”
There's more star chat in every issue of Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday