After spending much of the last five decades celebrating the beauty of green space in books, articles and TV shows and encouraging people to enjoy nature, Alan Titchmarsh is becoming increasing incensed by littering.
Alan (71) reveals that he recently challenged a group of young men after seeing them carelessly toss a drinks can out of their car window into the road.
He says: “It makes me so cross. I picked up the empty can walked over and handed it back to them through the window at the traffic lights. I said, ‘You’ve dropped this’. My daughter said I should never have done it because it was a carload of youths. She said I was irresponsible because at the very least I could have been punched. The lights then changed to green, off they shot in the car and they threw it out about 50 yards later. But I had tried to do my bit.”
Alan is passionate about looking after the landscape and the countryside: “We have a road near us which is terrible and has rubbish everywhere and I said to my wife Alison, ‘If it doesn’t get cleared soon, I’m going down with a cone, a black plastic bag and my litter pick and I’m going to do it myself.’ Mercifully it has since been cleared but it makes me angry when things are not looked after. You can’t just talk about the bigger picture, global warming and climate change without looking at the smaller things which contribute to it.”
Alan believes we can all make a difference to help the environment. “I am so lucky to do a job I love and something I believe in. A lot of people think, ‘Oh gardening, you do it because you haven’t got the brains to do anything else. They can say that if they want, but I know gardening is at the sharp end of conservation. We can make a difference at a local level,” he says.
So how has life been for Alan over the last year? He reveals that green therapy has been key to his mental health. “Nature has done me the world of good. It’s been my salvation and kept me sane. Just being outside in fresh air with the butterflies and the birds. I was there in the garden every day, all day,” he says.
He also feels even closer to his wife Alison. “For months it was just Alison and me and it was lovely. She is my best friend, very much so. We celebrate our 46th anniversary this year. What’s the secret? A tolerant wife! She even filmed my shows in lockdown.”
However, the prolonged separation from his two-grown up daughters Polly and Camilla and his four grandchildren has made him even more appreciative of his family.
“I love giving my family and friends a hug. I am a tactile soul. It’s very hard for grandparents not to hug and just the whole thing of having the family round you and close to you is so important for wellbeing. We really need tactility and it is very underrated in terms of sanity,” he says.
So what will be first on the agenda when restrictions ease?
“Dine around the table with all the family. I miss sharing meals and hospitality. It’s been hard, but hopefully, it’s not long now.”
He also reflects that the last year has reinforced his belief that he’s in the right job.
“I so enjoy being outside. It’s part of my daily life. I have four acres of garden and a wildflower meadow so I got very fit and I lost about one and a half stone in two months, purely through gardening!” But he continues wryly. “Then I broke my ankle in September - I slipped on wet grass – the garden can be a dangerous place! I was on crutches for six weeks so I put a bit of the weight back on again.”
But as spring gets in full flow Alan is relishing all the gardening challenges. “At the moment, all my seeds are lined up and my potatoes are sprouting,” he laughs.
Considered among the most respected gardening experts in the nation, Alan regularly divulges his tips to eager, green-fingered fans. His latest book Grow Your Own Fruit and Veg, a revised and updated edition, is a practical guide to growing and includes tips on growing everything from herbs, baby veg, salads and everyday fruits to gourmet or unusual varieties. Also included is how to make them fit into small gardens. “It’s astonishing what you can grow in containers or you can just buy sprouting vegetable kits and put them on your windowsill,” he says.
In addition, he is currently working on his 71st book, a romantic novel, which will take him around five months to write. Plus there’s a new series of Love Your Garden and a new ITV gardening show Spring Into Summer both starting this month. “I’m always busy. ‘Someone stop him!’” he jokes.
So what’s been the secret to his success? “I have always followed my dreams. I was lucky enough that my parents let me become a gardener and I have had wonderful people in my life to help me all along the way."
He adds: “The last year has also made me very aware that we only come this way once. Don’t rush quite so much. Take opportunities to sit quietly and look around you and learn from what you see out of the window. It’s been so refreshing to be at home. The downside of the pandemic has been not seeing the grandchildren enough, but being at home and on my piece of earth has been lovely.”
Take a look at our pick of the top gardening gloves for spring