Simply Come Gardening Posted on November 19, 2010

At last the BBC is taking gardening seriously, applying to it the sort of production values that make programmes worth watching more than once – and making the most of Alan Titchmarsh.

His hands-on history of garden fashion that started two weeks ago, with Hatfield House representing the (early) 17th century, is the ideal use of his talents. No other presenter could handle these 90-minute entertainments.

The plan is ambitious but simple – and it works. Alan’s so-called ‘secrets’ are the fundamental vocabulary and grammar of garden design; hedges, parterres, topiary, orchards, eye-catchers, perspective, ha-has, ……. We are shown them in their original context, in macrocosm, in contrast in different settings, and in

microcosm, when Alan, with tongue characteristically in cheek, devises and builds a backyard version. The model for perspective may be Vaux-le-Vicomte, but the sample he constructs, with minimum fuss, is bit of trellis, a mirror and a bust taking up no more room than your recycling bins. By the time Alan has draped a bit of honeysuckle and ivy over it you could invite your friends round without shame.

It is far from being just a canter through the usual suspects. Among the designs for a parterre is Tom Stuart-Smith’s extraordinary idea of magnifying the venation of a beech leaf to provide a pattern – which in turn inspires Alan to do something similar at his normal express speed with thyme. In one programme he builds a mount, makes cubes of sedum, creates a ‘step-over’ apple tree hedge ……. and thoroughly enjoys himself.

It seemed odd, I thought, taking Hatfield as the model of a 17th century garden (with due obeisance to Tradescant) while admitting that the whole garden has been created (rather than recreated) in the past fifty years. But it emphasises the truth that a garden is an artefact. If you can’t start centuries ago these is no time like the present.

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