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Titchmarsh reveals his private garden
7:00am Saturday 10th November 2012 in Homes & Gardens
Gardening guru Alan Titchmarshgives readers a tour of his own private plot in his horticultural memoir, My Secret Garden - plus, find out what else needs doing in the garden this week.
By Hannah Stephenson
His old back garden at Barleywood was shared with millions of viewers every week when he was the frontman on BBC Gardeners' World - but it's taken 10 years for Alan Titchmarsh to finally reveal his current garden to fans.
A decade after moving a stone's throw from Barleywood to his current Hampshire home, a large Georgian farmhouse set in four acres, he finally feels ready to let the public see how he has transformed the garden, through the pages of his new book, My Secret Garden.
"It's difficult when you've done a garden like this to keep it to yourself," Titchmarsh reflects.
"I didn't want to open it up and have the pressure of folk coming in but people kept saying, 'Do you bother with your garden now it's not on the telly?' Well, this is proof that I do."
Years of hard labour have gone into achieving his private paradise, which features a mass of decorative borders, a wildflower meadow, a hornbeam avenue and a wildlife pond, and these days he just has two people to help him.
Between them, they also maintain the 35 acres of meadow and woodland which Titchmarsh retained after selling Barleywood, which he turned into a nature reserve.
"I'll never let the TV cameras into my private garden," he says now.
"I would never go to Alison (his wife) and say, 'Look, can we just do one programme?' because we made the decision not to. I'm blissfully happy being there on my own with the family."
It's amazing that he can fit any gardening into his hectic work schedule of TV presenting and writing.
"I have to," he shrugs.
"If I don't go out there and potter several times a week, I get ratty. There's quite a bit of mowing to do but I like the therapy of mowing.
"When I grew up my mum and dad had a tiny back garden up in Yorkshire and then when I first got married and lived in Berkshire we had a 15ft by 40ft strip behind the house. So I know how lucky I am in having more space."
Titchmarsh describes himself as a gardener who designs a bit, rather than a garden designer.
"I trained in a parks department and the legacy of that is a liking for striped lawns and trimmed edges. I do have a bit of an obsession with neatness, if I'm honest, and that manifests itself in my preference for balance and symmetry, but within the order I enjoy a degree of chaos too.
"I think my garden does betray a few delusions of grandeur - I like urns and finials and other classical touches - but I hope the resulting style is elegant rather than pretentious."
The book, which features different parts of his garden through the different seasons - from silky white snowdrops, bold yellow daffodils, hellebores and majestic tulips in spring, to glorious summer plantings fringing neatly striped lawn areas, swathes of wisteria around the house, the formal south terrace with its structured topiary, yew lollipops peppered with Allium 'Purple Sensation', and the garden statues which create interest and surprise throughout the year.
"I love May when everything's come out. The leaves are all fresh, unsullied and unbattered by wind and the first of the blossom's coming out."
He says that 'almost weekly' he thinks of cutting down on his TV commitments to enable him to spend more time in his garden.
"It may well happen over the next two or three years. I've been on telly an awful lot. I very much enjoy being at home and the reason I don't do big travelogue series where I go away for two or three months is because I couldn't bear to leave the plot.
"Sitting in my garden, looking out, it reassures me that in the great scheme of things, life goes on, the seasons are all powerful and we, in a way, are governed by nature and we should respect it and work with it."
The book is dedicated to Titchmarsh's nine-month-old grandson, Hugo, who's already been introduced to the garden, Titchmarsh smiles.
He says he's put a big fence up around the pond in anticipation of Hugo toddling towards it.
"I don't want to force him into gardening but if he's in and among it all the time, he'll grow up thinking that's the way it is and it'll become second nature to him."
:: My Secret Garden by Alan Titchmarsh is published by BBC Books, priced £25. Available now.
Best of the bunch - Pyracantha (firethorn)
Evergreen foliage, dainty white flowers and bright autumn berries make this spiny shrubs a must-have in any garden, particularly if you want to help feed the birds.
From late spring to mid-summer, flat clusters of small open flowers appear, followed by berries in vivid shades of orange, scarlet and golden yellow, which can persist through the winter.
Pyracanthas are spreading or upright in habit so you can grow them as free-standing shrubs, hedging or trained against a wall or fence in a fan or espalier shape.
They like fertile, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade and will tolerate north-facing walls. Prune free-standing shrubs in late winter or early spring by removing shoots that spoil the shape.
The sideshoots of wall-trained plants should be pruned in midsummer, two or three buds from the base, while hedges can also be trimmed in midsummer.
Good varieties include P. 'Soleil d'Or', an upright variety with yellow berries, and P. 'Orange Glow', which produces deep orange berries.
Good enough to eat - Celeriac
Anyone who hasn't tried a delicious celeriac, garlic and potato mash as an accompaniment to any winter-warming dish, from sausages to roast meats, is missing a real treat.
Celeriac is a knobbly winter root which can be harvested until March.
The flesh - crispy when raw, silky smooth when cooked - has a delicate taste which suggests the flavours of celery with a slight nuttiness.
Sow the seed indoors in late March in trays of compost, not earlier as the plants tend to run to seed.
Transplant into seed trays when two true leaves have developed and grow on at 55F until mid-April, when they can be placed in a cold frame to harden off, ready to be planted out in May.
Plant out in a prepared bed spacing the plants 12in apart with 15in between the rows. Mulch with well-rotted manure or compost to retain moisture and ensure that they are kept well watered, or they will run to seed.
In early autumn, draw soil up around the stems to blanch them. Lift towards the end of autumn and store in boxes of moist peat in a frost-free place to be used as needed during the winter. In most areas you can cover the roots with straw and lift as required until early spring.
Three ways to... Enjoy cacti success
1. When plants become pot bound, pot on in spring into pots just one size larger in diameter than its old one.
2. Place desert cacti on a sunny windowsill all year round, although full sun is not essential.
3. In winter, provide a cool position with a minimum night temperature of 8-10C (46-50F) so they have a period of rest.
What to do this week
:: Remove decaying or dead branches of established trees, to prepare for winter winds.
:: Protect newly planted evergreens with a temporary windbreak until they are established.
:: Group containers over the winter for mutual protection, wrapping up vulnerable pots and plants.
:: Rotate your cropping plan on the vegetable plot to reduce any build-up of pest or disease and to create the right levels of food in the ground for various crops.
:: Use shears to cut back clumps of mint to near-ground level and apply a top dressing of leaf mould or compost.
:: Encourage the uppermost Brussels sprouts to swell by pinching out the stem tip.
:: Check all crops in store regularly as the air becomes cold and humid.
:: Continue to propagate trees and shrubs by taking hardwood cuttings.
:: Prune wisteria to increase flowering next year.
:: Lift begonia tubers, dry them and store in a cool, frost-free place.
:: Ventilate the greenhouse on sunny days.
:: Tidy borders for the winter by removing stakes, cutting back dying foliage and digging out perennial weeds.
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