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More TV treatment for Monty's garden
7:00am Saturday 17th March 2012 in Homes & Gardens
The highs and lows of allowing the TV cameras into Monty Don's garden - plus, find out what else needs doing in the garden this week.
By Hannah Stephenson.
Spring is one of Monty Don's favourite times of the year, when primroses, daffodils, fritillaries and tulips emerge in his beautiful garden at Longmeadow.
It's a sight he won't enjoy alone, as two million viewers who tune into Gardeners' World every week will be invited to share the many glories of his two-acre garden, which is divided into 19 different sections and last year became the new base of the hit gardening programme.
For nine months of the year, from February to November, TV crews film in his garden in the Herefordshire Marches, eight miles from the Welsh border.
The nurtured space will be revealed in the new series of Gardeners' World, which begins on March 9 on BBC Two, and is accompanied by a tie-in book, Gardening At Longmeadow.
Don, the programme's main presenter, admits that opening up his own two-acre private garden to the cameras hasn't come without its drawbacks, but the pros far outweigh the cons.
"The good thing is I have no journey, the downside is that I live above the shop. I never turn off from it."
The film crew aren't allowed in the house, the TV equipment is stored in an outhouse when not in use. Don may have allowed the cameras in, but he's in charge of the garden. For the last five years, he and his wife Sarah have had no help at all, until the BBC insisted on it. Don now has two full-time gardeners to assist.
"The slight downside of that means I do less gardening because there's less to do. It's a bit like having a chef in the kitchen asking if I'd like a poached egg, when I could quite easily poach one myself."
But he remains the master of his own domain.
"Nobody tells me what to do in my own garden. People are genuinely helping me rather than doing it themselves and then telling me about it."
Filming takes place one or two days in the week, depending on what's happening in the garden, although sometimes filming has taken three or even four days a week. And Don has had to compromise in some measure as to how he wants his garden to be, for the sake of the programme.
It's a complicated, large, full garden - no big lawns, no empty spaces, even the orchard has 39 apple trees.
"We've had to widen quite a lot of paths which are perfectly good for wheeling a wheelbarrow down. But by the time you get a camera crew with a tripod and a sound recordist with size 12 feet and a director with a monitor, you can have six people behind the camera or more, and then tracks and a jib. The original paths can't accommodate all that.
"We've had to widen a number of paths and we still are. Where we've had grass paths, we've had to put hard paths. As with any public place, the equation has had to change with volume."
At any one time, 90% of the garden needs to look good, which can be difficult to achieve, he reflects.
"Inevitably, all of the garden has to look good all the time, whereas in a private garden, if you hadn't weeded that bed, you do it when you can. Or if you got terribly behind with your veg, you'd think, 'Ok, I won't grow any peas this year'.
"A TV programme doesn't allow for that, but I do try to show the camera where things go wrong and show the human side of it, rather than making it a show garden, because it's not a show garden."
He stresses that the BBC has been extremely good about not trying to lose the personal element.
"Obviously you lose your privacy to a degree because you are sharing it with X-million people. On one hand you want more people to see it, on the other you only want to have invited people. But there are certain boundaries which are not crossed.
"For example, we never have visitors from the public to Longmeadow, although we often get letters from people asking to come and see it. You always have to say no because you know it's the thin end of the wedge."
Occasionally, tourists will turn up unannounced, keen for a glimpse of the famous TV garden, but the locals are keen to allow the Dons their space. After all, they've lived there for 20 years and are well known enough in the village.
This year, Don will be creating a pond in the Damp Garden and is looking forward to seeing the fruits of last year's labours with great swathes of colour in the Jewel Garden and elsewhere.
"The key thing is the rhythm and cycle of the year of gardening. It's not like a house which you refurbish and decorate and it's done. The garden's never done, it's always changing and adapting."
So, has he lost the private leisure he once had in his garden?
"For me, leisure is digging and planting and weeding," he shrugs.
After leaving Gardeners' World in 2008 through ill health, he says the only way he would have returned was to film at Longmeadow.
His current agreement ends at the end of this year, but he's hoping the TV partnership will continue after that.
"The work we did last year will take at least three years to come to fruition. It would be a terrible waste if that didn't happen. I'd like it to be a five-year arrangement and beyond that, who knows?"
:: Gardening At Longmeadow, by Monty Don, is published by BBC Books on March 15, priced £25. The new series of Gardeners' World starts on Friday, March 9 on BBC Two.
Best of the bunch - Muscari The grape hyacinth is one of the most popular and widely grown spring-flowering bulbs, creating spectacular bedding displays and providing a pint-size focal point planted in single colours in containers.
Each stem carries a dense spike of small blue, white or soft yellow flowers above grass-like foliage. Bulbs should be planted in autumn 5cm below the surface and 4cm apart or less if you want to cram a pot full of them.
Good varieties include M. armeniacum, which produces a fine display of deep blue flowers in mid-spring, M. macrocarpum 'Golden Fragrance', which bears soft yellow flowers and looks great in a pot in a warm, sheltered spot, and M. latifolium, which has spikes of dark blue flowers and broader leaves.
Good enough to eat - Oriental greens They are as easy to grow as lettuces, an extremely useful follow-on crop after broad beans have finished and decorative enough for a small garden. Chinese cabbage, pak choi and other oriental veg are perfect for adding to stir-fries and spicy salads.
Sow them between March and May, but be warned that spring-sown plants are likely to bolt if left too long, although the flower shoots are edible before the flowers open. Like European cabbages, they like a very fertile, moisture-retentive soil with a high nitrogen content.
If you wait, you can sow oriental greens directly into their final position in June and thin them out later. Keep the seedlings well watered and fork well-rotted manure or compost into the soil before planting. Soak the soil if it's dry and scatter a balanced fertiliser on it before planting.
Chinese cabbage should be spaced 30-38cm apart to produce heads, while pak choi can be planted a little closer. Cover the crop with insect-proof netting and make further sowings throughout July for a continuous crop.
Young leaves of immature plants can be harvested for salads, while mature heads are better steamed or used in stir-fries. Good options include 'Tat Soi', a small green rosette type of pak choi, while 'Giant Red', a type of mustard, adds a spicy tang to salads.
Three ways to... Care for ornamental grasses 1. Give your grasses a spring clean if the leaves go brown in winter. Remove affected leaves of acorus, luzula and some sedges individually, and comb clumps of larger plants like festuca with a spring-tined rake.
2. Keep the grasses moist during summer or the leaves may roll up into tubes, a reaction showing stress, which they do to minimise water loss by reducing the exposed surface area of the leaves.
3. Cut out dead or diseased foliage which starts from the tips downwards, trimming the brown areas with scissors or cutting out the whole leaf from its base.
What to do this week :: Be vigilant about pest control in the greenhouse, as warm March days can encourage a population explosion of greenhouse pests.
:: Mulch beds and borders while soil is moist to reduce watering and weeding later on in the year.
:: Pot up or space out young bedding plants and tender perennials in seed trays in the greenhouse.
:: Sow seeds of summer bedding, annual climbers and herbs in pots or trays under cover.
:: Lift overcrowded clumps of snowdrops and winter aconites, separate them and replant them at their original depth.
:: Plant 'De Caen' and 'Saint Brigid' anemones for flowering during the summer.
:: If you have somewhere warm and light to keep them, buy young plug plants or net pots to give you a head start in May and June.
:: Prune blueberry bushes over three years old by removing fruited branches.
:: Cut back damaged gooseberry and currant buds attacked by birds in the winter, removing weak shoots from newly planted bushes and shorten the remainder by a third.
:: Remove the flower buds on strawberries to prevent fruiting on summer-fruiting varieties that have just been planted.
:: Cut off the dead flower spikes which have protected summer-flowering heathers through the winter.
:: Prune roses, removing decaying, old and thin wood.