The Pen is Mightier than the Sword

Alan Titchmarsh headshot

Alan TitchmarshOver the years, Alan Titchmarsh has become as commonplace on the British gardening scene as Miracle-Gro or the Chelsea Flower Show. At 65 years old, the established horticulturalist has become synonymous with gardening journalism, while also finding the time in between his television work to write fiction novels. We spoke to him about his creative process and how he goes about sharing the workload between writing and gardening.

This is number nine for me,” the gardener-cum-writer tells us. “I always set my stories in places that I know and love, and I hadn’t written one about Scotland,” Titchmarsh tells us. “The highlands of Scotland are so vast and majestic and
beautiful. The book itself was all written in my barn in Hampshire, but I travelled there in my mind and I like to make my books as much about a sense of place as possible.”

Originally from Ilkley in West Yorkshire, Titchmarsh started his move South in the early 70s to study in Hertfordshire, and then to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Richmond where he picked up his diploma. He is best known for his  breakthrough on British television screens in the late nineties, hosting the successful Gardener’s World and Ground Force shows. However, Titchmarsh considers himself to be a writer first and foremost, and has continued the craft ever since he finished studying.

“Writing is all about music. It’s about rhythm and pitch and pace. A story has its own rhythm and its own meter so it is very different to writing strictly about gardening. But I write every day at home, either in a newspaper column or a  non-fiction book, or fiction. It’s a discipline, but then you break through that discipline into what you’re writing about and you’re involved with the words on the page and how they affect the reader. That can be whether they’re putting across information in a clear and concise fashion or telling them a story. I’ve written for a living for forty years now. I started writing in 1974 and ever since I’ve been living with my pen and my spade!”

Taking Alan on a walk down memory lane, he describes how his interest in gardening began early on, and recalls spending time with his grandfather’s allotment at a very young age. “I’d built a greenhouse out of polythene and wood by the age of ten, and just loved gardening from being about eight. I always wanted to do it. I’ve got a picture of me in tiny baggy bloomers aged about 18 months being walked through my grandad’s sweet peas…”

Sixty years on, the green-fingered veteran shows no signs of slowing down, proving that gardening truly is accessible at any age.

“If I could hope anything, I would hope that I’ve made gardening a little bit easier to understand, perhaps even made it more exciting. I’d like to think that had happened, but that’s for others to say rather than me. I just keep sharing my passion in an enthusiastic way, which I hope is infectious and easy to understand.”

The Yorkshireman has certainly been instrumental in bettering the nation’s relationship with their own back gardens. The great admiration of his shows is enough to prove it. Plans are afoot for Titchmarsh to continue his broadcasting, and, exhibiting his first garden at the sold-out Chelsea Flower Show for more than 30 years this month, black market tickets are reported to be fetching a hefty price.

“I’m filming a series at the moment at Buckingham Palace. I’m doing a two-part programme about the Queen’s garden there, which is exciting. There’s also a new series of Love Your Garden coming this summer, and I’m doing a show called Britain’s Best Gardens too, where we’re going to try and find 30 of the UK’s best private domestic gardens.”

It seems clear through talking to him that Titchmarsh is very much a salt of the earth chap. With his roots in British culture and inarguably a national treasure, he ends our conversation on a fitting note.

“I love this country,” he says. “I’m devoted to Britain and its landscape, and keen to get more people out there appreciating what we’ve got.”

Bring Me Home by Alan Titchmarsh is published in hardcover by Hodder & Stoughton at £18.99.

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