My first memories of Yorkshire are walking on Ilkley Moor, paddling in the River Wharfe fishing for tiddlers and wandering through woods filled with bluebells. In Ilkley the proximity to moors, woods and river meant that I was always only minutes away from a variety of landscapes. I’ve been in love with the outside world ever since. It was such a brilliant place to grow up. During the holidays I was allowed to simply take myself off…as long as I was home in time for tea.
The best bits Yorkshire has to offer are the countryside, the folk, the food – and Bettys Café.
Coronavirus has meant I’m at home in Hampshire and have been since mid-March. Being over 70 (just) I’ve been told I’m vulnerable. I haven’t done so much gardening every day since I was an apprentice.
A typical day at the moment is up at around 7.30am, make Mrs T a cup of tea, shower, get dressed, go out and do the watering, mowing, staking and planting before a light lunch. There are still columns to write and emails to answer in the hope that when things get back to normal we can start filming again. For now all that is on hold, but I do get to FaceTime my grandchildren every day. Gosh, I miss ‘em!
Filming for Love Your Garden on ITV and a new show that I was scheduled to start filming in the middle of April. All that must wait, but I have a lovely garden to tend and so the frustration is tempered by that and I really am enjoying getting stuck in. Normally I have two people to help me, but they are at home and so I garden solo.
I’m finding great contentment in gardening almost all day every day. I always do something, but thanks to great spring weather I’ve been outdoors from dawn till dusk, remembering why I love it so.
The most difficult thing is missing my daughters and my grandchildren, two boys and two girls all under eight. Like all grandparents I am desperate for a cuddle.
I’m still actively involved with broadcasting my Classic FM show on a Saturday morning from home. Still writing for Country Life and BBC Gardeners’ World magazines, plus the Daily Express so there’s still plenty to do. I also have a novel brewing, but quite slowly. I need to finish it by next spring so naturally I haven’t started it yet. I’m still basking in the glory of Marigolds, Myrtle and Moles, my first book of poetry, spending two weeks in The Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller List. There’s also lots of Skyping into news and current affairs programmes, mainly about the closure of garden centres which saddens me. Many growers may go out of business and we need our gardens and plants more than ever in these times.
Plants, flowers, wildlife, the glory of the great outdoors all inspire my poetry. I feel driven to champion it and to reconnect folk with the earth and things that grow. Children love being outdoors and we need to give them a chance to come into contact with the earth and nature far more. The future of the planet will be in their hands and I am anxious that they love it and understand it.
How to I relax? Gardening! Driving an old car, reading and pottering about in my garden on the Isle of Wight. One day I’ll be rumbled.
May is usually a time to enjoy gardens, parks and fabulous flower shows. All those of us in the gardening community are so sad that RHS Chelsea, Malvern and so many other flower shows have had to be cancelled, though we can see the necessity. Our thoughts are really with the growers, garden centres and nurseries who could struggle to stay afloat. All we can do is hope they weather the storm and that either a rescue package or a reopening of garden centres and nurseries will have some kind of positive effect.
A great idea for your garden during lockdown is to do swaps with neighbours (leave them at the end of the garden path). Dig up and divide overcrowded clumps, provided they’ve not grown too tall, and above all, order plants by post from the specialist nurseries who so desperately need the trade. The RHS has listed on their website all those growers who were going to exhibit at flower shows and many of them are selling by mail order. House plants are mercifully back in fashion. Look for those that suit your living conditions. Moth orchids (Phalaenopsis) are easy to grow and last for three or four months in flower. Just don’t overwater them. One watering every ten days or so is plenty, and don’t leave them standing in water.
My favourite flower or plant depends on the time of year. First it’s snowdrops, then daffs, then tulips, right now it is Japanese maples – exquisitely delicate and wonderfully varied. The great thing about gardening in the UK is the seasonality, our gardens and predilections change with the seasons.
I love York Gate at Adel near Leeds, which was created by Robin and Sybil Spencer, because it shows what wonderful proportions and spectacle can be achieved in just an acre, and Parcevall Hall for its setting in the Yorkshire Dales. Studley Royal (at Fountains Abbey) is matchless when it comes to landscaping on the grand scale. I love it.
I always walk up on Ilkley Moor and look down across the Wharfe Valley at the town itself, feeling grateful to have grown up in such a place. Bettys on The Grove is essential for lunch and I’ll take home a box of Fat Rascals. I’ll look over the parapet of the Old Bridge to see if I can spot any trout and gaze wistfully on the little nursery beside the bridge. I’ve loved it since I was a boy. Then I’ll just wander the streets of my childhood and reignite happy memories.
I’m looking forward to returning to the theatre, going for long walks, seeing friends and above all reconnecting with my family. Never again will I take such freedoms for granted. Having always revered those who work in the NHS and as carers, I now view them with even more respect than ever.
When everyone is out and about again they should walk on the wild and woolly moors, a perfect place to connect with nature. Then head down to the riverbank and watch trout nosing upstream, before enjoying a hand pulled pint in front of a glorious view.
This article was originally written for This Is Y magazine digital edition – May 2020. To view the full magazine, click here