Alan Titchmarsh, broadcaster, gardener and author

Even from people who know nothing about the horticulture industry, there will be a spark of interest when you mention Alan Titchmarsh.

Even from people who know nothing about the horticulture industry, there will be a spark of interest when you mention Alan Titchmarsh.  

The former lead presenter of Gardeners' World is a master communicator, and can entertain audiences that others cannot reach.

Now he has turned his attention to a modish subject - growing your own food - by writing The Kitchen Gardener: Grow your own Fruit and Veg.

He hopes the interest in "grow your own" is not just a fad. He feels that people start with good intentions, but he says: "A lot of people make the mistake of getting a full-size allotment - which is huge - breaking their back on it, digging it in winter and then sowing far too much the following spring. The end result is that they bite off more than they can chew."

So he recommends starting with a small vegetable patch. "Make successional sowings, don't sow 15-foot rows of lettuce, sow three-foot rows every 10 days or two weeks. That way you still get the thrill and excitement but not the gluts or embarrassing failures."

It's not his first book on kitchen gardening, having written The Allotment Gardener's Handbook 25 years ago. So what makes this new book stand out?

"I wanted to do one that covers everything edible, so it's fruit, vegetables and herbs all within one cover. I like to give people value for money in my books. "

It may seem he is no longer focusing on gardening, having passed the baton of presenting Gardeners' World to Monty Don and hosting an afternoon chat show on ITV and presenting a Sunday evening Radio 2 slot - but Titchmarsh remains connected to horticulture.

"I've certainly not given up gardening at all, I'm writing every week for the Daily Express, Sunday Express and Radio Times, and Gardeners' World magazine every month. I'm not on the screen gardening at the moment but I'll be back when the right thing comes along."

When he does, the garden industry will welcome him back with open arms. Few have done more for the sector in terms of boosting the popularity of gardening than Titchmarsh. There remain some, however, who continue to criticise Ground Force, which he fronted until 2002, for, they say, encouraging people to demand instant results, a feature of modern consumer culture.

"I read an article the other day saying Ground Force took gardening to a pleasurable low. Now aside from the fact that that's personally wounding to me, I'd step back from that and say that's absolute nonsense. People came to gardening who wouldn't have come to it from another route."

He adds: "It's all right if you're very knowledgeable and do your job properly but if you bore the pants off people you'll turn them off." Titchmarsh is too nice to be referring to anyone in particular. He is responding to the idea that the popularisation of gardening during the makeover craze led to "dumbing down". He believes this isn't a valid claim, not least because he was trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

"I don't give misleading information and I don't reduce my subjects." He may be cast, sometimes unfavourably, as the housewife's favourite and the face of Middle England, but he has proved that he can entertain the public and get them interested in gardening. To explain this ability, he says: "I've always relied on enthusiasm and showing people that things are not as complicated as they think they are."

Titchmarsh was inspired as a young boy by Percy Thrower's easy manner. "I found I could grow things, and I was a late developer, not particularly academic when I was tiny, so a bit of success made me think: 'Oh, this is what I can do.'"

Starting as a parks apprentice in the days when it was common for mentors to guide their charges, his career was mapped out for him and he progressed along the traditional path to horticultural college to study for a National Certificate in horticulture, and then on to the diploma at Kew.

After graduating, he stayed on at Kew as supervisor of staff training. But it wasn't for him: "I wasn't very good at it and not everyone wanted to learn, which came as a bit of a disappointment."

So he decided to try journalism, becoming first an editor of gardening books and then deputy editor of Amateur Gardening magazine, before turning freelance. His first TV appearance was on Nationwide as a horticulture expert and it snowballed from there.

When he is asked about the next generation of horticulturists, he says the industry needs to pay a decent wage and use inspiring people within the industry as ambassadors. Again, he pulls no punches: "It's no use just grunting 'nobody wants to come into horticulture'. Well, make it more attractive - it's no one's fault but the industry itself. There's no point looking anywhere else."

As for the future of garden programmes on TV, he predicts they will rise in popularity again: "Makeover programmes were big for a bit, now we're waiting for the next thing. So many people are asking what that will be and I have no more idea than they do. But there will be a movement within the water, and something will surface, and then we will learn to run with it."

1964: Apprentice gardener with Ilkley council;
1969: Diploma student at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; later supervisor of
staff training;
1974: Becomes a garden journalist
1983 to date: Presenter of RHS Chelsea Flower Show TV coverage
1996-2002: Main presenter of Gardeners' World
1997-2002: Presenter of Ground Force
2000: Appointed an MBE
2004: Awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour by the RHS.

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