For fun in the shrub­bery with Mi­randa’s mum, plantswoman Dee Hart Dyke,

Pas­sion­ate plantswoman DEE HART DYKE is fronting a new TV series on gar­dens, nar­rated by daugh­ter Mi­randa (cue ram­pant climber in­nu­en­dos…)

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Best known for be­ing the real-life mother of ac­tress-co­me­dian Mi­randa Hart, Dee Hart Dyke is set to be­come a TV star in her own right, with a three-part Chan­nel 4 series in­spired by her pas­sion for gar­den­ing. Bri­tain’s Se­cret Gar­dens is be­ing screened to co­in­cide with the 90th an­niver­sary of the Na­tional Gar­den Scheme (ngs.org.uk), which opens more than 3,000 plots to the pub­lic to raise funds for char­ity. Nar­rated by none other than Mi­randa – whose epony­mous sit­com was a BBC hit from 2009-2015 – the series sees 77-year-old Dee take a (nat­u­rally, hu­mor­ous) look at some of these gar­dens, from the weird and won­der­ful to the ma­jes­tic.

Here, Dee opens up about talk­ing to her plants, be­ing car­i­ca­tured by her fa­mously funny daugh­ter and how her own Hamp­shire haven was a bless­ing when she al­most lost her beloved hus­band in the Falk­lands War.

We live in an age of anx­i­ety and it’s be­com­ing clear that gar­den­ing is tremen­dously help­ful. The ex­er­cise and fresh air are ob­vi­ous ben­e­fits, and the fact that you are to­tally ab­sorbed in what you are do­ing; you are, quite lit­er­ally, grounded, so you can’t think about this or that. Work­ing with the sea­sons, you learn pa­tience; to wait for the ex­cite­ment of things shoot­ing up when they should. And you’re away from the un­healthy de­mands of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy and this con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion we live with now. I’ve yet to meet an un­happy gar­dener!

I tried from an early age to get my two daugh­ters [Mi­randa, 44, and Alice, 41] into gar­den­ing. I could see straight away that the seed was not going to bear fruit, though they are very proud and ap­pre­cia­tive of my gar­den. You can’t force your pas­sions on your young – you have to let them find what they love. My mother gave me a packet of seeds and a bit of bor­der to plant them in when I was eight. The ex­cite­ment of see­ing the shoots com­ing up grabbed hold of me and I was hooked, so I’ve had time to learn a great deal. Many peo­ple don’t come to gar­den­ing un­til mid­dle age – but it’s never too late! You can get tremen­dous joy from even a few plants on your win­dowsill – as I am al­ways telling Mi­randa.

I re­mem­ber be­ing in the gar­den the day my hus­band David’s ship was sunk. [Royal Navy Cap­tain David Hart Dyke was com­mand­ing of­fi­cer of the HMS Coven­try, which was at­tacked by the Ar­gen­tines in the Falk­lands War, with a loss of 19 crew.] It was 25 May 1982, the most beautiful day, and I felt so happy among my bor­ders; I thought, ‘I’m sure this means noth­ing bad will hap­pen.’ That evening I heard the news. Al­though he suf­fered ter­ri­ble burns, David did come back safely in the end, but there was an aw­ful 18-hour pe­riod be­tween hear­ing that the boat had sunk and know­ing he was safe. The Falk­lands was the first war where you had it all on tele­vi­sion, so it was im­pos­si­ble to shield the girls [who were nine and six] from it.

Be­ing at home in the peace­ful­ness of our gar­den was very heal­ing for David and it helped him to re­cover. He doesn’t know much about gar­den­ing – and I don’t al­low him to touch my bor­ders – but he is very good at the ev­ery­day tasks I would never get round to, like putting cre­osote on fences. We bal­ance each other per­fectly. He said that when his ship was sink­ing, and he thought he might not make it, his first thought was, ‘Who will mow the lawn? How will Dee man­age?’ I was very amused by that: prac­ti­cal to the end!

I re­mem­ber be­ing in the gar­den the day my hus­band’s ship was sunk

The idea for Bri­tain’s Se­cret Gar­dens was Mi­randa’s. She’s al­ways found gar­den­ing lan­guage funny and thought I would be good on tele­vi­sion. Ev­ery­thing I say she turns into some won­der­ful in­nu­endo: she loves terms like ‘prick­ing on’, ‘bed­ding out’ and ‘ram­pant climbers’. It’s all very off-the- cuff. When she was 15 she used to do these amus­ing sketches in the vil­lage hall, and one of them was of me going round the gar­den with a friend. She had us in stitches. The series was def­i­nitely born out of her sense of hu­mour.

Ev­ery gar­den has a story to tell. So the main point of the show was to get the own­ers talk­ing. The only celebrity owner was [co­me­dian and nov­el­ist] Ju­lian Clary, who lives in Noël Cow­ard’s old home in Kent. I ac­com­pa­nied him on the pi­ano in ‘Don’t Put Your Daugh­ter on the Stage, Mrs Wor­thing­ton’, which was great fun, though a dif­fi­cult piece to play.

Gar­den­ing is a great lev­eller. You can have two gar­den­ers from com­pletely dif­fer­ent worlds, with dif­fer­ent jobs, who would be un­likely to meet in other cir­cum­stances, but the minute they get talk­ing, they feel com­pletely at ease with each other; it’s ex­tra­or­di­nary and lovely. It has been a won­der­fully for­tu­nate ex­pe­ri­ence, at my stage in life, to meet all these own­ers. I feel so lucky – and grate­ful to Mi­randa – that I have a pro­ject like this in my 70s.

I wasn’t ner­vous about ap­pear­ing on telly. When it’s some­thing that’s your pas­sion, it’s easy. Oc­ca­sion­ally, I think, ‘How on earth will I come across?’ But mainly I just hope I do the gar­dens jus­tice. We vis­ited 30 of them – in Kent, Lon­don and the Mid­lands – while film­ing. I find it hard to name a favourite, as I loved ev­ery sin­gle one. The ones on Thames barges, which were so un­ex­pected, and a tiny Ital­ian gar­den in Kent that a woman with Parkin­son’s had planted in hon­our of her mother par­tic­u­larly stand out.

– es­pe­cially the bird­song – is ab­so­lutely amaz­ing. The vis­it­ing bad­gers are less wel­come. Luck­ily, we don’t have moles or many foxes.

I strug­gle to name a favourite plant, but I am very fond of a dic­tam­nus. It’s a beautiful peren­nial that flow­ers for an ex­cep­tion­ally long time and then has seed­heads with a de­li­cious, lemony smell. I love what­ever is out at a par­tic­u­lar time. Later in the year, I am keen on the salvia fam­ily, with their beautiful jewel-like colours.

I would love to have a big veg­etable gar­den, but that is a full-time job in it­self and I can’t ne­glect my plants. You do have to choose. I grow the ba­sics, such as broad beans and run­ner beans and lots of rhubarb, and I hope to grow more in time. I am pleased that my nine-year-old grand­son, my younger daugh­ter Alice’s son, seems quite in­ter­ested. We sowed car­rots and let­tuces and beans to­gether, and they have all come up. They live next door and he has his own lit­tle foot­ball pitch in the field that he mows him­self. Of­ten love of gar­den­ing skips a gen­er­a­tion, so let’s hope!

It’s in the hu­man DNA to gar­den. Peo­ple have been work­ing with soil and grow­ing things for count­less thou­sands of years. It’s such a nat­u­ral thing com­pared to swip­ing a screen. Gar­den­ing is soli­tary by its na­ture – you can think calmly as you work. I worry that to­day’s young can’t re­main fo­cused for long enough – or cul­ti­vate the pa­tience – for gar­den­ing. There’s this con­stant panic of ‘Am I out of touch?’ My rule is: no phones in the gar­den. I have an old Nokia in my car to ring some­one if I am going to be late – that’s it.

The only time I have ever taken a break from gar­den­ing was when we lived in Wash­ing­ton DC for two years. David was made naval at­taché there, but our gar­den was full of poi­son ivy. We vis­ited lots of beautiful gar­dens and had a lovely time in other ways. I was happy to get back, though. We’d bought our cur­rent house just be­fore we went [in 1984] and I’m thank­ful for it ev­ery day. There’s a bank up by the pool where lots of things flower and where you can see right across the vil­lage – it’s the most per­fect spot.

We are great game play­ers as a fam­ily: any poor per­son who comes to visit is forced into

a round of cha­rades. When we get to­gether we’re of­ten to be found in the gar­den; we some­times have ham­mocks strung be­tween ap­ple trees in the orchard. There has al­ways been lots of hu­mour in our house. We are ter­ri­bly close – David and I to both of the girls, and the two of them to each other. David has a very good, dry sense of hu­mour, which may be where Mi­randa gets hers from.

I am a great be­liever in a gar­den evolv­ing and not be­ing in­stantly won­der­ful. You should have a pro­ject ev­ery year that you can watch un­fold. You never want any­thing to be set in stone. And the less glam­orous bits, like mulching, dead-head­ing and pre­par­ing the soil, are so im­por­tant.

The main thing is never to be a bore about your gar­den. I would never say to any­one, ‘Would you like to see the gar­den?’ I will al­ways wait for them to ask.

Bri­tain’s Se­cret Gar­dens is com­ing soon to More 4. Episodes will be avail­able for catch-up on All 4

Dee join­ing forces with Mi­randa on Bri­tain’s Se­cret Gar­dens and, left, in her own gar­den in Hamp­shire

Dee at the press night of An­nie, top, with daugh­ters Alice and Mi­randa (as Miss Han­ni­gan) and hus­band David, and the fam­ily in 1982, above. Op­po­site: with Mi­randa and Pa­tri­cia Hodge in a Stand up to Can­cer celebrity

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