On The Road: Alan Titch­marsh

Louise Flind

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

Is there any­thing you can’t leave home with­out? My van­ity case.

Some­thing you re­ally miss? We used to take an Ital­ian villa and I al­ways got fed up with those thick mar­ble floors and thin mat­tresses – I’d miss my own bed.

Do you travel light? I do – I hate queue­ing at the carousel. Who owns that bag that comes off first and al­ways goes round and round? They’re never there.

Ear­li­est child­hood hol­i­day mem­o­ries? Bis­pham just out­side Black­pool for a week ev­ery year. I don’t know how my par­ents af­forded it. We stayed in a board­ing house – me, my sis­ter and my mum and dad in what my mother would call ‘the se­lect end of Black­pool’. Things like sit­ting in the Tower Ball­room and watch­ing your par­ents waltz in the af­ter­noon – I was so proud of them. As we got older, we started go­ing to But­lin’s at Fi­ley.

Are you a trav­eller? I’m now happy stay­ing at home be­cause I’ve got two nice houses; one on the Isle of Wight and one in Hamp­shire.

Did you ever work abroad? Yes, with Ground Force – we did an or­phan­age in In­dia, met Nel­son Man­dela in South Africa, and worked on a hospi­tal in the Falk­land Is­lands. With Songs of Praise, I went to Jerusalem, Bos­nia, Ro­ma­nia, New York…

In Delhi, we made a gar­den for an or­phan­age, with a hole in the wall where peo­ple could leave ba­bies. We did the same at an or­phan­age in Ro­ma­nia; I met a doc­tor who said, ‘There’ll be one child who some­how con­nects with you.’ Her name was Cos­mina and I took a teddy bear to her, and she just put it down. She wasn’t in­ter­ested in a teddy bear – she wanted a per­son. And now, God will­ing, she’ll be in her twen­ties. Do you bring cut­tings back from abroad? I’m pretty good at not bring­ing things back. This is a huge prob­lem now be­cause of bio-se­cu­rity and the hun­dreds of po­ten­tial pathogens plant-wise out there. The hugely dread­ful one is Xylella, which at­tacks a wide range of plants.

Do you think the Bri­tish cli­mate and soil are the best in the world for gar­dens? Def­i­nitely – for two rea­sons. One is our his­tory of gar­den­ing, which stretches back hun­dreds of years. Se­condly, we’re in a most for­tu­itous po­si­tion, on the shoul­der of the globe where the north­ern part of our is­lands is sub-arc­tic and the south coast is al­most Mediter­ranean. So the range of flow­ers we can grow is enor­mous.

What’s it like to work with the royal fam­ily? I see to the Prince of Wales’s gar­den most years – he’s in­cred­i­bly keen and knowl­edge­able. The Queen’s sur­pris­ingly knowl­edge­able about plants as well – she can spout the odd Latin name.

Where did you go on your hon­ey­moon? Corn­wall, Fowey, in 1975. The bill came, it was £90 and I thought, ‘Oh crumbs!’

Who do you go on hol­i­day with? I’ve got two daugh­ters and four grand­chil­dren (all un­der seven) and the ten of us hol­i­day very hap­pily.

Do you lie on the beach? I can now. I never used to but hol­i­day time is sleep­ing, eat­ing, drink­ing and read­ing. If it’s a fly-and-flop hol­i­day, I’ll put down the cul­ture for a week.

Ho­tel or apart­ment? The prob­lem with be­ing in the pub­lic eye is you might get both­ered. But I don’t get both­ered much, and peo­ple are al­ways very nice – so now ho­tel, def­i­nitely.

Strangest thing you’ve ever eaten? Be­cause I was the guest of hon­our in China, I was obliged to eat the very edge of a tur­tle shell and that’s very dif­fi­cult for a con­ser­va­tion­ist.

Do you have a go at the lo­cal lan­guage? I do my best. I can ask ques­tions in French and not al­ways un­der­stand the an­swer. I can or­der a beer – or four or five – in Italy or Ger­many.

Big­gest headache? Air­ports are al­ways a headache. The se­cu­rity is nec­es­sary but they do some­times for­get that you’ve paid.

What is the strangest place you’ve ever slept in – while be­ing away? I took my wife on the Ori­ent Ex­press. You go to bed in these won­der­ful, crisp linen beds and wake up in the Alps; we went in May when the wild­flow­ers are out. Then, at six in the evening, you pull across the la­goon into Venice.

Do you like com­ing home? Love go­ing away and love com­ing home.

Top trav­el­ling tip? Un­der­pack rather than over­pack. You’re not nearly so tired, as your case isn’t so heavy.

Alan Titch­marsh’s ‘The Scar­let Nightin­gale’ is pub­lished by Hod­der, £20

Green fin­gers: Alan Titch­marsh

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