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Sixty Seconds with Alan Titchmarsh

The gardener and presenter, 70, on giving Elton John advice, his hatred of block-paving and why patch size doesn’t matter

You’re at this year’s Ideal Home Show. What can visitors expect?

As ever, it’s an enormous cornucopia of everything domestic and horticultural. It’s the 112th show and I can’t remember how many I’ve been to but it’s quite a lot. It’s great fun enthusing people about what I love, which is growing things. Spring is a good time of year, I think — we’ve all come through winter and want to start afresh, whether inside or out.

Are people growing their own veg more?

Oh yes. Because if you’ve grown it organically, which I have for 40 years, you know what’s on it and where it’s come from. When my daughters were little they said they didn’t like carrots so I grew some and they said they didn’t taste like carrots! I said that’s what they tasted like when they were fresh pulled! We can all do our bit and with environmental concerns, it’s important we look after our little patch.

What about if you only have a small flat and not much time?

There are pots, troughs, window boxes and growing bags, whatever your patch. A lady emailed me saying she only had a doorstep so I said buy half a dozen big pots, put them down the steps and grow single flowers with nectar and pollen that wildlife and insects will enjoy. Two months later she emailed saying she had a bee! My heart sinks when I see block-paved front gardens. You don’t need to block-pave the entire thing, all a car needs is two small strips and then you can put low growing plants between that, which will absorb flood water and run-off and be good for insects and the air, as they help with carbon retention. You can’t slag off royals and celebrities for using private jets if you buy strawberries in January. Eat vegetables and fruits in season and you’ll be doing your bit.

Grow your own: Carrots PICTURE: ALAMY

How much time do you get to spend in your own garden?

Oh, part of every day. I write in the morning and have my afternoon in the garden. I have four acres so I do have help — a lot of it is wildflower meadow and wildlife pond but there is formal garden as well. It’s my business as well as my pleasure. I have to get my hands dirty, it keeps me sane.

How many times a day do people ask you for advice?

Oh, all the time. When I was doing chat shows, every guest always had their own problems. On Breakfast Time about 40 years ago when I’d just started on TV I was sitting on the red sofa and Elton John asked me about his maidenhair fern, which I thought was quite funny.

Don’t you have a plant from Elton John’s garden?

I have! I did a programme called Britain’s Best Back Gardens and Elton very kindly let us go in to his, and he came out and said, ‘It’s a real honour to have you here!’ I thought, ‘It’s very kind of you to let us in!’ And then his gardener gave me this lovely pelargonium called sweet mimosa, which is a variety of geranium. It’s in my greenhouse so that’s my nice souvenir of Elton John.

Which celebrity’s garden has been most impressive?

I was in Griff Rhys Jones’s garden in Suffolk for my TV show 50 Shades Of Green and that’s impressive. I enjoy talking my language with people who are known for other things.

Considering how many times you’ve met the Queen and Prince Charles, do you feel you know them?

[Laughs] We are acquainted. I see the Prince of Wales quite a lot, as I’ve been an ambassador for the Prince’s Countryside Fund and the Prince’s Trust for quite a while. I’m a great fan — he’s such a hard worker. I’ve met just about everybody from the Queen downwards.

Your plant: Elton John PICTURE: GETTY

You did All Star Musicals last year — did you think you’d have such a great reaction?

The funny thing was, when I was up on the stage and the judges started making their remarks, I couldn’t hear because they were way down in the auditorium. Then when I got fives I was blown away! I’ve never sung a romantic ballad in public in my life and thought I wasn’t good enough.

You’ve written a book of poetry too…

Yes, it’s called Marigolds, Myrtle And Moles. I’ve written poems for years. It was [British composer] Debbie Wiseman who got me into it. We did an album last year, The Glorious Garden, which got to No.1 in the classical charts, which is outrageous. I wrote a poem for different plants and trees, and Debbie wrote a piece of music to go with each one and this book is a result of that.

What have you not achieved that you’d like to?

I’d like to do more interviewing. I’ve interviewed people like Dirk Bogarde, Alan Bennett and Sir Georg Solti while he played Mozart — there are moments you have to pinch yourself.

Ideal Home Show is at Olympia London from March 27 to April 13. Titchmarsh will be hosting his Top Garden Tips at the Super Theatre on the opening day.