Gardeners’ World is free therapy

Round & About

Gardeners World

If you can’t afford a therapist…actually, even if you can, watch Gardeners’ World. It’ll do you the world of good says Robbie James

Last month I deployed myself on a giant rant about competitive busyness, and I promised to follow it up with something more joyful this month. I’m a man of my word (sometimes), so for April, I’m revelling in the tranquillity that is Gardeners’ World.

I had a sad day recently. I was anxious, worrying about everything, and generally feeling overwhelmed by the world. Thankfully that same day marked the beginning of the 55th series of the gardening programme. For the first time since (insert a long time ago), I found myself waiting for a TV show that wasn’t a sport to begin. I wasn’t watching something on-demand. Let that sink in… waiting for a programme to air on actual television. Remarkable.

Eight o’clock eventually rolled around, and when I tell you it was worth the wait… the theme tune was enough for me to feel ten times lighter. (I’m a complete nerd when it comes to theme tunes, and in case you are too; the theme is an arrangement of ‘Morning Light’, composed by Will Gregory and recorded by the BBC Concert Orchestra, obviously).

When I looked at the credits there were a team of five on Sound. I’d like to use this column to formally and openly advocate a pay rise for all of them. The hour is soundtracked by birds, secateurs slicing through shrubs and spades sinking into the depths of a vegetable bed. You notice the sounds, but there’s no sense of clumsiness or overegging.

There is of course one crucial sound I’m missing off the above list. The calm, reassuring tones of Monty Don. The only way I can describe that man (and Monty, if you’re reading this, please know I mean this in the best possible way), is a walking, talking log fire. The best broadcasters are the ones that you feel a personal connection with despite never having met them. If I had a problem or wanted to sink a few Earl Greys, Monty Don would be on my top five phone numbers I’d go searching for.

Another aid to the programme’s peace is in canine form, and it’s quite frankly a miracle I’ve got this far into the column without mentioning them. Previously Nigel and Nellie, and now Ned. A Golden Retriever of the golden (not white) variety. A very good boy following in the footsteps of Don, lying in the sun, avoiding descending forks while in pursuit of a tennis ball, was only ever going to bring a slice of joy to proceedings. A non-essential but also deeply essential ingredient.

The bridging of the gap between relatable and fantasy is fascinatingly done. Longmeadow garden in Hertfordshire doesn’t dazzle you like many things on TV are designed to do. You look at it and can see yourself having a garden just like it. That is, until you realise it’ huge, split into four separate gardens, has taken years to create. (Don bought the house in 1991), and probably only attainable for those with a very successful television career.

What I enjoy about Monty Don and more generally Gardeners’ World, is that you can consume it for whatever purpose you wish. If you’re a keen gardener, his deep rooted (I couldn’t help myself) knowledge is beautifully paired with personal preference. If, like me, you’ve had a bad day and want a metaphorical hug, they can do that too. Or if you’re OFCOM looking for a show to carry the BBC’s mission to ‘inform, educate and entertain’, Gardeners’ World is in sweet spot territory.

There’s a reason that so many of us benefit mentally from running, walking, or cycling. We’re in our natural habitat. We were created to eat, and reproduce, and that was kind of it (words of a philosopher). Scrolling your ‘For You Page’ on TikTok, driving your Skoda Fabia, and researching savings accounts, are not really what Mr or Mrs Inventor of Humans had in mind. (Admittedly, I doubt televisions came up in the initial boardroom meetings either).

In essence, Gardeners’ World allows us to feel like we’re outside when we’re in. It allows us to feel in touch with nature all from the comfort of our nylon sofa. One hour of Gardeners’ World is one deep breath for your brain, and I think you should try it.

Our Q&A with star Adam Frost

Liz Nicholls

Gardeners World

Garden designer, TV presenter & dad Adam Frost, 53, chats to Liz Nicholls about favourite flowers, family & being propositioned ahead of his UK tour.

Q. Hello Adam! How are you?

“I’m all right thank you. Even though this is the worst time of the year; I can’t wait for it to warm up and get outside!”

Q. Please could you tells us about your grandparents’ allotment?

“It was Tidy Nan who had the allotment (I’ve got Tidy Nan & Scruffy Nan, who I talk about a lot). Tidy Nan & Grandad had the allotment just along the lane from their back gate and here was one of my first experiences of growing veggies, following my grandad along, dropping the potatoes in the holes. I had a bed with my name on it in black slate, which I’ve still got. I used to grow the marrows, cabbages. We’d go up there on Saturday and have breakfast. Grandad would have his tie and jacket on and off we’d go.

“Nan would come along later when she’d done her bits and pieces in the house. I didn’t realise it at the time but looking back it was amazing times because I had quite a complicated time growing up but grandparents or gardens were my safe places. I still use it as that; I use the growing veggies as my hobby, which sounds sad from a gardener, but it’s the bit I go to when I don’t want to think about designing or creating. We’d come back teatime and Nan would boil something half to death, because that’s what they did then, bless them. We’d do the Pools on the football results and have a wonderful time. That particular Nan was probably more of a maternal figure. The smell of tomatoes… all that early scent memory is driven from their garden, their greenhouse, their allotment and there’s not a time goes by when I don’t give them a thought. Strange, innit, how we connect to those things? That generation. We miss those times with grandparents.”

Q. The academy you helped found sounds great. Why is it important to inspire a younger generation of gardeners?

“I left home at 16 and was one of those kids who was told be a gardener, be a chef or join the Army. And I was lucky enough to get a placement with the parks department. But it was just at the time of privatisation so I was very lucky to get the end of this training system. When you look back through history, the amount of gardeners who went through these apprenticeships is mind-blowing. First of all I was doing bits & pieces for the RHS/ I’d do talks and go into the schools. The academy was born out of a conversation with a boss at Homebase really – a lad called Matt Compton on a rainy afternoon when I was generally moaning about the lack of opportunity for young people in horticulture.

“Matt and I set up this academy in our head and, bless him, he went and convinced the Homebase board that it was a really good idea. Then we developed this thing over four years and ended up taking on 80-odd students in a year. Sadly it’s gone now but it was probably one of the best things I’ve done, and it’s been nice bumping into people who went through that academy. Horticulture’s strange… I’ve heard people in education say gardening is for kids who mess about and I’ve even heard people say gardening is mainly for the ‘special needs’ kids said around the table… I went mental when I heard this! It’s an industry that covers everything – the arts, the sciences, everything in between. The opportunities are far better than they were 10 years ago. We’re getting more young people look at horticulture as something positive, a great career.”

Q. Do you get accosted while out and about, like a doctor? If so, what’s the weirdest gardening query anyone has ever thrown at you?

“I’m just a lad that’s done all right. The weirdest thing has been dealing with people knowing who you are and just… well, I’ve been more or less propositioned in supermarkets in a romantic way, which is rather bizarre for a 50-something bloke that’s married with four kids. It’s charming that I get recognised but that attention is weird! Some of the things that ladies have said to me, if I’d said to a lady, they’d cause quite a lot of bother but if you’re a bloke you have to laugh! To be fair Mrs Frost thinks it’s hilarious. People are lovely and the other side of that is I do feel semi-adopted by so many people which has been incredible. I just rocked up on telly and didn’t think anybody would take any notice let alone this… That’s one of the things with the tour – I didn’t think anyone would turn up! Then they did and then we even had to extend it. It’s humbling.”

Q. It’s great watching you on TV. How’s your mental health doing, and does gardening and the great outdoor help with this?

“My mental health is in decent shape thank you, even though the winters tend to be dark, gloomy and horrible and I’m better when I’m outside, as I said at the start of this chat. One of the things I’ve noticed from the tour is that a lot of people want to know why I’ve moved.

“Well, Mrs Frost was really poorly in lockdown and she ended up in hospital for about 12 weeks and number three child Amber Lily was about 15 at the time and was self harming and that turned into a full-blown eating disorder. Then about 18 months later I was locked in a room with Covid and sat in front of a doctor and psychiatrist who said ‘you’ve got burn-out and depression’, which was a surprise as I only thought I had Covid. I’ve done quite a lot of soul-searching, talking, sorting out over the last 18 months, so I probably understand a lot more about myself now. When that happened the garden we were in felt quite overwhelming and I was losing my contact with it. And then we simplified life and moved and it was like that connection was reborn. It’s been lovely and I hadn’t realised, Mrs Frost uses the garden quite a lot in the summer as a place to go and connect, slow down. I think the surprising thing was I’ve always used the garden to fix me and when I was poorly I didn’t want to go in the garden.

“I’ve just done a load of podcasts for Gardeners’ World magazine – eight conversations with different people and that was fascinating as well. You think you know it all then you talk to experts and realise you know a bit of it but you don’t quite understand the detail they do.”

Q. What’s your favourite flower, and why?

“Wow that’s like asking me who my favourite kid is. I’ve got a favourite child but it changes… Haha, my eldest is here with me, smiling at me! I sort of haven’t got a favourite but a couple I’m drawn to… Cercidiphyllum Japonicum, the candyfloss tree that makes me smile. I have little oddities like that. Some of the hardy geraniums remind me of my Nan. A lot of the plants I tend to be drawn to are memory-driven choices.”

“A lot of the plants I tend to be drawn to are memory-driven choices.”

Q. We’re celebrating weddings this month. What was the favourite aspect of yours? And what advice would you give for planning a wedding? And a happy marriage?

“As a bloke, as a fella, propose to your wife and if she says she wants to get married quickly let her organise it in eight weeks! That’s pretty much what happened with us. She went into manic wedding mode and organised it incredibly quickly, and I said ‘yes’ a lot. I enjoyed the musical element to the day – we walked in and out to music; all sorts including one particular song by David Gray, and we have a line from that inside our wedding rings.

“I think try to do something that’s going to be a surprise to your wife, your partner. If you’re not the main organiser, add a surprise. I found a beautiful limited-edition painting called Wedding Day of a lady in a slip holding a rose and I bought that to give to Mrs Frost. I was once told by a fella in his 90s that he decided early on that he could either be right or happy… and he went for happy. I would say, 20-plus years on, do romantic things! Do little things! I annoy my missus by writing in lipstick on her mirror if I’m away for a couple of days… Which she pretends she likes but she tells the kids ‘oh he’s knackered the end of my lipstick!’ Make sure you keep the romance going. Cook a meal, do something, find some time.”

Q. Do you still love Chelsea Flower Show as much as ever?

“Yeah I love it. I’ve done it that many years that I’ve probably got slightly addicted to it. I’m probably at the stage that I need to go back and do one rather than turn up and walk around other people’s and tell the nation about them! The whole process from design to build, the people there, they have put 20+ days on site – those big gardens they have put their heart and soul into them and then on that press day morning the place gets cleaned up and transformed, everybody from horticulture turns up and it’s a celebration of the start of the gardening years. On the Sunday, Monday there’s this slow buzz. I think from this year on we’re going to be seeing more abut the connection with nature, we’ve gone from formality, how to create habitats that balance with nature. Our gardens are becoming more precious by the month really. We’re going to see a looser, more relaxed notion of what is a garden, what is a landscape? These filter down into the gardening world. Mental health, physical health. References to these as well.”

Q. What’s the best bit of gardening kit/ gadget that you couldn’t do without?

“Two bits: I’ve privileged enough to have worked in Japan, probably about 10 or 15 years ago, and I have a pair of Japanese secateurs which I adore, and then also a lovely little Dutch planting trail which is the one bit of kit that I get asked about the most. Monty [Don] has a similar one. I get slightly anxious when I can’t put my hands on them.”

Q. If you could make one wish for the world, what would it be?

“Connectivity and that we all look after it a little bit better, stop taking it for granted. We get sucked into the details of the politics of this or that but we collectively all just have to do our little bit.”

To book your tickets to hear Adam talk at a theatre near you, please visit