Critics have declared him too posh and too dreamy. But the host of Gardeners' World has come to soothe and inspire a nation—and he's as outspoken as everby Alice Vincent / June 11, 2020 / Leave a comment
The fine, dry April that passed earlier this year, in a surreal blaze of lockdown, was the first that Monty Don has spent at home in five years. One of the great ironies of being the nation’s favourite gardener is that there is often not the time to luxuriate in one’s own garden. But the presence of Don, who will be 65 in July, is reliably felt in millions of others. His 21 books, published over the past 30 years, have frequently been at the top of horticultural bestseller lists—this spring his Down to Earth is in pole position on Amazon’s UK sales list. He has more than 600,000 social media followers. He is the face of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and, more famously, the host of the BBC’s flagship Gardeners’ World.
To engage with gardening in the UK today is to engage, unavoidably, with Monty. And when gardening occupies such a sacred spot in the national mindset, the Don supremacy can be contentious. While his predecessors—the pipe-smoking Percy Thrower and the chipper, can-do Alan Titchmarsh—seemed at home in suburbia, Don took Gardeners’ World to his own sprawling, oft-flooded, semi-wild Herefordshire garden, Longmeadow. He’s a lifelong proponent of organic gardening and his dismissal of pesticides, weedkiller and peat is deemed unsupportive and unrealistic by many in the horticultural industry.
While such ruggedness has made growing-your-own fashionably sexy for the masses, it is sniffed at by an old guard, who regard Don—and his lack of formal training—as bogus. Other critics declare him too posh, too dreamy, tucked away in the countryside with his two acres of land. But during lockdown, for all those suddenly newly-dependent on their gardens, balconies or window boxes for solace, Don’s easy-going approach makes him a hero. Though filmed without a crew due to social distancing measures, Gardeners’ World has provided a soothingly familiar balm in a frightening and shapeshifting landscape. It has also enjoyed its highest viewing figures in a decade.
Despite his primetime prominence, Don still sees himself primarily as a writer “who happens to have lots of television work.” (And in his younger days, he actually wrote a couple of novels though, in…