Alan Titchmarsh - What I miss most about Yorkshire
PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 May 2014 | UPDATED: 09:54 11 March 2015
Yorkshire's favourite gardener Alan Titchmarsh traces the roots of his passion for the Prince's Countryside Fund
Broadcaster and author Alan Titchmarsh might live in Hampshire, but his heart is in Ilkley, the root of his interest in gardening and where he cultivated a personality that has taken him fearfully close to obtaining the rather clichéd tag of ‘national treasure’.
‘I’m always interested in this perception of ‘the Yorkshireman’,’ he says. ‘I do sometimes feel we’re unfairly labelled – it’s one of those regional clichés isn’t it? But mostly, at the heart of who we are, we’re good and honest and we love everything about our county. And surely they’re the best traits of all.’
Alan’s passionate about his upbringing and stores memories with all the care and precision as he might a collection of winter bulbs.
‘Talking about Yorkshire does make me go a bit sentimental,’ he says. ‘The first thing I do is cast my mind back to places such as the Cow and Calf in Ilkley, where I was born and brought up. The Moors were a great place for exploration and probably how I developed such a passion for what came out of the ground. Then you’ve got some brilliant walks along the River Wharfe. Burnsall and Grassington were favourite places to visit, and Bolton Abbey a lovely spot too. But Wharfedale for me is home ground and very precious.’
Another precious aspect of his wide-reaching work portfolio is his ambassadorship of the Prince’s Countryside Fund, to which he’s lent his expertise for a number of years.
‘I was asked if I wanted to do it, and to be honest, it has been a privilege,’ he says. ‘The impact of the fund is tremendous; it really reaches parts of the countryside that other incentives don’t.
‘It’s all about engagement. We’re in danger of having a younger generation who are fearful of the countryside as they don’t get out there into it; they don’t understand it. I want to banish all of that and get people exploring, so they can realise for themselves what a great place the outdoors is. It’s somewhere to be cherished. It’s not an onerous responsibility to look after it, it is a joy.’
For someone at the top of his game after more than 30 years in the business, it’s reassuring that when it comes to gardening Alan still favours advice that’s concise and simple.
‘I always get asked for advice by people, but it’s a pleasure to help,’ he says. ‘The message is always simple – if it’s produce you’re dealing with, grow what you like eating. Find the thing that you most like eating and learn how to grow it. Don’t worry about anything else.
‘And you don’t need elaborate equipment if you want to get in the garden; everybody can do it with a spade, a very basic fork and a hoe. Stick to the basics; the smaller tools are so much easier to work with, and they won’t leave you with a bad back.
‘For flowers, go with those that give you the most satisfaction, and that you know can survive, even with half the attention you plan to give them.’
Alan might be able to give his own garden a little more attention in the coming months after announcing that his self-titled daytime chat show is to end.
‘I’ve been doing it for eight years now and I thought it was time to move on while it was still doing well, rather than let it all dwindle,’ he says. ‘I’ve got another run in September and that will be my last, but it’s been a fantastic ride and I’ve been ever so lucky.’
Alan’s still going to be on our screens though. He’s just filmed a two-part series about the Queen’s garden, a new series of Love Your Garden is on its way this summer, and a new project called Britain’s Best Gardens is in the pipeline.
Could a return to Yorkshire be on the cards as well, at some point?
‘Never say never,’ he says with a smile. ‘Because of filming commitments, it does make sense to stay closer to London, but you never know what’s coming around the corner.
‘I’ve adopted the south of England, but do I miss Yorkshire and York and Harrogate and the Moors? Hugely.’
Alan Titchmarsh’s latest book, Bring Me Home, is out now in hardcover, priced £18.99 from Hodder & Stoughton. For more information about the Prince’s Countryside Fund, visit princescountrysidefund.org.uk.