23 April 2024

Alan Titchmarsh: Slugs are never going to be my friends

23 April 2024

As he celebrates 60 years in horticulture, TV gardening guru Alan Titchmarsh realises he has often voiced what might be seen as controversial views on gardening trends.

The broadcaster and author has been critical about rewilding domestic gardens, considers slugs to be pests who shouldn’t be allowed to ruin your hostas, and believes people should feel quite happy about growing foreign plants in their own gardens to conserve a larger gene pool for the future of our botanical life.

“It’s people who lay down the law that I find as I get older, more and more infuriating,” he says. “Without sounding holier than thou, nobody gardens more responsibly than I do. But I have topiary, I have plants cut into shape, so I am interfering.

“But these topiaries are full of birds’ nests – the two go hand-in-hand, they are not mutually exclusive. And the great danger is when you start painting things as being black and white you lose the true grey middle ground.”

Gardeners need to be realistic and responsible, says Titchmarsh, 74 (he turns 75 on May 2), presenter of Alan Titchmarsh’s Gardening Club and Love Your Weekend on ITVX – who will be taking part in a  Gardeners Question Time Live and a talk about his career at the forthcoming RHS Malvern Spring Festival .

“It’s gardening responsibly and with nature as a helpmate, rather than something you’re fighting all the time. That said, slugs are never going to be my friends, whatever anybody says.”

Two years ago, the RHS reclassified slugs and snails as ‘garden visitors’ rather than ‘pests’ to help shed their negative image, and their new campaign with the Wildlife Trusts aims to encourage people to appreciate slugs for their positive impact in the garden.

Titchmarsh, who is a vice president of the RHS, says: “If you’ve got a hosta collection, the last thing you want to do is to make a home for slugs. You’ve got to allow for a little bit of nibbling and you want to be a good cultivator of plants that can shrug off a bit of an attack. But that’s a far cry from saying, ‘Oh, we love slugs, let’s welcome them into the garden’. I’m sorry, I don’t welcome slugs.”

He also says the word ‘sustainability’ is bandied around too often, loves the well-mown stripes in his lawn – he’s not used chemicals in his garden for 40 years – and hopes his opinions won’t lead to him becoming a victim of cancel culture.

“There was a headline which said, ‘I’m terrified of being cancelled’,” the Yorkshireman recalls. “That’s not the case. I’m upset that we should live in a culture where people would want to cancel somebody else. I’m talking about tolerance cutting both ways. We all need to be tolerant of each other.

“And just because my opinion isn’t the same as your opinion, that doesn’t mean to say it’s either less valuable or that I should be stopped from giving my opinion. I’m very careful with my opinions now because I have a family, and sometimes, the way the world is going, you’ve just got to shut up.

“But there are times when I think it’s important to say what you feel when you’re in a position of influence and it’s not something I ever take for granted or particularly relish, but you do get listened to, so I’m quite considered in what I say.

“I think long and hard before I express opinions. They are generally heartfelt and not intended to be offensive.”

As garden show season starts, he is mindful of the trends which may follow.

“Garden shows generate trends. They are the Paris catwalks of the horticultural world. You see something there and you think, ‘That’s a bit weird’, and it gradually filters down and – I hesitate to mention decking – but you get things which have their time and which settle in.”

Some may criticise the many garden makeover shows that have come and gone over the years, but Titchmarsh, who started his gardening career in 1964, says: “When people say, ‘I don’t agree with makeover programmes’, gardening is making-over and working hand in hand in nature to produce something beautiful.

“It is not backing off and saying ‘I’m not getting involved’, it is handling it carefully, thoughtfully, responsibly and with a view to making something more beautiful.

“You can’t talk about the importance of mental health and then stop gardeners who get great solace and satisfaction out of creating something beautiful by working with nature and adjusting things.

“The great thing about the last half century in horticulture is the huge amount of plants that we can choose from, with new ones coming along all the time,” he continues. “It means we are all able to have individual gardens and things that we like.”

He believes the pace of change in gardening has become much more rapid in the last 10 years and is encouraged to see people looking at cultivating their gardens responsibly.

“We’re led to believe things are going to change over the centuries ahead, so we need to have the widest range of plants available to us to make sure not only that we can beautify our landscapes, but also that those plants will sustain the wildlife which is dependent upon them every bit as much as we are in our own little pattern of islands.”

RHS Malvern Spring Festival takes place at Three Counties Showground, Malvern, Worcester, and runs from May 9-12. Visit rhsmalvern.co.uk.

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