“Remember darling, if in doubt with social conversation, switch the subject to gardening. ‘My Californian poppy is really coming on this year despite the chalky soil – such fun!'”
– Penny (Patricia Hodge), ‘Miranda’, 2009, BBC
Eight years on from her sitcom debut, and Miranda Hart – along with her green fingered real life mum, amateur gardener Dee Hart-Dyke – have done just that with All Gardens Great and Small, a new three part series for More4 about the joys and therapeutic benefits of the great British garden.
Dee, Miranda informs us, has been gardening at this level for 27 years, even opening her garden to the public via the National Open Garden Scheme, and making it into their famed ‘Little Yellow Book’ (pictured below), a directory of the 600 or so gardens in the scheme up and down the UK that are open to the public for a small fee, the profits from which go to charity.
In tonight’s opening episode, Dee took in a variety of gardens both on and off the pages of the Little Yellow Book. Gardens such as that owned by married couple Charlotte (who looked like Lady Rosemary from The Herbs. I kid you not) and Don in Kent, with a garden specialising in topiary that Dee couldn’t quite make head nor tail of (‘It’s a cat!’ continuedly stressed the quite agitated voiceover of Miranda as Dee pondered if it was a fox). She also had a go at doing her own topiary of what seemed to be a turkey – much to her daughter’s bemusement.
Also fascinating was Astley House, a sprawling country pad in Worcestershire, owned by Tim, who’d transformed his garden over 25 years to an exotic paradise full of jungle like plants. It even came with its own safari style veranda – ‘All that’s missing is some migrating wildebeest’ – and an ornate water garden with a wall feature made from sea shells ‘inspired by his mother in law’. Oooh, cheeky.
Over the course of the series, Dee’s also visiting some newcomers to the Little Yellow Book. The first tonight was Chatu, a thirty something professional who was opening her garden in a comparatively smaller space to the sprawling countryside plots – namely, her North London end of terrace property. We got to see her toil and fret over getting everything ready for open day but successfully managing to make the most of the space she had – as well as turning over a decent charitable profit.
Dee’s also visiting the gardens of some well known faces over the series, such as Julian Clary in tonight’s episode, who, following a private tour of his garden with Dee, engaged in a piano sing song of the Noel Coward standard ‘Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage’. As her daughter says in her sitcom, ‘Rude’.
And what of Miranda’s own horticultural exploits? Well, in a sweet and deliciously witty moment of mother-daughter bonding, we saw Dee’s first attempts to help persuade her to get stuck into making her own little oasis in her Hammersmith back garden – although she’s in need of a few ‘hefty fellows’ to deal with her ‘rampant climbers’ before she can start bedding in – not a euphemism – and dealing with nematodes (yes, they are a thing, no, Miranda doesn’t believe they exist).
Dee’s a really engaging and, yes, such fun, host to watch, with her eye for garden detail and her shared love with Miranda of a good pun. I finished the first episode with a sudden urge to take a trip to Wyevale Garden Centre over the bank holiday next weekend. As Dee herself points out, gardening as a pasttime is ‘a tremendous leveller…when you’re amongst fellow gardeners, no matter how big or small your plot, you feel levelled.’ Here’s to hoping she can convert her daughter as she’s converted the present writer in the coming weeks – providing Miranda doesn’t let her fear of plants sounding like male diseases get in the way.
All Gardens Great and Small continues Mondays at 9pm on More4. The first episode is available for UK viewers to watch again on the All4 app.