Alan will be on our television screens from May 21 to 25 presenting his 30th Chelsea Flower Show, the most famous flower show in the country, and arguably in the world.
By coincidence the Chelsea Flower Show reaches its 100th anniversary at the Royal Hospital this year, and ahead of the spectacle, Island Life caught up with Alan to talk about some of his memories as its TV presenter.
He said: “I have been going to the show since 1969 as a punter, and have been filming there for 30 years. And I well remember the first one; I was wearing an absolutely awful pictorial jumper when they were in fashion. It had a scene knitted on the front of it.
“I did a garden for the show in 1983, and in 1985 I did one again and won a gold medal and was presented to the Queen. I was wearing a maroon and black striped blazer, white flannels and a yellow bow tie – why?
“The wardrobe was intriguing, but as for the show itself it has just got better and better. The standard has always been of the best, and for me is undoubtedly the finest flower show in the world, not least because of the standard of finish. But the gardens are much more exciting than they used to be.
“You could generally tell whose garden it was by the style, but they were relatively conservative in the way they were put together – lawns and large sheets of water that looked black, and billowing banks of rhododendrons and hostas. But the standard of design and inventiveness has increased in leaps and bounds over the years, and now it really is cutting edge.”
Alan, who recently celebrated his 64th birthday, has seen many changes in trends and fashions during his time at Chelsea, and not just in his attire! He recalled: “We have moved from those rhododendrons to prairie planting, and now there is more emphasis on perennials than there used to be. Architecturally it is much more sophisticated; and for me the best gardens are those that use architecture and plants in equal measure to complement one another. The range and scope of materials now in hard-landscaping are so much greater.”
He smiled: “A lot more is spent on Show gardens these days. I managed to get a gold medal in 1985 and charged the magazine I made the garden for, including labour, the princely sum of £8,500. Nowadays they run well into the £250,000 and beyond price bracket. But they are still made in 21 days which is remarkable.”
Alan has a home in Cowes and still visits the Island as often as possible with wife Alison. He keeps an eye for any Isle of Wight Gardens at the Show, saying: “I always do my bit to try to promote them.” He reckons he has had plenty of amusing and near disastrous moments during his days in front of the cameras at Chelsea. He said: “You try to do TV things in as few a ‘takes’ as possible but occasionally you come adrift by tripping down a step when doing a piece to camera or nearly falling in some water.”
This year’s show includes 15 spectacular Show Gardens, 11 Fresh Gardens demonstrating the best of contemporary garden design, and eight Artisan Gardens. There are also 150 exhibits from nurseries and florists in the Great Pavilion and up to 250 trade stands.
Alan continued: “Every year is a new challenge because you want to keep it fresh from the viewers’ point of view. I have been on TV since 1975, so I can’t get too nervous, but I am still apprehensive because I want to make a good job of it. You always think to yourself this could be the year when it all goes wrong by not doing a good job, so that keeps you on your toes.”
When Alan is not working he is still out in the garden as often as possible. The former Gardeners’ World and Ground Force presenter said: “It is what I do and if all the other work ended tomorrow, I would just go out there, pick up my spade and crack on. I have just been lucky enough to be offered other things as well.”
He recently brought out his latest book ‘My Secret Garden’ explaining: “When we moved 10 years ago from the home where we did Gardeners’ World, I promised my wife and family the garden we now have would be ours, it wouldn’t be for filming.” Now it’s a book instead!
Amid his hectic schedule Alan is also writing another fiction novel, which will be his ninth, and he hopes it will be published in the autumn.