In The Limelight: My Day Filming With BBC Gardeners’ World



I’ll let you into a secret – I’m not very good at keeping secrets. When BBC Gardener’s World contacted me, quite out of the blue, I was a tiny bit sceptical. Sometimes these things naturally come to nothing and I didn’t want to build my hopes up. But before I knew it a date was confirmed, entered in the diary and I was sworn to secrecy until the film was ‘in the can’. In the days that followed I preened and primped my garden knowing that it wasn’t just for my NGS visitors, but also for the television cameras. I don’t mind admitting that I found keeping such an exciting secret both excruciating and impossible. I let the news slip to a few close friends and acquaintances, partly to explain why I was being even more fastidious about everything than usual. My restraint did, however, extend to keeping my secret away from any form of social media, for which I give myself a small pat on the back. Now it’s done I can spill the beans.

BBC researcher Yvonne and director Adrian travelled down on Tuesday night ready for an early start on Wednesday. Happily the workshop was already set up for my open weekend and so became the green room for a day. The Swan hot water urn I purchased three years ago is the most useful thing for occasions such as these, since all the best teams are fuelled by regular cups of tea and coffee. The cameraman drove up from Brighton and the sound engineer from nearby Faversham, completing a team of four. It’s many years since I’ve done any TV work and the equipment gets smaller and more advanced every time: just as well as my garden is so small.



(I took the photograph above when we were filming in Alan Tichmarsh’s Garden Secrets back in 2009. My, how the garden has grown over the last ten years! I have to admit that I do rather hanker after the days when the garden was more open. Perhaps one day it will be time to return to a more Mediterranean look. Down in the bottom right-hand corner you will also see a tiny sprig of Solenostemon ‘Gay’s Delight’, which is one of many I’d like to track down again.)


It all looks marvellous from where I’m sitting …


For the first three hours of filming I was required to sit on a chair and talk about the garden whilst looking into the Director’s eyes – all extremely pleasant experiences about which I had no qualms. The last time I sat down for that long was when my train got stuck in a snow drift in March. There was no presenter for this segment, so it was down to me to do the talking. Normally I find describing the garden the easiest thing in the world, but there’s something about a TV camera that scrambles your brain. I’m sure I said ‘lovely’, ‘exotic’, ‘lush’, ‘tropical’ and ‘enveloped’ far too many times. Most of my gormless repetition will be edited out, since we worked for 10 hours to create an ‘insert’ which will be just 5 minutes long in the end.


A seagull’s eye view of the crew


The whole day was meticulously organised and brilliantly scripted, although there was still flexibility to add a few impromptu scenes which we felt would be good on the day. I won’t give the game away by telling you what we filmed, but the general idea was to show viewers that it’s possible to cram a great deal into a small garden. I would hope I’ve instilled that message into you already if you read this blog regularly.


Fuchsia splendens being briefed on its cameo role.


The size of my garden presented a real challenge when it came to filming. The cameraman used every trick in the book to get different angles and perspectives, which was fascinating to observe. Every window or table was used to create shots that conveyed a sense of enveloping jungliness (there I go again!). A small screen on-top of the camera allowed us to see what the cameraman was capturing. Of course, there’s no such thing as ‘film’ now, the programme is recorded on tiny memory cards that have travelled back to BBC Bristol on the train for editing. We filmed most segments three times using different lenses and camera positions. These will be cut together depending on what works best for the final version. Adrian the Director went to great lengths to make sure everything was done perfectly, with no continuity slip-ups. One poor begonia got watered 10 times in the name of great television …. and now it’s being rained on too. Poor old Solenostemon (coleus) ‘Henna’ was in just the wrong position for all the cables and tripods so took a bit of a battering. I hope this plant makes it on to Gardeners’ World as it really has been the ‘It’ plant in my garden this year, giving flame nettles a good name. My local garden centre / nursery has already confirmed they will be growing ‘Henna’ again, so I expect to see it in every garden in Broadstairs next summer.


Working out the best angle


The Jungle Garden commanded most of the camera’s attention, but we briefly  filmed The Gin & Tonic Garden …. just as it was time for a Gin & Tonic. At 6pm it was a wrap, and the crew packed up their kit and went home. I had just enough energy in reserve to switch off the urn and get myself fish and chips (this is becoming a dreadful habit) before curling up on the sofa with a glass of rosé and watching TV. I was so tired I can’t even remember what was on. I vaguely remember Stephanie Beecham doing yoga in India and thinking that Dynasty had changed considerably since I last watched. I was in bed by 10pm and didn’t wake up for 12 hours.


And there was me thinking they used drones for aerial shots!


As yet, there’s no confirmed date for the piece to air, but readers of this blog will be among the first to know when I know. It might be this year, or it could be sometime in 2019, depending on scheduling. Gardeners’ World is posted to You Tube so you should be able to watch it there, wherever you are.

All-in-all filming the garden for television was a great experience and something one only gets to do once. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to see behind the scenes and also to spend time in front of the camera. I learned a lot that I can apply to my own short films in future, although I doubt I will be spending ten hours creating them!

A huge thank you to the BBC for singling out The Watch House for inclusion on the show. Now I can’t wait to see how it looks on the television. TFG.


With Yvonne and Adrian from Gardeners’ World at the end of filming