BBC Gardeners’ World comes to The Watch House

Reading time 10 minutes

Friday March 8th 2019, 8.30-9.00pm, BBC2

The Watch House features from 7mins 30secs

When I look at my garden this evening, as it takes a battering from Storm Freya, I find it hard to recall how it looked that warm August day when BBC Gardeners’ World came to film. The outdoor kitchen has had its annual spruce up and a smattering of narcissi offer a clue that spring is around the corner. In the greenhouse my fuchsias are starting to produce pale green leaf buds and cuttings that have done nothing for months are starting to put on some growth. In my workshop-cum-potting-shed the first few dahlias have been planted up and many more will follow. Spring is almost upon us, but the glories of summer remain a distant memory.

Dahlia ‘Nicholas’ should get a mention this Friday.

When BBC Gardener’s World contacted me last summer, 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.

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 tea 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 miniature!

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 straight into the Director’s eyes – nothing too challenging there. The last time I sat down for that long was when my train got stuck in a snow drift last March. There was to be 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 (please don’t count). Most of my gormless repetition will be edited out, since we worked for 10 hours to create an ‘insert’ which will be just 3-4 minutes long by the time you see it.

A seagull’s eye view of the crew

The whole day was meticulously organised and carefully 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.

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. 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 travelled back to BBC Bristol on the train for editing. We filmed most segments three times using different lenses and camera positions. These will have been cut together to create 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. 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 was the ‘It’ plant in my garden last year, giving flame nettles a good name. (My local garden centre has already confirmed they will be growing ‘Henna’ again, so I expect to see it in every garden in Broadstairs this 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 tea urn and get myself fish and chips (this has become a dreadful habit and is a terrible temptation when one lives by the sea) 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 was in bed by 10pm and didn’t wake up for 12 hours.

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

All-in-all filming the garden for television was a great experience and something most of us only get to do once, if at all. 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. In just five days’ time we’ll know just how likely an alternative career in television is for The Frustrated Gardener. As it’s the first programme of the new season and still pretty chilly outside, I am intrigued to see how the BBC manage to weave me in to Monty’s commentary. However they do it, I hope you feel transported to my little corner of England and inspired to think big in the smallest of spaces. TFG.

N.B. In case you think you are experiencing déjà vu, a large part of this post was originally published in August 2018, directly after filming. You can read the original post here.

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

Categories: Flowers, Foliage, Garden Design, Our Coastal Garden, Photography, Planting Design, Plants, Small Gardens, Urban Gardens

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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87 comments On "BBC Gardeners’ World comes to The Watch House"

  1. It’s in the diary, TV booked. Congratulations, hope to see your garden in the flesh one of these days.

  2. I wish I could see this show. GW is not available here in the states. I used to watch it on Youtube but they removed the new shows. I am so happy that you got to do this.

  3. A fascinating insight, I look forward to watching it on Friday. Gardener`s World is part of my regular viewing and I have missed it.

  4. I remember reading your original post, I’m delighted I’ve not missed the episode. I shall very much look forward to seeing it this Friday.
    The garden & plants look amazing.

  5. How exciting! I don’t expect there’ll be a way for me to view it here, but one never knows with today’s technology. I’d love to see some views of that outstanding coleus (having admired it before in other posts of yours) and also the rest of the garden.

  6. I’m a relative newcomer to TFG but l am hooked; can’t wait to see the garden on Friday’s Gardener’s World…..meanwhile l have been enjoying your many articles on gardening, and especially the little nuggets of information on all sorts of things (“spick & span”, to name one) which had never crossed my mind before. l also open my garden for the ngs so l know what it’s like to be under close scrutiny!

    1. Ah Ha! Yes, our visitors take it seriously don’t they. Some will go through my plant list and check every plant off, so woe betide me if I’ve made any errors. Hope you enjoy the Gardeners’ World appearance. I suspect it might be fleeting! Dan

  7. I remember that post, fascinating, and so glad you have given us notice when it will be broadcast (not that I miss GW if I can help it). How exciting!!

      1. Yes it is. It had last year’s Gardener’s World so I’m hoping we’ll get this year’s as well. In the meantime, I’ll look forward to your clip.

  8. Dan, I will be watching ! my garden is looking somewhat bleak at the moment .. the mice ate all my crocus corms. On a good note though my Dahlias are all tucked up safely in my greenhouse.

    1. Well done. Nice and early. I don’t usually start my dahlias off until a bit later as I don’t have space for them under cover. But I’m a little better organised this year and want to stay ahead.

      Sorry to hear about your mice. I have a lot of them in my garden thanks to my neighbour’s liberal use of bird seed. However they don’t touch my bulbs. Perhaps that’s the answer? Distract them with something tastier?

  9. I cannot wait, it was a real pleasure to visit your garden and I will be in front of the TV on Friday to see more. It will be brilliant!

  10. It is always odd when a filming crew comes out to such an intimate space. I suppose some get used to it. Brent (my colleague in Southern California) enjoys showing his garden off. To me, all those odd contraptions seem a bit invasive and unnatural in my garden, although I can not complain about what they are there to do.

    1. Yes, the entire workshop was filled with equipment. I guess they need to be prepared for every eventuality and all types of weather, here in England especially. I will endeavour to get a film clip I can share, even if I have to record it on my phone.

  11. I’m in! I’m very much looking forward to seeing your garden. May even pour a g&t in readiness!

  12. Ooh, been waiting for GW to return and now it’s featuring a treat – your special garden! I remember the post when you mentioned the filming and am so looking forward to watching, G & T in hand. Love your posts and hope to visit your garden one day.

    1. The G&T garden did not get much of a look-in I’m afraid, but there will be plenty more on the blog as summer approaches.

      I’m opening on August 3rd and 4th this year. I do hope you can come along.

  13. How did I miss this in August? (Answer: I was traveling.) I’ve been waiting for Gardener’s World to restart and now I have even more reasons to be glued to the TV Friday night. It’s exciting to have them feature a garden I’ve actually seen.

  14. The Times TV guide for the week mentions a certain Kent garden on Gardeners World this Friday ‘ bursting with colour and foliage’. Yay! Dan’s Garden! 😊😊

    1. Indeed! What a weekend it has been. Sadly my Lyonothamnus blew down yesterday and I’m still scratching my head as to what to do next! Such a nuisance, but at least it happened before the garden got going.

  15. OMG this is exciting. The return of my favourite programme with a visit to your garden! I can’t wait.

  16. Congratulations, although not long enough. However lovely to see you and the garden in the flesh, as it were.

  17. Just watched you on TV and had to drop by to leave a comment. Well done for getting your garden featured on the best gardening programme on TV! Your garden looked fantastic and you both inspired and entertained!

  18. Lovely glimpse into your garden this evening. Towards the end of the piece there was a purple flower, quite striking. Do you by chance recall what it was?

      1. Yes that looks like the one, very striking. Shame, I can’t be dealing with plants that can’t overwinter outside. Don’t even lift my dahlias these days.

  19. Just seen you on the box. Great piece and a great peek into your gardens. Loved it. Interesting to see the Before photos from the very beginning of the garden. Hope you’re sitting back and basking in the glory now. Ceri

  20. Your garden was the highlight of the first show. Loved all the use of colour and texture. I think the Solenstomen henna was the star plant for me. The gingers, dahlias and cannas all looked fantastic.

    1. Thank you Kris. The gingers don’t really like the hot sun, so I noticed they were curling a bit in the film. They soon perk up again in the evenings.

      I’m looking forward to growing lots of coleus again this year. They are brilliant value.

    1. Thank you Sally. I am looking forward to the variety of colour returning. Just now the garden is very green with a few splashes of yellow. Also lovely its way. Soon there will be a gazillion tulips to brighten things up.

  21. It looked fantastic! Do envious – would love a garden like that but we live up North so maybe not possible to have as many tropical plants! You have two large trees – the ironwood and another one which we loved but it didn’t say what it was – can you help?

    1. Well Tom, I know plenty of people who do grow ‘tropical’ plants up North but it does require a little more winter planning. If you can provide protection in the colder months the plants will make up for it in summer thanks to the longer day lengths further North. There are also many hardy plants that create a very convincing exotic effect, such as Fatsia, Mahonia and Aucuba.

      I have four trees – they are Laurus nobilis ‘Angustifolia’, Phillyrea latifolia and Pseudopanax chathamica plus the Lyonothamnus. All excellent for windy coastal gardens provided they are well staked in the early years. You can find more information in my plant list:

  22. What a great feature! The garden looked like tropical perfection and you were just aces! Loved it and so happy/excited for you and for everyone else who got a glimpse into your shangri-la! Cheers!

      1. Oh no! I can’t offer much hope. My garden looks more like the Arctic Tundra than anything resembling a place where things grow! Best of luck with the weather and winds!

  23. Thanks so much Dan! Very kind of you to tell us what the trees are – we’re ordering a small phillyrea latifolia – wish us luck! We are also ordering a mahonia – thanks for the recommendations! You have one of the nicest looking gardens we’ve seen.

    1. Thank you Tom! You should have no problems with either, but always water trees regularly after planting – general advice is once a week for the first year.

      If you ever go to Kenwood House in London they have a beautiful phillyrea there.

      1. Have just taken delivery of a phillyrea that is about three feet tall – how long did yours take to get so large and majestic?! Any tips to help it grow other than regular watering?

        Many thanks

      2. It’s a tough tree, but I’d suggest staking it well and mulching spring and autumn. Mine is about 11 years old and was perhaps 5 or 6ft when planted. Yours will catch up in no time!

  24. Hi Dan, just watched your segment again on Gardeners world! It was truly inspiring so thank you for sharing it.

  25. I’ve just watched “your show”! It was fabulous and you were just as I imagined you to be. Your gardens are amazing and so inspiring but what struck me most was your encouraging words to those of us with small gardens in how we shouldn’t “fall into the trap…” I loved it! You definitely came across as experienced, knowledgable but most of all, someone who had done it from scratch. Well done and thank you!

    1. Thank you Julie. I am glad you enjoyed “my show” (I wish!) and found it encouraging. Small spaces can be just as rewarding to garden as large ones. Don’t let the lack of space limit your ideas – even if you are dreaming of Versailles there are ways and means of getting the look!

  26. Dan, I have been enjoying your blog for sometime and had the garden inked in for the NGS open days. The only problem now (after Gardeners World) is I’m going to to have to queue.
    Do you think one day early will be enough?
    Seriously, The garden looked brilliant, well done.

    1. Hmmm, I am a bit worried about that Peter. I am considering extending the opening hours, so keep an eye out nearer the time for updates. Like many NGS gardens I rely on volunteer helpers so I don’t want to overstretch them. Equally I don’t want anyone having to camp out. It’s not Wimbledon! Regardless, I do hope you will be able to make it as the proceeds go to very good causes. Dan

  27. Just catching up – but well done Dan! The garden looked fab and brightened the day as its been snowing and sleeting here in the midlands today. Lots of beautiful colour and a promise of new things to come in the summer

  28. Just found your blog after seeing your lovely garden on GW, so interesting to read more about how it was made. I didn’t realise that these huge trees are actually growing in a raised bed – amazing!

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