BBC Gardeners’ World comes to The Watch House

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