TV gardener Monty Don has admitted he hated gardening as a boy, growing up in Hampshire. Don, who was born in West Germany, moved to the county at the age of one and attended schools in Basingstoke.
Describing his parents as “very strict”, Don became an avid gardener and farmer as a child, even working on a pig farm whilst studying for his A-Levels. However, in a personal speech at the Chelsea Flower Show, he revealed that he resented gardening when he was younger.
The 66-year-old described how gardening has become a passion that helped him with mental health challenges, but admitted that he had not always felt that way. He described being “dragooned” into helping out in the large garden of the house he grew up in Hampshire.
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Reflecting on his childhood he said: “You were expected to go and work in the garden and that would earn you the right to go and play, and of course I deeply resented this. I hated bloody gardening, because it stopped me doing what I wanted to do.”
However, he went on to describe a pivotal change in his attitude that came when he was sowing carrot seeds as a teenager. He described the experience as filling him with “pure joy, ecstasy, this sense of being in the right place, of everything being OK”.
The BBC Gardeners’ World presenter said his profession is writing and broadcasting but gardening is his passion because “it eases a troubled mind. It is happiness.”
He said gardening and gardens are hugely important for wellbeing and for bringing people closer to nature. “It’s good that mental illness is gradually being destigmatised, but there is so much more we have to do, even to begin to get to grips with the problem.”
Addressing the crowds at the Chelsea Flower Show he expressed dismay that mental health treatment is under-resourced, under-researched and staff are overworked, describing it as a “major national problem”. But he added that gardening can help people to heal.
He also said: “So many people discovered during lockdown two years ago – that first lockdown with that extraordinary spring – every garden, no matter how small, how humble, how modest, how inexperienced, is rich with wildlife. And in the garden we get that first-hand connection with nature, and it’s as direct and as personal as most people are ever going to experience.”
His argument that gardens are the basis for a sustainable, healthy mind, has led to him calling for every school to have a garden, with lessons outside and for every new housing estate to have a communal garden. Don stated that planners should insist on allotments with all new developments over a certain size.
“Children should be shown from the earliest possible age that this world, this lovely troubled world, is here in all its glory on our doorstep, that the care for this planet and each other begins at home, not in the rainforests and ice caps. And that the robins and blackbirds and the cabbage white butterflies, and even the worms and the beetles, are every bit as important and interesting as the snow leopard or the blue whale,” he said.
He warned that the vast majority of 18 to 35-year-olds do not feel horticulturally enfranchised, that the Chelsea Flower Show, the Royal Horticultural Society, and Gardeners’ World is for them. He added that the most important work of his life will be to “embrace and encourage and welcome in a younger generation” to the gardening world.
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