Last week I had a dream of a night out with Monty Don – if only it had been just him and me. Unfortunately I was joined by 1,999 others. The venue was full to the rafters, which should be no surprise really. I, along with as many as 2.7 million others, look forward to watching Gardeners’ World each week from March to October. The episodes I enjoy the most are the ones featuring Monty, his garden and his dogs.
My sister, a close friend and I arrived at the venue with enough time to have a pre-show drink, and discuss Monty as though we were life-long friends of his. We wondered whether he would bring any of his dogs along, but reluctantly dismissed this as a ridiculous idea. We speculated on how big his garden, Longmeadow, is and realised we’d never seen an aerial view of it. Then it was time to take our seats and enjoy the show.
Monty entered the stage to enthusiastic clapping, cheers and wolf whistles. He wasted no time in letting us down gently about the dogs – they would not be making an appearance in person, but there would be photos and he would talk about them. He showed us a photo of his new puppy Ned, taken the previous day. Monty had left his office for a few minutes to fetch a cup of coffee. He returned to find Ned lying innocently among confetti – his ripped up papers. He told us Ned is the naughtiest puppy he’s ever owned but is too adorable to be cross with for long.
We were then treated to aerial views of Longmeadow – it looks vast – it spans 2 acres. I’m not good at imagining what one acre looks like, never mind 2, but apparently it’s roughly equivalent to 32 tennis courts. My back garden is, I would think, around the size of one (tennis court that is). Monty dispelled any thoughts that he and his wife manage the garden themselves now. What with his book writing, programmes on gardens around the world and the laborious process involved in filming Gardeners’ World, there simply isn’t time. However he does enjoy getting his hands dirty in the garden when he can, and considers it essential for his mental health. Having suffered bouts of depression over the years he also works to support others with mental health problems.
Monty took us on a journey, showing us photos of the garden spanning over 30 years, starting with an overgrown field, which he and his wife developed into the Longmeadow garden we see today. When they started out they had very little money, so everything had to be done gradually – they were simultaneously renovating the condemned house and the garden. He told us of an occasion when he’d been under strict instructions to spend no more than £200 at a tree sale. He was shocked to find that at the end of his spending spree he had racked up over £1k. He had some explaining to do when he got home and had to hastily take out loans to cover the cheque he’d written. He used the ‘F’ word several times while telling this tale – not something you will ever hear on Gardeners’ World!
Before moving on to his dogs, he told us about the £10 pony he bought his children – at that price he should have known something would be wrong with it – it kicked and bit, so was unsuitable for the children to ride. However it gave them years of entertainment because it would fart loudly for minutes at a time, and as a bonus provided manure for the garden.
Even if you don’t follow Gardeners’ World you were probably aware of the death of Monty’s beloved Golden Retriever, Nigel in 2020 – it was international news. He told us that while Nigel wasn’t the most intelligent of dogs, it was soon recognised he had a talent for working on TV. He frequently upstaged Monty and became a celebrity in his own right. On one occasion the Gardeners’ World Director insisted on numerous takes to ensure that as Monty looked upwards to the camera, Nigel did too. This was eventually achieved with the help of a tennis ball. Monty has created a topiary version of Nigel – he used Yew because it can live for over a thousand years.
Three of Monty’s dogs appear on the programme now. Like Nigel, Nellie and little Ned are Golden Retrievers and get on well together. Patti, the tiny Yorkshire Terrier, is ‘top dog’. Monty described her as resembling a large bumble bee who hates getting wet – his daughter bought her from a nail bar believing her to be a Poodle!
Monty spoke engagingly for 2 hours without faltering, making us laugh at regular intervals – I did shed a tear when he spoke about losing Nigel though. He left the stage to rapturous applause and ear piercing whistles. The evening went by in a flash. In case it’s not obvious, I loved every second of it!