On a chilly December evening, my friend and I joined a bustling Northern Line tube carriage to make our way to the stunning Barbican Centre, to spend an evening with Monty Don.
The Barbican Centre itself is an amazing piece of Brutalist architecture, one of my favourites, with bold concrete shapes and striking water-features.
Once we’d taken our seats, the lights dimmed and Monty appeared centre-stage, receiving a huge round of applause from the audience. I must admit, there is something quite surreal about seeing someone in real-life that you’re used to seeing on the television each week!
The first part of the evening was dedicated to his home – Longmeadow, in Herefordshire.
We are all used to seeing this stunning garden each week on BBC’s Gardener’s World, but this evening, we were treated to never-seen-before aerial footage of this beautiful garden.
From above, we were able to really get a feel for this grand, two-acre space, something that is often difficult to comprehend when viewing on the television at home.
Filmed during the warmer months, the trees and hedges were thick with greenery, the vegetable plot bursting with produce ready to harvest and each section – the Dry, Jewel, Cottage and Paradise Garden, all in bloom with their namesake inspired plants and flowers.
Thirty years ago, Monty took on this farmhouse and two-acre field (which was all the garden was back then), with little money at all. The garden that we see today was created solely from cuttings, divisions and seeds.
He described how a garden is ever-changing, and never actually complete. Our gardens are reworked all the time, from changing layouts, reducing or increasing borders, or a change of theme. This was really interesting to hear, as I’m constantly reimagining the layout of my allotment in my head or sketching new ideas with what will work better for my space.
He went on to tell us about beautiful box hedges and topiary being lost to blight, to birthday gifts of bricks from his wife, along with showing photographs of each area of the garden and how they have evolved over the last thirty years, but also the story behind the constant change.
Part of the evening that I found really interesting, was how Monty has struggled with his mental health for many years. With all sorts of medication, therapy and remedies tried, he took himself to a Chinese herbalist. His answer – quit your job and get your hands in the dirt.
Recent studies have actually show that by literally getting your hands dirty, can increase you serotonin levels. The bacteria found in soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, offers a similar effect on your neurons that antidepressants provide. His herbalist was clearly onto something, and with many of us now gardening for our metal health alone, there is definitely truth in his words.
We heard about Monty’s travels, exploring gardens across the world and drawing inspiration from them to use back at Longmeadow.
Exploring the wonderland of gardens in Iran led him to create his own Paradise Garden back home in Herefordshire. Whilst a trip along the Adriatic Coast treated him to glorious hidden gardens in Venice, olive groves in Croatia and modern spaces in Greece – not envious of his travels at all!
As expected, the stars of the show were his dogs. Whilst not there themselves, we were shown candid photos of Nelly, Patti and their newest addition – Ned.
We heard tales of his Golden Retriever, Nigel, who sadly is no longer with us, how he would never be without his tennis balls. We also learnt about some crafty camera trickery used by the Gardener’s World crew to ensure Nigel always was looking at the camera!
As the show came to end, my friend and I both left feeling very wholesome and inspired. If such a spectacular garden can be created from essentially the bare minimum, there is no reason why we all can’t create our own special outdoor space.
With seeds available through various websites and garden centres, social pages offering cuttings and unwanted seedlings and communities grown out of seed swapping, the possibilities of creating your own Longmeadow at home is not out of reach!
Check out Monty Don each week on Gardener’s World (iPlayer) or head over to his website for dates of upcoming talks and events.