The day before The Visitation there was such a lot of preparation to be done, what with planting, sweeping and tying in- even Ted joined in, in a supervisory capacity of course. My lovely gardening friends Peter and Sarah arrived to help, laden down with blue phlox plants that were in flower, and then proceeded to work really hard, with Sarah making the seating areas look great and Peter managing to cut the hedges without standing on the newly laid lawn- no mean feat I can tell you!
Then I dressed the seating areas with blankets and cushions and filled my auricula theatre with plants, as they had said they might feature it in the filming ( I couldn’t afford all auriculas , and ours had been decimated by pesky vine weavils last year , so I put in some begonias as well and hoped he wouldn’t judge me too harshly for it ):
And then, on my friend Julia’s advice (she used to work in tv and knows about these things- “Darling, they’ll love you for it!”), I even made fruit scones and got out the vintage tea set- this turned out to be a good move as the director got Alan to use them as props for a ‘sitting in the garden relaxing’ scene. What they didn’t see was me making two mad dashes to the shops only an hour before their arrival to buy sultanas and then back again for margerine- so stressful!
And then, an hour early, they arrived! I was starstruck! It was like the television had come alive and was walking around in my garden.
In fact that was just what he did- after saying a quick hello, he nipped straight out into the garden to have a good look- and then declared himself very pleased indeed. Apparently many of the gardens they go to have been designed by someone else and the owners aren’t really gardeners, but he could tell that I was, and that made him very happy. Whilst the directors, camera and sound people got set up, Alan and I chatted. He was such a lovely, genuinely kind man with no ego, even after 40 years in television- remarkable.
The director asked me to walk with Alan along a path with my head tilted towards the camera, stop at a certain point, listen to Alan’s question and then reply, and then walk off. Well all I can say is it was like patting my head and rubbing my tummy all at the same time- impossible! I’d get the first bit right – the walking and tilting my head and stopping, but then fluff my lines. Or I’d be so concerned about saying the right thing and being ‘interesting and natural’ that I’d find myself walking along beside Alan like a stiff robot with a locked neck. I also kept forgetting to hold my tummy in , so the continuity on tummy shape is going to need some serious work in the editing suite. The director was very dishy-that’s him on the right:
Here we are about to set off on something like take 190 of our walk along the path…..”Just relax Anne, it’s only 3 million people watching…….” They were very patient- they needed to be……
I had a lovely time talking to Alan as, like all gardeners, we had a lot in common. He’s writing a monthly column now for Country Life so I said, “Ah, taking over the mantle from the Christopher Lloyd of Great Dixter?” It turns out Alan was great friends with the great man, even getting the coveted invitation to Glyndebourne that Christo only ever extended to the favoured few. And Alan liked my blanket from Highgrove that I’d put on to dress the bench. I’ve never been to Highgrove, so Alan said, ” Oh, you should go, it’s lovely. ” Turns out he’s a really good friend of Prince Charles too. And Beth Chatto. And all of these gardening people that I teach about, but have never met. And never will, as half of them are now dead! Well, I did meet Christo once and he was very waspish with me, and certainly didn’t invite me to the opera at Glyndebourne, not like Alan.
What else did we talk about? Well, we talked about box blight ( we’ve both got it), and how he’s using Choisya ternata successfully as a replacement hedge at 1 metre high, how he loves garden visiting- especially small private gardens, how he loves working and the variety of it all, he loves vistas and how he can’t sit for longer than 20 seconds in his own garden without seeing something that needs doing.
Then all too soon ( well, four hours later) it was time to go. We had a last photo together and I got two kisses, one on each cheek.
What a day it had been. I felt absolutely shattered. As I said to Mr.Fruitygardener as I collapsed onto the sofa with a glass of Prosecco, “I think I know how Judy Dench must feel after playing Ophelia at the RSC!” He wasn’t convinced they were quite the same sort of thing at all, and he didn’t even offer to cook dinner. So much for being a media star……..
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