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Monty Don MBE Interview Luxury Property Magazine Abode2 1

The Full Monty

02.04.24

Tania Jacobs heads to legendary Longmeadow in Herefordshire, the Garden of Eden of horticultural hero, Monty Don OBE 

There’s no escaping it. Monty Don is the UK’s foremost gardening guru. A green fingered national treasure, author, presenter and TV producer, he has been stealing the horticultural limelight both at home and abroad for over thirty years.  

Growing up in Hampshire – gardening with family was a ”hands-on digging the soil” pastime from a very young age. “We lived on five cultivated acres and when our gardener hurt his back, my mother put my brothers and me to work. And at the tender age of 7, it certainly felt like work,” he laughs. “But over the next 10 years, gardening became an integral part of my life. I couldn’t help but keep on learning.” 

Monty Don MBE Interview Luxury Property Magazine Abode2 1

However, it wasn’t until his fashion jewellery business closed in 1990, that Monty’s television and writing career really took off. Hired to write a monthly column for the Observer, he went on to become their gardening editor, before receiving his first book commission. His popular column caught the attention of a commissioning editor for a regional television company, leading to a screen test and an offer to be a daytime television ‘gardening segment’ host.  

“I never aimed to work in TV, but I gave it a go anyway,” he smiles. “I’ve always had this policy in life. If you say no, you’ll spend the rest of your life wondering what might have happened. If you say yes, you’ll find out.” 

Nearly 30 years on, and he’s a primetime staple as the lead presenter of BBC’s Gardeners’ World. Since 2011, the programme has been broadcast live from his very own garden, Longmeadow, in Herefordshire. He has also produced TV gold acclaimed series such as Around the World in 80 Gardens, The Secret History of the British Garden, Monty Don’s Paradise Gardens and most recently, Monty Don’s Japanese Gardens. 

His writing endeavours are equally prolific, penning a column for Gardeners’ World Magazine alongside Times best-seller titles including The Jewel Garden - written with his wife Sarah - and Nigel: My Family and Other Dogs and Down to Earth.  

Hitting the shelves last October, The Gardening Book was created as a guide, helping readers discover just how joyful and rewarding the art of planting and pottering can be. “If you’re new to gardening, it can seem rather daunting. With Latin names, various soil types and seasonal requirements, it feels like a lot to learn. Try thinking of your garden like a meal. When you select a recipe, you're choosing it based on inclination, experience and circumstance. Making a garden, big or small, follows exactly the same principles.” 

Monty Don MBE Interview Luxury Property Magazine Abode2 1

A firm believer in the value of communities working together through an understanding and love of the land, Monty supports several charities that champion those principles. “The real importance of gardening is the empowerment that it gives people, however small or seemingly insignificant their gardens might be. It’s a surprisingly liberating pastime that can really help bring people together.” 

To boost charity causes, personal appearances at key literary and gardening events throughout the year, always draw the crowds, with accolades including the Order of the British Empire and the RHS Victoria Medal of Honour at RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2022, in recognition of his work. Last year, in honour of his outstanding contribution to horticulture, broadcasting and charity, he received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Stirling.  

He adds: “I was flattered and delighted to receive the degree. Although I have lived my life in England, my family are proudly Scottish, so to receive the award from a Scottish university is doubly gratifying.” 

Professor Sir Gerry McCormac, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Stirling, commented at the time: “Monty is truly inspiring in his field, with interests that span the natural environment, health and wellbeing and the community. His passions mirror the research and specialisms of the university and his commitment to making change in the world aligns with ours. We’re proud to have him join our alumni.” 

Notwithstanding his very public passion for gardening; to truly understand Monty’s love of all things green, a stroll around Longmeadow reveals the true extent of his life’s work. There, he’s King of his natural Kingdom. “All of our gardens, streets and patches of sky are part of our own perception of the world,” he reflects: “If, in our own modest backyards, we can help preserve and treasure our natural world, then we will make this planet a better place - not just for ourselves but for every living creature.” 

Purchased in 1991, Longmeadow sits on two acres. He reminisces: “Back then, it was basically a barren field. Step one of the garden makeover the most important of all, was to become acquainted with the land. This intimate relationship is so important in terms of planning how you design the plot and how you then go on to use it. It’s important to soak up every little detail - learn which direction the rain comes from and where the garden is warmest and coolest. Only then, can you start to create a space that’s about you; one that’s truly in tune with your life.” 

Split into four distinct zones, each garden plot as you might expect, has its own vibrant personality. “The Cottage garden spent the first 20 years of its existence as a dedicated vegetable patch, but over the past 10 years, it’s slowly evolved into a traditional, but essentially floral garden, filled with soft colours, fruit trees, rhubarb, gooseberries and herbs, all mingled together. In summer, it’s dominated by over 50 different kinds of old-fashioned shrub roses. In winter, the structure is marked out by box hedging and Irish Yews – they fitted in the boot of our car when we first planted them in 1994,” he laughs. 

The Jewel Garden meanwhile, acts as the physical and spiritual centre of the land - a celebration of Monty and Sarah’s previous jewellery business, with an 80s colour pop of glistening gems and metallics – bright, brash, and extravagant.  

Upon entering the Paradise Garden, Monty points out the far corner: “There was a greenhouse there, but it fell down 20 years ago. When we cleared the space, we found that we had an entirely new plot of land, so I decided to make my own paradise based upon the influences I’d encountered travelling across Asia and Indonesia.”  

The result is not a copy but a loose inspiration, with four symmetrical beds arranged in the square charbagh pattern centred around a bubbling water feature. A simple pavilion shaded from the sun looks out over the garden and across the orchard beds. “What began as an act of homage, almost an academic exercise, has become an important and much-loved part of this space,” Monty adds. 

Across two sites and separated by a hedged path is his enviable Vegetable Garden, boasting a mixture of raised and larger beds, some surrounded by low woven fences and home to a host of lush seasonal vegetables.  

For Monty, the joys of this busy section of the garden clearly go beyond just tending: “The luxury of strolling out with a basket, selecting whatever is most appetising and quickly converting those delicious ingredients into a simple meal, is one of life’s great pleasures. I don't tend to work quite so hard these days, and when I do take on projects, I do them on my terms. I’ve loved every second of my career and the opportunities that have been afforded to me, but at my age now, I’m ready to embrace a quieter, slower pace of life. Watching garden life flow by, is what it’s all about.” 

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