Would you invite complete strangers into the garden you’ve lovingly nurtured just so they could critique your pride and joy?
That’s what contestants on Sky’s new series Show Me Your Garden – a sort of gentler, green-fingered Come Dine With Me – must do.
Each week the series visits a different part of the UK to meet three gardeners who each host an open day while the others appraise their horticultural expertise.
Nobody could fail to be impressed by Margaret Gimblett’s garden in Strathtay, and her rivals in a Scottish episode of the show – Carey Normand and Caroline and Donald Smith – are no exception. ‘I’m a passionate gardener.
Probably too passionate,’ admits Margaret, 75, a retired lawyer. She and her husband Iain bought their house seven years ago for its large, mature garden – then Margaret set about changing it.
Now there’s a walled garden with inky-black mirror pool, overflowing herbaceous borders, a wildlife pond, a Japanese water garden and a sundial lawn with a 7ft standing stone. Margaret’s biggest passion, it seems, isn’t her plants – it’s her rocks. ‘When I planted this stone there was an old farmer watching,’ she recalls. ‘Afterwards he asked my neighbour, “She’s nae a druid, is she?”’
Iain is very much the under-gardener. ‘He helps… reluctantly, I think. He strims and mows and has dug millions of holes for me. I couldn’t do it without him. He knows what huge pleasure it gives me. It was either the Japanese garden or a new kitchen… for me there was no contest!’
The night before her open day, Margaret was weeding by torchlight until 11pm, and was up again at 5am. The others are awestruck. Donald can’t resist stroking those boulders. ‘This is what heaven will be like,’ he sighs.
But he and Caroline think Margaret’s Japanese garden needs more colour. ‘It’s a Scottish Japanese garden,’ protests Margaret. But later she admits, ‘I have been a bit boring. I don’t mind criticism. You can learn from it.’
Caroline and Donald’s garden, near Inverness, boasts a concrete Loch Ness monster. ‘It was huge. I couldn’t bear it,’ shudders Margaret. ‘I know they didn’t like my Nessie,’ sighs Caroline. ‘It was something I bought because we were going to be on TV – and we’re right beside Loch Ness. But he lost us a lot of points. And he got blown over!’
Like Margaret, Donald, 51, a builder, and Caroline, 48, have a pond, plus a Japanese touch with a bright – some would say garish – red bridge. ‘It’s a bit strident,’ Margaret says doubtfully, no doubt getting her own back.
Donald and Caroline’s garden is a constant battle against extreme weather. And midges. ‘It’s torture in summer,’ says Caroline, who wears tights over her head as protection. And after a long, snowy winter, spring flowers don’t appear until June or July.
‘It’s soul destroying,’ says Caroline. ‘But we’re just glad something grows!’ says Donald. What a shame there’s duckweed in the pond; it’s Margaret’s pet hate and there’s no way it’ll escape her beady eye. ‘We knew she’d criticise it,’ says Caroline. ‘We spent the whole night dredging the pond to get out as much as possible.’ But pondweed keeps the fish warm in winter – when the ice can be a foot thick. So there!
You’d need to take up abseiling to attack the weeds in Carey Normand’s garden. Dramatically situated above the Tay Estuary, Carey’s garden is so steep it’s almost vertical. Carey, 60, an educational consultant, admits that at times she’s got stuck and had to haul herself up by clutching at grasses. ‘Bring your hiking boots,’ she warns her visitors.
When Carey moved in six years ago her heart sank. ‘It was a mountain of rubble,’ she says. And so she set about building the garden from scratch. Today you climb the bank to discover a lush, vibrant garden, leading up to a higher level with stunning river views. Already the garden is full of memories for Carey.
Last year her youngest son, Calum, and his girlfriend were married there under an arbour of roses and ivy. She hopes the other contestants will react with a ‘Wow!’ but admits, ‘I’m not a meticulous gardener. I can’t be bothered with pedants.’
Margaret looks as if she could shrivel weeds with just a glance. ‘This garden is a puzzle to me,’ she says, sternly inspecting Carey’s patch.
‘There appear to be a lot of weeds.’ But then she spots the flourishing pampas grass and declares, ‘I don’t like pampas grass – but this is fantastic.’ The verdict all round is that Carey’s garden is stunning but her maintenance skills fall short. She admits she felt a twinge reading her visitors’ comments after they left… after everyone had been so nice. ‘But I think it was fair.’
There are no tears, no insults. ‘We’ll stay friends forever,’ vows Caroline. ‘We all appreciated each other’s gardens.’ And they’re united in their disdain for Come Dine With Me. ‘It’s vulgar and humiliates people,’ shudders Carey.
‘I wouldn’t want to be on a trashy show,’ says Margaret. ‘I said I’d walk if it was like that! We weren’t trying to score points. You have to justify why you like – or don’t like – a garden. And everyone was lovely!’
Show Me Your Garden is on Fridays at 8pm on Sky1.