Chris & Mike Davies' Garden Project for ‘Love Your Garden’ TV programme

Written by Chris & Mike Davies. Posted in News



Garden Project for ‘Love Your Garden’ TV programme

In early April 2019 I received a request via HPS HQ, from a TV company for DIY garden projects to be filmed for inclusion in Alan Titchmarsh’s ‘Love Your Garden’ programme.  Despite circulating it to all Group members, only one member showed any interest, and this was dependant on obtaining physical help with the project – not part of the deal – so I offered a few projects of my own!  We settled on my prospective ‘Oriental Garden’, which I agreed could be completed in ten weeks, weather permitting.

I wrote a detailed schedule which covered the creation of a pond with an island and building a ‘Small Wall of China’, which incorporated a short tower, an arbour and bridges across to the island. 

We struggled to locate an available digger and driver but tracked down someone willing to dig out the pond over two days towards the end of April.  This area had been separated from the rest of the garden by the planting of a yew hedge around four years earlier, which had now reached 5’ in height and almost as thick. This was then pruned back and shaped, leaving one section uncut to train over the planned entrance.

We then reinforced the pond base with hardcore using lumps of concrete and bricks, overlaid with a steel grid over which we lay a concrete base. The pond was designed to have a depth of 60cms, to accommodate hibernating creatures we expected to move in!

Our first visit was from a director named Louise, who talked to me about the project whilst filming sections of the garden as a project starting point.  At this point they had yet to decide which garden projects to choose, but Mike and I agreed that we would get on with ours regardless, then at least it would be done whether they chose to film it or not.

Mike made all the concrete, barrowed and dumped it to site whilst I tamped and levelled it to my satisfaction, since I was going to have to build the pond sides on it.  It had accidental dog footprints in it, of course!

It was now the end of May when Louise returned, this time with TV presenter Francis Tophill and an assistant.  The previous evening, I hastily bricked up the side of the adjacent ditch to avoid the potential for accidents.  They stayed most of the day.  Francis helped build the start of the pond wall, and we discussed planting.  She recommended a Japanese conifer I had never heard of, Thujopsis dolabrata, but was able to obtain.  We finished by discussing the construction of the ‘Dragon’s Head’, for the end of my ‘Small Wall of China’.  Then it rained!

We completed the pond sides on schedule, but this then needed to dry slowly for 21 days.  The rain helped test the integrity of the base, showing this was watertight.  During those 21 days we dug the foundations and built the wall, which included casting three chutes for the waterfall using a wooden mould Mike had made, and dark-stained concrete to match the wall.  Additionally, we had a hardwood bench made, so we could sit on the island.  Mike put together, stained and finished an arbour for our view across the pond.

The waterproofing system required four coats - one extra because I wanted it black which would make it appear deeper and create a ‘mirrored’ effect!  Each coat was meant to go on as soon as the last coat was tacky, and within 4hrs.  Our estimate of the time required was more than the existing daylight hours, even in July, so we bought LED head-torches.  I started at 4.15am with Mike following around 7am … and so we continued, with a long extension cable for the kettle, and bacon rolls, cheese etc, to fortify us throughout the day.  Amazingly we managed to finish ahead of schedule by 8.15 pm, enabling us to sit under the trees with a glass of wine before bedtime.

We had planned to use a solar-powered pump to run the waterfall, but after much discussion the recommended model turned out to be unreliable, so we resorted to using a long, extension lead … which would be replaced by a permanent underground solution later in the summer.  The pump  should have had its panels sited on a ‘tower’, ie a set of 4 legs, with an oriental style roof at an appropriate slope, but since this was no longer an urgent requirement, I put together a metalwork circular ‘moon gate’, over which the yew was trained, which became the entrance.

We edged the pond with a line of dark paving bricks that matched the wall and levelled the surrounding soil to blend in with the garden.  This was now mid-July, which you may recall was hot and dry, and I had to get planting done, fit for filming.  On the island was a large Viburnum rhytidophyllum with a Betula pendula ‘Purpurea’ which overlooked an existing Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’, cleaned of its lower shoots, in the main garden area.  Adjacent to the start of the wall was a weeping pink-flowered cherry.  To complement the oriental theme, I added varieties of Acer palmatum from Len Speller’s collection, evergreen azaleas, ferns (evergreen where possible), irises, hostas (including Hosta ‘Alan Titchmarsh’), oriental lilies, arisaema and a variegated Cornus kousa.   There were also some bamboos, the larger ones with their roots imprisoned.

We filled the pond with tap water after the necessary 72 hrs drying time.  Already several frogs had arrived, including tiny new ones migrating from an existing pond.  A transplanted pink waterlily managed to open a flower for the final filming.  I had also found three forms of Nandina domestica, (Chinese sacred bamboo) and a narrow-leaved Tracheostemon jasminoides called ‘Waterwheel’.  We continued to plant in subsequent months as I wasn’t aiming to fill the garden full of plants just for the benefit of the programme.  I expect to add more when gaps show in the spring.

The final filming took place on July 17th, with a cameraman and different director, Gina.  They were adept at avoiding filming the weeds which had gained momentum while we focused on the Oriental Garden.

It is already a secluded corner, with the sound of the waterfall, mostly green planting, with white and pale pink flowers, to maintain the atmosphere, and I aim to discipline the planting to reflect this in the future.

Feedback from the producer, since the programme aired, was described by viewers as “incredibly inspiring” - all 5 minutes of it!!!!  I’d like to think it was the garden design, but I guess it was because I’m an old lady who does bricklaying!



Oriental Garden project Mike's version

Early in 2019 Chris received a letter from a TV company asking for members of the HPS interested in carrying out a garden project over 3 months for filming of a new series.   After our own checks on the company credentials to confirm this was no hoax, Chris duly circulated other members and also responded about our own project to refurbish the northern corner of our garden for an oriental-style feature.  There was obviously no finance to be provided and I was cynical about being involved with TV people who would have their own agenda which could waste our time.  The correspondence seemed to reinforce this view as our carefully explained plans met with almost complete lack of understanding about gardening and required frequent further explanatory e-mails from Chris wasting her time which was needed on other urgent gardening work.  Eventually we reached a point where we decided to go ahead anyway as we had by then planned enough to believe that we could achieve the deadline for our own sake and it would get the project done irrespective of  any decision from the TV company.

Firstly, we decided that we needed to have a digger to help with excavation for the pond and stream as manual labour would take far too much time and effort.  We hired one of appropriate size which was delivered just before Easter weekend, so we knew at least that job could be started when the driver was here.  Meanwhile during the Easter weekend, we completed the job of laying the paving slabs, over the new terrace at the back of the house, which we had started during all the discussion with the TV people.

The digger driver worked well under Chris' direction and the job was done within about two and half days although another driver had to take over due to illness.  We also hired their dumper truck for me to drive so that I could more quickly remove the excess soil out of the way to save time.

Soon after we had confirmation from the TV company that they wanted to go ahead, a cameraman arrived within a few days to film parts of the garden and Chris pruning.  About three days later the same lady returned with a camera assistant and another lady presenter whom we recognized from other gardening programs, so this gave more confidence of their interest.  We had by then completed the pond and stream foundations.  We had found free hardcore advertised on Gumtree and several car trips to another village fifteen miles away supplemented our own.  All of this was then laid out and covered with steel-reinforcing mesh.  We had also made up a plank walkway to get into the pond area.

All materials had to be barrowed 60 meters from our gateway, so work was continuous through daylight hours to keep to the schedule.  Our concrete mixer was positioned close to the site and we made the concrete and mortar from sand and cement offloaded by the gate.  We had considered whether ready mix was feasible.  Not only was it very expensive in comparison no one could get a lorry close enough.

By the time the TV people arrived we had completed construction of some wall foundations.  We were encouraged by the TV people to take our own iPad videos (in landscape mode) of progress, which was met with some reluctance by Chris as she was displeased with the sound of her voice on the recording, although this was her own perception.  We wanted our own record of as we know how easy it is to forget how the work went at the time.

Building of the pond and stream walls continued as fast as possible as we knew that the summer coach trip with Chris’ HPS mates was fast approaching.  The walls were duly completed and while Chris was away, I backfilled all the walls with concrete and stared to level off the site, so it now began to look in some order.  Two coats of concrete render then had to be applied over all the pond floor and walls which needed several days drying time before waterproof coating.  Meanwhile we constructed our own waterfall chutes to fix in the small Wall of China.  We made the slabs to fix the base of the tower to support the solar panels over the waterfall.  Unfortunately, the solar panels had to be returned to the supplier as they could not provide enough power.  Chris then completed the top of all the pond walls with paving bricks.

Another worrying technical issue concerned the highly recommended waterproof expanding filler adhesive and pond paint used successfully on our existing pond 20 years ago which was now out of production.  After having to reject another coating which would not have worked underwater, we had opted for adding waterproofing agent to all the concrete, and mortar.   We obtained the required clear and black versions of waterproof paint to make the three coats required after several trips to the dealer in Bury St Edmunds. According to the instructions, we applied paint working in continuous relays with Chris starting at 4.15am aided by headtorches and myself finally finishing at 8.15pm.  Picnic and drinks were arranged on site to reduce trips back to the house.

With only a few days until final filming we pressed on with barrowing soil for landscaping, the dragons head construction, arbour and island bench.  Many barrow-loads of tree chippings were brought from our stockpile in the opposite corner of the garden and spread over the new area, with new planting continued as fast as possible.  The moongate was erected and blended with the yew hedge.

At the last minute with only a day or so before filming Chris decided that there was a safety issue posed by the neighbouring drainage ditch, so she built up the ditch wall enough to avoid the camera people falling in.  As it turned out this was no worry and the two TV people who came spent time filming what they wanted and were even happy with our own iPad videos and I was happy we had achieved a new bit of garden for us.