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Alan Titchmarsh marks 50 years in gardening by moulding Beethoven’s hair at Muswell Hill home

PUBLISHED: 12:13 12 January 2015 | UPDATED: 15:32 12 January 2015

Alan Titchmarsh visits the now famous quirky garden of Susan Bennett & Earl Hyde for new TV programme.
Alan helps to sculpture head of Beethoven

Alan Titchmarsh visits the now famous quirky garden of Susan Bennett & Earl Hyde for new TV programme. Alan helps to sculpture head of Beethoven

© Nigel Sutton email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

A new television programme finding Britain’s best back gardens will feature Susan Bennett and Earl Hyde this Tuesday.

Flights of Fancy is a category that really suits Susan Bennett and Earl Hyde’s garden in Muswell Hill, as may be seen on Tuesday, 20th January in the tv programme, Britain’s Best Back Gardens. To mark his fifty years in gardening, Alan Titchmarsh is presenting the series, which celebrates the extraordinary nature of “ordinary” gardens. With the help of such organisations as the National Gardens Scheme (NGS), the programme makers sought suitable gardens for Titchmarsh to visit. From the 600 submissions they chose 30, including Susan and Earl’s, whose garden has long been delighting visitors with its bright planting, imaginative buildings and varied clay accoutrements, made in the studio in the garden.

Susan says that the programme selection process was lengthy, with many visits and warnings not to get disappointed if nothing came of it. Then, when they knew they were in, came a request: could they think of anything practical for Alan to do, rather than just be there? This was the moment for Earl to step forward… would Alan perhaps like to help him with the arrangement of Beethoven’s hair? Earl had for sometime been making clay plaques of Liberace and Beethoven, modelling their faces in relief, to join the mirror and candle sconces already adorning a yellow wall. The answer was an enthusiastic yes.

For the day of filming, Earl had rolled out strips of clay on a corrugated rubber car mat to give hairlike lines, ready to be applied to the plaque. Susan, who used to teach ceramics, was impressed at how well Alan handled the job. When she said so, he replied that he loved art and that it had been his only “O” Level. So far, the plaques have come through their biscuit firing and await Earl’s decisions about glaze. By this summer, visitors to the garden should be able to see Beethoven and Liberace in place. But when Earl recently showed me the proposed site, we noticed muddy pawmarks on that very section of yellow paint – fox, cat, jumping down from the ridge above? Poor Beethoven; it is one thing to have your hair styled on a car mat and applied by a celebrity, but another to have it used as a springboard by animals.

A true flight of fancy that had not arrived in the garden at the time of the filming is the spiral staircase, which Earl found dismembered in a reclamation yard. Now reassembled, it stands against the studio wall, leading to nowhere… or heaven… or any other destination one may choose to imagine. When I climbed up to see the view, the whole structure wobbled. It will be braced to the wall before the visiting season starts, but even so, garden visitors will not be invited to ascend, because insurance is something the NGS has to take seriously.

Attentive readers of the Ham & High may be aware that Susan Bennett has a way of featuring quite often on its pages. But what they may not know is the amount of work and enthusiasm she puts in off-camera, behind the scenes, to being an Assistant County Organiser for the NGS. London, being so populous, has a number of people assisting Penny Snell, the County Organiser. One of their remits is to find new gardens good enough to open to the public, with owners who are willing to do so. It is thanks to Susan, a star networker, that new delights for the North London garden visitor are added every year.

The episode of Britain’s Best Back Gardens in which Susan and Earl’s garden features will be shown on ITV, Tuesday, January 20 at 8.00pm.

THINGS TO DO

 Unless too cold, this is a good time of year to do useful things like tidy sheds, go through old packets of seed, restore paths, fences, etc., or make changes to the layout of your garden or allotment.

 Enjoy winter scented flowering shrubs, like Lonicera fragrantissima, Viburnum fragrans, Chimonanthus praecox. If you haven’t got any, think about planting some for next year. Some get quite big, but can be pruned back after flowering.

 What will you grow from seed this season? Think what you admired last year but haven’t yet tried. I’m drawn to Tithonia rotundifolia Torch, the Mexican Sunflower, which has brilliant orange flowers.

 Order Summer flowering bulbs, like lilies.

 Clear damp leaves away from the crowns of perennials, to discourage slugs from living underneath them.

 Feed the birds.

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