The Paradise Garden: The Tale of Two Geoffs

There are gardens that influence us, from the legacy of Hidcote to the self-sufficient and organic movements. There are names that have become synonymous with these areas, Lawrence Johnson, John Seymour and Bob Flowerdew to name a few but there is one television gardener who became not just a household name but a revolution in his own right. We often forget the impact that Geoff Hamilton had on our gardens before the age of decking, quick make overs and garden celebrities.

Why Geoff Hamilton should be celebrated by gardeners in this century.

I was about eight years old when I first saw Geoff Hamilton on the BBC. As I remember it was an afternoon repeat of Gardeners' World, Geoff was enthusing about soil. That's right, he was talking about dirt. I had no idea what he was speaking about but whatever it was he was really happy about it. Kids like happy people and I think there and then that I made a pact to come back to Geoff when I was old enough. 

The Paradise revolution in the garden.

I grew up in the ex-industrial suburbs, we moved from a backyard to a medium sized back garden. This new garden was bramble infested and head high with grass, I was seven when we moved and I remember not being that impressed being in a box room just for the promise of a garden. Then my Dad went to work, he pulled me into that work, and I hated it, I was cut to pieces by brambles, tripped over chucked out debris from the last owners. I retreated back indoors, I was a child and was easily put off. My dad built a greenhouse come shed from old windows, he planted gooseberries, grew vegetables, planted rhubarb and other fruits. We even had a small lawn that ended up a place for my teenage sister to sunbathe and for the dog to scorch. I think by the age of ten my interest in the out doors was starting to come about with a minor hitch in my teens as the only handful of goths in the village. I was never a good goth, frankly goths don't wear NHS glasses. It was by then the early 90s and secretly behind closed doors, keeping my skin pale, I watched Geoff on television. It was my own little secret before I went away to university. My Dad's garden was my Dad's garden, it wasn't mine and I never attempted to get involved with it as I did with his allotment. I respected the fact that this was probably his first garden, and no child should interfere with someone's first garden, though today we speak of the plants he has chosen. He is particularly proud of his shrubs and his smoke bush, he gives me plants he no longer needs, our rhubarb comes from his garden. I know he used to watch Gardeners' World but lost interest around Titchmarsh, nothing against Alan, I think it had more to do with the lack of Geoff. My Dad is a Geoff too and I think he was drawn to seeing another Geoff on television and the fact that both Geoffs' liked to build things from scraps of wood they had found. This has been passed onto me, why buy a coldframe when my two Geoffs' built their own? I watched Geoff Hamilton over the years as he created gardens at Barnsdale, as my Dad created his own versions of his small back garden. In the last thirty years I think our old back garden has been redesigned more times than I can remember. There are photos of beds I don't remember and my Dad has recently consigned his decking to my wood pile. I watched over the years Geoff Hamilton celebrate many gardens, redesigning and creating them at Barnsdale. I fell for the cottage garden in a series that I still adore to this day (I have the book and frankly I would have bought the t-shirt too) and then the wonderful ornamental kitchen garden (which led me to Harry Dodson). Then sadly, came The Paradise Garden. I was at the final year of university when Geoff died, it was as if my academic life had been bookmarked by the death of Frank Zappa and Geoff Hamilton. The two cornerstones of my belief system (I was always an odd child). Geoff took millions of viewers away from pesticides and herbicides into an organic system. The great thing is that he didn't judge those that still embraced sprays and I even remember him saying he was giving the organic way a try to see if it did work. Now, you may think that wasn't ground breaking but it was in an era of chemicals. Every gardener I knew, including my Dad, used sprays, they never sought to discover the reason for an ailment in a plant or an infestation, they merely sprayed. When I started gardening I questioned this and followed the Geoff way, learning from my Dad's tricks to Hamilton's organic ways. For a boy who lived in an ex-industrial town, Geoff Hamilton was something secret and wonderful. To this day, he is the only television gardener I still rate and reach for. I suspect he reminds me of my Dad, maybe there is something about Geoffs. There is always something new to learn from a Geoff and therefore I was overjoyed to see this below at Ryton Gardens. I'm sure my Dad would love it.