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TV review: Love Your Small Garden

Benjie Goodhart / 08 July 2021

A special episode of Alan Titchmarsh's popular gardening show looks at making the most of a small space, plus a new series explores ways to improve your memory.

Alan Titchmarsh with Danny Clarke
Alan Titchmarsh with Danny Clarke, Love Your Small Garden Special, ITV © Spungold

Love Your Small Garden, Tuesday 13th July, 8pm, ITV

The title of this one-off programme sounds exactly like what a snob would say upon walking into a garden that is smaller than their own.

Anyway, that is neither here nor, indeed, there. What’s important is that the living, breathing legend that is Alan Titchmarsh is back with a special episode of his series, Love Your Garden, dedicated specifically to small gardens. Ordinarily, each show sees him and his team descend upon an unsuspecting but deserving household, and completely renovating and replanting their garden. But this episode, dealing as it does with very small spaces, means he and his trusty sidekicks are doing two gardens this week – one in London, and one in Kent. And both, it must be said, in serious need of a bit of TLC.

More and more of us have small gardens. I mean, obviously not those of us who inhabit Saga Towers, a vast, sprawling castle in the Home Counties with a landscaped 2000 acre estate where deer roam and salmon leap, and we all dine on swan in Baronial splendour. But for those less fortunate, small gardens, terraces or courtyards are becoming the norm. Obviously that means you might struggle to build your evergreen maze, or plant your lakeside arboretum, but it doesn’t need to mean that you can’t enjoy a pleasing and relaxing outdoor space. So sayeth Alan Titchmarsh, and who are we to argue with greatness? As if to prove the point, we are shown a number of small spaces that have been turned into veritable oases of loveliness.

Alan then takes us around a particularly fine example of a small garden, and points out all of the tricks involved in making the most of the space, and making it seem larger than it actually is. It’s all about angled lines, a zig-zagging path, climbing plants to disguise the edge of the plot, and using evergreens to ensure dense foliage all year round.

Then it’s off to meet the first recipient of ITV’s horticultural largesse. Maxine is a charity worker. She runs sessions for kinship carers – relatives who are the main carers for children who are not their own. It is an important and demanding job. But more than that, Maxine is also a kinship carer herself, having raised her niece, Faith, since she was a baby. She is clearly a wonderful woman. But she is also clearly a ruddy awful gardener. Her tiny garden looks like a very small plot of wasteland. But not for long, as Alan and his team, including series regulars Frances Tophill and David Domoney, get to work creating a mini-miracle.

Meanwhile, 75 miles away on the Kent coast, Ian and Megan Robb live with their three kids, Logan, Isla and Hallie. Hallie has osteopetrosis, a rare, life-limiting condition that has also made her blind. Life with three kids can’t be easy, but when one of them faces such challenges, it must be exhausting. Little wonder that their garden is basically a 4x8m dumping ground. Alan descends upon the family, with another team in tow – this one headed up by Katie Rushworth and Danny Clarke.

And so we watch the gardens take shape. And each one is, it has to be said, a tiny triumph. There are design tips and practical tips aplenty (all delivered with the usual Titchmarshian cheesy banter) and it is lovely watching something so drab be transformed into something so beautiful. But the grand reveal of each garden is the real triumph. And both are jaw-droppingly lovely. Watching Hallie, in particular, enjoy the scented and tactile elements of her new outdoor haven is a joy.

This is kind people doing inspiring work for other kind people. With flowers thrown in for good measure. What’s not to love?

Find everything from BBQ accessories to garden lighting, bird feeders to water features on Thompson and Morgan, and Saga customers can enjoy special offers.

Can I Improve My Memory? 1/4 Thursday 15th July, 8pm, Channel 4

Being a kid has its drawbacks. Sure, you don’t have to pay the bills, do the laundry, or make sure there’s loo paper and milk in the house. But you have to go to bed when you’re told, your amount of screen time is rationed with astonishing strictness, and you have homework. Also, people shout at you if you drink wine.

All things considered, I’ll stick to being an adult, thanks all the same. But there is one area where I’m really jealous of the young: Their ability to retain information completely effortlessly. My 13-year-old son is a case in point. He is a complete sponge. If you tell him something, it sinks in and stays there. Unless, of course, it’s a request to brush his teeth.

Me, on the other hand? I’ll remember to brush my teeth, such is the effect of routine. But if you ask me where I put my keys, what someone’s name is, or what I had for dinner last night, I’ll look at you like you’ve just asked me to recite War and Peace verbatim.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying my son is a genius. (Nobody who finds asinine TikTok videos so endlessly fascinating can be a genius). Nor am I saying that there is anything particularly wrong with my brain, as much as my wife might suggest otherwise. I’m simply saying that, as we get older, our ability to retain information seems to shrink in exact proportion to the amount of white hairs that start growing out of our ears.

Which is why I thought this new series, presented by the undeniably magnificent Sandi Toksvig, might be of interest. It looks at the concept of memory, and how we can improve its effectiveness. Five celebrities will be taught a new memory technique each week, by a different expert, and will then take part in a quiz. From week two onwards, whoever comes bottom will be eliminated from the show.

The celebrities are as follows: Former strictly judge Len Goodman; Anna Richardson, presenter of various TV shows including Naked Attraction which I hope, for your sake, you’ve never seen; EastEnders actor Nina Wadia; Amber Gill, former winner of televisual trash-fest Love Island; and boxer and professional eccentric Chris Eubank. It is what you might call an eclectic mix.

Each of them is allocated the subject they are to learn about ahead of their test. Anna, it is fair to say, is not an expert on the solar system. “Is the Earth a planet?” she asks, before concluding that “this is not going to go well, is it?” Amber is given birds native to the UK, Nina the human skeleton, and Chris dinosaurs of the Jurassic era. Len, meanwhile, is dismayed to be given American hip hop of the 1990s.

In charge of their coaching this week is Ed Cooke, who became a Grand Master of memory aged just 23. I don’t know what that means, but it’s fair to say, he’s pretty good at remembering stuff. He can remember the order of 16 decks of cards, and can memorise a 1000 digit number in an hour. Unfortunately, it seems that nobody has taught Ed how to remember not to wear a silly hat, which is why he has one on in every scene, no matter his outfit or the prevailing weather conditions.

But the techniques he uses are extraordinary. A bizarre hybrid of visualisation and word-association, it taps into the fact that the brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than it does words. Although I have no idea how anyone would work something like that out. Other techniques on display include getting Anna to draw blindfolded, getting Len to memorise facts while taking a golf swing, and intentionally overloading Nina’s brain.

And so to the quizzes. Suffice to say, the results are pretty extraordinary. Chris certainly seems happy with his results. “I did well. I may have pronunciated words slightly different, but I’m happy with what I’ve learned.” Even if it didn’t include pronunciating! One by one, the celebs answer their questions, and it becomes clear that Ed is more than just a man in a silly hat. He’s also not the one with the daftest fashion item. Chris is wearing a sheriff’s badge throughout. Each to their own.

The best… and the rest:

Saturday 10th July

Wimbledon 2021, 1pm, BBC One: Sue Barker presents coverage of the ladies’ singles final from the All England Club.

A Lake District Farm Shop 1/4, 8pm, Channel 4: New documentary series about Tebay Services, the country’s most picturesque and luxurious service station-cum-farm-shop.

The Curse of Grace Kelly’s Children, 9pm, Channel 5: Exploring the privileged, but blighted lives of Princess Caroline, Prince Albert and Princess Stephanie, asking why they have been plagued by controversy and tragedy.

Pavarotti in Hyde Park, 9:30pm, BBC Two: The big fella’s 1991 concert in Hyde Park, in front of an audience of 125,000. Nessun Dorma guaranteed.

Sunday 11th July

Wimbledon 2021, 1:05pm, BBC One: Sue Barker presents coverage of the men’s singles final from SW17 which, I’m willing to bet, will involve a certain Mr Djokovic.

UEFA Euro 2020 Final, 7pm, BBC One and ITV: This is the big one. Is it… can it… could it possibly… is football coming home?

Monday 12th July

Only Connect, 8pm, BBC Two: Victoria Coren Mitchell returns with TV’s most baffling quiz show, like a cryptic crossword in gameshow format.

University Challenge 1/37, 8:30pm, BBC Two: Saga Magazine’s own much-loved Jeremy Paxman returns with another series of the uber-boffiny academic quiz show, tonight featuring quartets from King’s College London and the University of Glasgow.

Amol Rajan Interviews Sundar Pichai, 9pm, BBC Two: Completing an impressively cerebral couple of hours on BBC Two, the Today presenter talks to the head honcho of Alphabet Inc and Google.

Tuesday 13th July

Cooking with the Stars, 9pm, ITV: Emma Willis and Tom Allen host this new series in which celebs team up with chefs who mentor them towards cooking restaurant-quality food. Among those taking part are Johnny Vegas and Shirley Ballas.

Wednesday 14th July

Craig and Bruno’s Great British Road Trips, 8pm, ITV: Craig Revel Horwood and Bruno Tonioli embark on a road trip around Britain, taking in some of the country's most spectacular scenery. Tonight’s series opener comes from Cornwall.

Today at the Great Yorkshire Show ½, 8pm, Channel 5: Anita Rani and Jules Hudson present coverage of the annual event, meeting the growers and showers as the show returns for its 162nd outing. Oh, and there’s a Yorkshire pudding-making competition to boot. Concludes tomorrow.

The Two Ronnies: Ronnie Corbett’s Lost Tapes, 9pm, ITV: A look back at the life and career of one of Britain’s favourite comedians, featuring interviews with those who knew him best.

Thursday 15th July

Golf: The Open Highlights, 8pm, BBC Two: Thank goodness, some sport. There’s been precious little of that to watch lately! Anyway, coverage of golf’s oldest major comes from Royal St George’s in Kent.

Our NHS: A Hidden History, 9pm, BBC One: David Olusoga explores the hidden history of the nurses, doctors and health workers who, for more than 70 years, have been arriving from overseas to serve in the NHS.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

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