The Glorious Garden by Alan Titchmarsh and Debbie Wiseman

Saturday, 3 March 2018

When I think of Alan Titchmarsh I think of gardening programmes on the television so I was rather surprised to be sent a review copy of a brand new album compilation of poetry and music by Alan Titchmarsh and Debbie Wiseman. 

Alan is a versatile man with varied interests and music is one of them. He regularly presents his selections of classical favourite on Classic fm and he loves writing poetry or as he prefers to call it ‘verse’. The collaboration of poems and music was Debbie Wiseman’s  idea. As classical fm’s ‘composer in residence’, Debbie approached Alan with the suggestion that he write some poems that she could create music for and he did just that in the set of poems that make up The Glorious Garden. Lots of well known and loved plants are not only described in Alan’s poems, they are given personalities that Debbie then rounds out further with beautiful pieces of music.

I was  so pleased that  the poems and music are presented as alternate and separate tracks up until the final one where words are read with accompanying music. This allows the listener to enjoy Alan’s performance of the poems and then sit back and relax with the music and also maybe determine whether you think Debbie has captured the essence of these garden favourites in Alan’s terms or not. I am calling Alan’s reading of his work a performance because of the use of different voices to imbue his plants with personality and this is impressive. It was a joy to hear the plaintive voice of the brave snowdrop and compare it in the same poem to the hardy and disgruntled brussel sprout who ends up humiliated ‘boiled and eaten’, its naked stem and roots discarded on the compost heap when Christmas has past. I ended up with a great deal of sympathy for this much maligned vegetable. I particularly love the lines:

‘living life upon the edge

the fate of any common veg’

The poem Snowdrop one of my favourites in the collection, along with Cedar of Lebanon which I found out with a bit of research is Alan’s favourite tree. In Marigold, the flower is given a common accent to go with its gaudy orange colour. This one follows, Peony who is described as a ‘powdered dowager and a posh accent is adopted accordingly. All very tongue in cheek. 

The best of these poems remind me of John Betjeman’s work with its wry humour. However those that know me well will  think me disingenuous if I fail to mention the rhymes. I am known for not being a fan of rhyming poetry.  I much prefer poems that don’t rhyme and if poets rhyme then for me the rhymes have to be subtle and unobtrusive. Alan does achieve this in some of the poems, Cedar of Lebanon for example and Snowdrop, but in others I have to say the rhymes got a little in the way,  and felt a bit contrived ‘myrtle/flirt’ll’ ‘loyal/family royal’ (from Myrtle). As a lover of contemporary poetry I was a bit disappointed to hear old fashioned words like’ thus’ and’ twere’ featuring, fortunately not enough to spoil the compilation but it would have been much better without these words. 

Fans of classical music will love the music and fans of lighter poetry will enjoy Alan’s ‘verses’. I loved the content of them and the delivery, and it was good to have a tour around an English garden and be reminded of its virtues. Garden stalwarts such as the sweet pea are included and brought back memories for me. This flower used to be a particular favourite of my mother- in-law. She liked to pick them to adorn the house. I have never grown them myself. I have tried the peony but it was a pain to keep happy in the garden with its top heavy blooms. Marigolds though always light up our borders. What does that say about us?

This is an interesting project and there is lots here to delight and amuse so I would recommend a listen. It will certainly make you smile during this cold start to Spring.

The Glorious Garden: Alan Titchmarsh & Debbie Wiseman (W.C 05/03)