Monty Don: Down to Earth Author Q&A

Our chat with the beloved gardener

We sat down with expert gardener and Gardeners' World presenter Monty Don at our London office, to chat earthen inspiration, Nigel's naps and why gardening is a bit like Tai Chi. Monty is the author of Down To Earth, now available in paperback. 


What inspired you to write Down To Earth, and what makes it unique from other gardening books that you’ve written?

I was inspired to write it by two things: The first was a period of three days when I started to jot down some thoughts about gardening, in a quite random way, that became a whole notebook full. And I don’t know why or where that came from, but I wrote longhand for the three days almost without break.

It was that, combined with my desire to write a gardening book that was simple and straightforward, but based upon the belief that there was no right way to do things. What really mattered was that you enjoyed it. So it was meant to inspire you to give it a go, rather than to instruct you to do it properly.


You say in the book that “gardening is the secret to living well”. Why do you think that is?

Because it engages with life as it is lived outside any kind of human reference. And yet, as a human you are intimately, directly involved, when you are gardening. So it’s not like watching otters or seagulls or Patagonian seals. You the gardener are as much a part of the garden as the plants are, but you’re not more a part of the garden than the plants are. So there’s a kind of humility and modesty involved in it. Plus, full engagement, full involvement, and a connection with weather, with seasons, with food, with colour, with design – it’s all part of it.


Do you have a favourite tip or piece of wisdom from Down to Earth?

When in doubt, do nothing.


What’s a gardening challenge that you overcame, or a difficult project that you completed?

Well I attempted to create a fourteen-acre garden. That involved a lot of earth moving and landscaping. But whether I overcame it or not is another matter. My whole philosophy is, you don’t fight nature. You don’t tackle challenges and overcome them. You recognize challenges and go with them. It’s the Tai Chi of gardening.


Do you have a favourite recipe based on garden fresh ingredients?

Yes! In so much as it’s not my favourite but one of my favourites. We as a family eat a lot and make two things: one is pesto, from basil we grow. Really fresh. And two, the sort of standby that never goes wrong, is tomato sauce.


Can you tell us about the day in the life of your golden retrievers Nigel and Nellie?

Well Nigel is woken up (he never wakes naturally) at about half past six in the morning. He goes outside and sniffs the air. And then he goes back in and has another delicious hour or two of sleep. What makes it particularly good is he then moves to another bed, which is far too small, so he has to curl up in a tight ball to fit into it.

And then he has breakfast, which is his main meal of the day. And after that, on a filming day, he will go outside and help me make the programme. He will bark wildly with excitement seeing all these chaps from the film crew. And he hangs out all day just exactly catching the light in the perfect spot. Just stealing every scene quietly.

Is Nellie quite different?

Yes. Nellie will do the first two things, but she hates filming. She thinks it’s boring.


If you were a plant, which one would you be?

A bloody prickly one! No, I would be an oak tree, because I would want to feel that I would be deeply rooted in the English landscape, and that I would endure. Time would come and time would go, but I would last.