Love Your Garden Series 9: Episode 2 - The Secret Garden



The Story behind the Garden
Rob and Margaret Isdale from Grantham, Lincolnshire as well as bringing up their own family, have fostered over 150 children during the last 42 years.


Rob and Margaret now in their 70s started fostering in 1977, they have fostered children, babies and mothers but now mostly have babies, often newborns awaiting adoption. 


With the children often coming from difficult backgrounds the couple have little time for their neglected garden. 

They are also Grandparent and Great Grandparents so they need a garden to fit everyone in and one that is suitable for everyone.


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Alan Titchmarsh Surprised Rob first, then a speechless Margaret at the home, they have lived in for 30 years. 

Rob has recently had a Quadruple Bypass so has been having a rest but they are now back to fostering again.


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The couples Daughter Fiona Willetts spoke of how her amazing parents take on children with all sorts of problems, from special needs to medical or emotional needs. 

Although often kept awake all night, she never hears her parents complain doing the role they both love. They are her biggest inspiration and wants to be like them and speaks of them with great love and pride.


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Bev Lloyd, Supervising Social Worker talks about the shortage of Foster Parents in the UK. Without Foster Parents like Rob and Margaret she has no idea what would have happened to the children that have been in need of their help over the years.


The Garden
Rob and Margaret's garden is wide and short with trellis to one side, a large evergreen euonymus and lots of trailing ivy as a backdrop, with a battered old shed in the corner.


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Alan describes it as dull and boring. They want a garden for birds and wildlife and for the family to all get together. 


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The inspirational couple deserve an inspirational garden and Alan comes up with the idea of using the novel The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett as the theme.


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Alan Titchmarsh has his trusty team of David Domoney, Frances Tophill, Katie Rushworth and landscape companies JP Landscapes Ltd and London City Gardens


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David job is to create the curly wurly pathways to coax you out into the garden, leading you on a journey of discovery.

Katie job is to create a romantic, magical, lived in look, rustic and tumbled down.


Frances job is linking it all together, concentrating on the nature and wildlife.

Alan job is the shed!



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The Secret Garden plans are revealed. It is to be a garden that reveals itself. a curving path linking a paved dining area with a metal gazebo covered seating area. 


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Another secret seating area for reflection and ancient ruins surrounded by romantic / wildlife friendly planting.


A work in progress
David uses textured flagstones and rustic brick for edging to create the curved pathway with a Victorian look.



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Along with brick edged gravel pathways David creates a dining area near the house to entertain family and friends.


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Next job is to create the romantic planting scheme, planting in the nooks and crannies and within the winding pathways.



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Forget me nots, Saxifraga, violas and Ajuga all create this look.



Katie is building 2 brick follies in the garden.


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The first one is a Gothic archway creating a glimpse through it to the hidden pathway beyond.


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Costing £2500 it has a window and an archway and the bricks are 300 years old. Planting pockets and spaces in the paving are left for the planting scheme.


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A metal patio lace Gazebo is put in place and Davids prancing squirrel statue idea falls nearly as flat as him standing on 1 leg posing!


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Finally she uses Climbers and mature shrubs to cover the folly, she plants a mature Camellia to help age the folly. 

Ferns are added to the nooks and crannies along with Ivy that she has divided.



Frances tackles the 30 year old Euonymus by trimming the overgrown plant to create nesting spots.


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Her next job is to create a bespoke bird feeder / banqueting table. She attaches bird feeders and bird baths.


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She plants the trellis with honeysuckle near the kitchen door and a Japanese quince, Chaenomeles Japonica.

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Berberis is added for the wildlife providing hiding places for birds.


Alan flatpack shed has arrived and is built, it is very plain!


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Alan paints the orange shed and plans to add Gothic arches and mock Tudor decoration.


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Inside the shed a hideaway for Rob for a bit of tranquillity and birdwatching.



Trees are added to disguise the view from the house, revealing just glimpses. Acer, Snake bark are used along with an ornamental Cherry sheltered by the folly. A Crabapple was added for the birds and wildlife.


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Alan surrounds the shed with shade friendly plants including spotted Laurel, Aucuba Japonica, Fatsia the false Castor oil plant and 3 varieties of euphorbia.

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Alan plants and polishes a silver birch with a damp cloth to bring out the whiteness of the bark.


The Secret Garden Look has inspired gardeners to use archways, concealed views and magical entrance ways along with dense planting to create hidden hideaways in their own gardens.

Alan visits a garden in Nottingham for ideas. 

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A magical garden with arches, small windows giving hidden peeps at to what is beyond. 

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Curved brick walls and stone steps slowly being taken over and reclaimed by plants.


David visited Mathew Bradbury in North London who wants to create his own secluded hideaway.

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Challenging clay soil with trees draining the water are a problem so a Mediterranean patio garden is ideal.

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Using chimney pots and Mathews own succulent collection, David applies teak oil to some neglected hardwood garden furniture to provide a seating area for free.

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Gravel and a mixture of pots containing Mediterranean plants complete the look on a budget.


What this garden means to them
Alan asks why they started fostering and it was their love of children that made them start.

At the beginning it was hard to give them back but now as they are both in their 70s they know the children are going on, often to new forever families.

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One foster child was to change their lives forever. Kim who had special needs and a serious medical condition. They adopted Kim when she was 3 years old, she was bubbly with a good sense of humour and a blessing into their lives.

Sadly she died at just 21 years old in 2005.

Alan creates a special secluded seating area complete with a bird bath brought by their eldest Daughter Fiona especially engraved in memory of Kim.

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It includes the words 'Use Your Shinishitive' one of Kim's favourite phrases.

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Fiona describes how the light went out of the families lives when Kim sadly passed.

Fiona talks of the families love for the book The Secret Garden which was loved not only by Fiona as a child, but the film was by her 2 daughters as well as Kim.

This is a shock to Alan and a sign that this garden was meant to be.

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Fostering has enriched their lives and Alan talks about how they have fostered all these children never expecting any thanks or praise.

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The Grand Reveal
The final touches to the garden is a door hidden in the ivy, the same as in the book.

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As a final touch 150 white Muscari plants/bulbs, 1 for every child they have fostered over the years the garden is now complete.

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Rob and Margaret open your eyes

'Oh wow' 'Goodness me is that our garden' 'wow its the best I have seen' 'It's absolutely brilliant' 'look at the gazebo' 'Is it really our garden' 'Thank you so much'

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Alan welcomes them to their very own 'secret garden'.

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The Shed is a big hit with Rob. Margaret still cant believe what she is seeing as the shocked couple explore their new garden.

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The bespoke bird feeder with the names of some of their many foster children starts the tears.

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The special seating area complete with the engraved bird bath is a poignant moment for the couple as the tears are now flowing freely.

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They take a moment to reflect on how much Kim would have loved the garden.

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Finally taking a seat in the gazebo their family and friends flood into the now, not so secret garden.

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As the champagne corks pop for this deserving couple that have helped so many children, they now have their very own story book ending.


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