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Alan Titchmarsh Artist in Residence: 2002

"It is rare to meet someone who has the same appreciation of atmosphere, colour, texture and the magic that can be created in a garden, and in John we have found someone who understands exactly what we were trying to do."

Alan Titchmarsh MBE, DL

John Dyer with Alan Titchmarsh at a special event they held at the Eden project

Above: 'Eden Friends' with John Dyer and Alan Titchmarsh at John and Alan's special event they held to discuss John's paintings and the art of gardening in 2003. © Chris Saville. Licensed from Apex News and Pictures.

As John’s interest grew in organic and sustainable gardening, fuelled by his work at Eden, it occurred to him to find out how other professional gardeners were putting organic ideas into practice. Never one to think small, he started at the top and wrote to TV’s most famous advocate of organic gardening, Alan Titchmarsh, who had been presenter since 1996 of BBC’s Gardeners’ World, filmed in his own Hampshire garden, Barleywood. John’s suggestion was that he should come and paint in Alan’s garden. As happens so often with him, there was an element of lucky timing in his first approach. Alan receives many such requests and was inclined to reply with a polite refusal, but he was brought up short when the very next piece of post he opened was from his PA, on holiday in Cornwall, written on a lovely card showing a painting by John Dyer! He promptly reversed his initial decision, invited John to visit his garden, and the two formed an instant and lasting connection.

The week John spent painting at Barleywood in 2002 coincided with a spell of atrocious July weather. John had to paint for much of the time in the pavilion (a special privilege as that was where Alan would sit to write his novels) or greenhouse to protect his canvases, if not himself, from the frequent downpours. ‘But,’ said Alan, ‘in spite of the rain, John managed to conjure up some wonderful images…and his canvases show nothing of the foul weather. As the week progressed, I came to know John and his style of painting rather better, and to marvel at his refreshing optimism in the face of potential meteorological disaster. He never once became grumpy or depressed.’

Neither was Alan disappointed in the results. ‘It is rare to meet someone who has the same appreciation of atmosphere, colour, texture and the magic that can be created in a garden, and in John we have found someone who understands exactly what we were trying to do.’ For his part, John found Barleywood ‘beyond stunning’; built on a steep hill, it had been ‘slowly nurtured, encouraged, planted, changed and loved over a period of twenty years’ and had Alan’s personality stamped all over it. Though different to the coastal gardens with their exotic sub-tropical plants which John usually painted, he made an instant connection between Alan’s garden and Heligan, in their shared use of greenhouses and formal vegetable beds.

The pictorial record of John’s week at Barleywood was all the more poignant for Alan as he and his wife were moving house, and leaving the garden he had created, at the end of that year. But the cross-fertilisation between Alan and John continued for the next two years; first when Alan came to Cornwall to do a live ‘Painting and Planting’ event with John for the Friends of Eden, and then when John was invited by BBC Gardeners’ World Live to be Artist in Residence for the 2004 exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham. This was a great event at which Alan and John spoke live to an audience of several hundred people about the similarities between painting and planting; during the event John did a live demonstration, resulting in the painting Chatting with Alan, and painted many of the show gardens and subjects in the RHS floral marquee in addition to other new paintings exploring the essence of this spectacular annual garden show.

Article courtesy of Kate Dinn.
Read all about John Dyer's life and work in the book 'Painting the Colours of the World' by Kate Dinn.