Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Glorious Gardens From Above: BBC TV @ Ponthafren

This Autumn the glorious terraced garden which is managed by a team of devoted volunteers at the mental health charity Ponthafren Association, Newtown, will feature on a new BBC TV programme called Glorious Gardens From Above

TV/radio gardener and horticulturist Christine Walkden spent the summer journeying across the British Isles in a hot air balloon. From this striking new perspective she flew across the country calling in at some of the most beautiful gardens on her way. The new programme is not just about gardens, but people's relationships with gardens. Ponthafren's garden was chosen to represent the community garden category in the episode focusing on Mid Wales.

I met the BBC producer/director Will Ridgeon and his colleague Helen Shields as they spent the day filming interviews of staff and volunteers at Ponthafren and touring the garden to find some of the best viewpoints. That was not difficult in a stunning garden cut into the steep hillside alongside the River Severn, with views overlooking not just the riverbank, but the town of Newtown opposite.

Nicky Morris (Centre Co-ordinator) began her interview by describing the layout of the garden. Starting at the top, there is a large fruit and veg patch, from which leads a long drystone wall. This is topped with herbs all the way down the sloping path to the sensory gazebo - one of several outdoor seating areas. Next is the sensory garden itself, which is stuffed full of different textured plants and grasses, and then alongside the riverbank is the wildlife walk. This incorporates a pond with a solar powered fountain and mass plantings of shasta daisies which blend perfectly with the natural vegetation of the riverbank. 

Each area has its own features, included topiary figures and sculptures made out of all manner of materials, including a recycled bath and washing machine innards! Iolo Williams opened the garden once the wildlife walk was complete and said it was ideal for wildlife - the dragonfly larvae had moved into the pond already!

Helen and Will then moved on to interview Ponthafren garden volunteer Jan Rogers – who is turning into something of a regular guest on this blog (she recently wrote – Volunteering whilst getting benefits and Mental Health Act 1983 – Code of Practice: the review (in England)). As Jan picked apples from a loaded tree, before moving into the greenhouse for tomatoes and cucumbers, she answered questions about how her involvement as a volunteer gardener at Ponthafren had impacted on her own wellbeing. She also spoke passionately about what she had gained from her experience – including increased confidence, new qualifications and the opportunity to work outside.

She explained that a variety of funders had contributed to the garden improvements over the years, including work to make the garden more accessible to all. In the last few years new raised beds and an extra greenhouse have been added, and also new seating areas. These projects are often planned, costed and built by the garden volunteers themselves, and there is a sense of huge achievement as each idea is brought to life.

Volunteers have been able to attend Coleg Harlech (now WEA Cymru) courses in Drystone Walling, Art & Design in the Garden, and Landscape Design, whilst completing various projects. Jan said "some of us were lucky enough to complete a 12 month Diploma in Horticultural based Progression (14 units including a wide range of topics from herbs, grafting, and seed collecting to writing business plans, to name a few). I personally would have never taken part in this type of course if it had not run at Ponthafren."

Jan heads up the team of garden volunteers at the Centre. Each volunteer chooses what area they want to work in, "one lady can't stand for long but she loves to sit and pot things on. We take a lot of cuttings, and the plants are put in our yard for people to buy which is our money to buy seeds, compost and tools for next year. This is the great thing with our garden, there is something for everyone. The only thing that I do insist on is that everyone enjoys it!"

Jan arrives with a basket full of veggies for an outdoor cookery demonstration.

Julia Gorman (Newtown Resource Centre Facilitator at Ponthafren) was then filmed with Ponthafren members preparing the vegetables Jan had gathered. Julia runs regular nutrition sessions at the Centre for members to attend and learn about food preparation and diet - she and some of the volunteers prepare healthy and tasty food for all to enjoy at the end of a session. 

Contrast this image with one taken about 15 years ago when volunteers started work at Ponthafren to transform the garden.

All in all everyone had a thoroughly enjoyable day - though obviously Will and Helen were working non-stop throughout to film the best shots for the programme! We all noticed during the filming how often noises intrude to interrupt a session. Ponthafren garden always seems very peaceful, but on the day the BBC arrived a whole host of sounds came and went, including: squealing seagulls, bottle bank emptying across the river, workmen building a shed next door, motorbikes roaring along Milford Road, dogs barking and planes soaring high overhead. A tip for anyone wanting to get into the TV business: learn and practice patience as a key skill!

The new series Glorious Gardens From Above will now start broadcasting on Monday 10 November on BBC 1 at 3.45pm daily (please note change of broadcast date!)
There are 15 episodes in total. The Mid Wales episode, in which Ponthafren Association features, will transmit on Wednesday 12 November. It will also feature Powis Castle Gardens, and the Dingle Garden near Welshpool.

You can join a Drop-in Gardening session with Jan at Ponthafren Association 
every Wednesday and Friday 11am - 2.30pm.
Julia runs Foodwise sessions at Ponthafren Association every Thursday 2 - 3pm.
You can find out more here.


  1. what or who runs the bbc ?
    glorious gardens was suposed to be on and it has just disappeared- no word no advert nothing-it's bad enough they want it at 3:15 in the aft. so that all the people that work or GARDEN miss it- yes we know i player well lots of us don't use i player- now- everyone knows the BBC is run by friends and family- (common knowledge) People and lots of them think the beeb is sinking into the ground- it used to be something to be proud of in the UK- wake up and please the people of this country not your staff=

  2. Just spotted this on the AG website... change in transmission times... Christine Walkden’s new TV series
    Starting on November 10th at 3.15pm and running for 15-parts, Christine Walkden’s new series Glorious Gardens from Above looks set to take gardening literally to new heights.
    The BBC will use hot air balloons and drones to film gardens from high above tree-top canopies.
    This, says the Beeb, will provide a unique view for viewers, allowing armchair gardeners to witness a birds-eye spectacle of fascinating and historic landscapes.
    Christine, who is resident gardener on The One Show, told Amateur Gardening magazine she had “no problem with getting into hot air balloons”.
    She said: “We did a series on The One Show involving hot air balloons. I’ve been staggered at the scale of what you can see from above.
    “It almost heightens the definition of gardens. There have been some where I have been completely blown away by the views.”
    Series director Gavin Ahern said Glorious Gardens From Above would not just be about gardens but would also focus on people’s relationships with gardens.

    1. Hi - thanks for the update! Let's hope they stick with this date now. I've updated the blog post to reflect the change. Here's looking forward to seeing the glorious garden at Ponthafren on TV soon!

    2. How sad you have not put your name to this, as I would have loved to chat person to person. When Helen and Will from the BBC, came along to Ponthafren and chatted about the gardens we have and filmed they were genuinely blown away by our community garden , not sure if you have ever seen it but as Helen said "The garden is amazing as you just don't know what your going to see next in a relatively small area". We were very amazed with Helen and Will's patience as they had to start and stop filming so many time due to power saws, motorbikes, aeroplanes and even the local bottle bank being emptied. They were with us from early morning until late and really did the BBC proud to be fair. Speaking for my self I was so nervous that I stuttered and stumbled , but that did not phase either of them and they just carried on. As it says in above comment" Gavin Ahern said Glorious Gardens From Above would not just be about gardens but would also focus on people’s relationships with gardens." Can I just say that was exactly what it was. We had a great day and are very proud that the BBC picked our garden and our volunteers to be shown as part of this series, There are a lot of "Volunteers" of all ages that work very hard to make "OUR" garden stand out.
      Such a shame people don't put their name to negative comments. I think there is a saying that maybe sums up what I am trying to say " Don't P--- on our Parade PLEASE.
      Just to add rescheduling happens, if that is the case, although Ponthafren was informed that it would be October or November showing and that Helen would ring and let us know closer to the time . This is exactly what she (BBC) did.
      Thank you BBC for appreciating all our hard work here at Ponthafren, on behalf of every Volunteer since 1992.

  3. Hope lots of you managed to see Ponthafren on the Mid Wales episode yesterday, but if not, you can catch up on BBC iPlayer for the next 29 days here.

  4. Just seen it & it was very inspiring - especially as I'd like to help a garden like this get started in my area; personally I would have preferred if the program had given a bigger time slot to explore the community gardens instead of including so much on the Big Formal & well known gardens. Some very good bits though & very varied so something for everyone - I liked the Roman Garden history in Fishbourne , the work experience lad in Yorkshire who was so inspired he started transforming his parents garden.

    1. Hi Amanda
      I agree, it would have been great to see more of the community gardens like Ponthafren. But at the same time I think it is progress anyway to see them at all as they so rarely make it to our TV screens. I know that volunteers and staff at Ponthafren really enjoyed having the opportunity to bring their activities to a wider audience and also had much fun on the filming day. Good luck with starting a garden in your area, and many thanks for commenting.