Big Issue Vendor

Angela Scanlon: ‘I literally can’t keep a cheese plant alive’

The TV star is fronting new show 'Your Garden Made Perfect' and has been very busy during lockdown - so what can she teach us?
Angela Scanlon is back with a new BBC Two show. Image credit: Supplied

We can’t all have green fingers. And, it seems, Angela Scanlon – the host of Your Garden Made Perfect, BBC Two’s new spin-off – is not blessed in this department.

Luckily, her new series does not put Scanlon’s skills with seedlings or secateurs to the test. Instead, like the original Your Home Made Perfect series, which proved such a hit during lockdown last year, she is our eyes and ears as the experts help us focus on doing the best with what we have. It’s a show so many will relate to after spending more time than ever in our home spaces and local neighbourhoods.

Lockdowns have taken income away from hundreds of Big Issue sellers. Support The Big Issue and our vendors by downloading our app and buying a digital copy. 

The Big Issue: Did you know there could be a spin-off from Your Home Made Perfect?

Angela Scanlon: I didn’t know there was conversation about making this series, but the producers were kicking it around. And because of the way Your Home Made Perfect resonated with people during lockdown, it felt like the right time. That little walk around the park or coffee on your balcony in the morning or some sort of access to outdoor space – which so many people aren’t lucky enough to have – there was a realisation that those places are for us to be in together. Suddenly we’re taking control of our gardens and realising the value they bring.

The series arriving in the middle of lockdown, just before springtime, seems like good timing.

There was so much talk around the positive impact of outdoor space during first lockdown. Things we took for granted suddenly became a lifeline. And you don’t need this giant garden. You can bring planting inside for that wellbeing, you can transform a little balcony into a good outdoor space – a lot of the themes that came up were people saying, ‘I want to evoke the feeling of being on holiday.’

Holidays might be in short supply this year. Should we stay in our gardens instead, if we have them?

It’s hard to wrap our head around this, but outside London, for the majority of the country, their garden can be the same size as their living space, you know? It’s this big patch of land that feels like a great idea when they go and view the house and they imagine doing all this to it but then it becomes a rectangular piece of lawn with a shallow border of shitty shrubs and a patio that stops you wanting to enter the garden.

How are your own gardening skills?

I literally can’t keep a cheese plant alive. I think a lot of people are like me and worry about that idea of going to the garden centre and spending a shit tonne of money, then watching it die in front of your eyes. It’s like watching a dream die slowly. So grim, but it’s the circle of life. 

Will the series help people who have no gardening skills?

We are trying to demystify it and give people the language. Because I find people are so confident with the language that they use around houses. They know how to communicate what they want. So we are trying to apply that to gardens. It’s not the Chelsea Flower Show. It feels different to gardening shows we’ve seen – you could literally go down to B&Q and do this stuff yourself. So it feels really empowering. You don’t need to be an expert flower arranger, you don’t need to want to spend 50 quid on peonies, it’s not about Instagram – although it’s very Instagrammable. It’s about real gardens and real people.

Were you able to film between lockdowns?

We filmed in Yeo Valley in Somerset in this amazing sprawling garden and we had greenhouses and sheds. It was amazing, although it absolutely lashed down with rain for days. There were howling winds – I’d be inside the shed and you could hear the crash of watering cans flying across the courtyard and plant pots smashing off tables. It was a bit wild but beautiful, and feels fun and a bit joyful.

Is the format the same as Your Home Made Perfect, which was such a smash last year?

We have two stories running in each episode. There is the whole VR experience like Your Home Made Perfect. And we’ve got a different one, with this amazing maker guy – he is a bit Repair Shop-y – called Joel. He is a Scouser and he’s really cool – one of the projects that he did was a communal garden in Glasgow. He will help people on smaller budgets and go: What do you actually want? 

How has your lockdown been? You seem to have been busy still.

I mean, I haven’t been locked down, I have to be reminded of that regularly. My husband works from home and he’s literally been here for 10 months, whereas I’ve been out and about filming and able to pop in to do radio stuff as an ‘essential worker’ and therefore it’s a bit more normal. I say ‘essential worker’ like I’m breaking the rules – but apparently I am one. I didn’t make the rules!

Television and culture has been getting us through the dark months – what have you been watching?

I have a memory like a goldfish. It will be the thing I watched yesterday. So what have I loved? I watched Succession. They’re pretty unlikeable, but it’s quite escapist, isn’t it? Because it’s otherworldly and beautiful. It’s like fantasy in a different way. Obviously I watched Bake Off, and I have loved Gogglebox. It was a saviour. It was such comfort because it was a very literal representation of what we were all doing. It wasn’t like they’re at home watching telly while I’m out partying – we were all at home watching telly. 

And your Thanks A Million podcast has looked at reasons to be grateful – which we have all been searching for this last year.

I launched the second series during lockdown. We brought it forward. I had a chat show in Ireland that I obviously couldn’t do, but I was able to do the podcast from home. And I got amazing guests because they weren’t doing anything else.

As our worlds have shrunk, we’ve really learned that actually the most important things are those small things. Appreciating your daily walk, which sounds like literally prison, but we’ve had to shift our mentality to go, ‘I’m so glad that I get to go out.’ So something that was maybe previously thought of as a fluffy, spiritual, hippy-dippy thing became a very tangible anchor for a lot of people and a way of maintaining their sanity and protecting their mental health.

Lockdown has had such a huge impact on our mental health, hasn’t it?

When everything stops, we have to deal with ourselves. And the truth is that we sometimes busy ourselves because it’s really hard to deal with some deeper shit. So that’s something we’ve all been forced to do, in a way. It has been deeply traumatising for so many of us, but collectively, I think we have had the opportunity to spend a little bit of time, all at the same time, going through this stuff. It can be very isolating to have – whether it’s a breakdown or a period of depression, or anxiety, whatever it is.

Suddenly, I found with my friends and family, it’s a shortcut, you’re straight to it. We’re all speaking to it and minding each other in a way. Because we’ve been pushed off the treadmill, not by choice, we now see how unhealthy it is when we’re being asked to step back on to it. 

Your Garden Made Perfect starts on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer on February 4.