Why Jilly Goolden is best friends with her garden enemies

Wine critic and broadcaster Jilly Goolden in her garden in East Sussex 
Wine critic and broadcaster Jilly Goolden in her garden in East Sussex  Credit: Christopher Pledger for the Telegraph

Personal Growth is an occasional column that asks how people become gardeners, what they love most about their gardens - everything but the gardening.

How does your garden look at the moment?

As they say in the books, “You should have seen it last week.” It’s at its best in the spring, but it’s a beautiful garden nonetheless. The house is an arts and crafts house built in 1926, and the garden was laid out in the style of Gertrude Jekyll, so it’s magnificent in terms of its structure – plenty of terraces and levels and sections. It’s architecturally marvellous, but it’s the sort of garden that needs to look after itself.

What kind of gardener are you?

I love my garden madly, but I do not manicure it. It has a lot growing in it which, to my astonishment, flowers in its own time. Sometimes it is a riot of colour, and sometimes it is totally blank – but I do nothing to contribute to that. For me, the garden is to be enjoyed. Life is too short for polishing and preening.

We live in the middle of Ashdown Forest, and there are lots of deer and rabbits. We share the garden, therefore, with a lot of species (including peacocks). Truly, they can do what they like because we love them all as much as the garden, but it means that if you spend a fortune on lovely plants, the chances are the deer will love them, too.

Where did you learn about gardening?

When I was a child we had a lovely cottage garden that had a river running through it. It made for lots of amusing places, and quite unusual flowers. We used to spend an enormous amount of time in it.

I’m much more of an outdoor than an indoor person. The minute I feel remotely cabin feverish, I go straight outside and walk in the garden, which happens many times a day.

The odd thing is that as a child and a teenager, you inevitably scorn everything to do with your parents, so I thought gardening was really most tediously dull and boring – a total waste of time. It only became interesting when I met a rather handsome young man who was very fired up about gardens, and talked to me about rose varieties. It was the first time it occurred to me that anyone under the age of 50 could be remotely tuned in to gardens!

Which gardeners have influenced you?

I take no notice of gardening programmes; I think they are the biggest yawn. They’re awfully smug, gardeners. They go for perception, chopping off heads and things, and it all seems very paradoxical to me. You spend your whole life upside down with your bum in the air, and you end up not appreciating your garden. If you are lying in the grass or sitting in a chair, you are truly appreciating it. It sounds idle – and it is – but it’s true.

Peacocks love a digestive biscuit Credit: cynoclub / iStockphoto

Where did the 
peacocks come in?

I wanted to get my husband an unusual birthday present – I might add that he hadn’t expressed any hankering for a peacock – but it so happened that I saw an advertisement for a peacock that needed re-homing locally, and thought “perfect”. I took him home along with another peacock. They had a bit of a tiff, both being males, but luckily we managed to swap one for a female from a local hotel. I know what you’re thinking, but we manage to keep the numbers down. I have a good arrangement with a guy who has local and wild peacocks so they take our surplus.

…And what did your husband think?

He said, “Do I really want a peacock?”, but he got one, and I think he liked it, actually. They are the perfect garden pet, because they’re free range, so you don’t have to hem them in. They live in the trees, and they love a digestive biscuit – they shout if they want a biscuit, and when we’re having lunch they like to crowd around the table. They never stray – as far as they’re concerned, this is their home.

The downside to this is that peacocks love new flowers. If you plant something, they will spot it immediately, and they might ignore it for a while but then they’ll systematically take all the flowers off. After a while they might get bored of it and allow it to flower.

Is he a horticulturist?

My husband is no gardener. He does not relish any sort of gardening, and certainly wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a weed and a flower. But he loves being in it and walking through it, like me. He does, however, have a campaign against brambles and so will occasionally do some work to tame them.

Could you ever live without a garden?

I wouldn’t dream of living somewhere without a garden or outside space. I lived in London for 20 years and we always had a garden. Maybe I was a little more garden-proud then because it was small and manageable. Once you try to keep on top of something large and rambling, there’s nothing you can do.

Do you have a favourite place in your garden?

I have so many – one place that looks particularly neglected at the moment is the herb garden. It’s just squares of paving with all manner of different herbs, but I do love it.

We have a vegetable garden, too – it’s waist-high in weeds right now, but the vegetables struggle through and we still get to eat from it. It has a hilarious 3m fence that looks as though it’s there to keep out some enormous predator, but it’s just those deer. We have chickens that roam around in it, which I suppose is 
rather counterproductive.

The main drift of my gardening ethos is that while most gardeners hate enemies of the garden – rabbits and such – I consider them integral to the garden. It’s like a wildlife sanctuary, and that’s how I want it to stay.


Jilly Goolden hosts wine tasting events at her house in Sussex (