Monty Don unveils Royal Norfolk Show plan

Monty Don p9

Monty Don p9 - Credit: Archant

Gardening guru Monty Don unveils his plans for a hectic Royal Norfolk Show schedule.

Monty Don p11.Picture: Marsha Arnold

Monty Don p11.Picture: Marsha Arnold - Credit: Marsha Arnold

Joining the dots is how Monty Don describes his role at the Royal Norfolk Show.

As one of the nation's best known gardening experts and a popular TV presenter, he's looking forward to being a pivotal figure in helping bring together the critical elements within the theme of this year's event of 'Grow it, Cook it, Eat it.'

The 60-year-old, due at the show on Wednesday will participate in a packed schedule of events that celebrate the diversity of Norfolk's produce.

In a change to the traditional cookery theatre format, the Grow it, Cook it, Eat it stage – hosted by local chef and food writer Mary Kemp – will offer a fresh dimension to food across the county.

It will, however, also retain an air of familiarity, with two days of demonstrations and talks by some of Norfolk's top chefs who'll be offering tips, letting a few culinary secrets slip and sharing some of their favourite recipes.

Monty will join the team on the stage as the best of seasonal and regional produce is showcased.

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'I'll be on the stage to join the dots between growers, gardeners, chefs and cooks as we all play a key role in the 'Grow it Cook it Eat it' theme, a focus of the show this year', he says. 'The amazing array of Norfolk produce is something the county is quite rightly proud of.

I'll also be meeting local school children for the conclusion of a schools challenge where I'll be judging recipes which focus on the importance of local seasonal produce.'

His show programme kicks off with an informal conversation on stage with Lavender House chef and proprietor Richard Hughes and Mary Kemp in a discussion of Norfolk food and locally-produced seasonal produce, which will explore the links between the people who grow the food and those who cook and serve it in restaurants across the county.

One of the gardening expert's tasks will be to make a final decision in a competition which saw high school students compete to create a savoury main course dish using local Norfolk produce from a farm shop.

That involved developing a recipe and cooking it as well as designing the packaging.

The two Year 9/10 students will appear at the show to cook their recipes with Richard Bainbridge and talk to Monty about the importance of local seasonal produce and how it is grown, before he makes his final decision.

Monty has explored these links between growing and eating food in his books, significantly his 1999 work Fork to Fork, which was also published elsewhere in the world under the broader title of From the Garden to the Table: Growing, Cooking, and Eating Your Own Food.

His final role at the 2016 show is to take part in a Norfolk Grow it, Cook it question time, joining a panel of horticultural, culinary and farming experts chaired by Mary Kemp.

Monty – Montagu Denis Wyatt – Don became one of the nation's most popular gardening figures as lead presenter of BBC's Gardener's World.

Self-taught and with a passion for gardening reaching back to his childhood, it wasn't until later in life that it became his occupation, though the route to green fingers was not without its personal and professional challenges.

Born in West Berlin into a military family, he and his wife Sarah formed a jewellery company business which collapsed in the 1990s and saw him unemployed until securing work as the presenter of a gardening segment on breakfast show This Morning.

That subsequently led to other TV roles for the man who has described himself as an 'amateur gardener and professional writer', adding: 'My only authority came from a lifetime of gardening and a passion amounting to an obsession for my own garden.'

A prolific author, including the 2003 book The Complete Gardener where he champions an organic approach to growing, he was the main presenter on BBC Two's Gardeners' World from 2003-08 – succeeding Alan Titchmarsh – before he was forced to step down after suffering a stroke, though he did return to the show in 2011.

Between 2008-16 Monty Don was president of the Soil Association and is a patron of the Bees for Development Trust.

A dog lover, living in Herefordshire with his family, he has also written candidly with his struggle with depression and seasonal affective disorder throughout much of his adult life, periods he has described as 'great spans of muddy time' in which 'there is nothing but depression'.

Yet, as a figure so closely associated with the land, gardening and watching things grow, he also reflects: 'Earth heals me better than any medicine.'

His schedule at the show is hectic, an 'action-packed visit, but one I'm really looking forward to', he remarks.

It is that extensive experience of life's challenges, his inextricable link with the land, produce and gardening and an unrivalled grower's expertise that he will bring to the Royal Norfolk Show as he explores this year's 'Grow it, Cook it, Eat it' theme in his own inimitable style.