Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) vice president Alan Titchmarsh hit back at Juliet Sargeant, the first black show garden designer in Chelsea’s 103-year-history, branding her claim that horticulture is too white and middle-class “not true”.
But now Gavin has waded into the debate, siding with Sargeant, who called on the RHS to do more to promote diversity within gardening.
Gavin, 52, said: “I am absolutely thrilled that Juliet has spoken out. I have always got into trouble for saying the RHS is too white and it is wonderful that Chelsea at last has its first black show garden designer. I hope I get to meet her.
“I adore Alan but I think Juliet is absolutely right.”
Ms Sargeant, 50, who was born in Tanzania and who has created a Chelsea garden that is part of an anti-slavery campaign, complained about a “glut of double-barrelled people within design”.
“I don’t think it has even occurred to anybody to think about diversity. I do think the RHS could do more to promote diversity,” she said.
Mr Titchmarsh hit back by calling her comments “not particularly helpful”.
“Gardening is not a preserve of anyone,” he said. “Lords, dukes, and duchesses can talk about it on a level playing field with ordinary folk. I think the great thing about gardening is that it has always been open to all. All kinds of people garden and all kinds of people are represented.”
Gavin, 52, also revealed that he is suffering sleepless nights as he scrambles to finish his wacky Chelsea garden for Harrods that celebrates British eccentrics and their gadgets.
The garden is deceptively traditional and genteel, boasting a beautiful octagonal folly and sunken Italianate pond.
But every 15 minutes, the garden is transformed into a mechanical flight of fancy, with flowerbeds rising from the ground, box balls bobbing up and down and conical bay trees twirling. The roof of the folly opens, and Gavin plans to recruit Chelsea pensioners to salute visitors from the top.
As he supervised building of the garden yesterday ahead of Chelsea’s gala opening attended by Queen Elizabeth on Monday, Gavin said: “We are getting there but it is exhausting.
“I have not been sleeping. I don’t sleep particularly well at the best of times but there are extra worries with a Chelsea garden that play on your mind.
“You sometimes wonder how you are going to get everything done. I want to make sure the entertainment has a magical touch that makes people smile rather than being too clever by half.”
Gavin got his big break at Chelsea in 1995 and finally won gold at his seventh attempt in 2011 for his spectacular floating Irish Sky Garden, a version of which now resides in Cork’s Fitzgerald Park.