Blown Away; Buried beneath an Avalanche of Autumn Leaves? TV Gardener Matt James Tells Andrew Preston Why You've Got the Perfect Excuse to Pick Up a Great Garden Gadget

Article excerpt

Byline: ANDREW PRESTON

Most TV gardeners are fanatical about plants, but Matt James has another obsession. 'I just like toys,' he says.

'The first thing I look at in a garden centre is the plants but then, inevitably, I will veer towards the tools.

'I'll be drooling over something like the latest Hayter lawnmower, which will look sexier, bigger and just better than the last model. Then my girlfriend will quietly say to me, "Matt, who cares if it's got a hydrostatic drive? We haven't even got a lawn."' Ironically, James doesn't even have a garden. The presenter of Channel 4's The City Gardener lives with Ellie, his girlfriend of 15 years, in a flat in Putney, southwest London, with just a balcony and window box to tend. But through his work in other people's gardens he has used literally shedloads of gardening kit, including his latest gadget, the Stihl leaf blower he's pictured with here.

'I can't tell you what fun it is making a complete mess and being absolved of any responsibility,' he grins, before blasting clouds of autumn leaves around a studio. 'Even if you're not totally into gardening you can have a bit of a giggle with it. They're not just for autumn, you can use them all year for blowing grass clippings off paths and patios when you've been mowing - or just for blasting things for miles.

'This Stihl model is good because it can blow, vacuum and shred too, which helps the composting process, making things rot a lot more quickly.

'It's a two-stroke petrol machine, which I prefer to electric. They are more expensive, but have more oomph.

'It's pretty good at coping with wet leaves - obviously, they can't be completely sodden ones but they don't have to be bone dry. The different attachments are quick and easy to interchange.

It's just clunk-click and away you go. As I've got limited storage I like tools that do more than one job.' He may not have much room at home, but the gadget-buying continues. 'A lot of my friends are gardeners, tree surgeons or in construction. I'm notorious for buying stuff I don't need, which I then have to store in lockups.

'When I go to a trade fair I'm like Tim "The Toolman" Taylor from Home Improvement. I go round thinking, "What haven't I got and what could I have?"' Recently he's been checking out strimmers ('it's mundane but I've always found strimming really therapeutic') and gazing longingly at a Stihl gadget with interchangeable heads so it can be a hedge trimmer, pruner or edge-cutter.

'How sad am I to know about that?' he says. 'A friend of mine has one and I love the idea. I don't know when I would use it in a city garden but it's not a luxury if you're doing a lot of maintenance.

'Things like leaf-blowers and strimmers are designed to be laboursaving devices. Nobody likes backbreaking

gardening work after all. My view is, I can afford it - and I get to have a bit of fun with a new toy.

'I've stopped short of buying some things, like hydraulic secateurs, which mean you don't even need to close your fingers to use them. They sound ridiculous and cost about [pounds sterling]200, but again they make sense if you're a professional who would use them every day.

'I've got so much gear. I'll buy a rake just because it looks good, so I've got about six now. Other weird things I've got are a Spanish hoe and a machete. If you're going to buy something that you're never going to use, then that's a waste of money. But we end up going to work on gardens armed to the teeth, because the bit of kit you don't have with you will inevitably be the one that you need.' Ask what piece of kit he would ideally buy, and there's no hesitation. 'What I'd really love is a tractor - a big green John Deere. You can do so much with a tractor - you can plough and you can rotovate, then you can stick a hedge flail on it, which is so cool. It's a huge arm and a big drum for cutting hedges as you drive along. …