Michael's busy Lizzie
TV Times
20 September 1986
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Michael's busy Lizzie

By Charles Rowe / pictures by Roderick Ebdon

The original idea was to take togetherness pictures of Michael Aspel and wife Lizzie, working side by side among the flowers and shrubs of their Surrey garden. It didn't quite happen that way. What emerged instead was a perfect fantasy pin-up for the toolshed of every man who ever longed to slip away for a pint of his favourite ale when in danger of contact with spade or lawnmower.

Aspel, who hosts ITV's Child's Play on Sunday quickly made his attitude clear. 'Much as I love my wife, and indeed the garden, I hate gardening.'

So it was Lizzie who put on her striped, big-pocketed gardener's apron, went off to fetch spade and trowel, and donned a pair of green wellies. Aspel's clearly well-practised role was to pull up the cushion-covered lounger and lie back at ease, with open wine bottle in cooler, glass, and magazine's at the ready.

Both of them were perfectly happy. As Lizzie put it: 'I love gardening. Mike hates it. Simple as that. So I enjoy myself and get on with it while he relaxes.'

According to Aspel, there's nothing unusual about that. He claims that, of 17 million households with gardens in Britain, in at least five million of them, it is the wives who do all the work in the garden.

A chuckle from the shrubbery indicated that Lizzie appreciated that. She has made her own contribution to the statistics. Their one and a quarter acre garden is the third she has taken in hand since she and Aspel married nine years ago. First, they had a tiny courtyard, paved with patterned brickwork and filled with tubs, hanging baskets and window boxes. Then came an 80ft-long suburban garden. She made much of both. 'A little gem that courtyard, especially,' commented Aspel. 'Not bad,' Lizzie agreed, 'and I'll tell you something about it. Mike may not know a dandelion from a daffodil, or want to, but he has wonderful ideas about gardens, and home-making in general.'

'He's the one who planned the shape of that courtyard garden, got a lot of old bricks, and paved it in a basket-weave pattern. He has planned and worked on a lot of the features in and around this garden, too – the terrace, for example.'

The wide terrace – paved in patterned brickwork, like the first little courtyard – runs the whole width of the back of their home. Because much of the ground slopes away in a series of lawns leading to woodland, the terrace looks over the whole of the garden, almost at tree-top level. Trees, in great variety, are a feature.

Lizzie has opened up vistas by removing old, decayed trees. When she took over, much of the garden was choked by wild rhododendron undergrowth. This, too, has been cleared and many new plantings made.

All this in two years. The Aspels moved in four years ago, but renovating the house took the first two. Now the garden is coming into splendour. 'I take credit for that,' Lizzie said. 'But without Mike's terrace, the garden wouldn't be half so enjoyable.'

Aspel added: 'I have the kind of tidy mind that can cope with solid things, such as bricks and buildings, but baulks at unpredictables like plants. That has always been so. When I was a boy during the war, I was evacuated from London to beautiful Somerset countryside. I loved it, but never really got on good terms with things that grow.'

'In the Fifties, as a radio actor, I took on various jobs to keep me going. Once, I became a gardener's labourer at half-a-crown (twelve-and-a-half pence) an hour. I mowed and dug, but I never learned the name of a single flower.'

'Something else, too - Liz and I differ in temperament, and that affects our attitudes to gardening. If anything is ever in doubt I tend to anticipate the worst, whereas she expects things to go right and, of course, they do.'

'If she is driving a car, the traffic parts in front of her, always leaving her a parking space. If she moves a plant, she expects it to grow. It does.'

Lizzie is indeed a great mover of plants, in and out of season. Usually they live, no matter what the circumstances. For example, she found an old, half-alive plant, discarded in a rubbish heap. She couldn't put a name to it. It was obviously a climber, so she planted it at the foot of a wall. It turned out to be an exotic passion flower that has now spread right along the brickwork.

'Greenfingers, that's what it is,' Aspel summed up from his lounger. 'How could a simple chap like me compete?'

And he poured himself another glass of wine.