Jane Owen

Freelance writer Jane Owen is co-presenter of Gardens Through Time and former editor of The Times Weekend

11.11.04

7a.m. – To Tyntesfield, a National Trust property near Bristol. I am writing about the garden for Ian Brunskill’s section of The Times . Stop at a service station on the M4. Woman buttonholes me: “Aren’t you the one on the telly with Diarmuid Gavin? What’s he really like?” (I am always asked this and, since we were banned from filming together, I have no idea) … “You should do Come Dancing with Diarmuid. Better than all those skinny girls.”

Tyntesfield looks like a film set for a gothic horror movie, all turrets and soaring stone windows. Find my way through to the kitchen. No one’s around. I wander into the gardens and narrowly miss having my head blown off by a gamekeeper in search of squirrels.

He had been told the garden was people-free.

Gardener Paul Evans materialises with a box of glazed terracotta plant labels. I’ve never seen anything like them in 25 years of writing about gardens…

I get excited about them and then realise how sad this is.

Text message from BBC Books. The book I wrote to accompany the Gardens Through Time series (with final chapter by Diarmuid) is being reprinted.

12.11.04

A.m. – My weekly Q&A session for The Times online. I’ve been doing it for years and have some regulars although one, Alison Rimmer from Reading, is no longer in touch. Have I offended her? Given bad advice? I want to know how her pond is getting on. I have no direct link with the readers. Their questions are funnelled through Rose Wild or Kevin Bartholomew at Times Online.

A couple of years ago a Pakistani farmer proposed marriage via my Q&A session. Other proposals have been censored, Rose tells me.

Q&A session carries on between calls from solicitors, estate agents and house owners. On Wednesday I put an offer on a house in Oxford. We will move in three weeks. At the moment I am staying 20 miles west of Oxford with my parents, two children, three cats and million or so flower pots.

Call from Carolyn Trevivian, editor of Eden magazine. Could I do a piece on Tyntesfield? Then she can arrange a readers’ tour of the garden. At least I can now justify the day spent looking at the gardens. Carolyn adds that she has arranged for a group of readers to go my talk at the British Library in February.

Research Tyntesfield’s history online but this is inadequate. Life without my books (they are in store) is irritating.

13.11.04

To Rome. A travel piece for PA, about weekend breaks with teenagers (daughters Rose and Miranda in my case). Lucy Flemming from Scott Dunn travel PR whirls us around the Coliseum, the Forum, the Spanish Steps, numerous Triumphal arches, the Borghese gardens and, implausibly, a front-row view of four All Blacks getting their caps.

14.11.04

To Vatican City via the Trevi Fountains and Pantheon. We stand in drizzle until a white speck appears in a window high above the square. His Holiness’ voice trembles out the blessing and we run for a taxi to the airport.

Turn my phone on at Heathrow.

Message from Diarmuid. Viewing figures have gone from 1.8 to 2.1 million with a good market share- whatever that is.

15.11.04

Email from former colleague Emma Mahoney. We arrange to meet up. Her book about birth is being published in February.

My email crashes. There has been a fire at the server’s HQ somewhere in the Hebrides. Thank God it’s not Friday.

Write outlines for the Rome and Tyntesfield pieces and try again to get hold of Ian Katz at The Guardian in the hope of selling him a piece.

16.11.04

Email from Viv Bowler, BBC Books chief: Oprah (as in Winfrey) magazine has a review of the Gardens Through Time book. Bizarre. Try to finish the Rome piece but my head’s spinning with house-buying worries. No word from Ian Katz.

8p.m. – Watch Gardens Through Time with neighbour Nick, who plies me with wine. I need it. The leap from writing to prime-time TV was terrifying and I still can’t get used to seeing myself on screen. Loyal Fleet Street friends such as Felicity Hawkins and Mark Stephens send glowing texts about the show.

17.11.04

London – The Royal Horticultural Society’s library in Vincent Square to flesh out some TV ideas and check what 19th century garden writers thought about Tyntesfield. Find myself sitting beside Anne Manson, Brian MacArthur’s former assistant. We first met on The Times . Now she works with telly gardeners Guy Cooper and Gordon Taylor. Ring Brian, who tells me Stephen Pile was complimentary about me in a Telegraph piece a couple of weeks ago.

4 pm-Olympia, to my agent Mark Lucas. I have turned down a book and a series and need to find a long-term project plus short-term income. The latter will come from speaking and journalism, the former… who knows? Mark takes me through the options. He is not a TV agent but he’s used to dealing with production companies. I like and trust him, so he looks after the TV stuff as well as the books.

6.15p.m. – National Gallery for yet another book signing. We sell about a dozen, two to my godfather. Normally we sell over 100. BBC PR Vicky Thomas suggests we move into a more prominent position in the gallery’s shop but Diarmuid refuses. But he has brought a bottle of chilled champagne which takes the edge off our humiliation.

BBC car takes me home. I doze off trying to work out where the next crust will come from. Leaving a staff job as editor of The Times Weekend section eight years ago was a wrench. I missed the camaraderie and security – still do -but I wanted to spend time with my children and didn’t want them to grow up in London.

I hate freelance insecurity and the money chasing (I’ve just had a payment which was three years overdue).

Money aside, the last few years have been about as much fun as I’ve had with my clothes on.

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