Mr Rhodes by Alan Titchmarsh

28th November 2014 at 00:00
A green-fingered teacher helped to cultivate this Yorkshire lad's love of nature, boosting his confidence in the process

Harry Rhodes taught me at Ilkley All Saints Junior School in Yorkshire, and it was he who fostered my love of nature and gardening.

I never had an awful lot of confidence. I had bags of enthusiasm, but it was often quashed by teachers who would tell me to sit down and shut up. But Mr Rhodes was always encouraging. He had the sunniest disposition and his eyes were bright and lively. I can see his face now: he had a pair of rimless spectacles that sat on his very Roman nose.

Nothing was ever too much trouble for him. Whenever I said, "Oh, I don't think I can do that," he would always say, "Go on, Alan, of course you can." And I believed him. He was one of life's classic enablers and he was there whenever you needed a push in the right direction. Not in a forceful way, but in that wonderful empowering way that made you think, "Maybe I can do this, so I'll have a go." More often than not, you found that you could.

When he was teaching, it was almost as if he were sharing a secret about something that really excited him. So even though we were learning basic stuff - sums and English and stories - we were hanging off the edge of our seats. He was someone you wanted to learn from.

He knew I was interested in nature and encouraged me to get involved with horticulture. He was a keen gardener himself and he grew roses as well as cacti and succulents. At school bring-and-buy sales he'd always have a little stall with cacti for sale. They'd be lined up in tiny clay flowerpots, all neatly labelled and on sale for sixpence. The first plant I ever bought was from Mr Rhodes at the church bazaar. I grew several of them on the windowsill in the loo at our house.

Thanks to his enthusiasm, I enjoyed school when I was little, but I was never happy at senior school. I wasn't particularly good scholastically and was easily crushed. Maths remains a lifelong puzzle and, although I loved words and was good at spelling, I didn't get much encouragement from my English teacher. Later in life, she wrote me a letter to say that she'd failed me and that she'd not been a good teacher. I thought that was the most heartbreaking admission. I really felt quite dreadful. I wrote back and said: "Look, we didn't really get on but, whatever you did, I managed to do all right. Maybe if you hadn't been like that, I wouldn't have done what I've done." We sort of made our peace.

Mr Rhodes and I did keep in touch and he saw me make a success of my writing and broadcasting. That was wonderful: I felt as if I'd vindicated his encouragement somehow. He knew how grateful I was. Sadly he's dead now, but I'm still in touch with his wife, Barbara. They were both so encouraging.

If you're enthusiastic and passionate about something, you want to share it and that's what Mr Rhodes did. It's what I try to do too - I want to pass on my enthusiasm and passion for horticulture. I hope it rubs off on others and that they then pass the baton on.

The Queen's Houses by Alan Titchmarsh is published by BBC Books, priced pound;20. He was talking to Kate Bohdanowicz

Garden state

Alan Titchmarsh

Born 2 May 1949, Ilkley, Yorkshire

Education Ilkley All Saints Junior School; Ilkley County Secondary School; Shipley College (studied for a City amp; Guilds qualification in horticulture in the evenings)

Career Gardener, broadcaster, novelist

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