Stardom arrives in Milton

Gerald is a gardener.  Nothing suits him better than being outside in his corner plot behind an old folk’s bungalow, tucked away behind Milton’s main street.  At first sight, this plot is like many others.  While Elizabeth tends neat and colourful borders, Gerald’s province is different from the average vegetable plot.  The tall oil drums give the secret away: Gerald Stratford concentrates on growing giant vegetables, metre long carrots a speciality. 

Readers of this magazine may find the story so far quite familiar; after all, Gerald’s venture into a Twitter account where he passed on advice about his special interest to fellow horticulturalists was reported in the August/September issue of 2020.  That, in turn, came after the Oxford Mail reported on the way his Twitter account went viral.  That was only the start of it.

Gucci arrived.  The fashion house discovered this smiling and avuncular figure, deciding he would be an ideal ‘talent’ to put alongside four impossibly slim models to advertise their new lines in recyclable bags and other accoutrements.  For two days, Gerald was whisked off to long filming sessions at a Hertfordshire farm.  He was treated like a king, the treats including, perhaps surprisingly, a dressing gown and hot water bottles; filming was a chilly business in early April as he planted seeds and harvested his favourite root vegetables, accompanied by models who probably wouldn’t know a hoe from a rake.  It was, Gerald explained, a surreal but fantastic occasion.

The filming by such a high profile name in the fashion world did not go unnoticed and the following weekend, the Sunday Times contained a lengthy feature on this unlikely juxtaposition between trending fashions and a humble, self-effacing Cotswold gardener.  Gerald’s cheerful countenance topped the page where he stood resplendent in a green boiler suit and brown boots, spade poised and that familiar smile in place.  There was more to come.

Next stop: television.  Channel Five arrived to film this local star, including him in news items and subsequently Channel Four featured him in Steph’s Packed Lunch.  Gardeners’ World included a warm-hearted feature on our slightly bashful local celebrity.  Perhaps the strangest forum for this modest gardener was when his photo was wittily discussed on the popular Have I got news for you programme in mid-April.  Meanwhile, a random knock on his front door brought a smiling but apologetic Elizabeth to the hallway, telling the caller that Gerald couldn’t come to the door as he was still busy on a long Zoom meeting with the New York Times.  The Daily Telegraph continued the story with a further complimentary article at the end of the month.

National, international, it was all happening leaving Gerald and Elizabeth in something of a daze.  They both described this whirlwind as an embarrassment but a nice embarrassment.  Keeping his wellies firmly on the ground, Gerald took a deep breath and looked ahead to more local opportunities.  Appearances at the Milton Market and, at the end of May, at Millett’s Garden Centre as their resident vegetable expert, were booked.  Oh and not forgetting, a book on vegetable growing that is planned for release in the autumn.

At the end of the day, when the phone stopped ringing, emails died down and the front door closed, Gerald and Elizabeth slipped quietly into their Milton haven, surrounded by healthy plants and impressive vegetables.  This was home and this was where they felt most comfortable, away from the limelight, but when he was asked to explain how his fame had mushroomed over such a short and intense period, his faced creased beneath the flat cap;

“I’ve got a big smiley face, I don’t do negativity.  We live in a dark world with Covid-19, and gardening is about doing something positive.”

Bob Forster

June-July 2021