It features buddhas, glitterballs, skulls and fake turtle doves - in fact, there’s a surprise around every corner in Bill Oddie’s garden in leafy Hampstead, north west London.
An avid birdwatcher and conservationist, the former Springwatch presenter and star of Seventies comedy series The Goodies admits his outdoor haven, the size of half a tennis court, is a space his wife describes as ‘ludicrous’, as highlighted in his latest book, Tales Of A Ludicrous Bird Gardener.
It’s inspired by Disney World
“I had nothing to do with gardens for a long time. When we moved here 25 years ago, there was a lawn and that was it. We labelled certain corners, the inspiration being Disney World. The main point is to keep me amused. I cannot go through a day without having at least an hour in the garden.”
His stash of unusual knick-knacks includes a resin gorilla, fake spiders, a clutch of model animals and birds, a Borneo corner and around 100 gnomes of all shapes and sizes.
Plants grow at random
The planting, too, is as random as the riot of fake dinosaurs, birds and themes. It features an experimental area, where he plants random herbs and wild flowers, a large pink mallow sitting in front of a yellow hypericum (rose of Sharon) and an assortment of trees. A palm and a willow rub shoulders, a self-seeded sycamore flourishes, while birds shelter in a horse chestnut and a silver birch.
Oddly-shaped old tree branches, which he has picked up from the heath, serve as perches and hideaways for some of his green-fingered objets d’art.
A gorilla guards the entrance
“He’s only a little one,” says Bill, with a chuckle. “I thought it was rather sweet to have a gorilla in an area peopled by little animals and the live birds themselves. I like to think it’s the spirit of gorilla that we all have.
“Birds won’t recognise a model animal that is meant to scare them away. I’ve put fake birds of prey around the place and, within minutes, there are blue tits perched on their heads.”
Next to the gorilla are miniature horses and cows, which Bill is almost obsessive about where and in which direction they should be placed.
He’s created a spooky corner
“I haven’t the faintest idea how that came about. Everything has to be sprayed white. There are two skulls on juju sticks, which my daughter brought back from a music festival and are traditionally used in black magic rituals.”
It’s got four ponds
“I’m a bit obsessed with the ponds. When we first moved in there was a lawn and a concrete slab, so the first thing I did was knock that to pieces with a sledgehammer and line it, to have quite a big pond.
“Over the years the pond situation has been growing towards the house, where there is more sun. Frogs love the ponds.”
He’s fascinated by gnomes
“I have nearly 100 gnomes. I remember going to Chelsea Flower Show one year and someone asked me what I thought of it. I said, ‘Not enough gnomes’. When Laura and I got married, we were going to have a party here and we said to the guests, ‘We don’t want any normal presents. Please just bring a gnome.’ Some of them couldn’t bring themselves to do it, but most people did.”
He’s been stung by bee visitors
Tree bees took over an old nest box in Bill’s garden a couple of years ago.
“They come from the continent. They started appearing in Britain about 10 years ago and are spreading. Anyone who has them should know they’re very good at defence. They have one or two guards in front of the box. One day I got chased around the garden by one. It eventually stung me. But I like them because they do little balletic movements outside the box before they set off.”
There’s a tropical area nicknamed Borneo
“It’s a work in progress. I went to Borneo a couple of years ago to pay respects to the orangutans. I bought the basket stuff the other day. Something I’d bought from Amazon for the house came wrapped in that. I thought, how many little huts like that have I seen around the world? I’ve had the masks for a while. Some have been inside the house.”
l Tales Of A Ludicrous Bird Gardener by Bill Oddie is published in hardback by Reed New Holland, priced £16.99.