Like so many of us, Jim Moir – better known by his stage name Vic Reeves – has spent most of the past year in his garden. Today, the 62-year-old actor, presenter and comedian talks to me from his home in Kent, “the garden of England”, where he lives with 15-year-old twin daughters and wife Nancy Sorrell.
Moir is a legend in comedy, whose long career includes film and television roles (who could forget his double act with Bob Mortimer as Vic and Bob) and music, but talk to him and it’s easy to get the impression that the thing he loves talking about most is art, of which he’s done plenty over lockdown.
The majority of his inspiration comes from the natural world: local wildlife and his garden, a space just under three quarters of an acre with a bluebell-dotted woodland. It also contains ‘the pavilion of dreams’.
“It’s not grand at all but I gave it the grandest title; it's actually a shed with a seating area,” he admits. There's also an orchard and, crucially, his art studio. This, he says, is where the magic happens.
His latest paintings include ‘Little Owl,’ a watercolour print showing a small, wild-eyed bird on the ground with tawny feathers, and surrealist eggs (soon to be available as prints). They are two of “around 600” original artworks painted by Moir, and he has no plans to slow down.
“I just can’t stop creating,” he says. “There’s never enough time in the day to do all of the ideas I have. I’ve just got lists and lists of them. I’m constantly thinking about things to create.”
Perhaps it is this love for creativity that made him the perfect host of Netflix’s recent series Big Flower Fight – a gruelling competition wherein ten amateur contestants attempt to create enormous floral installations from scratch, from animals to eight-foot insects.
There is a lot of chicken wire, panicking, and heather (which, Moir admits, he attempted to plant in his own garden with little success). The winning team had a sculpture installed at Kew Gardens.
Being in the thick of creativity inspired some of Moir’s work. “The sculptures on the show were phenomenal. I would go into the studio in the morning, do a couple of pieces for the camera, and then I’d go back into my green room and paint,” he says.
“The competition was just starting at that point; they [the contestants] were thinking about what to do, how to make the sculptures, what flowers they'd use. It was great to see things emerge from nothing. They weren't all gardeners, some had just left art school.” And this was shown in a few hiccups on the way. “Some of the contestants learnt that flowers need water to look good,” he laughs.
Moir hosted the show with the comedian and actor Natasia Demetrios and saw himself primarily as an artist, not a gardener. “I enjoy gardens and I enjoy my garden,” he says. “But I'm not a professional. I've got quite a big garden; there are lots of shrubs in it, a bit of woodland, birds – which is my priority as I’ve got a lot of bird feeding stations – and a raised bed where I endeavour to grow tomatoes and herbs.”
“Endeavour?” I ask. “Yes,” he says. “Last year was brilliant because it was such a hot May; however, this year it’s been so cold at night then dry and then really wet. I think I might have to start again but that’s what gardening is about. It’s all about the ups and downs; the failures and the triumphs.”
Moir's interest in the natural world continues to shine as he embarks on his latest project, the first B&Q Gardener of the Year competition, which launched on May 19.
He joins award-winning garden designers Matt Childs and Humaira Ikram, and B&Q outdoor category director Steve Guy, on the judging panel in the hopes of finding the best ‘real garden’ in the UK. See below for how to enter.
Last year, in his own garden, Moir grew culinary herbs like rosemary, parsley, and thyme and is aiming to grow tarragon this year. If the "gang" of squirrels don't nibble it first. "I suspect they’ve been at the courgettes," he says. "They break into the squirrel-proof bird feeders. I like looking at them but they're terrors and let their mates know where the food is," he says. But squirrels aren't the only animals in Moir's garden: he also has foxes that regularly prance around the lawn and outside his studio.
Moir has had a lifelong interest in nature. “It’s all I ever read about as a kid. My parents had a small garden that consisted of a lawn and a vegetable patch. There was a greenhouse, too," he says. "We had lots of potatoes and onions. My mum and dad came out of the war period and rationing, so I think it was just what everyone did. Just growing vegetables.”
He also experienced life as a gardener when he was a teen. “When I left school, one of the first jobs I did was at a tomato farm. It was the scorching hot summer of 1976 and my main responsibilities on the farm were weeding around spring onions (scallions, as they called them) and tending to tomatoes. It was so hot that people fainted in the heat, and an ambulance regularly turned up. We all used to leap into a nearby river at lunchtime and you’d be dry by the time you went back to work.”
Thankfully, there is no such labour in Moir’s daily life now. But with the B&Q closing date fast approaching (June 18), he still has to find the best ‘real garden’ in the UK.
The British public are being encouraged to enter one of five categories designed to suit every garden from a small window box to an allotment or sprawling ornamental gardens: best use of colour, best use of small space, best use of imagination, best grow your own space and best eco-friendly garden.
The winner will be awarded £10,000, a ‘golden trowel’ award, and a newly launched B&Q Green Card that gives the holder access to free plants for ten years. The four runners up will also be selected to receive £1,000.
To be in with a chance of Moir’s approval, entrants should consider something out of the ordinary. “I like things that you don’t normally see,” he says. “Like clover, for example. I’d like to see that presented in a really fascinating way. I think that there's a kind of beauty in weeds, even though people dismiss them as cruel passengers. I'm looking for something unusual or that I haven't seen before."
The B&Q Gardener of the year competition is open now and closes on June 18, anyone can enter via diy.com