Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Gardeners World - a nostalgic loyalty?

The other day on Twitter my friend Sara Venn asked a public question, she wanted to know if we were given the opportunity what would we say to the producers of Gardeners World.  So I replied a few 140 character replies (as you do) and then I thought about it some more as it is a very good question.

On a Friday night at 8.30 I settle down to watch Gardeners World as I have done for many years (GH, AT, MD, TB, MD).  Well no actually, not as I have done for many years, for many years I watched it without fail, if I was going to be out I would record it so I could watch the next day, I did not want to miss even an episode.  When back in 2011 it was announced that Monty Don was returning I was delighted and wrote a post in my then very new blog to say so.  I was sorry to see Toby Buckland go but I had always been a bit of a Monty fan and to know that he was restored to good health and presenting the programme from his own garden seemed like good news.

Except, except, I am not enjoying it as I was,  every Friday has turned into a somewhat amusing 30 minutes of #shoutyhalfhour when many gardeners take varying views on the programme from the highly critical to the mildy amused.  I do worry a bit that the most excitement seems to break out whenever Nigel the dog appears on screen usually to scene-steal with no remorse at all.

So I wondered why this might be, why I no longer feel the same about a programme that I once loved?   I do not record it any longer, if I miss it I miss it and hardly even notice.   I wonder to some extent if it is because it tells me what I already know a lot of the time?  I can look at the calendar and be fairly sure that Monty will be showing me how to scarify my lawn, how to sow my sweet peas, how to prune my soft fruit (except I don't grow soft fruit, but moving on....).  To some extent this is part of the problem and I accept that the programme is aimed at beginners to gardening and therefore needs to show many of the basics I now have grasped.  That does not mean however that I know it all, I still have much to learn and the programme is not delivering this; what I once found the soothing rhythm of the programme is now wearing a bit thin.

I do enjoy it when they visit interesting gardens, I like the plant profiles and the interviews with particular plant breeders.  I would be happier if they also spent time promoting our fantastic local and specialist nurseries.  I always liked that Monty is more akin to the amateur gardeners than the properly horticulturally trained, I felt it made his gardening experience more like my own and he said things that resonated with the way I garden and feel about gardening.  I still do not particularly have a problem with this (even though I know some do).

I started to think back on what I used to enjoy but is no longer there.  I used to enjoy Sarah Raven being on the programme: her knowledge and practical skills were delivered in an accessible way.  I have to say that the lack of Alys Fowler is a big loss to the programme.  So what this is coming down to is the programme needs more input from experienced and expert gardeners who can deliver information in an accessible way.  Actually as I write this I suddenly realise part of what I am missing in the programme, I am missing the main presenter (be he Monty, Alan, Toby etc) interacting with other people in the garden.  There is that lack of discussion and also banter that clearly added that bit of extra spark that is now missing.  It has become The Monty Show with people allowed to do small film inserts, maybe this should be rethought?

When I compare it against the competition, no wait, what competition?  Ah, is this part of the problem, what is the competition to Gardeners World?  Nothing on ITV or Channel 4 I can think of?  Yes there is 'Love your Garden' on ITV but that is not the same thing at all.  Channel 4 has had its moments with garden programming, indeed Monty fronted some of these programmes and I enjoyed many of them greatly.  I remember 'Lost Gardens' in particular as a fantastic series that really inspired me in many ways.  There is the Beechgrove Garden, the BBC Scotland programme which I do enjoy watching this in my Midland home.  There is something down-to-earth about it that I like and it also brings home the real differences in climate and the challenges that we gardeners have to face depending on where we are in the country.  I'm not sure it is competition for Gardeners World though, and I do seriously wonder whether the lack of competition leads to complacency?  I think it has to be a factor.

For if truth be told I realise that I watch Gardeners World now out of a nostalgic sense of loyalty remembering what was once the gardening show for me.  This nostalgia will not be enough to last me much longer I'm afraid to say.  Is this where I start ranting about garden programmes being dumbed down?  Not at all, Gardeners World is what it is and there needs to be a programme for people new to gardening.  There also needs to be programming that applies to the more experienced/intermediate gardeners.  That is what I think we are suffering from at the moment, Gardeners World has a function but it does not feed the soul of many gardeners and I think it is now too quickly outgrown.  I think we need programming that calls to our gardening core, something that gives some oomph to our gardening mojo, something that introduces us to the wide variety of British nurseries there are out there, to the gardeners and their knowledge that ranges from gardening the very big gardens to the very small.  Gardeners World tells us what we should be doing, what I want is inspiring.

13 comments :

  1. mark Abbott-Compton1 October 2013 at 20:56

    Quite simply agree with every sentiment of this very throught provoking post,greatly enjoyed it

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  2. Could not agree more. It always seems crazy that as a supposed nation of gardeners all there is programme-wise is 30 minutes a week. (Am not counting love your garden, it is a bit too schmaltzy for me!). There is obviously the audience for fresh, more involved gardening programmes but perhaps it just costs too much - probably cheaper to do another reality tv series...

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  3. Difficult one this one and you made valid points there. Gardening, such a wide, encompassing field and to compress all of its aspects in a once a week half an hour show to satisfy as many viewers as possible is a difficult task. We could do with more gardening shows instead, covering various aspects and facets of gardening. And yes, we do need shows that inspire and not just teach.

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  4. I left it entirely in the TB days, it just didn't work for me then. Like you, I was so glad to hear that Monty was returning. I think you're right about interaction between the gardeners, it's a bit formulaic now. We do need another programme that goes into more depth. It's a bit like the difference between GW magazine and The Garden. I've ditched the former, it just seemed to repeat itself year after year.

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  5. Dear Papaver
    I totally agree - Gardeners' World used to be must-see TV (Geoff Hamilton was my favourite as he was down to earth and made gardening seem as though I could do it), but it does seem to have lost its way a bit. The interaction is definitely missing as are the visits to other gardens. I much prefer Beechgrove Garden at the moment because it does seem to have got the balance a bit more even. (Gardeners' Question Time on Radio 4 is also an interesting and entertaining programme). I hope that GW will improve as it deserves to be a better programme and regain its 'must-see' status.
    Best wishes
    Ellie

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  6. I enjoyed this post. I'm not a fan of the shouty half hour, preferring to turn off if I dont like something rather than criticise but I do agree completely with you that what GW is lacking is the exchange and banter between the presenters in a garden, the interaction. I like Beechgrove although due to the different growing conditions it isnt always relevant but they have a good banter. I dont watch GW religiously any more partly, like you as I know the information now and I find it amusing when it, and GQT, is derided at my local garden club which is full of nurserymen.

    However, I'm not convinced it should be radically overhauled as I think it works for beginners. I think they should do other programmes, maybe one off, like they did on botanical latin, plant breeders, the Sarah Raven programme on native flowers. They should increase these and have them in conjunction with GW so there is something for everyone.

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  7. Thanks for your comments, really interesting to see how other people feel about it as well.

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  8. I get all my gardening from the internet (thehortchannel.com and allotment.org.uk), they seems to film the same week as putting the programmes online so I believe them more as their garden looks like my garden. Gardeners World died years ago.

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  9. Monty had his say about some of the constraints in this piece on thinkingardens: http://thinkingardens.co.uk/articles/what-do-we-want-the-garden-media-for-by-monty-don-and-anne-wareham/
    It's not just about Gardener's World, but gardens in the media... What do we want? Personally, not gardening. Gardens. Discussed in depth as a whole experience. Bugger 'how to'. Xx

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  10. Completely agree. I'm also a big fan of Monty and don't understand the prejudice against him because he's an amateur gardener - so are we all and I've always found it inspiring that someone just like me (well, sort of) who hasn't had some flashy job in gardening is able to perfect his skill as a self-taught horticulturist. It makes me think that one day I too could be a good gardener.

    I also think you're exactly right about growing out of Gardeners' World: there comes a day when you've watched it for so long you just know all the stuff they're talking about. Apart from the occasional garden visit, or perhaps Carol's series about plant families last year, there really isn't much that comes as new to you.

    But I'm with Helen: there is a place for GW, and it's to inspire and coach beginner gardeners. What we need is more gardening programming for people who know their stuff: programmes like the wonderful BBC4 Botany series last year (still think Chris Beardshaw's programme about apples was the best thing I've seen for ages) and Monty's garden tours of Italy and France.

    I'd like to see more about allotments - such a big part of so many gardeners' lives - and community gardening. I'd like to see the alternative side of gardening reflected: the foragers, the forest gardeners and permaculturists. That's the bit of gardening that's really interesting, where things are really happening - and you never, ever see it on the box.

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  11. This is a very well written piece I agree with most of the points and those of above contributers. GW is for beginners. Monty Don is a brilliant presenter and has made some beautiful programmes on foreign gardens. What I would love to see is my idea of garden porn - all those wonderful British gardens that are written about in The English Garden and Gardens Illustrated magazines. Those open to the public all the time and some which are just open for the NGS or not at all but which are stunning and beautifully designed. We don't all need to know how to propagate vegetables and flowers or what to plant when but, as a designer, I love to see what other people have done in their gardens.

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  12. Yes, yes and yes. More gardens and less how to.

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  13. I enjoyed reading about your thoughts and admit to you that I agree with what you are saying, and sadly almost in total.

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