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.