The Great British Garden Revival – My thoughts

This week saw the start of a new 10 part gardening series commissioned by the BBC – The Great British Garden Revival.  The concept is  that each one hour programme is split in two with each half focussing on an area of garden that the producers presumably think is interesting to the viewer; naturally each half  hour is presented by what one commentator called ‘the great and good of the gardening world’.

I think the range of subjects from topiary, through alpines, to exotics via wildflower meadows with a dash of lawn care and vegetable growing thrown in demonstrates the complete and overwhelming diversity of what we conveniently call ‘gardening’.  I think this breadth of subject is at the root of many of the complaints that proliferate on social media about gardening media and in particular the BBC’s Gardeners World.  How anyone can expect a programme that lasts for 30 minutes once a week to appeal to all of us interested in some form of gardening/horticulture is beyond me.

I remember listening to Geoff Hamilton’s son talking about his father’s time as the presenter of Gardeners World and the thing that stuck in my mind was that he said that Geoff’s goal each week was to inspire viewers to get out and do something in their garden.  I think this sentiment should be bourne in mind today when we watch any gardening programming we are offered.  Whenever a technique is shown on Gardeners World, particularly if by the current presenter, you can guarantee that if you go on Twitter there will be those who are decrying the lack of accuracy, picking holes in any and everything.  Personally, this irritates me, we all know that if we were to ask three vegetable growers on the local allotment site how to plant onions we would get three different answers and the same is true for any gardening technique just as it is with cooking, sewing etc – we all with familiarity bring our own approach and tricks, it is what works for us regardless of what we have been taught.

I believe that the purpose of a good gardening programme should be to inspire the viewer – perhaps to take up their trowel, perhaps to research a new plant, perhaps to visit a garden, perhaps to try a new form of propagation.  I  have to admit that in recent times it is not often that Gardeners World has achieved this for me and I think it has fallen foul of trying to be  too many things to too many people.  But it seems to be that the naysayers will find something to complain about regardless.  After all they complained endlessly about the previous format of the programme saying it was dumbing down, how they didn’t like the new garden, the modern magazine style of presentation, how it would be better set in the presenter’s garden, how Monty had more authority than the new younger presenters, etc etc.  So Gardeners World was changed, again, Monty was brought back and the programme was moved to his garden.  Are the critics happy – well no of course not, they just have new things to complain about!

I truly hope that this  new ten part series will appeal to a wide range of people: experienced and new gardeners, horticulturists and especially people who may generally ignore the green space outside their back door.  For myself, the first episode on wildflower meadows and front gardens was interesting.  Anyone who reads this post will know how I have a love/hate relationship with my front garden (see End of Month Views) and I have even dabbled and given up on wildflower meadows.  However, I found myself engaged and interested, my mind was stimulated and I found the two topics coming together and led to me wondering whether it would be possible to embellish my gravel driveway with wild flowers and whether I could get away with another small tree in the front garden.  I was inspired and if others were in whatever way then the series will have achieved one of the programmers goals.  And, if we show the BBC how much we value their investment then maybe, just maybe they will give gardening some of the coverage that cooking has and we can look forward to more inspiring programmes focussing on aspects of a hobby that is wide-ranging, compelling, fascinating but most importantly that we feel passionate about and brings so many of us together.

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About Helen Johnstone

I live in Malvern, Worcestershire and am a very keen gardener. I started the Patient Gardener Blog in January 2008 as a way of recording what was happening in my garden and connecting with other like-minded people. I started a second blog PatientGardener 365 January 2013 in order to try and post a photo a day to capture what is growing in my garden or places I have visited
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21 Responses to The Great British Garden Revival – My thoughts

  1. Gwen says:

    Well said Helen. I could not agre more

  2. Bravo, Helen! I agree with you on all points.

    And Merry Christmas to you! I’m so glad to have met you this year!

  3. Hi Helen. I agree that the BBC can’t win on this one. I am looking forward to Carol Klein’s edition tonight. I understand it is from Clive Lane’s garden which is the Cottage Gardener’s cottage garden! He wrote the book…literally. I wish they had chosen Carol to front Gardener’s World but that would have upset all the veg growers!

    • Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi David
      I like Carol but not convinced about her fronting GW. Think we need someone with some gavitas and authority to be respected by all areas of horticulture

  4. Ellie says:

    Dear Helen
    I really enjoyed the first programme and am hoping to have a wildflower meadow in a tub next year. I hope that the programmes which have had to be re-scheduled will be just as interesting. I agree that Gardeners’ World isn’t quite the ‘must-see’ programme that it used to be, but half an hour a week is just not long enough (especially if you think how much time is devoted to sport, soaps or repeats!).
    Best wishes
    Ellie

    • Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Ellie
      I quite agree with your comment about GW. I have an old tin bath that I found myself thinking of planting a wild flower meadow in – I just need to work out where to put it!!

  5. Anna says:

    Unfortunately I had to combine watching the first episode with the urgent need to wrap some Christmas presents but liked what I saw. It’s great to focus on just one topic for a sizeable chunk of time instead of five minutes (if that) before flitting on to something else. Have been watching GW for more years that I can remember. The programmes that really inspired me and got me excited where episodes of GW where they would film the whole programme in one garden owned by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable gardener – lots of plant info., propagation and cultivation info. etc. This was probably back in the 80s/ early 90s and I have not seen such quality of gardening programmes since :(
    PS I can see another tree fitting into your front garden – maybe a malus :)

  6. Helen Johnstone says:

    hi Anna
    I liked those sort of gardening programmes as well which is why I think Carol’s Cottage garden programme was so popular? As for another tree in my front garden, I have coverted a Sorbus Joseph Rock for a while:)

  7. wellywoman says:

    I enjoyed the first in the new series. I think giving the topics covered more time makes such a big difference. I feel a little for the team which make GW. It is a magazine show and it’s probably surprising how much time it takes to film and put together, even though we only get to see 30 minutes. I agree about the diversity of gardening. The biggest problem surely has been that one programme has to try to please so many people. If there was GW with 4 or 5 other shorter gardening series on throughout the year then the subject would be getting the coverage it deserves. I also agree about the correct way to do things. I think being too prescriptive is off putting to many people and the reality is gardening is much more flexible. We all find our own ways of doing various tasks. Horticulture isn’t a fixed and static science, ideas are changing all the time. Look back at old gardening books and you can find jobs we would do differently now because our knowledge has progressed. Hopefully the viewing figures will be good and it’ll encourage those who commission new programmes to see gardening as a viable option.

  8. Rick says:

    Yet another attempt to persuade the Great British public to engage with horticulture. After watching Gardener’s World since the days of Percy Thrower I have finally given up on it and much prefer the far slicker and more comprehensive Beechgrove from BBC Scotland which itself has been going for 35 years only 10 years less than Gardener’s World. I much admire Carol Klein and also Tom Hart Dyke, who I went to see give his fascinating talk earlier this year, and will be watching tomorrow night’s episode which it has been delayed due to schedule changes, Nelson Mandela etc. Despite everything, the public in general tend to remain unmoved, just as in cooking there is fantastic coverage but how many people actually cook the kind of fare shown on a regular basis? They are happy to watch but not necessarily emulate no matter how many cookery books and magazines they buy. The same applies to gardening, a small percentage of the population watch the gardening programmes of which there used to be more, which must tell you something, but out of those how many actually garden themselves other than stick in a few plants from the garden center when the mood takes them, and don’t have a “cut and blow” merchant round to look after the rest of the work? In the real world modern life and our climate does not suit the non-dedicated dabbler. Those who produce garden programmes should be grateful for their critics no matter how negative, at least these people listen and care.

  9. Yvonne Ryan says:

    You are so lucky to have gardening programmes at all!! We have had some really good ones that have been axed even tho’ top viewing figures. Now have to rely on British ones on Living Channel – some quite old – and seeing I don’t have Sky none for me. Some of the Aussie ones are good and have experts in different parts of Oz which is great as such different climates and conditions – interesting. I hope we get the latest GW here – and I will go to lounge next door to watch it in the B&B. We could do with a lot less of blimmin Aussie leauge and American football, baseball and basketball, cars racing etc grr.

  10. bittster says:

    I also can only wish for a similar program to make its way into the US. Gardening shows have become few and far between here. I guess potting soil commercials just don’t bring in the advertising dollars like food processors and cooking pot ads….

  11. The Belmont Rooster says:

    That is really going to be something!

  12. I never watch Gardener’s world or such similar shows. I did watch the recent flowerpot gang though. I would much rather watch a show that was about getting your hands dirty, encouraging and inspiring. I get awfully lost when things get complicated describing flora and fauna is pretentious ways.

  13. I too find the criticism of Gardener’s World a bit off for all the reasons you state. Am a bit late to the GBGR but found last night’s episode dynamic and inspirational.

  14. I couldn’t agree more about the social media criticism of GW Helen, though with twitter maybe it is partly the medium, not conducive to consructve criticism but the carping and occasionally personal tone of the “critique” has nearly driven me off the twitterscape again. GW can’t possibly be expected to appeal to and satisfy all the different types and experience levels of “gardeners”, and I love yoru sentiment that a programme succeeds if it encourages someone to go outside and try something. And GBGR is hitting the mark for me, including, much to my surprise, Rachel infecting me with an interest in topiary, though I haven’t worked out where to go with it yet. And of course you have room for another small tree in your front garden ;-)

  15. PS Gah! Apologies for the numerous typos, amd sat in bed, most awkward…

  16. Thanks for that Helen. I don’t get Radio Times here (although I can watch British TV) so it was nice to have a little reminder that this series had started. Must put it in my diary. Re gardening programmes – I love Monty, in my opinion he is the only one who has cut the mustard since Geoff left. (But probably disenchantment with popular gardening programmes and magazines starts when you’ve been gardening for a few years – in order to attract viewers/make money the product has to be targeted at new viewers/readers and becomes boring to the experienced.) I interviewed Geoff Hamilton just a few months before he died and he was disgusted when I told him I never watched GW anymore. Then I added that it was because I was always in the garden in the summer – what a difference! I’ll never forget the big beaming smile he gave me. He was some man – I admired him for always wanting to try everything, do everything himself. Personally I think Monty takes us back to those days a little (or maybe you have to read his own words about their struggle in making the garden to understand his commitment?). Carol Klein I can happily do without …

  17. Pauline says:

    So far it’s very good, or so I think. I never bother with twitter simply because of the personal nature of comments, who are all these people anyway? I
    I have watched GW for well over 20 yrs and on the whole I enjoy it, most of what I have learned has been from watching it, taking cuttings, sowing seeds etc, once I was a raw beginner, now more experienced, so the programme has to cater for all levels. I have so many box balls in the garden and a few cones, maybe I should take up topiary and make more interesting shapes!
    I shall look forward to the rest of the series, half an hour for each subject is a lot better than just 5 minutes, I hope all the armchair critics give it a chance.

  18. hoehoegrow says:

    Hi Helen. Thanks for an interesting post and I agreed with a lot of your points. It is so invigorating to have a serious new gardening programme to watch, that I was desperately hoping it would live up to the hype. The allocation of half an hour per topic can be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on the subject matter. I thoroughly enjoyed Carol Klein on ‘Cottage Gardens’ and would love to visit ‘Dove Cottage’ garden next year, as the planting looks so exciting.

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