A Plea to the British Media From a Fustrated Gardener

I try very hard to be a glass half full person and to try to find a positive side to things but sometimes I feel that I am flogging a dead horse, so to speak, and I should just accept the fact that I am really irritated.  What is irritating me? Well it’s the apparent notion that gardeners and people interested in horticulture are simple people who can be fobbed off with the same old same old stuff.

I like to think of myself as fairly intelligent and I have an enquiring mind but I feel constantly frustrated that the media in the UK does not cater to my needs in relation to gardening/horticulture.  There are more and more programmes on art history which are pitched at a level which requires the viewer to concentrate and if you do and manage to keep up, or stay interested, you feel that you have really learnt something.  The same can be said in recent years for the programmes on history, although I do think that in some cases they have gone a little too far and some recent offerings have been a little dry.  The UK BBC is well-known for the quality of its wildlife and nature programmes, which have large budgets and are of a fantastic quality. But somewhere in the dividing up of budgets and programming horticulture has been overlooked, and is treated like the poor relation.

Why?  We are apparently known as a nation of gardeners.  If this is so then it is in despite of our media.  There is of course Gardeners World  which has been going longer than many of us can remember.  It has been through a few sticky years recently and received a lot of criticism but the most recent series has moved forward and is providing good tips, advice, visits to gardens and profiles on plants.  And to be honest that is it – 30mins once a week, and not even every week of the year.  We have gone through the overload of the garden make over programmes in the 90s – you could probably find a programme most days of the week if you looked but even these have disappeared (though I wouldn’t want them to come back).

So I was pleased to see a new series was coming to our  screens – Alan Titchmarsh’s Garden Secrets.  The premise of the programme is that the it looks at a different historical garden which is iconic of its era and how gardening and horticulture developed during that century.  Ominously, the trailer went on to say that the programme would show you how you could recreate the look in your own garden.  I should have know that it was too good to be true.  I sat through the first programme – Hatfield Garden (17th Century), enjoying the history and seeing how various elements still feature in contemporary garden design.  But then for each of the elements identified there was a project incl topiary, training fruit trees etc.  I tried to overlook these and concentrate on the history – I even defended the programme to friends.  However, my resolve failed this week when the second programme came on.  This week Stowe and the 18th century – the landscape movement.  The projects were dire and the sort of thing that I doubt even a novice gardener would think were a good idea.

Why oh why can’t we have some intelligent programmes about garden history – there is just as much material out there as there is for art history programmes.  Why can’t we have programmes on the characters that have contributed to our vast and diverse horticultural tradition: the plant hunters, the garden creators?  Why can’t we have programmes that look at plants closely, heading more towards the sort of nature programmes that we all enjoy. Why can’t we have programmes that looks at careers in horticulture WHY?

The photo is of a Hydrangea taken at Arley Arboretum.  I have no idea which one and this is why I am looking for programmes (and magazines) that will educate me so I do know.

18 Comments on “A Plea to the British Media From a Fustrated Gardener

  1. Indeed. Why?

    Just received a garden biography book which I’ll be doing as a giveaway over at my place. Not because I don’t like it, that was the condition for me receiving the book, which seeing it is an intelligent work, I’m very happy to do.

  2. This is one of those situations where I have to say, count your blessings. I’d be thrilled if we had 1 program on American TV like that. Seriously, the last good garden-related program I’ve seen was “The Botany of Desire,” (just a one-time program, not a series) which was more about marijuana than anything else.

  3. Hey Helen,

    I have to confess to rarely watching gardening programmes, perhaps, or rather most likely because they’re just so boring!

    Even nature programmes often annoy me these days, how many times do we have to see the same animals doing the same things. Why can’t we learn about lesser-known animals for once? When was the last time you saw Pole Cats on a nature programme or a real, in depth show on Roe Deer?
    It’s always, Lions, Elephants, Cheetahs etc… All the time, drives me mad.
    I love documentaries, they are my second most-watched television genre, right behind comedies. Yet the vast majority are poor.

  4. Have still to watch the offending programme so can’t comment . However as far as television goes , there is certainly at present a dearth of quality and in depth programmes on matters horticultural. No consolation to you Helen but back in the ’80s, there seemed to be more of the type of programmes that you are looking for. When we talk about the media though television is but one small part and I think that to a large extent the other parts serve us well. Maybe room for one or two more decent mags but then that pile would grow even bigger 🙂

  5. I agree that programmes have dumbed down lately but BBC tv is one of the things I miss here, I resort to buying dvd’s of series I think I might enjoy. Italian tv’s idea of a gardening 5 minutes included in a breakfast programme included the resident ‘gardener’ complete with designer WHITE suit and shoes treading very carefully on some turf (probably laid 10 minutes previously) striking poses and looking to me as if he’d never, ever put his hands in the earth before! I understand there was a programme on channel 5 in spring on the lines of Grand Designs, but I haven’t seen it. If anyone did see it I’d be grateful for a review. Christina

  6. Reading this post made me smile all the way through. I agree with everything you say, just could not have put it across so well. Mind you I actually miss the make over programmes if only to criticise or perhaps on some occasions giving you good ideas. Your posts just shout out for replies, I guess I have just been too boring with my plant profile blog for the cooler climate, I am now trying to add a little twist to it after reading your posts. Take a look if you have time perhaps you can tell me where I am going wrong. Alistair

  7. Dear Helen, As I do not have a television, I am spared all the endless hours of poor quality programmes which everyone is always talking about. I do believe that one gains so much more time without a television which one can spend so much more profitably with a good book [gardening or otherwise].

  8. Very, very good post and critique. I have felt the same way here in the US. HGTV is an example. So many substandard makeovers, where not even one idea can be had worth using. The history aspect is worth having a chat about, yet it is rarely ever broached. I do not even watch the TV shows on gardening, because any that ever were good, are long gone. There is so much more value to be gained from the blogs on gardening and am happy to read them daily. Even as an experienced designer, there is always so much knowledge and inspiration to be had.

  9. Well, at least you have something! Here, we have very few television shows that focus on gardening. Occasionally there is a show which demonstrates a garden make-over; that’s about t. Of course, there’s plenty out there in the print media and on the internet.

  10. I wish we had some shows like you describe too. We have no garden shows here anymore other than some makeover ones that always seem to have a tiki bar in them. I remember watching Alan Titchmarsh in Ground Force on BBC America years ago and being fascinated with how different the gardens in suburban areas seemed and even though it was a makeover show it was much more interesting than the ones I’ve seen here. Maybe BBC will hear you and we’ll get to benefit from them too.

  11. I watched Garden Secrets. It was a much better programme than I expected. Partly because, whatever you may think of Surr Alan T he is an exceptionally good television presenter. Partly because you cannot really go wrong with sweeping pictures of great gardens in sunshine and partly because it was generally well made and directed.

    However, it is a classic example of the BBC trying to please everybody all of the time. You can imagine the meetings where lots of people discussed and debated whether too much history was elitist, whether mentioning big gardens made by rich people would have any relevance to suburban gardeners, how they were going to attract the youthful viewer. Whether it was going to be seen as too clever etc etc etc
    As a result they had to include some practical gardening as a sop to the ‘normal’ gardener so you end up with Alan planting the Ace of Spades in Thymes or gluing gravel to exterior plywood in order to imitate Versailles.

    The problem is that there are just not enough people interested enough in garden history or design to make it worth a dedicated programme. The same with so many subjects: the BBC feel obliged (especially when they are so nervous about spending money) to try to make something that satisfies everybody with the inevitable result that it manages to mildly annoy most of the audience.

  12. Have given up waiting for inspiring/ educational garden programmes on TV
    Have a similar hydrandea in our hedge ,sold years ago as H aspera villosa. Hunted it down on advice from old gardening book as a good woodland Hydrangea, showing well against shady side of a wall or back drop of green hedge. Perhaps searching this group will come up with the lovely plant you have photographed?

    Enjoy your blog. Arly arboretum sounds worth a visit. Thank you
    Chris in Oh so soggy SE Wales

  13. I’m not sure I agree about the lack of interest, James. There are a great number of excellent programmes, particularly on BBC Four, for what must be a quite small minority of viewers. History and music have recently been very well served, for example, with long, serious programmes which assume a certain level of intelligence and curiosity in the viewer. And none of them tell you how to compose plainsong or learn cuneiform lettering at home.

    I think it has more to do with the unfortunate image gardens have. A moments reflection on that will tell you all you need to know.

    XXXX Anne

  14. The best serious gardening show of recent years was Monty Don’s “Around the World in 80 Gardens” – very thoughtul, strong human interest as well as horticulture and garden design, and in glorious High Definition. Perfect!

    I will continue to watch “Garden Secrets” – it is mostly well done and I agree that Alan Titchmarsh does the presenting well. Now I know what to expect, I will think of the “makeover” element as light relief, and be amused, rather than annoyed by it.

  15. Intelligent gardening programmes must by their nature demand an intelligent creator, I do not doubt that there are many such bods around but sadly the BBC does not let them do their job without interfering and faffing over ‘ratings’.

  16. I haven’t had a chance to watch this (well, that’s not entirely true – it’s just it feels like a busman’s holiday especially when I have so much ‘Apprentice’ and ‘Strictly’ to get through).

    However, I think there is space for a pure garden history programme – but as Anne and James both suggest it’s rather a niche interest. For that reason it makes perfect fodder for BBC 4 (which is a totally marvellous channel and one I force myself to watch occasionally, if only to counteract the overdosing of Strictly and the Apprentice).

  17. Hear hear!

    I have been watching the Alan Titchmarsh programmes too and have enjoyed the historical side – but, as you say, the ideas to copy are lamentable! Who on earth wants a couple of really ugly cubes covered in rather manky looking saxifrage (I think it was anyway – can’t remember – rather blanked it from my mind!) which appeared to be hugely labour intensive to make and equally hugely heavy to lug around your garden!

  18. PS: have been trying to find the Arley hydrangea for you. It’s obviously a Lacecap hydrangea (H.macrophylla normalis) which I’m sure you already knew, but I’m afraid I haven’t been able to go further than that. Haven’t got my books out yet but had a quick look around the web. Davesgarden.com had a pretty extensive list of hydrangeas with some images, but I didn’t see any with the dark coloured leaves your one has.

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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