I read with interest James’ post over at Federal Twist lamenting the general attitude in the US, and particularly its media, to gardening as a hobby. I was really interested in this post as it followed in the same thoughts as a post I had written a few weeks ago about the British media, and in particular the BBC.
James posed the question “is gardening a hobby or is it something more” and this has got me to thinking about my own attitude to gardening and what indeed is a hobby? The dictionary definition of hobby is “an activity or interest participated in for relaxation or pleasure, and typically done in one’s leisure time”. I think the majority of gardeners would see that as a fair description of their view of gardening. But, and it’s a big but, there are some of us who see it as something far bigger, far more consuming, something that dominates our lives and influences many of our decisions, something we are passionate about. Well I do and maybe I’m the only one but I don’t think so!
As far as I can see the media, both in the UK and other countries, classes gardening as a hobby and categories it along with other hobbies such as cooking. It is seen as something creative like sewing or knitting and therefore much of the media representation takes the form of instructions on how to or reviews of how others have done it. There is little appreciation that gardening and horticulture is a much wider ranging subject.
I am passionate about horticulture, about creating my garden, about raising plants, about viewing other people’s creations. I read, almost exclusively, gardening books and magazines, I write two blogs about gardening. It is all-consuming for me and some of my friends are as bad! However, I believe that we are in the minority. I believe that most gardeners are weekend gardeners who are simply not interested in our gardening culture, in cutting edge design, in the complexities of plant breeding. No they want to know how to get the green area outside their house looking nice. Which is fine, don’t get me wrong but some of us want more.
So how do we move things on? How do we get interesting, thought-provoking writing about gardening in magazines instead of formulaic garden review after garden review? How do we get gardening television and radio programmes that are more than providing instructions on what to do in your garden this weekend? We have to do it ourselves. No obviously we don’t have the budgets to produce our own magazines, although Hortus is an excellent example of this approach, or our own television programmes but we can start to push for better and the best place to start is at our own front doors so to speak – with our blogs.
I have been writing my blog about gardening for nearly three years and I have to admit that I have got lazy. I churn out the same stuff over and over, posts that it would be fair to say are banal and boring. But it has become more and more apparent to me that my changing tastes and my growing interest is reflected in the blogs I read. I don’t read the blogs any more which post picture after picture of plants and I don’t tend to read the blogs that post every day or every other day nor the ones that post about what they have done in the garden this week. I’m not criticising these blogs, every blogger blogs for their only personal reason but I find myself drawn more to the blogs that have something new to say, that write honest critical reviews about gardens, that write interesting posts about plants I have never heard of, that show me techniques or planting styles I hadn’t encountered before.
If we want to improve the approach our media takes to gardening then we need to improve our own approach to writing about it, and I include myself in this. You have only to look at how the media has changed its attitude to vegetable growing and in particular allotments from an image of elderly men in cloth caps to yummy mummies and more interesting and unusual edibles to see that if there is a general demand for better or different sooner or later the media will just have to go with it or sink in the backlash.