Gardeners' World Gets a Retro Makeover

Toby Buckland (centre) at Malvern Autumn Show in 2008 - just after his helmship of Gardeners' World was announced

So Toby Buckland, Alys Fowler and Greenacre are out and Monty Don, his Herefordshire garden and Rachel de Thame are back in at Gardeners' World. Quite a shock for us garden enthusiasts to take in late yesterday afternoon which inevitably set tongues wagging.

I thought Sue Beesley summed up the BBC's retro makeover well in her Stop Press post about it yesterday and I'll endeavour not to repeat what she's said already. The reactions to The Telegraph's breaking of the news also make interesting, if mixed reading. For those deploring the move, an equal number welcome it and inevitably the names Alan Titchmarsh and Geoff Hamilton also get a mention. There's also a call for fresh faces, but who that should be is much harder to tell.

What's clear from the many people outside our cosy garden blogging world I've spoken to recently is there is a genuine need for a good programme dealing with the basics and nothing else. There will always be people who are new to gardening or aren't that confident about the experience they have and who are we to deny them? I hope next year's Gardeners' World fills this need and that the BBC don't try and make it all things to all gardeners. That formula combined with a measly half hour slot clearly doesn't work.

I've also come to realise that even if the programme had my 'dream team', I still probably wouldn't watch it. Nowadays I prefer the one-off hour long Gardeners' World specials which go into a subject into more depth. Carol Klein's recent look into The Science of Gardening was fascinating (NB still available on i-player via my link) and I now covet the weather station she had installed. I no longer need a weekly (almost) TV gardening fix: I get that via blogging nowadays and I'm glad I can select my own personal 'pick and mix' combination of thought provoking, informative and entertaining material.

So in future I'll be cheering on the more imaginative programming such as Landscape Man [series 2 sadly dropped], Britain's Park Story and James Wong and the Malaysian Garden. Interesting programmes are out there: we just need to look a bit harder and let everyone know about them.


  1. Greenacres never worked and returning to filming in someone's real, working garden may well be the solution. However this won't be Gardeners' World it will be 'The Monty Don Show'. For those who like the Lord of Cord I've no doubt it will be fine and presumably the other 'team' members will be doing slots from elsewhere so His Organic Jerkin doesn't actually have to communicate with them.

  2. Oh good grief, talk about throwing baby out with bathwater! OK, GW now tends to be something I zoom through at 4x speed until I see Carol pop up or Alys. I didn't mind Toby, and I actually quite enjoyed watching areas of Green Acres being transformed, though it was frustratingly hard to follow how each patch progressed, and gave no feel for what worked and what didn't. I think we need two streams, one focused on beginners, covering time-poor and cash-strapped would be gardeners, who have different needs. And yes, great, lets have some proper grown up gardening shows too, but I'm with you, Carol's special on plant science and the wonderful Landscape Man series are what's needed, not a visit to the cosy past. Though I will enjoy nosing around Monty's garden... And please give Alys a new series! She has a refreshing perspective! Then again, I like her vintage look...

    WV = "gangs"...

  3. I think that a series aimed at beginners could also be interesting for the rest of us - it depends how you do it. What drives me mad is this bloody magazine format, where they feel they have to whisk you away to a new subject every two minutes as if you were a six-year-old with ADHD.
    I'd quite happily watch a whole 30 minutes devoted to different methods of propagation, or sowing different kinds of seeds, or alpines, or fruit, or something like that. I'm sure I'd learn something, even if it was just a quick tip.
    These days, you've either got to have a really huge garden or to have done a horticulture course in order to know absolutely everything about everything - most of us don't have room or time.
    It's the sort of thing Alys could do really well - she's got the sort of voice that makes you remember what she's said.

  4. Arabella - I was wondering whether the other presenters would make the trek to Herefordshire or stay in their own gardens too

    Plantaliscious - I seem to remember falling asleep a lot perhaps zooming through like you do might be the solution. I agree that gardening programming needs to be more focused rather than trying to serve all needs

    Victoria - it's not just GW where everything is served in 2 minute slots. I find myself shouting at the telly quite a lot when they don't tell a story in one go, but serve it up in 3 chunks spread across the programme instead. I like your idea of themed programmes focussing on just 1 or 2 subjects. If the magazine format is retained, then at least an hour is needed in my view to enable some depth in each subject tackled. A leaf out of Countryfile's book might be more appropriate?

  5. Plantaliscious: Carol makes me reach for the fast forward faster than anybody else! So condescending, to too fond of the sound of her own voice, although I realise she knows a lot and I'd rather that than a "presenter". I will watch with interest; I love Monty but agree that a backwards step is probably a bad thing. At least they got rid of the appalling timed segments :)

  6. I very much agree with both you and Victoria. I get my garden fix these days from blogging but did watch Landscape Man and hugely enjoyed it. I also like Carol Klein and Alys Fowler and think she would be a great choice to front a programme for beginners. I like Monty so am happy for him to be back.

  7. This is all interesting reading from across the pond, since I've never seen this show. It sounds familiar, nonetheless, since there is a dearth of good gardening shows on HGTV (Home and Garden Television), which seems more interested in decorating than gardening, in spite of its name.

    Like you, VP, I get my fix through blogs these days. Maybe it is a natural evolution: beginners to TV, where they can get sound bites about gardening; intermediate and advanced move on to what is, essentially, dynamic print media.

  8. I've not seen the programs on TV being in the US but I do get the magazine now and then. I have to agree tho with comments that 'more depth is needed', this applies to the magazine too in my opinion. It is definitely geared for the begining set. I'd like to see more depth, perhaps less jumping around. Great discussion. Glad Monty is back and doing better.

  9. It really beggars belief that the BBC can't do a descent one hour gardening programme nowadays.
    GW was a flagship series at one time which I always watched despite not having a garden or allotment.
    Apart from the specials I've hardly watched it the past couple of years.
    I live in hope that next year will see a return to an informative and interesting GW that will appeal to all gardeners. Flighty xx

  10. I more or less gave up on TV gardening programmes ten years ago. Striking the right balance, between entertaining, inspiring and teaching - yes, that's right, teaching - was always a difficult but back in the Hamilton days, I think they managed. More or less. But BBC2 had an ethos, then. Now, they just seem to chase ratings like their bombastic but vacuous cousin BBC1

    Programme makers on most TV output seem to assume that the audience is made up of cretins who must be stimulated every second with something loud and showy, and must never be bothered with too much actual knowledge or to have their grey matter exercised.

    The only value I feel I derive from the BBC comes from Radio 4 - programmes like The Material World, Home Planet, In our Time and some of the plays and 6.30pm comedies help to compensate for the crap on television. (I'd like to have included GQT in my list, but I really do think the programme is feeling its age now.)

    FInally, though, if all I get of value, for my licence fee is Radio 4 - it's not that good a deal, is it?

  11. I love Gardeners' World.

    Really sad to see Toby and Alys go and I wish them well for the future. I also like Monty and am glad that he's recovered from his illness. I hope there will be enough progammes for all these excellent presenters as they all have something special to offer.

    Although I'm too busy to watch much TV (average about 2 hours a week!) I always look forward to Gardeners' World and other gardening programmes. There's something so pleasurable about seeing tasks being done, and visiting gardens via TV. Not just the learning, but the whole experience. Especially in winter sitting huddled up under woollies and coats, to immerse oneself in the sunshiney paradise of a garden, following the presenter around as they dead-head flowers accompanied by birds singing, is like hope in the darkness and warms me from within!

  12. I'm going to stick up for Monty, I like him. There's nobody that I don't particularly like though, I don't think it's the presenters more the magazine format. It needs to be an hour, the first half on special features, other gardens etc, the second half split between jobs to do right now and a beginers guide. Stick to a recognised format and different sections of viewers could pick teh parts they wanted to watch or some can watch the whole hour. We'll have to see what happens I suppose.

  13. I struggle with television. I've got hooked on Midsomer Murders which is gentle and daft and I sometimes watch Prime Minister's Question Time instead of listening to it on the radio. Beyond that . . . I get bored or angry.

    I watched one episode of the Landscape Man series but found it slow and ended up miserable because a wilderness was being ripped out and I like wildernesses.

    I now feel sad too because, having read Nigel's comment about Gardeners' Question Time on the radio - I think he may be right. (Though maybe it's that I've listened to it too often rather than that it has been running too long. That may be it.)


  14. The times they are a'changing yet again:) At one time just listening to the GW theme tune would send a tingle down my spine but now I can take it or leave it or fall asleep. I am really looking forward to the Carol Klein cottage garden year series which I think will finally be screened early next year :)

  15. Lisa - hello again :) Those timed segments were definitely a low point

    Elizabethm - quite a few people are calling for Alys to do precisely that

    Susan - there are quite a few beginners who blog too, especially veg growers. After all, blogging is a great way of documenting what you're finding out for yourself and keeping a diary.

    Joan - it sounds like you would like Gardens Illustrated also available in the US

    Flighty - I wonder if we grow out of programmes like GW? Thanks for following - I'm enjoying seeing your Avatar on here :) xx

    PMN - TV wise BBC4 probably has something for you. How about Macbeth on Sunday?

    Phoenix C - you're the first person I've found singing GW's praises :) I wonder if you're representing the silent majority?

    Damo - some good ideas re format there. That's what I was getting at when I mentioned Countryfile.

    Esther - I'm having a look behind the scenes at GQT in the New Year. Let me know if you have anything you'd like me to ask about how the programme's made...

    Anna - sadly I tend to fall asleep too. I was going to say it's probably my age but then remembered I do manage to keep awake during the specials.

  16. I am yet again struggling to keep up so apologies for coming to this discussion so late - it's been very interesting to read.

    On the rare occasions I've watched GW I've been frustrated by the amount of time they spend telling me what I already know, what I don't want to know, or (and this is increasingly the case with all sorts of other programmes too) what they're about to tell me, and what they've already told me. The bit I've tuned in for has invariably been crammed into the last minute of the programme. I haven't watched it for ages, and don't suppose I'll start now.

    I quite liked the recent Alan Titchmarsh Garden Secrets, though there was hardly anything secret about it - I just enjoyed looking at the gardens he visited, fast forwarded the naff "how to do it yourself" bits, and let the narration flow over me.

    But Carol's recent programme on the science of gardening was excellent - I think it was the first gardening programme I've ever seen which wasn't dummed down. I daresay it was all pretty obvious to a scientist, but for me as an academic non-scientist it was pitched at just the right level - finally a programme which realised that a lack of knowledge on the part of the viewer isn't the same as a lack of intelligence. A lot of other programmes - gardening and otherwise - could learn from it.

  17. Juliet - Adam Pacoe's blogs on the GW website have been most interesting. His latest talks about how they've tried to make GW all things to everyone. That simply isn't possible with a mere half hour.

  18. Juliet's point about lack of knowledge not necessarily indicating a lack of intelligence is spot on. It fits lots of situations.


  19. Anna, I didn't know that Carol Klein was doing a series now that I will watch as I enjoyed her science of plants special - it was the seed saving kit that I coveted.

    I think the viewing public could take more than one gardening programme one aimed at beginners and one in depth. As this has been floated all over the internet for the past week or so, I really dont understand why the BBC dont sit up and take notice. Sad really.
    PS Sorry I am late to this party - somehow I missed this post
    PPS - You will let us know when the Carol Klein series is on? I am rubbish at working out what's on TV

  20. Esther - hear hear.

    Karen - I believe Carol Klein's programme has been in the pipeline for ages. Quite right that more than 1 programme for gardeners would be the ideal solution. The problem with trying to make 1 programme to fit all is that there's just a couple of minutes of interest and everyone ends up being mildly disatisfied with the programme.

    Will keep an eye open for broadcast times :)


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