Monday, October 20, 2008

Tosh on television

Browsing through Nigel Colborn's wonderful blog, Silvertreedaze, the other day, I found a post where he said he was a bit allergic to gardening programmes and, having watched a recent episode of Gardeners' World, he was left with the impression "that the programme makers at the BBC must think their audience is composed of people with a mental age of three, the I/Q of a courgette and Attention Deficit Disorder to boot".
This is such a good point. I've often wondered about this too. People who watch gardening programmes tend to be older, and, I would bet, reasonably well-educated. Even if they're not older, they're certainly interested in expanding their knowledge of the botanical and natural world and, probably, the world in general. In my view, this makes them potentially an extremely intelligent audience.
So why treat us as if we're stupid? Is it because the programme makers themselves are thick, and incapable of coming up with any decent ideas? If that's the case, I'd like to make some suggestions. These are the gardening programmes I would like to see on television:

The Plant Hunters
This could be a great series of wonderful adventure stories, combined with stunning locations, about the men who brought back so many of the plants we all grow today. The stories of people like Reginald Farrer and David Douglas could be intertwined with information on the plants they found, and the sort of habitats they explored, so we'd all know how to grow the plants properly. (Viewers might be advised to grab a box of Kleenex first though.) Roy Lancaster would be the obvious choice to present it, but he'd probably be deemed too old (ie, over 12).

The new plant hunters
The people who are doing exactly the same job, but in today's world.

Grumpy old gardeners
Like most people over 40, I get absolutely sick of the cult of youth. I want to hear people like me having a heated discussion about the things I'm interested in: organic/green gardening; instant impact; the British native plant debate; whether gardening programmes have dumbed down; are men better at gardening than women; are lawns ungreen. There's six programmes for a start. I think the participants should be female too: I'd suggest (mischievously) Helen Yemm, Anne Wareham, Janet Street-Porter (who is a keen gardener); Germaine Greer (ditto) for starters. Anyone who has strong opinions and doesn't give a stuff about offending people, especially the RHS. If the BBC doesn't think this would be photogenic enough for mainstream terrestrial TV, why not put it on the radio?

Plant profiles
Geoffrey Smith did a wonderful series about 20 years ago where each programme dealt with a different flower (rose, tulip, primrose etc). He looked at the history, mythology and symbolism behind the flower, as well as how to grow it. It was fascinating, and not exactly expensive programme-making. Why doesn't someone do it again?

Climate change gardening
This could look at how gardening trends have been and will be influenced by the changing climate, not only in terms of one's own backyard but also by factors such as the rising cost of energy and the impact horticulture makes on the environment. At the very least, it could be a Gardener's World one-hour special. No, on second thoughts, not a one-hour special. Do it properly!

Anything on trees, although the BBC, strangely, seems to be able to make quite good programmes about trees. Perhaps that's because trees come under the heading of science, nature and environment, rather than leisure, so they escape that terrible tendency to turn the programme into 'entertainment'. And the Meetings with Remarkable Trees series was based on a book, so they didn't have to think it up themselves (though they did a good job). Sadly, I missed The Trees That Made Britain series, and was annoyed to see that it's unavailable on the BBC's much trumpeted iPlayer and it's not available on DVD. Was it any good?

Right, that's enough ranting from me. What would other people like to see?


Lucy said...

Sounds good.

Perhaps you should send proposal to BBC?

Especially like the idea of Germaine Greer and Co.

Perhaps, even, they could be the ones to retrace the steps of the plant hunters?


Juliet said...

Well, talking of programmes aimed at people with the IQ of a courgette, I'd like to see the tosh that is I Own Britain's Best Home and Garden replaced with a proper competition with semi-finals and finals and one award at the end, instead of the current travesty where two fabulous gardens compete against each other one week and two not terribly special ones another week, and each week one of them has to get an award, whether they deserve it or not.

Or even, dare I say it, a programme which visits different people's gardens just for the sake of it, with no competetive element at all. I don't normally watch GW, but I recorded a couple recently because they featured visits to interesting gardens - they were the best bits of the programmes, most of the rest of which I watched on fast forward.

Other than that, I'd watch all of your ideas except the grumpy one.

our friend Ben said...

Love it, Victoria! (And Nigel's comment on the IQ etc. of the intended audience is priceless.) I'd love to see a series on the great plant explorers. And I think a series on the new plant explorers could do for plants what Steve Irwin did for wildlife and Anthony Bourdain did for food, if given the right host and the right treatment. I'm not touching the whole "youth culture" thing---I really don't want to start a nuclear reaction in your PC!---but I hope the BBC is listening to you!!!

Frances said...

Hi Victoria, I would like to comment on this, even though we do not get these programs in the states. But we do get a very few gardening programs from HGTV, so called home and garden television. In the beginning there was lots of G programming. Now it is all geared for the twenty year olds with lots of reality type shows, and young women who can design on a dime. Gardening? Forget it. The one good show, Gardening by the yard, has not been renewed because the viewers are TOO OLD, like me. Bummer. I think all of your show ideas are great and would be happy to watch them. I also have money to spend on products that would sponsor these shows, are you listening television program directors?


R. Pete Free said...

Two things I'd love (and which according to popular belief no single individual is supposed to be able to do (Huh!))

Arcane Craft Gardening - the Victorian Kitchen Garden all over again. Cucmber straighteners, Chicory forcing, Melon carving - glasshouse management it was the extreme solar technology of its time - old boilers - hot water pipe circulation (sorry complete spod)

A Good Design Programme - what works, what doesn't, examples of both and why. NOT a makeover show, but Sylvia Crowe made flesh.

Make that three programmes - how good planting works with good design (Tom Stuart-Smith, C B-H, Dan P) talking about their stuff.

Make that 4 - experimental planting - the boys from Sheffield Uni in depth, not just a nod in a wildflower special - Noel Kingsbury

etc, etc - come on programme makers, it's not hard!

patientgardener said...

I dont mind the tone of GW but maybe thats because its on a Friday evening and I'm tired so dont want to be intellecturally challenged. However I totally agree with your suggestions for other programmes - there is so much scope in doing something on plant hunters and I'm sure it would appeal to a wider audience than the usual gardening one. As for climate change - personally I have got to the stage where I just turn off (literally)!!

easygardener said...

I particularly like the Plant profiles, Plant hunters and Trees ideas. Partly this is driven by a wish to see some depth of programming. I get tired of the flitting from subject to subject. Even a beginner gardener can deal with more than a 5 minute segment.
Programmes like Gardener's World are now like gardening magazines - once you've read 12 monthly issues you know the next year will be exactly the same but with a different plant substituted. Perhaps this is unavoidable given the format - but it turns off anyone with a real interest. After gardening for a couple of years you have the basic knowledge - that's when you want something more substantial.

VP said...

Love the plant hunters idea - I've just delved a bit into that world for my course and it's fascinating stuff. I've done some voluntary work in the herbarium at Kew and saw some of the results of their efforts there - it would make a great part of the story. We found some specimens from Darwin's voyage whilst cataloguing the ferns. We also realised that the collection expanded greatly during the two world wars as soldiers in Africa and Asia went off on leave locally rather than coming home, so sent back specimens from the great rainforests etc. I think there'd be a lot of mileage in telling the soldiers' stories and their discoveries.

As well as the plant profiles, I'd like a real in-depth look at the different planting styles e.g. Prairie. What are their characteristics? What could you successfully substitute if a typical plant isn't right for your soil conditions or climate? Can someone in Scotland have a truly tropical planting scheme for example?

And how about a design programme looking at examples of good municipal planting. There's so much bad stuff about, but I'm sure good planting that requires little or no maintenance whilst being tough is still achievable. I'd also like to hear more about community gardening projects and initiatives - community orchards, stuff that's happening to green and diversify council estates etc etc.

VP said...

Oh and how about an in-depth look at the plant breeders? I love those little vignettes they do on the Chelsea coverage, but I'd like a really good rootle around their greenhouses and techniques.

Esther Montgomery said...

Oh! V.P.! Roundabouts!


VP said...

Absolutely Esther! I'm continuing my campaign - I may do some postings showing good vs bad sometime. Depends whether I can find some good ones. Thinking about it, there is a very good example in Poole at the moment...

And following on from RPF, how about the history of our garden tools? I've got a book about it somewhere - one of them dates back to Roman times. I can't remember which one, it might be the rake. The Chinese have a hand in them along the way too and I don't mean their manufacture today.

Victoria said...

Lucy: You mean kind of like I'm a Celebrity, Get Me That Welwitschia mirabilis? Yeah, I'd watch that!
Juliet: I get a bit fed up with all the vested interests in the horticultural world, and thought a bit of grumpiness might lead to something rather mischievous.
OFB: I doubt very much whether the BBC listens to anyone, sadly.
Frances: What is it with these broadcasting people? Just because we're old, it doesn't mean we don't have money. The way things are going, we might be the only people who do have any money...
r. pete free: Love your ideas!
patientgardener: I know what you mean about climate change. We're all fed up with being lectured. But I'd be really interested to hear about things like, for example, how hardiness zones have changed and will change, and how that has affected and will affect plant and wildlife, both natural and cultivated. For example, will we be able to grow, say, apples south of Yorkshire in 40 years' time? Things like that.
easygardener: flitting drives me mad too. Some programmes spend so much time telling you what they're going to show you in five minutes' time, or what they showed you five minutes ago, you wonder if there's an actual programme there at all.
VP and Esther: Roundabouts! You could make a whole programme about roundabouts (that would really get the grumpy brigade going). Seriously, I think a series on municipal and communal landscaping would be fascinating: from floral clocks to ubiquitous phormiums via ornamental cherry trees.

The Garden Monkey said...

Diarmiud Gavin vs The Chuckle Brothers in It's A Gardening Knockout.

TV Gold.

But seriously - a programme, where a quality expert visits a novice/amateur and over the course of a couple of days and gives them pointers from design, to plants, from tricks of the trade type hints, to simply how to use a spade properly.

A new pairing each episode.


James said...

I pitched the plant hunters idea to a production company once: I was particularly keen on digging a pit trap and falling into it a la David Douglas (albeit without the accompanying bull). I was given the distinct impression that it was far too expensive to make and even if it wasn't they were unlikely to trust it to someone like me. This was before Monty went off around the world driving himself into ill health and despair in the process.

The Garden Monkey said...

I have just hit upon a guaranteed winner.

Why no-one has come up with it sooner is beyond me. Perhaps because it is so obvious.

Viewing figures would be stratospheric.

"Gardening with Cats!"

Victoria said...

GM: Love the idea of pairings. Better still, you could do Good Gardener, Evil Gardener. Two novice gardeners could draw lots to get an expert. The winner could get Toby Buckland or Alys Fowler (according to taste and gender) and the loser could get, um, I'm sure you'll have a couple of suggestions.

James: Why did I say Roy Lancaster? Of course! You'd be the perfect person to do plant hunters.

Victoria said...

GM: Gardening with Cats - genius. Presented by Alan Titchmarsh, who has cats, I believe. Or how about Gardening with Cats, with Alan Titchmarsh - and Alys Fowler, and her Jack Russell. James A-S could referee ...

Mrs Be said...

Y'know Victoria, I bet you're really good at your job but I see a new calling for you - BBC Commissioner of Gardening Programmes (or similar. Does that title exist? Probably not).

I am a bit troubled that I may now have an IQ of a courgette because I love GW now TB is at the helm....

Love GM's idea of pairing up expert and novice!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I love the idea of a "Plant Hunters" program, especially one that would combine historical profiles with a reality-type segment following a modern plant hunter out on expedition. Climate Change gardening would also be a great, current-events type program. Actually, I like them all. Another program I'd like to see would be one profiling people who bring gardening to inner-city & impoverished areas or horticultural therapy programs.

Plant Mad Nige said...

Sorry to be so late with this comment, but I've just discovered you post, and your kind words. Thank you.

I agree wholeheartedly with all you say, of course. Geoffrey Smith's World of Flowers was magnificent in every way - informative, enthusing, beautifully filmed, well constructed and sparkingly presented. Mr S knew his stuff, knew his audience and was lovely in front of the camera.

I tried for years to persuade my contacts at the beeb to do things on plant hunters, always without success. Roy Lancaster is exactly the man for such a programme - see reasons given about Geoffrey Smith - and whatever his age, could not possibly be considered too old. He still jumps up and down with excitement, like a little boy, when he is enthusing about plants that he loves.

By all means have trendy, zippy, air-headed programmes for younger viewers and dilletantes, but please let us also have INFORMATIVE shows for committed, keen gardeners who love what they do.

Rusty in Miami said...

Hi Victoria, thanks for stopping by my blog. The cover picture in your blog is my kind of garden it looks great. Regarding gardening shows we have the same problem here in the states, very few shows and not very interesting. Is all about ratings and since we prefer to be out working in our gardens and not in front of our TV’s, gardening shows are not much of a priority with TV executives.

perennialgardener said...

Those sound like some great suggestions for Gardening shows. I'm not too pleased with what they offer here in the states either. Most of the good shows are gone now.

Ewa said...

I hope BBC is screening blogs for new trends :)
We have same problem here.
I wonder, how to make gardening interesting to young people if TV programmes are so boring...

Thank you for good wishes from Pushkin to Atomik :) He is much better now.



VP said...

I think I've just found the perfect new 'TV' channel. It's called Bath University Garden Society. How's this for a mouthwatering programme over the next few months:

Charles Hawes - Veddw House Garden,
Tim Walker (Oxford Botanic Gdn) - Plant Classification for Gardeners,
Meddwyn Williams - From Chelsea to Cinncinnati with Veg,
Peter Jones - Coping with Climate Change in the Garden,
Dan Hinckley - Adventures of a Modern Plant Collector, plus Val Bourne.

Gail said...

I want BBCAmerica to import what ever good shows you all are able to coax the networks into producing!

Regarding the US HDTV; their programs will only be jettisoned when they stop making them money! It would be lovely if the networks stopped showing the same bad shows and episodes over and over.


matthew wilson said...

I think part of the problem is that programme makers tend to think that gardening is, well, gardening - an activity much like cooking or fence painting or darts. I don't think the wider aspects, social history, ecology, conservation, landscapes, the environment, innovation, travel, etc etc, that are part of the fabric of the wider 'garden' and 'gardening' world are especially easy for programme makers to contemplate including in a programme.

I'm fairly certain that the Plant Hunters idea has been pitched many times over the years, including I think with Roy Lancaster firmly attached. The trouble is that if it is pitched as a 'gardening' programme it will always suffer the fate that James notes, too expensive, not viable - after all only two million people watch GW nowadays.
But if a Plant Hunting programme was made in the same vein as, for example, a Palin extravaganza (that's Michael, not Sarah) as an anthropology meets travelogue meets garden history and exploration, then it becomes much more broad based in its appeal. 80 Gardens went part of the way there, but didn't quite make it.

Ho hum. One day maybe.

Jane said...

Helen Yemm did a fantastic beginners gardening programme back in the early 1990s which was pretty much what got me hooked.

VP said...

Perhaps the pitching's been done to the wrong part of the BBC? The OU strand seems to be the one to go for. They appear to have ditched the sandals and beard look of the 1970s and are now making non-degree level programmes that at least have good information in them, put across in an entertaining way.

glass half full said...

Sad to hear of the death this weekend of Geoffrey Smith - one of life's gentlemen.
Maybe the BBC could repeat his wonderful "World of Flowers".

Victoria said...

I loved Geoffrey Smith, I loved the sound of his voice. There was something very soothing and unself-conscious about it. It would be wonderful if the BBC could bring themselves to repeat that series, or even bring it out on DVD.