Are gardens and gardeners being well served by the garden media? Are we fed up of seeing the same old faces, giving us the same old snowdrops every week? Here’s Matthew Appleby’s opinion about it. Happy Christmas, everyone!!
Anne Wareham, editor.
This piece came about when I read several articles on thinkingardens analysing the RHS The Garden magazine. They were all written by non-journalists. I wondered why. Anne Wareham says no hacks had offered her anything.
So I offered her something.
My initial observation is that celebs are taking over as garden columnists. Diarmuid Gavin is at the Daily Mirror on a Saturday, having taken over from the less well known Pippa Greenwood last year. Carol Klein replaced Adrienne Wild last month as the gardening writer for the Sunday Mirror. Also at Trinity Mirror, TV gardener David Domoney recently took over from Steve Riches at the Sunday People.
Titchmarsh does the Express and Monty Don, the Mail. Monty used to be in the Observer but the Mail has a wider readership and is known for paying most.
At the Guardian, a few years ago they had a three-way interview for a new face, around the time of the death of the late Christopher Lloyd. Lia Leendertz beat Alys Fowler to the job, but a year or two later Alys got a call to write her now regular weekly column – not long after she first appeared on the telly.
No-one’s really made the step up from blogging to paid column writing. And bloggers are just as able to guff on off the top of their heads as paid gardening journalists. Though I’d argue that garden blogging is so incestuous and awful that it has almost killed itself.
There are big differences between writing a column, writing news and writing features. They are pretty blurry in gardening as gardening publications don’t really publish proper features that tackle an issue or personality by talking to more than one person to establish different viewpoints. News barely exists in gardening, so hints and tips and plants and garden profiles are the basis of garden hackery.
But columnists are everywhere. Maybe because they aren’t always paid for. They fill space. And they should generate reader feedback.
There are opportunities for garden columns out there to replace the inimitably fogeyish and once ubiquitous Ursula Buchan. Ursula went out on a high, winning the 2011 Garden Media Guild columnist of the year. Judges were looking for “writing that expressed opinions, stimulated reaction and revealed something of the personality that produced them”. Sounds easy. Clearly isn’t.
This definition is pretty good. Garden columnists should create their own news – and kick off rows. Most columnists simply react to what other people have dug up. Or witter inanely.
The only two columnists who consistently get people going are Tim Richardson and Anne Wareham. Tim Richardson is a thought-provoking poseur in the Telegraph and in the (terrible) Garden Design Journal monthly. He kicked off a big row in there after criticising London College of Garden Design recently. London College of Garden Design directors were most irate. Garden Design Journal editor, Jackie Bennett even had to say in the next issue that an editorial slip (!) meant the name was included when it shouldn’t have been.
Anne Wareham creates her own news too – see the Yellow Book row she engineered by slagging off the National Gardens Scheme while opening her garden for the …National Gardens Scheme. The National Gardens Scheme got upset, in case you didn’t know.
Like most critics, Tim Richardson and Anne Wareham don’t like receiving criticism. Anne admitted she was thin-skinned when I talked to her about her book last year, while Tim called me “weird” this year for saying his Chelsea Fringe was more a media than a gardening event.
Anyway, I asked Colin Hambidge, who has studied the gardening press for 20 years, for his view, because he has fewer chips on his shoulders than me: “Some columns look as though they have been produced on auto-pilot, with the same people writing about the same things (it may even be the same articles) year after year.
It saddens me that through the years the columns now appear to be written more by designers than by horticulturists and people who grow plants. I also get the impression there is a self-appointed garden-writing elite, which is not good for gardening or writing.”
Matthew Appleby – profile and articles at Horticulture Week