Are we fed up of them all? by Matthew Appleby

December 21, 2012

in Articles, General Interest

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.

Physalis Veddw copyright Anne Wareham

Matthew Appleby:

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.

Cotoneaster berries, Veddw copyright Anne Wareham

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.

Physalis, Veddw copyright Anne Wareham

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

Matthew Appleby thinkingardens

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Ken Lockwood January 24, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Whilst strolling through the (internet) park one day in the merry merry (bugger it’s still only January) ….. anyways I came across this site, and wow like Monty’s replying to Matthew and I’m sure I know the names of one or two more folk putting their twopenny worth in!
I do agree with Matthew though, I find reading many of the newspaper garden columnists pretty boring stuff, they seem more like twitter garblings with little meat to them. It’s like, no disrespect intended Monty, but I actually liked old Toby on Gardeners World, and even cooky Alys, for being a bit ‘experimental’, overall the gardening press (and telly) seems to shy away from such things, they’re staid and boring.
Sick of trying to grow anything the molluscs won’t eat here at 650ft in the cold wet Pennines I’m starting anew in East Yorkshire. So the sweetie shop is full of possibilities. I want to be regaled by interesting views on whether Tayberrys are better than Loganberrys, or even that Boysenberrys have the better flavour? That interesting meadow, what was that dianthus he used, what were the grasses that added subtlety, if it were damper could that flos cuculi substitute? Prairie planting on a shoestring?
But most of the time it’s “time to get the veg in”, just look at those Chelsea Show Gardens (like I ain’t got £200k), and worst of all, imagine what I’m saying because there ain’t no pictures!!
Bees Bugs and Birds (and I don’t mean Carol bending over sans bra for the camera) I want hardiest Agastache, national collection of Nepeta , single flowered Roses, do they attract insects?
We’re the public, sock it to us?!

annewareham January 24, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Try blogs – seems to me that’s where those questions get answered? Though not here – a grow your own and veggie, even plant free, site!

Claire Austin January 24, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Well done Ken for saying what many of the gardening public are thinking. After all what is gardening about if not solving the problems nature throws at us!

Ken Lockwood January 24, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Terribly sorry, should have read the website http more carefully, thinking (about) gardens, mmm not sure how that entirely works, however before you explain …. I’m gone … no plants? no lawn? no snails …. can’t exactly think about a garden without them … nevermind

annewareham January 24, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Lots of people can though! XXXX

Pip January 24, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Hi Ken,
I really liked what you were saying. It’s not just about which is the variety that scores the highest on all counts, I want to know about the comparative merits of varieties, the particular traits that make a variety worth growing and which ones are gawky as youngsters but turn into real beauties once given the chance.

Most TV gardeners don’t know because they don’t grow them all and, to be fair, couldn’t as their job is media rather than gardening.

I still go back consistently to Beth Chatto, Christopher Lloyd and Graham Stuart-Thomas as their books are about real experience and it is a real treasure!

Claire Austin January 25, 2013 at 8:48 am

This is one of the great problems. Publishers are no longer publishing gardening books like they used to. This means that many new plants are not getting highlighted by those who grow them.

Ken Lockwood January 25, 2013 at 10:50 am

When I walk around Bradford, there I’ve owned up, I check out other peoples gardens and wonder whether anybody is at all interested in them as a place of leisure, creativity, being part of nature. Few gardens will ever look like Chelsea I know, some may be kept ‘tidy’ by folk of a certain age, yet interest in gardens, in connecting with the outside world for those below retirement age is non-existent! As a by-the-way, many gardens in rural East Yorkshire, like the village where I hope to squander my final years with single roses, nepeta, echinacea and as many little darlings I find covered in bees at the garden centre, are equally bereft of ‘life’.

However I digress, so thinking gardens, more media about transplanting shorter Newby Hall long borders, with it’s throng of bees and butterflies, into ‘normal’ gardens. More Sarahs transforming municipal areas into havens, more books on creating practical real gardens (and ponds) rather than chic London pied a terres. And lastly, education, to get into politicians necks to get gardening & horticulture on the curriculum. What other pastime is as sublime, rewarding and healthy?

Ken Lockwood January 26, 2013 at 7:15 am

Oooops, stating to get a bit ‘ranty’ there, sorry. Now then, how to fill a 40m x 13m wodge of almost nothingness with bee magnets? Gosh they were generous with 1947 council semis. Need more sheets of cardboard, 6-9 months of lasagne and I’ll be able to get my prairie started, ain’t been easy starting off all those plants from seed, dianthus cartiwotsit, stipa tenuisima (seed borrowed from entrance to Bressingham) rudbeckia Goldstorm…. wonder if Roanne/Reighton Nurseries will grow them Nepeta Parnassica seeds I popped through the letterbox? …. that faassinii edging is amazing, has anyone ever had 26 tortoiseshells underneath their kitchen window? Anyways, I’m off to think about my garden ……………. 600ft lower, hardly any snails … drier ………. sorry you can carry on now ……..

william martin January 26, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Dear Mr Lockwood,
I am enjoying your writing mucho! A breath of fresh air! Write a book? Please carry on…

Claire Austin January 26, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Seconded!

allan becker January 5, 2013 at 8:48 pm

Elizabeth Musgrave sees it clearly. Sometimes we forget that every season there is a steady stream of younger people who embrace gardening for the very first time. Garden journalism that we consider reworked, hackneyed, stale, and repetitive is fresh and exciting for them. Thank you, Elizabeth, for also validating the quality gardening blogs that stand out from the rest and that make traditional garden journalism somewhat obsolete.

Elizabeth Musgrave January 5, 2013 at 6:59 pm

The article is right that much garden writing/gardening journalism is dull and repetitive. It is also hardly surprising that garden television, newspapers and magazines are no more immune from the love of celebrity than the rest of the media. That’s because, as Monty points out, it sells. Some of the repetitive stuff is the result of the fact that gardening is a cyclical thing so snowdrop time does come round again, like it or loathe it, some of it is just laziness and some of it reflects the fact that new gardeners are always arriving. When I started gardening twenty five years ago I did read “how to” articles because I knew nothing. Now I would struggle to find one that I would bother with but that is as much to do with my own development as with what is being written. Nowadays, although I sometimes look at gardening magazines for their images, if I want to read something I read books, this site and blogs. That is where the interesting writing is to be found. If Matthew thinks garden blogging is “incestuous and awful” he needs to read a bit more widely. “Gardening with Bob Dylan”, “Croftgarden”, James Golden’s “View from Federal Twist”, “Beangenie”, “Artist’s Garden” and many more including some people who have contributed to this debate – there is a lot of intelligent, informed, witty and thoughtful stuff out there. There is fluff and guff too of course but a good blog has an immediacy, a passion, and can be written without the pressure to churn out another column or please a sponsor. I suspect that this kind of new media is the answer for those of us who want to read garden writing beyond the run of the mill. Even ten years ago you would not have found good blogs and sites like this one. I doubt whether there will ever be a mass audience for this kind of writing but there is certainly a passionate and knowledgeable one.

Petra Hoyer Millar January 5, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Delighted to see a healthy comment stream being generated here, but admittedly am somewhat stumped as to the reason. Having read the article twice now, the actual argument somewhat eluded me. Yes, there are celebrities in the media, writing columns, presenting on tv, (as is so often the topic of choice on your blog), but as Monty pointed it that is unsurprisingly down to economics. The ‘celeb’ argument is pretty hackneyed, why not argue the actual content rather than whom is dishing it out?

Faisal Grant January 5, 2013 at 1:37 pm

My concern, which may have little to do with what’s happening in Britain’s gardening circles, is how the planet is being treated. I am a great fan of ‘high’ design but I’m also a fan of Everyperson going out there and doing stuff. In gardening, to me, it’s not so much about how good you look, but how healthy the life you’re supposed to be maintaining is. Love is what matters, not disputation. Our only problem might be that we have greater access now to one another’s thoughts and feelings, and so we’re saying it as we see it. It would be more helpful if we could get the other 95% of non-gardeners out there getting alive in their gardens, taking care of the world. That’s what it’s about, isn’t it, taking care?

allan becker January 4, 2013 at 11:39 pm

I have always been puzzled by the powerful role that garden journalists play in the UK. By comparison, here in North America, most gardeners prefer to “do their own thing” and care little for the opinions of others be they “experts” or neighbors.

William Martin January 5, 2013 at 1:19 pm

The U.K. has quite a different relationship to ‘garden’ than the New World and I suspect mainland Europe. That is why this discussion is taking place somewhere on that set of islands and not upper Sydney or central Connecticut ….their passion for ‘re-modelling’ the landscape historically has known few bounds!
In Australia we have/had a somewhat diluted version of the ‘old’ countries passion but the level of ‘media’ play is quite small in comparison and probably closer to the USA model..I often think this is far preferable to the ‘we will fight them on the compost heap’ approach.

Monty Don January 4, 2013 at 9:10 pm

I hesitate to dip my toe in these waters but for what it is worth, here is my penniworth. (and Matthew dont immediately blog it as though this is news.
A number of points:
Television, high-paying journalism, big name designers et al are all driven almost entirely by commercial pressures. Numbers rule. So if you earn your living in the gardening media – as I and a number of people posting here do – then you are pretty much forced to go with the numbers to earn your living. He who pays the piper calls the tune. Matthew and any other horticultural journalist would give their eye-teeth to get a highly paid gardening column – even if it meant simplifying and repeating those simplicities. Most garden readers and viewers are decent people wanting information and entertainment. They are, in some form, paying for that and you, writer or broadcaster, have to respect that. Having been a horticultural hack for 25 years and written for every newspaper and most gardening mags I know that I would rather be read by three million people every week than speak to 300 like-minded souls.

Television is a mass medium. Always has been. The more people you reach, the better. This does not necessarily mean you have to dumb down but certainly means there is always a pressure to. I think there is a compromise which is to try and simplify things and to inspire. Then people can move on and up.

Books are the medium in which one can truly express yourself – as Anne and others here have notably done. But gardening books sell tiny numbers compared to cooking for example. The great danger – as with the entire horticultural world – is that like speaks enthusiastically to like, everyone gets terribly pleased with themselves and their world draws a little tighter around them.

In the end the real pleasure is the doing. Almost everything interesting about technical gardening has already been said. I would much rather just garden at home than write or film about about it but if one has to go to work it is a pretty damn good way of doing it. So the best thing that one can possibly do as a writer or broadcaster is to enthuse and inspire others to actually go out and do it so they too can experience that satisfaction.

Er, that’s it.

Claire Austin January 5, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Well put Monty – your comments are very clear, and completely understandable and totally acceptable.

Andrew Fisher Tomlin January 7, 2013 at 10:25 am

Well said! I cannot but think that many people leaving comments here would jump at the chance to write a high-paying, high-profile column. Remember that for many garden writing is a business as much as any field in horticulture and writers will supply what a readership, whether novice or experienced, demands.

Why shouldn’t hard work and developing good connections be as valid a business talent as horticultural experience or writing skill? Indeed the ‘celebrity’ writers and gardeners I know have a wealth of horticultural experience and have worked hard to earn their just reward.

Unfortunately too many people within the land based industries view gardening and horticulture as a calling with low expectations of making a decent income and until they change this attitude there is little hope of us persuading the outside world (our clients) to pay a reasonable rate for our services, or encourage young people into the profession. At least people like Monty, Alan and Joe are out there spreading the word and doing what they can to raise the benchmark.

Rob Edwards January 3, 2013 at 5:04 pm

I have just had a look at what is said about the current gardening media establishment. Not just in the UK, but wordwide. A lot of things there I would agree with. But also some I might take issue with.

I really think it does all need shaking up. But then I always have. It’s very much the same old coterie, the same old guard. The same old designers/gardeners/writers who meet up at various events. Who write in all of the right newspapers/magazines etc.

Maybe the vehicle for garden-writing is wrong? The lead time of magazine publishing means monthly editions mislead us. They are always an idealised version of a month that may never get here. In fact it almost never does. Seasons are too fickle and becoming more so.

The TV gardening is indeed all a bit fluffy and makes a ton of assumptions. Poor content, and all a bit too nice-nice.

I’m not sure professional journalists should be quite so much up on a pedestal either, with bloggers decried as coming up with stuff off of the tops of their heads. What exactly is the greater inspiration given us by ‘professionals’. Much of what they write comes from a rather biased and even partisan stand-point. Or what has to be said this month in a column. I’ve done it myself. X-hundred words for…..?? Not exactly a free-form media foray.

It’s far from being only the the RHS that is complacent.

Hasn’t anyone noticed how bad, and often plain wrong, the advice can be from media gardeners? Often people who have gardeners. To be honest all of that is nothing new. The 1990ies saw a lot of media gardeners, who had their own employed professionals doing their gardens for them, and yet coming out with books on the subject

The only likely source of change is going to come from new media. I’ve done show gardens. Written articles. Done fairly high profile projects .Even won the odd RHS medal. Been a speaker for decades. I’ve been observing, reading and participating a long. long time.

But I do think that is all rather conforming to a system that favours just the few. It is indeed rightly observed that it’s only high-profile, well-publicised, and media savvy who get a mention. Not necessarily the talented. Nor the knowledgeable. Rather the well-connected.

annewareham January 3, 2013 at 8:07 pm

O, well said. Thank you.

William Martin January 4, 2013 at 1:28 pm

“But I do think that is all rather conforming to a system that favours just the few. It is indeed rightly observed that it’s only high-profile, well-publicised, and media savvy who get a mention. Not necessarily the talented. Nor the knowledgeable. Rather the well-connected.”

The same old characters hold the ‘rein’s for far too long and so too the pumping up of the name gardens and garden owners..not to mention the fixation with certain garden designers and book authors..A good example would be what seems to me to be ‘gardens Illustrated’ obsession with the Dixter/Oudolf/Kingsbury equation! Please correct me if i am wrong as i merely flip through the magazines in at the Newsagent shops! I coined ‘Dixter Illustrated’ at one point!
best banana’s
WM

Veronica Peerless January 3, 2013 at 11:17 am

Interesting stuff. Here at Which? Gardening we don’t use celebrity columnists as we know that our readers aren’t interested in them. We also know that they don’t like reading about other people’s gardens.
What our readers do want is solid, practical and proven gardening advice, which is what we try to give them. We’re fortunate in that we don’t have advertising, so if we’ve tried a plant or a product that is not very good, we can say so. We challenge conventional wisdom (eg putting crocks in pots). We ask experts (not celebrities) to give us the lowdown on why their garden or planting combinations work. We produce four pages of news in every issue which are very highly read. Our subscriptions are going up (while most gardening magazines are static or going down) so we must be doing something right.
And there are good columnists who aren’t celebrities out there. We’ve been running regular features by the extremely knowledgeable and brilliantly funny Bob Brown (of Cottage Garden Flowers) for a couple of years now and he is wildly popular with our readers. I’d wager that he’s the new Christopher Lloyd.

annewareham January 3, 2013 at 11:41 am

You’re right about Bob Brown – I devoted nearly a whole chapter in The Bad Tempered Gardener (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bad-Tempered-Gardener-Anne-Wareham/dp/0711231508/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1315303127&sr=8-1)
to his views on roses.

He’s a great writer, great plantsman and always risking being honest. Which may be why he’s been writing for years and has never made it as big as he should have.

Glad to hear Gardening from Which is doing well. XXX

Victoria December 29, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Thank you, Matt, great post; just what I needed to shake me out of my post-Christmas torpor.
I think the media should take a lot of the blame for this monoculture. There is an obsession with “names” rather than knowledge, and of course once someone is paid a lot of money, their employers want to get the most out of them, so we are presented with them ad nauseam.
I love Claire Austin’s suggestion of a gardening Country File, and I would really welcome a move away from the usual “how to” format. For instance, instead of telling us how to grow hostas, why not challenge a few famous gardeners about why they still grow hostas when they need so much slug protection?
However, I do know from experience that many many people seem to want “how to” gardening articles. Every year, there is another generation that needs to know how to grow tomatoes, or prune roses.
Having said that, I will throw up all over my TV if I see anyone else dig a hole on BBC Gardeners’ World. Surely even the most simple-minded person can work out how to DIG A HOLE!

Pip December 28, 2012 at 6:19 pm

Really good piece Matt.

The gardening media world is very much a clique you are either in or very much out of. Personally, I think it is a rather smothering world and I prefer being part of the “nursery” world where real gardeners seem to meet.

I would also commend both Roy Lancaster and Peter Seabrook for being the only two “celebrity” gardeners who know what is going on in the real world of horticulture.

Claire Austin December 29, 2012 at 10:10 am

I totally agree with Matthew about the celebrity status of gardening, but we should not condemn celebrity gardeners (after all Alan Titchmarsh did bring gardening to a wider public in the 1990’s). However it is impossible for such a small clique to know everything about gardening, and having to write and rewrite gardening pieces only leads to information being regurgitated from older writings and often leads to wrong information being repeated.

I have a pile of gardening magazines from the 1930’s & 40’s that make you realise how poorly served we in the gardening world. These magazines are full of stimulating pieces offered by not only professional gardeners but also ‘amateur’ writers. There was a time when our biggest selling gardening magazine, BBC Gardener’s World, commissioned writers from all sectors of horticultural (I did 2 or 3 big articles) but for financial reasons this is no longer possible. This flexibility is such a loss to the gardeners.

Gardening Blogs (good gardening blogs) are an invaluable way to get information over to interested gardeners but they are still largely for the very keen gardener and of course there is a world out who either do not use or want to use computers. I personally would love to see a TV gardening programme along the lines of the BBC’s ‘Country File’, a programme not based around ‘big names’, that encompasses everything linked (even vaguely linked) to the countryside.

matt appleby December 28, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Thanks for comments on this. Just finishing my piece on snowdrops. Witch hazel and cornus are in the bag. I’d like to see a few more pieces on Christmas cacti next year – hoping indoor Xmas plants will be trendy by Dec 2013. Also guerrilla garlanding (decorating park and street trees with Xmas decorations). Happy New Year.

annewareham December 28, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Bur will the snowdrop one be as good as this one, Matt? http://veddw.com/blog/ambivalence-about-snowdrops/

James Golden December 28, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Perhaps blogs, as Jack suggests, in spite of their limitations, are one potential alternative. After following this discussion for several days, I’m concerned that little about the garden media world in North America has even been mentioned. Perhaps that’s well deserved since we have almost none. Our few garden magazines are mostly “how to” publications for the beginning gardener, our horticultural organizations seem to be bedecked with status seekers, self-promoters wanting to be seen with the cream of the social heirarchy, organizations such as the American Horticultural Society with faces turned firmly toward tradition and the past, do-gooders wanting to promote community gardens and social improvement ideas using sustainable principles, or cynical organizations such as the Garden Writers Association, which appears to be owned lock, stock and barrel by Scotts Miracle-Grow. There is so much left out. You complain about celebreties taking over the garden columns in newspapers. Garden columns in newspapers? We don’t even have them, except for a few, intermittent ones. Is blogging or some future, improved form of blogging one way to make an end run around the limitations of the established gardening media? If so, we need a way to find sites of value amid the hundreds of thousands of “gardening blogs.” Thinkingardens is a start. I don’t know the answer. I buy selected books and read selected blogs. Like William Martin, I find reference books to be of increasing value.

annewareham December 28, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Well, I was intending regular reviews of garden blogs on here, which might take us in that direction, James, if I were to pursue it and if I can get them. Meanwhile, I will do an editorial inviting recommendations of the best blogs, check them out (!) and then add a section in the ‘Good Garden Writing’ section of thinkingardens.

That might help towards the process of making this a reliable, international compendium of good writing. I really begin to feel that we have a growing, communicating community of the best garden thinkers here. Thank you everyone, keep it coming!

XXxxxx

Amy Murphy January 5, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Jean Potuchek of jeansgarden.wordpress.com has been reviewing Garden Blogs for years. Geography is not a criteria for selection, she already reviews blogs internationally.
Blotanical.com is another source of Garden Blogs. There is no review process, so the discerning reader can decide for her/himself the quality of a blog.

William Martin January 5, 2013 at 11:01 am

James laddie… I have always placed decent reference books above the stage door Johnny stuff… It never ceases to amaze me the number of so-called ‘up-to-speed’ horti’s and dare i say it (I hate the moniker ) ‘Plantsmen/women’ who do not know the not inconsiderable works of the late and VERY great Graham Stuart Thomas. (For example) All those ‘prairie’ pamphlets und Lloydian oracles are like b-grade westerns in comparison to the timeless solid scholarly tomes he produced over quite a few years….this is the road to real knowledge.(a rare commodity with garden makers) All the fly weights will forever just come and go and leave nothing much at all. It is little wonder that few garden makers ever come up with anything remotely interesting in their own gardens…they read and follow the flimsiest stuff…Compost Fodder? Best Buckets, Martin of the Overthrow.

Claire Austin January 5, 2013 at 11:59 am

You are a man after my heart. Its about time GST was noted for his incredible (often caustic) knowledge about plants.

He was a close friend of my father’s and so I grew up knowing Graham Thomas (he used Stuart because when he began writing there was another Graham Thomas). He always kept a note book on him and if he saw anything of interest in a garden he would jot it down. His knowledge was hands-on. When I started writing catalogues I used his books not only guidance, but for style and content. He could be quick to criticise and on more than one occasion he corrected me on what I wrote. This is, perhaps why he is less revered than Christopher Lloyd who seemed to be a great politician (though I only met him once at Chelsea).

William Martin January 7, 2013 at 11:12 am

I would have to say that Mr Thomas’s perennial book is the most thumbed tome in my collection..an extraordinary slab of pure knowledge even after almost 30 years! He was pretty high on my short list of U.K.true ‘greats’ of the garden scene whom I would have liked to have met! The RHS MUST create something like a GST medal..the VC of horticulture….Mmmmmm

Jack Holloway December 28, 2012 at 8:10 am

An interesting discussion on a forum new to me, with some pertinent and amusing observations all round. Until recently South Africa was excluded from any such discussion. In the 60s we had a few doyennes who wrote worthwhile and informative books, and since then several good books have been published focusing on indigenous plants. Magazines were unimaginative and at best quality was erratic. Our only real gardening personality was a man who came to gardening via marketing. TV gardening was very limited, at times disappearing altogether. Over the last years a magazine has come on the market, growing steadily in quality and now supported by TV programs. For the first time in Tanya and her team we have a fun-loving, enthusiastic and knowledgeable approach to gardening media. But I can see them falling into exactly the same traps we are bemoaning here, and I think the realities of the modern gardening world dictate this: it IS suburban, it IS personality-cult based and finally it IS rather repetitive. Those of us with a more esoteric interest in gardening must not expect to find it in the mainstream but rather in the ‘specialised blogs’ of fellow spirits (like thinkinGardens 🙂 ) There has never before been such an opportunity to communicate across the world, and therein lies much to celebrate!
As I write this I am thinking: my blog started off in this way, but it also became a tourist marketing tool, and thus watered down. I have been aware for a while that this is a compromise, and am inspired to find the time and the way to ‘lift’ the serious writing on my blog from the incidental and seasonal.
In conclusion: the very fact of this discussion is proof that an alternative DOES exist!
Jack

annewareham December 28, 2012 at 9:45 am

You are right – and maybe we’ve actually arrived without even noticing. Thank you, Jack.xxx

William Martin December 28, 2012 at 10:56 am

“the realities of the modern gardening world dictate this: it IS suburban, it IS personality-cult based and finally it IS rather repetitive. Those of us with a more esoteric interest in gardening must not expect to find it in the mainstream”

YEP, YEP and YEP!
My garden in Australia has had more than its fair share of media attention from TV downwards (or is it upwards) over the last dozen or so years. Rarely was I happy with the dumbed down results of the cutting room floor or the editors desk….any attempt to raise the bar from the tedious ‘how too’ level of gardens by and large fell on deaf ears! (It is in the interest of the commercial gardening world to keep the average punter at a ‘beginner level as this is the area of large profits!)
More recently i decided to quit providing fodder for the toss and gloss brigade.(including 3 TV and 2 top UK magazine articles ETC) I cannot see the point of any of it if ALL its about is meat and 2 veg.

Paul December 29, 2012 at 2:15 am

Good points raised by both William (Australia) and Jack (South Africa).
For that exact reason of dumbing down is why Gardening Australia and Your Garden magazines are losing their readers and Burke’s Backyard magazine will be folding in March 2013. Major publishing bodies in Australia are only concerned about advertising dollars. Small publishers like subTropical Gardening have a different business objective.
And I agree with Jack that Tanya and team produce a good magazine (The Gardener) but one can see it has changed dramatically over the last 2 years since it got the television program and more into HOW TO and basics – yes I get a copy of each issue here in Australia.
Simple reality is… if you do not like what is available in magazine, do not buy it.
Alternative magazines do exist (here in Oz) but are far and few between.
I do not think magazines will completely die in the coming few years but there will continue to be a culling of titles that will get the axe.
Luckily internet sites can cater for the void…. but who writes them, are they qualified horticulturists or are they just ‘desk top gardeners’?

annewareham December 29, 2012 at 9:38 am

Thinkingardens offers a variety of horticulturalists, garden designers, ‘desktop gardeners’, garden makers – you’d be hard pressed to tell the differences I think.

Andrew Fisher Tomlin December 26, 2012 at 5:24 pm

I totally agree with Elspeth’s and other’s comments having been banging on about new talent for ages but getting very little support. It’s why I love judging for the RHS – you meet loads of new guys with loads of new ideas, people who are coming to garden design through many different routes ather than course based training.
Trouble is the media concentrates on gushing about just a few designers, many of whom have clever publicists. Many a time you see these designers praised for ideas that we saw in gardens from young talented guys first. It’s just lazy journalism I guess (something you could never accuse MA of) and a need by writers to be in with the ‘in crowd’. Interestingly two editors told me this year they were fed up with the same old names at Chelsea over the past few years but whether this translates into an interest in new talent we”ll have to wait and see.

annewareham December 26, 2012 at 6:44 pm

There’s a need to see new design talent and ideas, a need to recognise, as you intimate, Andrew, other good design than simply by media recognised ‘trained’ designers (am I a designer?) – and then some new challenging voices in writing and on the box/radio.

Not much to ask, hey?

Will keep at it and maybe one day….. xxxxx

Diana of Elephant's Eye December 27, 2012 at 10:59 am

I wonder if you have come across this Dry Tropics garden blog?
http://berniesgarden.blogspot.com/2012/11/spring-swansong-my-dry-tropics-garden.html

Paul December 26, 2012 at 12:08 am

I love this discussion. We in Australia have the same issues as any country.
Advertorial-journalism is rife with our gardening media (print/radio/television) … what products are they going to spruik next time? Is the mention of a product purely there for information sake or the result of ‘other benefits’? True investigative horticultural journalism for the public media seems not to exist, perhaps for fear of losing an advertiser.
Personalities on television will always be seen as a draw-card when it comes to print media as the print will gain the benefit of potential greater readership. This does not however guarantee improved content nor a unique perspective of gardening. I believe a fresh face in the media is always good as long as the expertise is there (both practical and in knowledge). Fresh face does not necessarily mean a young face.
We often see articles written in papers (even gardening magazines) that are almost replications from 12 months earlier yet the public do not notice, nor the publishers (or do they care?).
As for the relationship to cooking shows… it is easy to create jeopardy in a cooking television show (Oh no, they dropped the cake, will they make another in 20 minutes??) but its a bit trickier for gardening when plants take much longer to mature. A challenge indeed. Television decision makers are more likely to desire a celebrity that everyone already knows as the ‘presenter’ which reinforces the ‘old guard of horticultural media’.
As for blogging, it is great tool to encourage people to scribe what they like. There will always be people with opinions and that is good. Rarely will it stand up to the standards of good journalism but if it encourages two new gardeners to start gardening, then great!
Our wide climate ranges in Australia would logically infer we would have a wide range of presenters from all our climate zone. That is not the case. Top television shows (as Bill alluded to above) prefer the same presenters from selected zones but ignore other climate zones. Many local newspapers prefer to use horticultural writers from different climates rather than source a local person who would know a lot more (because of celebrity status).
Only in the last few years has it been possible for a new publication (subTropical Gardening magazine) to be created to focus on the ‘top half of Australia’ to address the warmer climates. Prior to that, most garden media was created for the cooler climate zones using ‘the old guard’ of horticultural media writers. The new magazine has allowed a new generation of fresh people to present their gardening interests. For this reason it has had a steady growing audience.
I believe the gardening public want to read topics that relate to them and feel that the writer is part of their community. Local content is important… as is having local writers.
Celebrities are fine but the more gardening media that is out there, the more people can be reached.
I’m all for more gardening television, print media, radio and websites.
Now…. how to organise that???

annewareham December 26, 2012 at 12:11 am

O, that ‘how’ question….

Nick Henley-Welch December 25, 2012 at 7:42 pm

I really liked your article, there should be more of this honest comment. I am also fed up of just seeing those egotistical designers who are furthering their own cause.

sehrish December 24, 2012 at 5:54 pm

I see no reason why the media (in print or TV) cannot provide the gardening ‘public’ which is a large group of people, with similar coverage to that which ‘Celebrity Chefs’ seem to get.The surface has barely been scratched with gardens across the world often designed with fabulous wit and flair,yet rarely seen or described.

William Martin December 24, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Hear, hear!

Tristan Gregory December 23, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Perhaps celebrity is required by gardening in the same way that Ikea furniture needs the Birchwood veneer to cover up the fact that it is just saw-dust and glue.

Perhaps rather than carping on about the symptoms those of us who care should focus on the cure.

William Martin December 23, 2012 at 11:59 pm

Are we not forgetting that Ikea is generally a well designed product? (like it or not)

The ‘cure’ methinks is to by and large ignore the fluff end of gardening media. A small library of decent reference books will always win the day over all of that waffle. Simple really!

Laila December 23, 2012 at 11:24 am

As a beginning garden blogger with no writing experience this post is one of those wake up calls. I have written the tips, hints and garden review and acknowledged that to become successful you have to go beyond. For the first time in my life I am doing something that I love, this post is giving me the push to improve!
Thanks!

Bill December 22, 2012 at 8:38 am

http://www.abc.net.au/gardening/video/download.htm

As for a different take on TV Gardening try Gardening Australia from ABC.
( See the attached link for FREE downloads)

Australia has multiple climates from Sub-tropical, Alpine, Temperate, Desert and Mediterranean. Thus they have a wide and diverse gardening climate and plant species which gardeners can grow and design with. (Also their Upside-Down weather pattern is rather fun to appreciate when considering Winter / Summer growing seasons). Even the TV presenters are more Alive and interesting than UK TV.

The UK has a mono-climate and thus it does tend to be rather repetitive and predictable which means its very easy for garden commentators to drone on-and-on in a rather boring and repetitive manner. Therefore I suggest we seek inspiration from abroad and not rely on being entirely reliant on our own home grown commentators.

James Golden December 22, 2012 at 2:56 am

The comments to this post are interesting. Amazing that some don’t get the point at all. Being American, I’ve encountered your writing for the first time. I like it though it’s a little like having my teeth drilled. Fast paced, clear and to the point, possibly painful to some. Refreshing. And I agree with you.

Elspeth Briscoe December 21, 2012 at 10:54 pm

Interesting article. Maybe it’s time to get some new blood involved. I’m new to this industry, and I do feel at times it’s like trying to penetrate an old boys club (albeit a rather pleasant one most of the time). Being an internet+gardening hybrid, I’ve offered to write a column for The Garden Magazine to help bring it into the digital age several times. No-one’s replied yet.. :o)

Elspeth
http://www.my-garden-school.com

Abbie Jury December 21, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Agree entirely. I notice that informercials by commercial interests passed off as garden copy isn’t mentioned – maybe not such an issue in the UK? Though I bet it is. However, the pedant in me says are we not fed up with or fed by? Certainly not fed up of!

annewareham December 21, 2012 at 11:14 pm

(google the expression? XXXX )

Bill December 21, 2012 at 8:08 pm

I recognise the need for a rebel, or a hooligan, or a ‘Jeremy Clarkson’ type to stir the compost and the the publics imagination. Heavens it needs a good shake and a shoogle to wake the public out of its gardening torpor.

So on with rebellion. The four seasons are a predictable progress of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. So there is bound to be a certain predictability of topic about the articles and blogs. But radical gardening and radical journalism requires public interest and support. What we require is a loveable rogue (Male or female). Who will stir the compost and see what springs to life. So who will we get to have the first poke!

annewareham December 21, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Do my best. XXX

The Enduring Gardener December 21, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Well said Matthew. Not much festive cheer though. Let’s hope 2013 brings some new talent along the lines of Christopher Lloyd.

William Martin December 22, 2012 at 1:52 am

Surely ONE C.L. in a lifetime is enough!!!

Lynnette December 21, 2012 at 6:20 pm

I started a blog which turned into a weekly column for my local paper. I try to write in a style that makes people want to have a go at growing, and it’s no big shakes if some crops don’t make it. I had read too many up-their-bottoms gardeners who primly stood by their beds and sagely told us all what to do… And if stuff died along the way we felt such a failure.

People in my town tell me they like it, so I can only go with that 🙂

Olga December 23, 2012 at 4:12 pm

I am so with you on this one, Lynnette – same idea, just in different language. .

And with William Martin, on general discussion, – could sign for it.

Paul Steer December 21, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Mmm food for thought, yes I ‘ guff on off the top of my head’, but isn’t that what blogs are for ? I have never thought of them as journalism. We will always need someone to share knowledge on plants and planting as each new generation of gardeners appear. Perhaps the frustration is felt most keenly by those who are already potted on so to speak. Yes celebrity is everything (if you are on tv you are an authority) As long as the ‘celeb’ communicates beyond the just ‘ how to’ and are not in tow to commercialism then I am happy to read. I’m just off to watch my blog die.

Diana of Elephant's Eye December 25, 2012 at 10:53 pm

no link to your blog? I’m hooked by
Perhaps the frustration is felt most keenly by those who are already potted on so to speak.
and would like to read more.

annewareham December 25, 2012 at 11:56 pm

What/whose blog would you like to link to (besides thinkingardens, I hope…) ? xx

Diana of Elephant's Eye December 26, 2012 at 10:54 am

ah sorry, I meant Paul Steer. He says sadly, I’m just going off to watch my blog die … and I wanted to visit him, but …NO link, so I can’t.

(and yes I’m about to add ThinkinGardens to my Reader ;~)

PS I’ve tried twice to leave a comment on the Noel Kingsbury blog review. Wonder if your spam filter ate them?

annewareham December 26, 2012 at 10:59 am

Here is the link to Paul’s blog = http://artinacorner.blogspot.co.uk/

I don’t understand about the comments on the Noel review – the vagaries of WordPress are beyond me but I’ll see if I can check spam..Thanks for trying! And for adding thinkingardens to your reader..Might try my garden blog too? = http://veddw.com/blog/ambivalence-about-snowdrops/ XXXX

Diana of Elephant's Eye December 27, 2012 at 10:45 am

(I had your veddw blog already ;~)

Pollie Maasz December 21, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Very interesting piece. There is no doubt that these professional writers are in a strong position to influence the general public and as such should be unbiased and informed. Don’t find this to be the case on the whole!

Andrew Fisher Tomlin December 21, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Well put Matthew though ‘irate’ probably is a little polite considering how pissed off I was by a poorly written piece that showed Tim Richardson rarely does much research and failed to look beyond a website homepage. That he lives and writes in a glorified world hobnobbing on the top table at awards (which he also criticises) speaks volumes. I can’t be bothered with the thoughtless, inaccurate, bullying attitude anymore and would quite like a refund on my GDJ subscription. Merry Christmas x

Stephen Read December 21, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Read any tweet or blog and you can find many gardeners complaining that gardening media across the board is generally dumbed down and rehashed every year, with very few new ideas or inspiration put forward.
I see no reason why the media (in print or TV) cannot provide the gardening ‘public’ which is a large group of people, with similar coverage to that which ‘Celebrity Chefs’ seem to get. The surface has barely been scratched with gardens across the world often designed with fabulous wit and flair,yet rarely seen or described.
I agree with Mr Martin, excellent article and its a shame but I believe the media may well be the death of popular gardening unless it gets a proper kick in the backside.

Helen December 21, 2012 at 11:49 am

I totally agree with all the sentiment above including the one about garden blogs although I write one. However, unlike many other bloggers I dont see my blog as a way of establishing myself as a garde writer/journo. It is a personal log and a way for me to chat to friends.

I find the general garden media dull, repetitive and predictable. There is little substance to any of it and as you say nothing nothing particular news worthy. I do think that Robin Lane Fox’s articles are interesting and at least he is prepared to challenge rather than churn out more of the same dross

Sue Moss December 21, 2012 at 11:15 am

I’m not one to enjoy confrontation as a general rule, but more arguments in the mainstream press would do wonders for horticulture. More critique and less fluffyness.

William Martin December 21, 2012 at 10:39 am

Excellent article Mr Appleby! Now I know why I have not bothered to look at garden related media for years..its such a big yawn! Wareham and Richardson certainly raise the bar occasionally and a few (that I have found) blogs are well worth visiting on a regular basis BUT other than that its a desert of same old same old.

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