Show Me Your Best Back Garden – tv review by Alison Levey

January 12, 2015

in Media Reviews, Reviews

I have been known to wonder if the New Perennial look is getting a bit passé. That was before I watched a bit of television….

Anne Wareham, editor

Portrait Anne Wareham copyright John Kingdon




tv10Alison Levey:

Review of Britain’s Best Back Gardens and Show Me Your Garden

Britains Best back Gardens 1For months and months of the year gardeners who watch television bemoan the lack of gardening television. There is the BBC 1 staple provision in Gardeners’ World, and the ITV ‘Love Your Garden’ and many people extoll the virtues of the BBC Scotland’s Beechgrove Garden. Suddenly, in the depths of winter, gardening television has turned into a sort of bus analogy: you wait ages for one and suddenly there are loads of them.

For this review I focused on Sky’s Show Me Your Garden (SMYG) and ITV’s Britain’s Best Back Garden (BBBG). I generally like to watch at least the first episode of garden television before making a decision on whether it is worth my time, so it was no great hardship to watch them both.

Show Me Your Garden tv still photo on thinkingardens

From Show Me Your…Garden

First is Show Me Your Garden, which first airs at 8pm on a Friday evening. Not the most popular evening of the week for television though Friday night is Gardener’s World night when it is showing, so there is a logic for aiming for that slot. The programme is narrated by Alison Steadman, but that is the one nod to celebrity in the whole programme, otherwise it is led completely by the contestants for that particular episode. I liked this approach very much.

The premise for SMYG is straightforward. Each programme features three gardens in turn. The owners of Gardens Two and Three go to visit Garden One. They read a descriptive statement of what the garden is mean to be about and then they go and inspect unchaperoned by the owner. The owner is made to stay in the kitchen or upstairs in the house so they can watch anxiously through the window.

Show Me Your Garden tv still photo on thinkingardensAfter the inspection the owner comes out, provides tea and nibbles and is gently questioned on their garden knowledge and motivation. Finally the owner of garden one either shares a garden secret or leads a small demonstration of some gardening skill. Then we move on to Garden Two and the owners of Garden One and Garden Three visit and it rolls around eventually to Garden Three. As the contestants visit each garden they award marks out of 50, so that each garden has a total mark out of 100. The winner is announced at the end of the programme and they win the Golden Trowel.#

Show Me Your Garden tv still photo on thinkingardens

You get to hear from the owner of the garden the history of their garden, what it means to them and what they try to achieve. There is also a helpful plan from above shown to you to orientate you as you watch. The programme is full of nice touches like this that do aid the watching.

Show Me Your Garden tv still photo on thinkingardens

Owner explains the eagle (I think)

Show Me Your Garden tv still photo on thinkingardensAlison Steadman’s narration is not obtrusive and also contains small helpful bits of information as they link from one garden to another, which are actually quite unnecessary but I think they thought they needed to do something. The first episode was entertaining and the lack of celebrity allows the contestants to be at the forefront. The gardens were quite different styles and the contestants made good supportive comments as they did their tours. Lots of oohs and aahs and wonderfuls.

Show Me Your Garden tv still photo on thinkingardensThe second episode was slightly different in that the contestants were more critical of what they saw. Not rudely so, but a real sense of discussion and doing that thing that I think most gardeners do, which is saying: “I wouldn’t grow that there” and “If I bought this garden that would be the first thing I would dig up” (or is that just me?). I found this made for a better programme. In both episodes I guessed who would win, but not from what I thought was the best garden, but from gauging the reactions of the contestants as they viewed the gardens.

Show Me Your Garden tv still photo on thinkingardensAll in all I found SMYG a charming, gentle bit of television. I was not hugely keen on the demonstration element that they ask people do to, though that grated less in the second programme as well. I had the feeling that the programme makers felt that wandering around a garden was not enough, but actually for many gardeners it is and I doubt if many non-gardeners would watch.

Show Me Your Garden on thinkingardensBritain’s Best Back Garden is hosted by Alan Titchmarsh, on camera and by voice-over, and is quite a different beast. On finding out that Alan Titchmarsh was hosting BBBG I feared the over-sentimentalism of Love your Garden which generally leads me to the off button, I was pleasingly surprised that this was not the case.

Britain's Best Back Gardens on thinkingardens

Alan Titchmarsh

This programme has a different format and is very much a Titchmarsh showcase event. There is no suggestion of him taking a step back to let the gardeners shine through. The premise of the programme is that Alan has chosen his top ten of a category of garden to present each week. Week one was ‘impossible’ gardens.

Britain's Best Back Gardens on thinkingardens - Dewstow

In the Grotto at Dewstow

The criteria that made them impossible varied and, at times, I was not sure why some of them were impossible unless they meant they were impossibly expensive to create.

Britain's Best Back Gardens on thinkingardensThe gardens differed hugely, they were not compared but ranked as we moved from 10: a London pub with lots of hanging baskets, you have probably seen pictures of this pub as it is well known; down to number 1: a garden that has all-round colour that is full of acers and conifers and again, you may well have seen a picture of this garden as it has been featured in the press more than once.

Britain's Best Back Gardens on thinkingardens

Alan’s favourite. Piet Oudolf, eat your heart out…

Britain's Best Back Gardens on thinkingardensIndeed several of the gardens were recognisable as they have already featured on various television programmes or been in the press. Some of the gardens were new to me and some were small ordinary suburban gardens. I was very relieved when the first what I would call ordinary garden turned up, it did suddenly make the programme seem like it might be talking to gardeners like myself.

Britain's Best Back Gardens on thinkingardensThe programme moves quickly, it has ten gardens to show in less than an hour so the visits are brief. This is a shame, some of the gardens I wanted to see much more of, particularly the ones on Shetland that looked worth a programme almost of their own. There were some also some odd inserted bits, such as about gardens in skips, which looked interesting but we moved on so fast it was just not worth including. There were fleeting elements of gardening tips, such as how to grow a pineapple. I am fairly sure Britain sold out of pineapples the day after airing as we all rushed to try this for ourselves, it was so simple and quite enchanting.

Britain's Best Back Gardens on thinkingardensBBBG is a romp of a garden programme. You have to hang on to your hat as Alan whizzes you from one end of the country to the other. He visits on sunny days and rainy days and makes comments about Tarzan as he sweeps his hair back. It was pleasant, non-challenging, television and I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would. So much so I have set the next episode to record, I had not expected to do that.

Britain's Best Back Gardens on thinkingardensThe two programmes do not compare as they are setting out to do different things. If I was forced to choose between them I think I would watch SMYG in preference to Alan. As I wrote that I realised that that is how the programmes seemed to me: SMYG was about gardens, BBBG is basically Alan looking at things, talking to camera, talking soothingly off camera.

Britain's Best Back Gardens on thinkingardens

Alan talking soothingly

Britain's Best Back Gardens on thinkingardens

Britain's Best Back Gardens on thinkingardens


Britain's Best Back Gardens on thinkingardens

Britain's Best Back Gardens on thinkingardensIn Alan’s programme everything is wonderful (lovely!) and wow, in the SMYG there is an element of appraisal. I decided that both programmes have their place and as winter viewing they work well and both have a gentle charm that is rather pleasing. I would not describe them as ‘must view’, but if you have nothing better to do/see then they should not displease.

Alison Levey    Alison’s blog

Alison Levey portrait copyright Alison Levey




Britain’s Best Back Gardens is on ITV on Tuesdays at 8pm.

Show Me Your Garden is on Sky 1 on Fridays at 8pm.

If you want to know what filming garden tv is like behind the scenes try here.  Or read The Bad Tempered Gardener.

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Chloe Gardener March 9, 2015 at 1:39 pm

Hello, Anne.

I have to say, I liked SMYG quite a bit. Didn’t see BBBG, but from what I hear, it could give me some great insight on what to do with my own garden later in the Spring.


Catherine January 15, 2015 at 1:36 am

Sadly, as I’m in Australia, unless I use a VPN to watch these new programs, I’ll never see them as they’re unlikely to end up being shown here. But I’m disappointed to hear that a one hour program tries to show TEN gardens, plus other bits, and advertising as well. Isn’t that about 4 minutes per garden? Why do TV producers who’ve probably never lifted a trowel think that gardeners like everything a such a clipping pace? It’s the antithesis of what most of us enjoy about gardening in the first place and I can’t imagine how AT can give any good design analysis in that time. That said, if I see one more garden shown on TV filmed as series of close-ups of various plants gently moving in the breeze, accompanied by soothing plinky-plonk music, I shall surely throw up.

Sarah Coles January 14, 2015 at 11:43 am

Don’t have Sky but will give Alan a go after reading this – though find him a bit like having to scoff a large box of chocolates in one sitting.

annewareham January 14, 2015 at 1:35 pm

Think it might make you just as queasy as the chocolates, Sarah…

Sarah Coles January 15, 2015 at 2:46 pm

Yes something tarter is best.

John January 12, 2015 at 5:48 pm

Can’t comment on the Sky programme as I don’t get Sky but I agree that BBBG was nice, easy viewing, despite the sometimes over-the-top gushing from Saint Alan (whose gushing I’ll take any day in preference to the sanctimonious so-called “Head Gardener”). But I think that covering ten gardens in what is substantially less than an hour, when you discard the ad breaks, was too many. And the asides like the dry basket and the skip gardens took more time out of what the programme should have been about without adding anything, as did scenes of walking up a street and so on. On the other hand, I did notice that more time was spent talking about history of gardens that deserved having more time spent on them. So I have also set the thing to record the rest of the series.

[PS – lovely photo of you, Anne.]

annewareham January 12, 2015 at 6:39 pm

(I know – brilliant portrait, thank you, John)

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