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
For 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.
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.
After 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.#
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.
Alison 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.
The 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.
All 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.
Britain’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.
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.
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.
The 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.
Indeed 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.
The 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.
BBBG 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.
The 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.
In 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
Britain’s Best Back Gardens is on ITV on Tuesdays at 8pm.
Show Me Your Garden is on Sky 1 on Fridays at 8pm.