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Those Inspiring British Gardening Programs

October 29, 2021

Gardeners WorldIn the early 2000s, I enjoyed getting inspiration from gardening shows on HGTV (before that cable channel morphed into “real estate TV”). One of my favorites was a British program called The City Gardener, which featured garden designer Matt James helping city people to transform their back gardens into usable, beautiful spaces. I was sad when The City Gardener disappeared from American television, and I was never able to find anything else remotely like it – until this year.

During the pandemic, I treated myself to a subscription to the British streaming service, Britbox. At first, I indulged my love of BBC dramas.  Then, one night when I was having trouble falling asleep, I made myself comfortable on the living room sofa and watched the first hour of the BBC’s three-day coverage of the Royal Horticultural Society’s 2021 Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival. It was both soothing and interesting, and I watched the remaining two episodes on subsequent evenings. When I got to the end of the Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, I searched Britbox for other gardening programs and found my way to The Instant Gardener, a garden design series that reminded me very much of my old favorite, The City Gardener. When I came to the end of The Instant Gardener, I watched more BBC coverage of RHS flower shows and then decided to try out Carol Klein’s Life in a Cottage Garden. I quickly became addicted to this series, which, in six episodes, takes us through a year in Carol’s North Devon garden (two months per episode). When I got to the end of the sixth episode, I had all kinds of new ideas to try out in my own garden, but I also felt bereft.

Eventually, this fall, I found my way to the granddaddy of all British gardening shows, Gardeners’ World, a much-loved favorite that has been on the air for more than fifty years. Each weekly episode begins with the host (usually Monty Don) working in his own garden, seemingly unaware of the viewers, until he looks up and says, “Hello. Welcome to Gardeners’ World.” At the end of the program, we are given a list of “jobs for the weekend.” These bookends highlight the intimate feel of Gardeners’ World, where viewers are invited into the gardens of experts and given practical, helpful tutorials and advice.

When I first tuned into Gardeners’ World in September, two seasons were available on Britbox, 2020 and 2021, so I began with the first episode of the 2020 season. As the season began airing in early spring of 2020, the UK was in the throes of its first wave of Covid-19 and the country was in lockdown. The BBC gamely worked to produce a weekly television show under these circumstances. At first, Monty Don was fitted out with a stationary camera in his garden that he could position himself in front of to film. This was soon replaced by a set of motion-activated remote cameras that allowed him to move around in the garden. The early programs focused not only on early spring garden tasks, but also on practical advice about how to make do when garden centers were not open.

As Maine has struggled with a stubborn and discouraging surge of Delta variant infections in September and October, I’ve been both comforted and inspired by the way Brits dug into their gardens during their 2020 Covid lockdown. So avid were viewers for gardening information and inspiration that the BBC decided to expand Gardeners’ World from its long-standing thirty-minute format to sixty minutes each week. Each hour-long episode included footage of various BBC garden presenters in their own gardens; and, at a time when British gardens that would normally be open to the public were closed, the show aired archived footage of visits to famous gardens. When, one week, Monty Don invited viewers to send in short videos of their own gardens, the response was immediate and enthusiastic. Thousands of videos arrived, and the program began to feature several of them each week. These home videos ranged from experienced gardeners sharing both their gardens and gardening tips to new gardeners sharing their first attempts. The range of gardens was amazing: There were home gardens and allotments, ornamental gardens and vegetable gardens, gardens created entirely of houseplants inside high-rise urban flats, balcony gardens, and even a vegetable garden grown entirely in containers on the roof of a houseboat. The videos of kids showing off their gardening efforts were especially charming. Taken as a whole, the viewers’ videos emanated an inspiring “we’re all in this together,” can-do spirit, and provided a sense of community that enhanced the feelings of connectedness already created by Gardeners’ World.

This weekend, I will watch the last episode of the 2020 Gardeners’ World season, originally aired about a year ago as gardens were going into winter dormancy. As my own garden enters the dreary month of November, I’ll turn the clock back to spring and look to the 2021 season of Gardeners’ World for winter warmth and inspiration.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Julie permalink
    October 29, 2021 8:07 pm

    I remember The City Gardener! I loved that guy & Paul the Gardening Guy! His old shows are on Discovery+ now. I’ve also become addicted to Carol Klein and Monty Don. I can also recommend this channel: https://hdclump.com/ for older episodes of those favorites. Thanks for this post. Nice to be reminded of the City Gardener!

    • November 1, 2021 4:56 pm

      Julie, Thanks for the channel recommendation. I think that The City Gardener had many devoted fans. I looked up what Matt James has been up to since, and he seems to be working on garden design and horticulture for the Eden Project in Cornwall.

  2. Pat Leuchtman permalink
    October 30, 2021 4:25 pm

    Why didn’t I think of this? We have BritBox, but I never thought about searching out gardens and gardeners. Thank you!

  3. October 31, 2021 12:52 pm

    I love the new banner picture, Jean. I was also on Gardener’s World for all of 30 seconds (they came in late September when the garden was going over and part-completed). After the garden is “finished” and listed on NGS, I’m hoping I can ask them to come back and star it for a bit longer!

    • November 2, 2021 5:18 pm

      Sunil, How exciting! Congratulations on your thirty seconds of fame. Was this in 2021? I’m about to begin watching the 2021 season of Gardeners’ World; I’ll look for you when I get to the September episodes.

  4. Laura E. Ouellette permalink
    November 7, 2021 2:04 pm

    Hi, Jean. I appreciated your comments on the British gardening shows. I have found the British baking shows to be a kinder, gentler version of Chopped! There is already plenty of competition and stress in life. I don’t need to tune in to more!
    Love your blog!

  5. Thomas permalink
    November 16, 2021 1:04 am

    I agree totally. the garden shows have brought much joy.

  6. November 29, 2021 9:24 am

    You tempt me to look at Britbox – I didn’t think of gardening.

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