Saturday, 2 November 2013


This blog post has been a long time coming but after I posted My Twitter Experience and was accused of being a troll by several people on Twitter, I thought now might be a good time to write it.
The whole thing began several years ago when I was sitting watching Gardeners World one Friday evening and getting exasperated at something and my dear husband posted to Twitter that it seemed #shoutyhalfhour was here again and it stuck. So before I go into the whys and wherefores I need to point a few things out!!
Firstly it is not a personal assault on the presenter. I do find Monty Don a tad patronising on the programme but he is only following a script and although it surprises me sometimes when things are shown that are so definitely wrong and I wonder why he hasn't picked up on it, he is a man doing a job.  Both his writing and his gardening programmes other than Gardeners World are fantastic as is the series on BBC Radio 4 that he is presenting at the moment.
Secondly much of the shouting is light hearted and positive. We all love to see Nigel and beautiful gardens such as Esther Rantzen's which was shown on Friday evening. We all love to ooh and arr over the plants and really enjoy seeing what other gardeners and nurserymen are growing and producing.
However and here is the crux of #shoutyhalfhour, Gardener's World ought to be just that. A beautifully crafted programme which offers inspiration, tips, help and aspiration to gardeners young and old, ancient and modern, and whatever their skill base, and sadly this is rarely, if ever, achieved. Seeds are sown and rarely do we see them potted on or palnted out. Cuttings are taken but we never see the result, whether good or bad, and all of us that have ever worked in a nursery know that sometimes cuttings don't take and seeds don't germinate but that is never mentioned either. Every year we see a presenter planting seed potatoes and sweet peas and hear tales of blight and the horrors of not scarifying our lawns, but rarely do we see anything new, cutting edge or exciting. New plants and seeds come to the market every year so why not bring them to the fore?
Equally in the UK  we have a tradition of small nurseries, all of whom work really hard to produce beautiful plants, some of which would often be lost if it wasn't for a handful of people keeping them going. We have amazing bulb growers and companies working really hard to produce us blight resistant potatoes, and we never hear of these people. Occasionally a National Collection is shown, like the amazing Asters a few weeks ago, but there are a miriad of National Collections out there that could be shown and rarely are. It's been proven that a mention of a plant on Gardeners World means that on Saturday morning the garden centres are stripped bare of them, so why not look at what can be done for the British growers out there and support them?
Equally, and here is my personnal bug bear, make sure that the information given is correct and relevant. If you are showing how to take a hardwood rose cutting, make sure that's what it is. If you are discussing the Chelsea Chop, go into it properly and talk about the whole process or it makes no sense and it will go wrong. If you are showing how to put Dahlias to sleep over the winter, tell the viewer that you're doing it early for the sake of programming and that really it's not necessary until after the first frosts have blackened the stems, or at all if you live in some areas. It is this sort of mis information that means people don't succeed and then feel that they can't do it or become too scared to even try. Sadly many are so far removed from the earth that they truly are fearful and so turn to Gardener's World for good, horticultural advice which often it just is not.
Gardening today is a whole mishmash of things. Often people have no gardens and become involved in community projects which are rarely, if ever, included. Our children ought to be inspired to garden too and yet I have yet to see a piece on gardening with children, although there are many great practitioners out there who do so and I can tell you, as one of them, that kids love to garden and are naturals as they don't worry it might not work. There are also some amazing gardeners up and down the country, many of whom open their gardens for the National Gardens Scheme, and many who don't, whose gardens would be an amazing inspiration to the viewer. There are awe inspiring allotments, school gardens, urban roadside projects, amenity landscapes and gardens, heritage landscapes, historic gardens, garden conservation projects, and many more, that are never mentioned and yet would inspire and offer not just help to folk who already garden, but to those who are also looking for ways to be able to garden.
As some of you are aware, The BBC are aware of some of these issues through viewers forums and I attended a meeting a few weeks ago where I was able to pass over 300 plus tweets I received from people saying what they thought was needed and they seemed to listen. Gardener's World is an institution to me and where I was inspired and excited by gardening from a very young age.. It horrifies me that there might be a generation who grow up without that and miss out on the wonders of working with the earth and learning all that there is to be learnt from the experience of gardening. Gardener's World is the only mainstream gardening programme that is available to us, although I have to say I have watched Beechgrove Garden this year and think a lot could be learnt from that, so it needs to be seen to be the best. We British are known as a nation of gardeners, so the presenter needs to be the Head Gardener for the nation as well as the patch being gardened on the show, so I beseech the BBC to up their game and improve the programme so that it becomes grea, aspirational TV.
And please never let any of us have to endure 6 minutes of how to jet wash a path ever again!!

Beautiful meadow planting this summer on a Bristol housing estate.


  1. Beautifully explained and argued from a position of knowledge and concern thanks for taking the time to write this

  2. Enjoyed readig this Sara. I think you're right on many aspects and i whole heartedly agree. The 'follow on' from a specific technique is rarely featured and like you say feedback on what sometimes hasn't worked well and why? is crucial to a basic level of understanding. afetr all it's the mistakes i learn from as much as the successes....
    The producers are terrified of going into too much detail when in fact for a few moments more we might grasp why that tree has been staked, or that one hasn't and what's the pro's and con's of bare root vs container grown individuals etc.... to be fair on the programme 30 mins is a triflingly pitiful amount of time that only allows snap shots of practical advice whilst the remainder is set aside to the pretty stuff. Don't get me wrong the need for inspiring visits and tours is crucial but don't sacrifice the content for the need to feature celebrity presenters and guests, everything becomes watered down or power washed.....

  3. Very well put and I agree with you about what would make good content for GW. Not that I qualify to comment really as I very very rarely watch it, although I might if your suggestions are take up
    Like you I love Monty's garden tour programmes and the new Radio 4 series, and there's no doubting his love of gardens and the natural world, so hate to criticise him - and I don't personally know him - he seems a genuinely nice chap. But he really doesn't inspire me to watch GW.

    I like following the #shoutyhalfhour tweets though! xx

  4. Gardening is such a wide field, as was graphically brought home to me judging a Garden Media Guild garden book award. The range of books included in one sub category was enormous and defied comparisons.

    There is this basic 'how to'. There is specialism in particular plants and interest in plants for their own sake. There are nurseries and garden centres and growers for both. Tree interests. Garden history. Allotments. Ecology. Garden design. Celebrity garden design....

    And then - gardens as part of our cultural heritage. I wish someone on tv would take that seriously and take it out of the hands of gardeners and into the area of aesthetics. (there's my preoccupation - and I have a sneaking belief that depicting gardening as being about taking cuttings and growing veggies is part of why gardens are not taken seriously. We don't see Grayson showing us how to throw a pot)

    To shove all (or some) of this into little slots for Oldies on tv is bound to fail?

    And how can we - with such varying interests and preoccupations, work together to bring change about? Do we need to split up more? Or unite?

    Look at the comments on thinkingardens this week ( and put that together with allotments, children and cutting taking. How can all this diversity work????

    Help! Xxxx

  5. Excellent piece. We find GW almost impossible to watch and this is NOT a personal attack on MD who is under direction for scripted segments. But it is not inspiring, if I never seen another compost heap I'll be deliriously happy and I'm appalled that so little is done to encourage viewers to support British horticulture, without which there would be no gardens as we know them now. I have no idea how much the programme makers know about real do it yourself gardening but the impression is "not a lot".

  6. I have watched Gardener's World for as long as I can remember. However, I do not get so much out of it these days mainly because, as you say, it has become very repetitive. It is the only gardening programme on terrestrial TV and I think it could 'do better' - incorporating some of the items suggested here.

    I also get extremely annoyed that during the main gardening months of the year, it is deemed not worthy of even being broadcast!

    I too, was bored to death at the pressure washing item - it just seemed to be a huge product placement for K*****r - isn't that against BBC rules?

  7. Adding my voice to your heartfelt blog, Sara. Monty is an excellent presenter, writer, broadcaster and all round media article which is presumably why the BBC went back to him for the programme as a safe pair of hands after the Greenacre debacle.

    But I think the baby got thrown out with the wobbly camerawork bathwater - notably Alys Fowler's creative/recycling/community minded approach and the domestic scale projects (OK, some were a bit crap, but the idea was right). The socialising between the presenters was horribly false too- but I suspect that was directorial clunkiness rather than suppressed animosity - it could have worked so much better.

    Now we have one man, apparently gardening on his own in a (comparatively) huge garden. No-one visits, or is seen to share the produce. There seems to be no social or play area suggesting presence of others, especially children. Potting compost appears, as if by alchemy, from rotted leaves and vegetable peelings. Nothing is every acquired from a garden centre, of course.

    This is undoubtedly a skewed representation of Monty's real world, but it is what is seen on our TV screen. It really is no wonder that younger, time-poor people in urban/surburban worlds with children, neighbours, wonky fences, small sheds, tiny greenhouses or none and whose main source of gardening stuff is their local garden centre find it hard to relate to.

  8. Excellent piece Sarah making so many valid points it is a shame that instead of a 101programmes about cooking they can't produce a decent one on gardening. Mind you if i didn't have MD telling me how he cuts his 20' hedge i don't know i'd cope!

  9. Loved this blog. Doing what twitter does best.. getting us all talking & sharing ideas. Only good can come from this.
    Ps always wondered where #shoutyhalfhour came from, now I know :-)

  10. Keep shouting #shoutyhalfhour... It's a great blog and I hope that the BBC takes careful note.

    I think that the comparison made by others with food programs is worth exploring. GW is to gardening on TV as Delia is to cookery on TV. Patronising, uninspiring and apparently directed by a corpse.

    Presumably the BBC doesn't want to mess with a format that apparenly 'works'. Perhaps we have ourselves as viewers to blame for this. After all, The Sun sells more newspapers than The Guardian and not by more accurately reporting the news. Treating your viewers like idiots, however, can only result long-term in having idiots as viewers.

    We need a breakaway program, aimed at the thousands of passionate gardeners who already know how to pressure wash a path but might not yet be aware of the latest plant introductions from the frontiers of botanical exploration or of cutting edge design concepts from German enthusiasts for naturalistic planting. If the BBC thinks, perhaps rightly, that Jamie Oliver can inspire ordinary punters to aspire to a better olive, why doesn't it grasp that there's also an appetite for better plants?

    The obvious strategy, until the BBC listens, is to switch off. Read a book (e.g. instead. Personally I did this years ago but I think there are still a lot of people who watch GW not because they enjoy it but because they've always watched it. Time to tune out?

  11. Gardening on television is dead and has been for a few years. As one BBC commissioning editor said to me a few years ago, "If it wasn't for the license fee we would have removed Gardeners' World a lot time ago".

    As a freelance television producer it is really frustrating that commissioning editors are so far removed from society they don't see how much benefit a down-to-earth gardening would bring to the nation. Channel 4 once remarked, "Forget about television, it's all about the internet." There are many websites leading the way which are run by amateur gardeners which are quite successful. Someone in television must take a leap of faith and transfer one of these internet shows onto a mainstream platform - but they'll never do it.

  12. GW is aimed at the mainstream. Although to most people it looks to be targeted at gardeners it is in my view aimed at a specific middle age, middle class gardener who will visit a mainstream nursery to buy some flowers.

    There is nothing wrong with that as it is but it doesn't reflect the modern face of gardening where people are actually interested in the plants, the industry and gardening in the broader sense.

    Sure there is much more current and relevant information available on the internet. However in my view the people not seeking out this information are are far more likely to be avid viewers of GW.

    I watch GW on the chance that something interesting may shown. A few months back we saw an enthusiasts tropical garden although again it didn't go into much detail. I also enjoy the programme as it is strangely relaxing.

    It would be nice for GW to reflect the broader gardening genre.

  13. michelle hiscutt5 November 2013 at 21:00

    Completely agree with the sentiment and most of your points. The lack of follow up especially - check some recentish tweets of mine.
    However I think you're a bit unfair on the plant collections. I can think of rhododendrons, hepaticas (at a specialist nursery), geums, asters in this series off the top of my head.
    But yes, if I was gardening in my old smal,l fenced, over looked garden gw would offer me little and they need to rethink the long meadow aspects. I also object to the lack of content when they are visiting elsewhere. It was lovely to see ester's beautiful garden but what did I get from that piece? The piece on giant veg the previous week; what did I get from that?! Show me how this is relevant please gw.

  14. It is in the spirit of the accessibility and openness of the internet - rather than defending any fixed TV position - that I dip a tentative toe in these waters.
    I agree with a great deal of what is said in this piece - and think it said elegantly and with perceptive wit.
    But... there are assumptions made that really need challenging. For a start, everyone involved in the making of GW thinks and discussing everything mentioned here in great detail. Of course we do - just as everyone reading this would do if they were in our shoes. The idea that a blinkered team deliberately sets out to make a restricted programme for a small section of viewers is bonkers. By the same token all of us think we - and everyone we know - are much more representative than we actually are. GW is now getting about 2.4 million viewers a week. If a million agreed with you - and all the evidence is that they wouldnt - then they would still be in a minority.
    Which comes back to the central problem of making a magazine programme of any kind but particularly in a field that is linked so directly to people's own domestic lives: you really cannot ever please all the people any of the time. At best you treat people with enough honesty and engagement that they hang on in whilst this particular bit that irritates or bores them passes. It was ever thus. Anyone who thinks that there was a golden age of gardening on telly needs to go back and review the evidence.
    The second point is that any individual programme is always set in the context of what we have done or are going to do that year. Analyse the content across a year and I am confident that there is plenty there for every kind of gardener. We do follow most things up, All seed sowing, cuttings, and plantings are genuine, really there, really growing. There is no jiggery pokery. It is all real. I have worked on lots of gardening programmes over the years and none were particularly closer to the mark than the current GW. If you knew the reluctance of the television hierarchy (as referred to in one of the above comments) to comission ANY gardening on television, and if you were aware of the time constraints and technical problems involved with filming then you would realise that although inevitably a compromise, it it aint bad.
    Most gardeners are unsure, inexperienced, anxious and tentative. Cater to this majority and the more experienced minority feel patronised or dumbed down. Tricky. Many many people ask how to deal with slippery paths. Many, many viewers worry much more about that than any plant content at all. Inevitably information is condensed and reduced simply to fit the allotted 2 or 3 minutes available.
    But I dont think that this matters terribly Most of the time my main intent is to enthuse people to have a go and learn from direct experience. Some straight didactic stuff is part of it but a much subtler, broader inspirational role is just as important. And it works. Lots of people love the programme just the way it is - even i people feel condescending towards them for doing so.
    As for my own garden - well I make no apologies of any kind of that. It is what Sarah and I have made. It is how we want it. If you dont like it then too bad. And you need a large garden for filming (it is appreciably smaller than Barnsdale or Berryfields) simply to provide the editorial content in a way that can be planned and filmed. making 30 odd programmes a year without repeating yourself too much needs a wide variety of editorial content.

    But please continue all comments and criticisms. I read as much as I can in the spirit of genuine willingness to learn and approve. Yes GW could be better but we have no complacency about it at all and I am proud of it.

  15. Have seenMonty speak about building his current garden live at the Manchester Dig It festival.
    The TV show doesn't seem to go back to stuff, but I don't always watch it as it's on a time when I'm probably out on the allotment or in the greenhouse. It's only during winter when I'm likely to be sat down indoors.
    It'd be nice to have them compile all the actual gardening bits into a show and have the looking round other people's gardens as a separate thing.

  16. Come to this somewhat late, especially as TV land think that gardens have shut up shop for the year. Think things went wrong for GW when Monty left the first time. Thing most hands-on gardeners were enjoying the Carol/Alys axis, then the Beeb decide it needs yet another middle class male at the head. One who, though trained in horticulture, only came to life when doing construction type projects.

    The along comes i-player, and us southern softies are able to discover the illicit joys of Beechgrove. Here was a programme that packed much more into 30 minutes, was cheerfully instructional and very much in touch with the ordinary gardener. The many community projects are heartening, and the problem corner segments are sensible as much as practical. Some may point out that it is only for Scotland, but GW is very anglocentric - the producers seem to get a nosebleed at the sight of roadsigns mentioning the Lake District, and woe betide you if ever there is a suggestion to broach the western bank of the Severn.

    Jim & George may be the horticultural equivalent of Jack & Victor, but there's still as much life in them as they have knowledge to share. However, we do need a new generation of gardeners on primetime - fast.

  17. So glad to finally understand where this hashtag came from.