TV gardeners ‘don’t know their onions’

Everything in the garden is not so rosy. Stefan Buczacki, the horticultural expert who formerly chaired Gardeners’ Question Time, has thrown a well-aimed haymaker at the media trend towards instant “makeover” gardening.

Television presenters and gardening journalists, he believes, often have little working knowledge of their subject and some never go near a trowel or secateurs unless the cameras are rolling. “On gardening pages, in gardening magazines and on television gardening programmes, I am frequently confronted by folk who are full of enthusiasm and good teeth but remarkably deficient in experience of horticulture”, Dr Buczacki wrote in the The Garden, journal of the Royal Horticultural Society. “Even owning a garden is no longer a prerequisite. I discovered one gardening correspondent – after working for a newspaper for several years – had just acquired his first garden.”

Dr Buczacki’s broadside against the “dumbing down” of gardening coverage came as ITV announced that its latest gardening show will be presented by Kim Wilde ,the Eighties pop star, presumably in a nattempt to rival the more earthy glamour of Charlie Dimmock, the professionally-qualified presented of BBC’s Ground Force.

Dr Buczacki, a writer and broadcaster, who defected from Radio 4 to Classic FM five years ago because he said Gardeners’ Question Time was becoming “too showbizzy”, blamed the trend on “lifestyle” television – the plethora of cooking, home decoration and gardening programmes. “Real gardening is not about the quick fix and the makeover”, he said. “it is about the measured, methodical craft of horticulture through the seasons. In recent years the media have discovered ‘lifestyle’ and gardening fits into the pattern. Television has largely followed the same path where the makeover programme illustrates a related trend. The most popular, such as Ground Force, obviously gives pleasure to many people. Good luck to them. At least Ground Force is presented by professionally-qualified horticulturalists. But it is no mor eabout showing people how to garden than Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook and Changing Rooms are about showing people how to cook and decorate. These programmes use their subjects as entertainment”, he said. “There is nothing wrong with that, but sadly they are increasingly being offered not as additions but a substitute for the genuine article. How often these days do you see a programme that offers what Geoff Hamilton used to do so professionally?”, he said, referring to the popular presenter of Gardeners’ World, who died in 1996. “He gave you the confidence that he would be doing his gardening whether or not the cameras were present.”

Dr Buczacki also hankers for the days when newspaper gardening columnists were among the great horticulturalists of their day, citing famous names such as Vita Sackville-West, Percy Thrower, Frances Perry, Roy Hay and Fred Streeter. He quotes one current columnists as saying: “I am certainly not an expert and have no intention or desire to be so. The science of gardening leaves me cold and my knowledge of botany is minimal.” Dr Buczacki said: “When I read another gardening journalist’s words, I expect to learn what a fellow practised gardener has gleaned and honed over many years. But these days it happens much less frequently. The gardening pages always used to be written by someone equally skilled with pen and hoe There are some today for whom an ability to use e-mal and glance at a shelf of reference books seems to be all that is needed.”

An ITV spokesman defended the appointment of Kim Wilde to the team of Better Gardens, a spin-off from Carol Vorderman’s Better Homes series, saying she was discovered at a Hertfordshire horticultural college, where she was the star pupil on a garden design course. He added: “People may be surprised to see her in this series. She has got everything… green fingers and glamour.”

A BBC spokesman said: “Gardening programmes on BBC1 and BBC2 such as Ground Force, Home Front, In the Garden and Gardeners’ World cater for armchair enthusiasts, amateur gardeners, professional experts and design-conscious outdoor stylists alike. Each week, countless viewers enjoy fun-in-the-garden Ground Force as part of a diverse range of garden programming and research shows these series encourage many viewers to have a go in the garden themselves. We’re pleased that Stefan Buczacki recognises both the popularity and professionalism of of Ground Force and we hope that he will enjoy more gardening programmes later this year. “