GARDENING HAS not been known as a competitive sport - until now. Yesterday, one of the veteran figures among "media gardeners" dropped a figurative barrow -full of manure on the younger television and newspaper gardening stars.
Stefan Buczacki, horticulturalist and former acting chairman of Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time, has accused some of today's media gardening experts of lacking any horticultural qualifications. Worse, some of them do not even have a garden.
One of Dr Buczacki's targets is the popular BBC TV series Ground Force, whose presenters include gardening pin-ups Alan Titchmarsh and Charlie Dimmock. The programme has reduced gardening to entertainment, Dr Buczacki declares.
Writing in the Royal Horticultural Society's journal, The Garden, Dr Buczacki complains: "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 more about 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."
His gloom is about to deepen. Another new gardening show from Granada TV, Better Gardens, is due to hit the screens later this year or early next year. Its presenter will be the former pop star Kim Wilde.
In his article, Dr Buczacki writes: "Real gardening is not about the quick fix and the makeover. It is about the measured, methodical craft of horticulture through the seasons. How often these days do you see a programme that offers what Geoff Hamilton used to do so professionally? He gave you the confidence that he would be doing his gardening whether or not the cameras were present."
Dr Buczacki became the champion of scholarly gardening programmes when his entire Radio 4 team defected to Classic FM in 1994 claiming Gardeners' Question Time had become "too showbizzy".
"A gardening expert," he claimed yesterday, "needs to have experienced both success and failure and learnt from them. Yet 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 and horticulture.
"Even owning a garden is no longer a prerequisite. I discovered that one gardening correspondent - after working for a newspaper for several years - had just acquired his first garden... 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."
He also said that the work of experienced gardening journalists was undermined by those "for whom an ability to use e-mail and glance at a shelf of reference books seems to be all that is needed".
An ITV spokesman said of the Kim Wilde appointment to Better Gardens: "People may be surprised to see her in this series. But she's got everything - green fingers and glamour."
Alan Titchmarsh: May look more conventional than Dimmock. But do not be fooled. His first outing as a novelist, Mr MacGregor, featuring a sex-mad gardener, earned him the Literary Review's bad sex award for its purple prose. Female admirers have been known to chase him down the street.
Geoff Hamilton: For more than 17 years he was the face of the hugely popular Gardener's World television series. His death two years ago shocked colleagues and fans. Stefan Buczacki describes him as the antithesis of today's presenters, praising his "measured, methodical, professional" style.
Charlie Dimmock: Has been called horticultural Viagra. Her blonde, suntanned looks have been described as Pre-Raphaelite. Her enthusiasm is boundless, her bra non-existent, and her T-shirt has become her trademark. The mixture has proved irresistible on television. She also has impressive gardening qualifications. Reported to have won a pounds 500,000 book deal.
Kim Wilde: Her green fingers have hitherto been less obvious than her black leather outfits in which she sang eight top 10 hits. But two years ago she took a garden design course, was the star pupil, and word of her achievements reached Granada Television. Might yet make singing while planting her trademark.