It would be Monty Don, a man who doesn’t need to be introduced to England, where he has presented the BBC’s flagship gardening program for 18 years and where he’s a household name – and rather catchy, too.
Faithful viewers know that the opening sequence is just the prelude to an hour of horticultural theater or, more precisely, therapy. We could be taken to a flowered bishop’s garden; to a walled garden which houses the nation’s rhubarb collection (around 130 varieties of puckering); to a barge on a London canal that’s home to a trendy young model, dozens of potted plants and a three-legged cat. Then there’s Don himself as the glue that holds it all together, connecting segments to practical and timely gardening work of what is perhaps England’s best-known garden since Vita Sackville-West started writing about Sissinghurst in the 1940s.
Don’s floral idyll is Longmeadow, a two-acre garden in the west of England near the Welsh border that millions of viewers have watched grow and develop in recent years.
It goes without saying that the seductive retro, analogue and quiet program has offered relief to its viewers stuck at home over the past year or so. As a new series debuts in both the UK and US (available on the BritBox streaming service), it promises to continue delivering its doses of pandemic drugs.
But at least in its own country, “Gardeners’ World” has always functioned as much as an escape from the tribulations of life as gardening itself. First broadcast in 1968, this is a program that could only have come from Great Britain, where gardening is part of the national identity, and where garden furniture does not need to be be explicit or excited.
It airs during prime time as a place where the practical gardener can get advice and inspiration and the chair gardener is entertained. One of the first hosts was the avuncular Percy Thrower, who showed up in a starched shirt and tie, and dispensed advice by blowing on a pipe. He was known as the nation’s “chief gardener”, but was kicked from the show in the 1970s for appearing in commercials.
Don, who once designed jewelry for the London jet set, is harder to categorize. Articulated and smooth, he delivers his advice with the enthusiasm of a Shakespearean actor. The ladies love him, perhaps because he is the rarest of male creatures, suave and manageable at the same time.
I came to admire him a lot, because he dreamed of an ambitious garden, then set out to create it with very few resources and a lot of work. There is no doubt that much of the garden is now maintained through behind-the-scenes work, but when Don and his family came to Longmeadow in 1991 to establish their rural sanctuary, he had his work cut out for him.
“The house was beautiful but uninhabitable,” he wrote. He worked there for a year. The land “had not been cultivated for a number of years and was a jungle”.
This philosophy of maintenance and improvement persists in the show, where he does the work himself (at least on camera), and shows us how to make an impressive garden inexpensively. He always starts things from seeds, or takes cuttings or divides perennials.
His success is not only due to the profession of gardener, but also to the less obvious profession of making a television show. My theory is that television programs that attempt to show even the most splendid garden fall flat because the camera cannot adequately convey the dimensionality of a garden, its sensory effects, or its temporal qualities.
Don has featured travelogues from around the world featuring beautiful gardens, but I think these shows don’t perform as well as “Gardeners’ World,” whose strength comes from applying high production values to a down-to-earth subject: the treat gardening. Think of it like a slow motion cooking show.
It is this slowness that soothes. The camera relies on Don’s beloved dogs – until recently, two languid scavengers, Nellie and Nigel – who seemed terribly unimpressed with their fame. Nigel has since died, replaced in the series by cheeky Yorkshire Terrier Patti.
During the pandemic, the show invited viewers to send in their homemade movies, and what these segments lack in Polish they make up for with the authentic value of gardening during the coronavirus crisis. A young woman named Nicole turned her community garden into a place to grow dahlias, and she gave clusters to frontline workers. “I feel that dahlias fell out of fashion a few years ago,” she says. “I do not know why.”
We cut to Don in his garden. “I remember in the ’80s and’ 90s they weren’t just old fashioned, they were kind of seen as the mark of someone who didn’t have a great taste in gardening,” he says as he pushes. his wheelbarrow. “Just ridiculous, because dahlias are fantastic. “
Tip of the week
Old seeds are good for about three years, depending on the variety and how they have been stored. You can test the germination rate by placing a few seeds in a damp, folded paper towel in a plastic bag. Check the growth after a week to 10 days.