Tag Archives: Gardeners’ World

TV gardening

Filming Gardeners' World for the BBC (photo credit: Andy Mabbett)

Filming Gardeners’ World for the BBC (photo credit: Andy Mabbett)

Mark coined a new word for our gardening lexicon – to monty, a verb meaning to fluff around in one’s own garden with more pleasure than urgency. I do a lot of montying.

British gardeners will recognise instantly that this is a tribute to Monty Don, the lead presenter of BBC’s long-running Gardeners’ World. Sure we are watching the 2013 series on NZ television (Choice TV, Fridays at 10pm) but eventually we may catch up? Unlikely. It took us a while to warm to Monty who is quintessentially British. We felt very sorry for poor Toby Buckland, the previous lead host, when he was axed. Toby had earned our respect with the depth of his knowledge and his ability to convey sound information in an unhurried manner. But it appears he lacked the class craved by the audience and, we must admit, the episode involving peeing on your compost heap may have been a step too far. Now we have settled into the groove of watching Monty who so clearly enjoys pottering around in his own garden called Longmeadow, and he is backed up by very capable and knowledgeable co-presenters from around the country. It is light years ahead of any home-grown gardening programmes here. Sure vegetable growing features, but so does aspirational, higher level gardening that is concerned with aesthetics, the environment, interesting plants and design. And Monty is a dedicated organic gardener.

Monty's outfit, via Twitter

Monty’s outfit, via Twitter

While there is a great deal of critiquing that goes on about Gardeners’ World in the UK and on social media, I just think the Brits do not know how lucky they are. The running commentary on each programme (the 2015 series has just finished) often appears on my Twitter feed under #shoutyhalfhour. It was here I picked up the very funny series of tweets about Monty’s recent attire. My prize for the best tweet went to @milominder: “Monty Don wardrobe update: nonchalant actor in relaxed interval mode at a production of The Three Musketeers”. Monty’s dog Nigel is also a huge hit.

But the viewer who tweeted: “I like Monty Don but with my small garden most items from his vast plot just do not translate. Time for a change?” should consider moving to New Zealand where our only TV gardening is aimed at the lowest common denominator, pretty much lacking in anything of interest to more experienced gardeners.

In fact, I could suggest that we have the Tui Garden infomercial vs the Yates Garden infomercial. How many of the sponsors’ products can be worked into each short segment? The focus morphs into an exercise where the selling of branded product to a gullible public with deep purses takes precedence over fostering good gardening.

I don’t blame the presenters at all. I have met both Lynda Hallinan and Tony Murrell and have a great deal of respect for them. Both are genuinely keen, knowledgeable, experienced and professional. I would love to see them given the freedom to generate quality content that goes beyond that most basic level and using the sponsors’ branded products.

I blame the producers who have kowtowed to horticultural supply merchants, apparently with unsophisticated marketing staff who think endless repetition of the company name and hawking of often unnecessary product will increase their sales and profile. It makes me flick the channel switch to escape.

Tui is arguably the worst of the two.  Kiwi Living on Friday evening on TV1 is quite an engaging lifestyle programme. The fashion makeovers, food and architecture sections are interesting. So too is the interior design, even if it is not to my personal taste. The continuity scenes with the hosts, sitting chatting on the couches, are not too embarrassing or forced. And then there is the Tui Gardening Infomercial, masquerading as the garden segment. In case you miss the Tui product when it is mentioned, it is also flashed up on the screen for you to see. So too with the Yates products on the Get Growing Roadshow, but they also work on prominent product placement in the filming and they have a wider portfolio of sponsors to serve.

Mustard, in lieu of kale here

Mustard, in lieu of kale here

We gardeners deserve better and these presenters could certainly give us better if the shackles of the sponsors were loosened. There are folk who garden outside Auckland, who are not absolute beginners under the age of 40 and who do not wish to grow tomatoes, basil or kale.

You don’t see Monty Don and his team of highly professional presenters forever promoting the sponsors’ products. I like the gentle pace of BBC Gardeners’ World. It suits my montyesque gardening style.



The Chelsea chop comes to New Zealand

Lobelia, phlox, campanula, aster, pensetemon and coreopsis - all candidates for the Chelsea chop here

Lobelia, phlox, campanula, aster, pensetemon and coreopsis – all candidates for the Chelsea chop here

We are fairly dedicated viewers of the long-running series BBC Gardener’s World. Of late it has been on free to air Choice TV (interspersed with huge quantities of advertising) and sometimes it turns up on the Living Channel. There was a programme that screened here last November which demonstrated the technique of the Chelsea chop. I tried it in a small way and will be doing a great deal more of it this coming year.

The Chelsea chop came by its name, apparently, because at the end of the annual Chelsea Flower Show, many surplus plants were returned to nurseries. These plants in full growth, nearing or at their peak, were often cut back hard. Presumably some were plants forced into early growth to peak for the show and that early growth can be leggy. Plants responded with greatly increased vigour and put on extended floral displays with much bushier and more compact shapes.

Thus did the term the Chelsea chop enter the lexicon of English gardening.

Right, I thought. Chelsea is towards the end of May which translates to November in our hemisphere. I headed out with the snips to experiment. It seemed extreme because I was cutting off flower stems which were already well advanced. In some cases, I cut half and left half. I can now report that it works and I will be doing a great deal more of it next spring.

Important points to note are that we are talking about perennials here, not shrubs or bulbs. You need to understand your perennials because it only works on varieties which repeat flower. If you snip the ones which only flower once, such as irises or aquilegias, you won’t get any flowers at all.

I tried it on perennial lobelias, sedums, penstemons and asters.

The unchopped lobelias have shot up their flower spikes to over 1.5 metres and they have promptly fallen over in the welcome rain this week. The plants I Chelsea chopped are only a few days behind in their stage of flowering but have tidy, sturdy stems about 50cm high. They are much better in the garden borders.

Sedum, left to its own devices and falling apart already

Sedum, left to its own devices and falling apart already

Many readers will understand when I complain about the sedums which grow brilliantly from such tidy rosettes at ground level but when they reach a certain point of being top heavy, they fall apart. The Chelsea chopped ones are a more compact and holding together at this stage.

I cut the asters because I didn’t want them to flower until late summer and they were threatening to do it too early. They are just opening now, on lovely bushy mounds of plant, and should take us into autumn.

I see the Telegraph website advice is to do it with Campanula lactiflora (which can get a bit too tall and fall over if you don’t stake it), rudbeckias, echinaceas and heleniums as well. Their writer advises to prune back by a third. Essentially it is a more extreme version of pinching out plants at their early stages to encourage bushier growth.

Perennial gardening is our current learning project here. We have been working on it for a few years now and the more we learn, the more we realise there is to learn. New Zealanders don’t have a great record in perennial or herbaceous gardening. We lean more to bunging them all in together in mixed borders, or working from a very limited palette in large swathes of the same plant.

Sedum, cut back last November and holding itself well. Flowering is unaffected

Sedum, cut back last November and holding itself well. Flowering is unaffected

The mix and match approach to perennials is very English. They just do it so much better than anywhere else we have seen. Underpinning it (at its best) is a wealth of experience in successional flowering and good combinations. It is not just flower colour combinations, it is also compatible growth habits. This may be growing a naturally leggy plant (such as Campanula lactiflora) through a plant that is sturdy enough to support its leaning companion. It is making sure that a big voluptuous plant can’t flop all over a low growing, more retiring specimen. It is getting variations within the foliage as well as the flowers. It is getting the plant shapes right.

And it is not just peak flowering looking its best for three weeks of the year. It is understanding which combinations will take the garden through the season from spring to autumn, so as one finishes, another star takes centre stage. Judicious use of the Chelsea chop can extend the display, staggering flowering through the season.

There is a lot to it. No wonder people opt for mass plantings of the same plant. It is much easier. So too with the cottage garden which does not require the same level of skill. This type of intensive gardening is not to everybody’s taste but we are finding it interesting to learn. To be honest, I had not appreciated the skill that goes into putting in a really good planting of herbaceous material.

I will be doing my best impersonation of a garden hairdresser come this November. I will be out there snip, snip, snippin’ away.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.