Chelsea Flower Show is over. Take a deep breath. Step away from social media. Allow your blood pressure to return to normal. Yes, the Benedict Cumberbatch piece with his Mum was so bad that millions of gardeners felt their arses clench. Many gardeners spent the rest of the BBC coverage being rushed into A&E only to return shame-faced to their homes hours later after having a settee cushion surgically removed. The violence of a million sphincters closing all at once could be felt as far away as the Home Counties as we gawped at the talented Mr Cumberbatch reduced to a gawky teenager mumbling in reply to his Mum: ‘What do you think of this, Benedict?’ Mumble, mumble, ‘Wouldn’t last on my patio’. We all know that you should never meet your hero but there should be an addition to this: never meet your hero when they’re with their Mum and certainly don’t arrange to meet them on their patio to talk about gardening.
It revealed a simple truth that the BBC at its most ham-fisted is gloriously bad. You can hear the middle-management planning meeting about the BBC coverage: ‘We need to connect with young people, Tony. We can do this is two ways, Tony – we can make Monty and Joe keep saying young on camera (because young people like to be reminded they are young until they explode) or we can bring in Sherlock Holmes, Tony’. It’s elementary. It’s patronising shit. We won’t even mention Wayne and Gerardine Hemmingway. That was just constipation on screen.
The problem with TV gardening, from Gardeners’ World to The Big Allotment Challenge, is that someone has told the BBC that they have to appeal to everyone and that they need to repeat the same thing, year in, year out. ‘Oh it’s June, cut the lawn’ – fuck the lawn. ‘Oh, it’s November, let’s plant tulips’ – screw tulips. ‘Your garden is just another room of your house’ – no it bloody well isn’t, I don’t have slugs in my kitchen and I don’t spread manure in my lounge. Let’s face one fact, gardening is not hip, it is only hip to those of us who love growing. Trust me, I have never been at a party with Jude Law, Penelope Cruz and the reanimated corpse of Cary Grant to suddenly see everyone stop, the waiters freeze while pouring champagne, the hors d’oeuvres silent on the tongues of their open mouths after I have announced: ‘I am a gardener’. The normal reaction tends to be Benedict Cumberbatch with his Mum: mumble, mumble, mumble, ‘I don’t really garden’.
That is why I get concerned when gardeners are made over into ‘celebrities’. I worry for TV gardeners and fear that soon they will have an entourage akin to Kim Kardashian. It is only a matter of time before Joe Swift tries to be young and dismisses recycling because, like recycling, granite paving isn’t economical – not when you’re young. His young entourage will applaud and hoot like gibbons, and those on screen with him will want to appear young too and will agree by immediately donning ‘Fuck Recycling’ t-shirts, and those of us gullibly young will rush from watching our TV sets, dash into our gardens tear up our granite paving and heave it over the wavy lap fence it into our neighbour’s old garden. I fear that TV gardeners will fall foul of the cult of celebrity and believe that they are somebody, somebody who can comment on everything, that they will grow bored of manure and become hollow pundits who have opinions on TV. Oh bugger.
Images by Andrew and Carol Oldham, taken at RHS Tatton Flower Show in 2013
Life on Pig Row is the story of Andrew and Carol Oldham’s lives as they raise Little D. It all takes place 1,330 feet above sea level in a small hamlet on top of the Pennines surrounded by the Yorkshire Moors. Pig Row is the tale of their move from a semi-urban life at Drovers to a more self-sufficientish lifestyle in their cottage set within a quarter of an acre. It’s not quite The Good Life but it’s getting there. Come take the road less travelled with Pig Row, you’ll find it makes all the difference.