Television Review

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The Independent Culture
UNTIL RECENTLY, gardening programmes made no effort to appeal to non-gardeners. And why should they, when football programmes make no concessions to non-football fans? Gardener's World was just what it said it was, and, unless you knew the Latin password, there was no way in.

Garden Doctors (C4), and now Gardening Neighbours (BBC2), have changed all that. Anyone can watch these shows, largely because they have cross-pollinated the standard spectaculum horticulturalis with other more variegated television genres. Anyone, that is, apart from gardeners, for whom this is kids' stuff. Garden Doctors was even set in a playground this week, where the planting was done by children.

Both these programmes are of the "makeover" genus. Some cheery people from television-land parachute in waving a chequebook and tell you how to do up your space. The fact that the space is a garden is of purely nominal relevance. Makeover television is accessible because it has a narrative. It starts with exhibit A and transforms it into exhibit Z. It sometimes even pretends that the transformation can be replicated at home. Though not often, because, unlike in Changing Rooms, in gardening programmes "budget" is a dirty word.

There is something rather disingenuous about Garden Doctors' inclusive, can-do spirit for just that reason. This week, a schoolyard in Harwich was recast as a beautiful botanical playground. While transfixed with admiration, I kept imagining a caption flashing on my screen: the council would never pay for this. Presenters Paul Thompson and Ann-Marie Powell work frantically on their demotic appeal: the glottal-stop count is a reliable barometer of their enthusiasm. But dropping "Ts" would have achieved nothing if it were not bankrolled by several "Gs".

Both programmes listed the ingredients that make up one of those soil cocktails. Gardening Neighbours has been made on that sort of formula. For mulch it throws in a bucketload of Changing Rooms, mixes that in with a spadeful of Neighbours from Hell manure, and, as it's set in a cul-de- sac in Sheffield, tops it off with a fast-action Full Monty fertilizer.

The goal is essentially the same as that of Garden Doctors, except that the transformation will unfold over several weeks. Despite the title, so far there is no indication that the neighbours will be having anything to do with one another, apart from one polite discussion about the fate of a tree.

My guess is that by the end of the series all eight households will team up to string presenter Diarmuid Gavin from a municipal lamppost; he plays the cheery green-fingered leprechaun just a little too knowingly. Watch this space.

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