The Big Allotment Challenge, BBC2 - TV review

Fern Britton's gardening challenge looks like it will grow into something special

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The Independent Culture

Spring has sprung, so it's time for The Big Allotment Challenge, yet another one of these BBC2 crafting competitions in the vein of The Great British Bake-Off, The Great British Sewing Bee and The Great Interior Design Challenge. We can at least be thankful it doesn't have the words "Great" or "British" in the title.

Presenter Fern Britton was looking well. Dressed in jeans, with her hair in a casual up-do, she was giving it the full Felicity Kendal, although unlike that pin-up from The Good Life, Fern didn't fancy mucking in with any of the actual gardening. That was left to the nine pairs of "allotmenteers" (not a real word) who had been pitted against each other.

You've never seen 18 people get so excited about a big square of dirt. "Oh, it's so beautiful!" cooed contestant Shirley, as they were allowed into the walled garden for the first time. Kate and Eleanor used manure from their llamas (not a real pet) to improve the soil, while hippie Harshani grew her vegetables in sync with the phases of the moon. Family friends Alex and Ed had even brought their own worms from home: "Each worm has been individually barcoded and tattooed," said Ed. He was joking. Probably.

The 15 weeks of "allotmenting" (also not a real word) were mercifully condensed into a few short montages and then it was "Show Day". This is the weekly climax in which contestants present their triumphs or disasters to the judges. Former royal gardener Jim Buttress was this show's answer to Len Goodman from Strictly – gruff, but kindly, as required. Floral designer, Jonathan Moseley was so sensitive to badly arranged flowers that he called one bouquet "horrific" and the trio was rounded out by "preserves expert" (not a real job) Thane Prince.

In fact, nothing felt very real amid the allotments. It was a Secret Garden-like fantasy, walled away from real-world cares, a bountiful paradise in which the greatest worry was if the radishes would turn out woody, or the sweet peas would go to seed. A pleasure to watch.