Things are far from rosy in radio's gardens
"It's just a small squabble behind a potting shed, there's no real harm done," shrugged Michael Bukht. Classic FM's programme controller was hard at work this week playing down the resignation of Daphne Ledward, a presenter on Classic Gardening Forum. It was all, went the message, just a storm in a flower pot.

But the veteran presenter's surprise departure has resurrected a year- old horticultural feud and caused bitter backbiting among media gardening folk. It is more a case of trowels at dawn.

Daphne Ledward was among the five BBC Gardeners' Question Time panel members who defected to Classic FM in February last year. The team, including Dr Stefan Buczacki and Fred Downham, spectacularly quit the 46-year-old weekly Radio 4 show to launch Classic Gardening Forum. Commercial radio had run off with the BBC's prize perennial, an institution on a par with The Archers. The desertion rocked the staid world of horticulture.

This week, staff at GQT were making no effort to conceal their glee at the news of Ms Ledward's acrimonious split with the commercial station. "It came as no surprise at all," said Trevor Taylor, producer of GQT. "We have heard on the rumour mill that life is very unhappy with the old team."

Ms Ledward cited "unreasonable demands"and "attitudes which have been getting worse over the past year" in her resignation letter. She had, she said, been reduced to tears. Gardening insiders hint darkly of dissent beneath the jovial tones of Classic FM presenters' panel manner. They claim Mr Downham and Ms Ledward recently refused to attend a flower show if Dr Buczacki was invited. Down among the shrubbery lurk fearsome egos. "Stefan is a difficult character," sighed Mr Taylor.

Flower beds seem an unlikely arena for such histrionics, but the saga has roused Middle England passions. When the BBC announced its plan early this year to modernise the show, listeners were scandalised.

GQT was bedded in tradition. Its seeds were sown in the Dig For Victory campaign of World War II, and more than a third of its million-plus listeners was over 65. The BBC wanted a younger audience: that meant fewer village halls, more garden centres and snappier presentation. Dr Buczacki was horrified.

"GQT came from rural England, real England, where real people live. It reassured listeners that England still existed," he wrote. Doubtful of his place in a new venture, and in the absence of a firm contract offer, he led the mutiny which took the panel to the commercial airwaves. The Classic FM show, has built up ratings of 600,000, and is the station's most popular hourly programme.

"I simply could not believe it when Daphne resigned," Dr Buczacki says. "It takes a lot to render me speechless, but I was numb. We do not argue. We get on extraordinarily well.

"Many times we have likened the team to a family. We act like a family, we sound like a family. It's like a member of your family suddenly turning against you," he mourns.

"Well," snipes Mr Taylor, "he would say that, wouldn't he?" Ms Ledward has refused to speak to Dr Buczacki or anyone from Classic FM since her resignation. There are rumours that some members of the Classic team have approached the BBC to ask after their old jobs, but Mr Taylor says with some satisfaction: "There are no vacancies." Meanwhile, the original GQT has kept its audience of more than a million listeners, and fears of a trivial Top Of The Pops-style approach to matters as weighty as mulching and manure have proved largely groundless. Listeners remain, says Mr Taylor, rather elderly.

It's abundantly clear, however, that there is room in the garden for more than one panel programme. Over one million copies of gardening magazines are sold each month, and last year the public spent pounds 2.6bn on their gardens. It is, if you like, a growth industry. Perhaps it should be no surprise that one of the crops being cultivated are the egos of its celebrity pundits.

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