Gardening and social media expert, James Robbins guest blogs on whether gardening television is still as relevant, especially now we have many other medias to soak up our information from.
In a world abundant with information, I often wonder what influences where we choose to get it? When everyone can become an instant expert via the tiny glass screen we carry in our pocket, how can we place a value on that information…?
So, I’m afraid I must start by making an admission.
Whilst I read as much as I can find time to, listen to as many podcasts as my data package will allow, and try to keep my finger on the horticultural pulse of the nation through social media, it has been a long time since I watched a gardening TV program.
When I was a fresh-faced 16 year old, I took on my first gardening job. The internet was still young, and there was no YouTube, Facebook or 3G. When I felt I needed to keep up-to-date with gardening, I would do so, as many other people did and still do, by watching the cornerstone of horticultural broadcasting, Gardener’s World. As I grew, developed and began to learn more about my chosen trade, I started to find it less and less engaging. After a week spent working hard in the garden, the last thing I wanted was to turn on the television on Friday night and spend my time being told all about the jobs I had just been doing the week before. More often I would relish the opportunity to get away from the daily grind and do something more fun.
The trouble is, in 30 minutes, it is hard to cover a wide selection of subjects to appeal to the broadest section of the audience, whilst covering any of them in real depth. I didn’t find the ‘makeover’ format of gardening programs all that interesting either.
The passive way in which television is normally consumed, means we rarely engage with the subject matter in the same way, and it will only ever have a superficial effect.
I found that, for myself, the only way to really get into the nitty gritty of an issue was reading. A specialist book can afford to absorb you for several hours on one specific subject, delving into the most finite of details. A book can be specialised on a very narrow aspect of any given field, because only those interested will commit the time to reading it. I hear that Gardeners World is much improved since moving to as longer format, but I’m still unsure if a TV or radio programme could ever hope to go into a subject with as much detail as a book.
I have however always had a soft spot for BBC Radio 4 Gardeners Question Time, primarily because I can listen whilst I work in the garden. I find the question and answer format requires a direct and specific response and is still one of my favourite games to try and second guess what the weeks questions will be, or how the presenters will choose to answer them.
There is however that perennial problem that infiltrates much of the garden media; seasonality. Schedules can become increasingly repetitive and predictable when they are tied to the inevitable seasonal cycle of the gardening year. The same ‘plants of the moment’ or ‘jobs to do’ will always crop up at the same time every year. Unaware of the history of a viewer, reader or listener, editors find themselves resorting to filling their airtime or pages with ‘useful’ lists. It is easy copy, and eminently ‘useful’ so will always form a core part of any publication or program.
It does however fail to significantly deepen our understanding of the subject. A ‘To do’ list will always be vital to planning effective use of time.
A visit to a beautiful garden will always be enjoyable, and can provide some inspiration.
For myself though, the only act in which I find can really increase my ability and skill in the garden is the practice of gardening. I am at my happiest when I am in the garden, putting all of the theory into practice, and conducting my own ‘living experiments’. I have realised over the years that I personally must learn through experience. I need to try it for myself, and after watching the results only then will I (hopefully) realise if it does or doesn’t work, and decide whether I do it the same next year.
Go check out James’ blog, where he covers a range of interesting, and occasionally controversial, subjects!