More From Across the Pond–The Dumbing Down of GQT


This just in from the Times UK:

The latest series of
Gardeners’ Question Time (Sun, Radio 4, 2pm) is a bit of a
flight into the unknown — or, to be more precise, a flight into what is
surely known by the majority of the programme’s listeners. For it is
going back to basics with a new series on gardening fundamentals.

“We will start with site preparation,” says the producer,
Trevor Taylor, “and cover such topics as soil types, weed control,
essential pest and disease management, growing fruit and veg and how to
choose the best plants.”

If you’ve never tuned in to this BBC garden radio program, go here to check it out. Even if you garden in the Phoenix desert, it’s interesting to eavesdrop on the daily delights and problems of English gardening.  Our beloved (and unnamed) Times correspondent goes on to say this about the new approach:

But is this wise? It is one of the essential charms of
GQT that it deals with esoterica and arcania, the minutiae of
horticulture that appeals not only to the expert amateur but to the
nongardening listener who, in the words of W. S. Gilbert, doesn’t think
he dances, but would rather like to try. Weed control? Puh-lease � if
we wanted to know about weed control we’d be off controlling weeds, not
listening to people burble on about it.

Yes!  Finally, someone speaks out about the dumbing down of the garden media.  I used to subscribe to Martha Stewart Living precisely because the garden section covered plants I couldn’t get, didn’t know how to grow, had never heard of.  Give me something to strive for!  Don’t hand me more of what I already have! Let me dream a little! Or, as the Times writer says:

Once you reduce the listenership of all these programmes to those
who a) can usefully employ their lessons; and b) understand what is
going on, you alienate that most capricious of constituencies, the
poseur. And you alienate us at your peril.


  1. It sounds like the formation module in year one at horticulture college:)

    Always to cater for all levels across the board – why should someone miss out because they are so many levels below the pro?

    But I do see your point.

  2. I’m not sure what I think. On the one hand, I was once a rank beginner when it came to gardening. I dutifully (and happily–wish all duties could be so pleasant) watched or listened to every garden program I could find. I attended presentations and lectures, shows, demonstrations and exhibitions. I read everything I could get my hands on, from newspaper columns to gardening magazines to specialist books. And I planted and fertilized and watered and weeded and killed (sometimes intentionally) all kinds of things.

    And in those beginning years, everything was helpful, whether “dumbed down” or just short of a scientific presentation.

    Would I have been too intimidated to garden if the material for beginners hadn’t been available? Well, no. Would I have given up after yet another failure? Again, no. However, I’ve known a great many more timid gardeners in my time, and they DO want the reassurance of what others consider “dumbed down”.

    I suppose the best solution for GQT is to have one program in four dedicated to beginners, covering things we consider basic (even if we don’t do them) like amending soil, double-digging, weed control and the like. Make it the same week of the month every month. Then, use the remaining broadcasts for the month to address more advanced issues. I’m more than willing to lose 25% of my listening time to encourage new, inexperienced gardeners. Not everyone wants to be, or needs to be, as determinedly grubby as I am.

  3. Well, I’ve written approximately 40 rants here raving that one of the problems with most garden writing is that it makes the whole business sound so esoteric and difficult, why would anyone bother?

    But personally, I never liked those beginner’s books and videos that only recommended daylilies and other unkillables, either. Gardening is an endless frontier–and nobody starts gardening without aesthetic ambitions.

    My opinion is, if it’s literate and funny, anybody will listen to anything, including non-gardeners. After all, I love “Car Talk” and hate cars.

  4. Admission: I just posted a list of winter-interest plants, which seems elementary to me, but is a revelation for some of my clients. So that’s where I’m coming from.

    Several conflicting thoughts: 1)The great thing about the profusion of media is that no one program(me) has to be all things to all people. 2) Nevertheless, maybe one reason why we hate beginners books so much is because they don’t offer the type of deeply-explored, accurate information that GQT can. 3) I work with a lot of young urban/suburban gardeners who’ve grown up completely alienated from soil and the growth process. For them, keeping a daylily or a potted aloe plant alive is exciting, and they’ve gotta start somewhere.

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