HGTV Update


by Susan
It’s time to check in with the channel we love to rant aEricstomer_hover_bioimage_w190bout – Home and Garden Television, which many believe would be more accurately named Home Television.  (Yes, we seem to be losing our G.)

The most obvious change is the addition of Eric Stromer as uber-host for the whole channel.  He pops up, looking like he does, and tells us that "Saturday mornings are getting supercharged on HGTV!"  Never having heard of Eric, I Googled and found out he’s a "correspondent" with The Insider and one of People’s Sexiest Men Alive.  Now I bet you’re expecting me to criticize HGTV for not using a horticultural expert in this role, perhaps folksy Roger Swain?  Hell, no.  Eric’s not just HOT but fun and energetic and I say to beefcake in home+garden TV programming – bring it on!  That is, unless and until I hear him say really stupid things, and since his own show is about home repair or construction or whatnot, I won’t be hazarding a guess on that subject.

Now videotaping the shows is easy because they’re concentrated, just like Eric says, on weekend mornings (who’s sitting indoors watching them in August, after all?)  On Saturday the shows run from 9:30 to 11 and again from noon to 1.  On Sunday there are 8 gardening shows back to back from 7 am to 11.  And here they are in order of quality, beginning with the best.

Paul has many fans and I’m one of them because he presents really good information in an entertainingPauljames way.  For example, his recent segment about houseplants – one of my least favorite subjects – held my interest because he was working with a young guy living in an apartment to help him reduce the "nerd factor" and that made it fun.  And he really explained how to pot ’em up and how to water ’em.  And then his report on the design flaw of having pebbles between flagstones was right-on, something I’d ranted about myself. (What’s the flaw?  That they come loose and hurt like hell when stepped on with bare feet.) He suggests crushed stone
between the flagstones or "polymeric sand" instead, and tells us there’s information about it on  Well done.

And by the way, Paul James has no website, so GardenRant and my own blog continue to be the respositories for messages to Paul, which now number 62 on this one post about him. 

Equally educational is this straightforward contest between three designers.  We see their presentations, learn who wins, then see the installation and -ta-da!- the results.  So we’re shown a range of possibilities for the site in question and frankly, we get a good glimpse of what talented professionals can do and it’s damn impressive.  Then the show tells us some details we desperately want to know: the location of the garden and how much the project costs. And the projects cost like $20,000  Thank you!! I’m also thankful for what’s missing from the show: flashy, MTV-style editing and an overanimated host.

This show is a mixed bag, as I’ve written before.   There’s still no information about location or cost.  Still with
the cutesy couples and the MTV editing style that makes it so hard to
see the damn garden.  Sigh.

The host is a new voiceover/advertising actor to replace the old voiceover/advertising actor, but this one’s younger and peppier, and the script is less formulaic.  Unfortunately, the projects routinely cost at least a quarter million and we’re not told where the garden is located, even when it’s absurd not to do so.  Like in a recent episode when the often-referred to theme of the new design was "Northwest style,"  wouldn’t it have been instructive to be learn that they’re trying to pull this off in the Atlanta area?  That might explain what the homeowner means when he refers mysteriously to "where we live."  Arrrgh.  And by the way, their projects are ALL near Atlanta.

I checked back with this show to see if their landscape designs were still terrible and DID find one done by an actual garden professional, which I found promising.  But even in a project where all the foundation plants were being ripped out and the hedges hacked back severely, the plants were referred to generically as "bushes".  Are the producers going out of their way to withhold helpful information from the viewer, or what?  And I’d gotten too encouraged by seeing one that one decent garden design because in the very next show the "after" landscape highlighteded – and I’m not making this up – rectangles cut into the front lawn filled with colored glass mulch and nothing else.  If only I had a photo to show you because such ugliness is hard to visualize, I know.  And again no budget, no location.

Well, that’s it.  Still gone is the beloved horticulturist Erica Glasener and her "Gardener’s Diary."  But the good news?  Gone also is Susie Coelho arranging nick-nacks on the patios of Southern California on the quickly-forgotten "Outer Spaces."


  1. I’ve actually seen some better gardening done on the HGTV show “Weekend Warriors,” although I’m not sure that show is even current anymore–it may just be reruns. In that show homeowners take on their own home improvement projects without any direction from professionals. They plan, research, and do the grunt work themselves. It’s only occasionally about a garden project, but the garden work I’ve seen done hasn’t been too bad and it’s demonstrated that you really can do over your garden for substantially less than $20K.

  2. I have just set the DVR to record tomorrow’s am shows, so I can finally know what you’re talking about and judge for myself (though I’l likely agree).

  3. Matt James’s excellent City Gardener show is much missed, although reruns air Thursday mornings at 8 am ET. Hope he returns with new episodes.

  4. I miss (greatly!) not only Gardener’s Diary but to a lesser extent another of their old shows, Gardener’s Journal. Also, I recall when they used to show some good series, like one hosted by Penelope Hobhouse and one on great gardeners which included Alan Bloom and Dan Hinkley, as I recall. Maybe they still show the occasional series, but I wouldn’t know, because I gave up on the station when Gardener’s Diary disappeared.

  5. Susan, I’ve designed gardens for both “Landscape Smart” and “Landscapers’ Challenge,” and feel you might be a tad unfair in your criticism of the former. They’re not at all “expecting us to believe the typical homeowner could make this huge makeover happen with no professional help” as you wrote last year; the contractor and designer are introduced and it’s pretty clear we’re guiding the homeowner (who, by the way, really does a fair amount of the work). And I like Paul James too, but what’s the difference between his “entertaining” editing and Landscape Smart’s “flashy”?

    With Landscapers’ Challenge, I’d just say don’t overlook the devils hiding in the details: Personally, I wish MORE of the installation were shown. And why, exactly, did the homeowner select that particular design/er? And what corners were cut to fit that $20K budget? There’s a wider gulf than you may realize between a “made for TV” budget and a real one.

    You’re writing for gardeners, but most of these shows’ viewers aren’t us: they’re the weekend weeders who still think RoundUp is a miracle and MiracleGro is organic. They’re living vicariously, imagining they are as cute as the cutesy couples shown, pinching the odd design idea here or there — no different from following a planting plan from a magazine — regardless of location, budget or skill.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m extremely proud to have been a part of these shows, and if my designs inspire even one more homeowner to get out into their garden, I’ve succeeded. But I’ll never again confuse reality TV (no, not even “Rock of Love”) for reality. Instead of reviewing production values, maybe you could tell us what these shows don’t: Why is location important, anyhow? What criteria, beyond a pretty drawing, matter in selecting a landscape designer? Heck, reverse-engineer and publish plant lists based on what you spy in the shows… didn’t we all love that about “Gardener’s Diary”? None of those things holds viewers long enough to sell ads, but you don’t have that problem. Let’s hope the ‘G’ stays in HGTV a while longer, and that you’re there to keep ’em in line the whole time.

  6. Yep, and our PBS channel has done away with P Allen Smith’s gardening show, which I also enjoyed. Sigh. I’m with the group on Gardener’s Journal and Gardener’s Diary, both. I loved them.

  7. Is there no hope for a return of Erica’s shows to HGTV? They had been airing AGJ at 8 am until recently. I was hoping the suspension of this show was temporary!

  8. Soooo late to the party, I am. I am a gardener, and I long for some good gardening TV. We watch Paul James, but we want more “tooth” than shows like Landscaper’s Challenge give us. I find it hard to believe that there isn’t a market for a show for serious gardeners. I know there are a lot of us. I guess most of us aren’t in front of the TV, we’re out in the garden.

  9. You would think somebody would be smart enough to start a series on organic gardening.I saw more on TV about organic gardening back when organic gardening wasnt cool.

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