HGTV as fake as we always thought


Like many of you, I stopped watching garden shows on HGTV when they effectively dropped the “G”.  But during my recent adventure in the buying and selling of houses – one each – I watched their real estate shows like a crazywoman.  Could not get enough of them, as fake as they seemed.  Especially fake-seeming is the formula of presenting all homeowners having to choose between just three, and exactly three homes, to fit into half-hour segments, I suppose.

Still, I felt like I was picking up bits of useful information about what people want in a home they might buy.  Like granite countertops – the absence of which sends some potential buyers right back out the door.  And another, more disheartening one – that the absence of a yard or even a tree or two is often seen as a good thing.  I’ll never forget the alarm on one shopper’s face at the sight of a tree-filled back yard.  “That means bugs!” she shrieked, before instructing her realtor to focus on high-rise apartments, which is clearly where she belongs.

And kinda fun, though not helpful, is House Hunters International, which showed me what a million bucks U.S. will buy in New Zealand.  Turns out, surprisingly little.

But back to the fakiness of HGTV’s real estate programming.  One hard-working blogger did some actual legwork – like real journalists sometimes do! –  contacting people whose real estate dealings had been featured on HGTV, and told the sordid results in her story “What it was like to be on the show“.  Among her discoveries was that HGTV will wait until a buyer has already finished with their shopping and closed on a house before choosing them as a supposed home-shopper.   Then to film the episode, the so-called shopper “had to scramble to find houses to tour and pretend we were considering.” Some of the properties weren’t even for sale; they were homes of friends.

The blogger found these other “truth about” stories behind the curtain that is HGTV:

Notice that last link is about a gardening show?  Okay, yard, but close enough.  Yeah, turns out they still have two of them, more or less – The Outdoor Room with Jamie Drurie, which admittedly may be more about furnishing than gardening, and Yard Crashers with Ahmed Hassan, who’s not just good-looking and personable but an actual landscaper.  Seems he’s being quietly replaced – with no explanation – with a “licensed contractor“.   Why are we not surprised?

Revisiting the wasteland for gardeners that HGTV has become makes me nostalgic for the relatively good old days of gardening on that channel.  Remember the goofy but damned knowledgeable (and organic) Paul James (shown here dining in Baltimore)?  Remember the wonderful in-depth garden tours and interviews that actual horticulturist Erica Glasener did on her show “Gardener’s Diary”? (Shown here in a photo also taken in Baltimore.  See, there used to be TV hosts worth driving up I-95 to hang out with.)

Well, at least Hulu is still showing us some of Erica’s wonderful episodes, just a few at a time, but they rotate them.  Click here and weep.


  1. I do not have statistics to back this back, but it seems New York Time’s
    “Home and Garden” section is more and more like 98% home and 2%

    • I’ve noticed that with our local paper, too. Bad enough that gardening only gets a mention one day a week, but now the Saturday “Home & Garden” section has become almost nothing but “home”. Even now, in the height of growing season.

  2. The HGTV that we once knew in the 90s is gone and should really be known as the real estate channel. Honestly, what were they thinking when they decided to go the route they ‘ve taken? They have had to lose a lot of viewers…don’t they know or care? I sure do miss the good ol days.

  3. Cooking shows are cheap to produce. Takes more time for garden shows. Do the math.

    When I began my career, landscape design, no HGTV. Then their debut. Loved it, and clients began asking knowledgeable questions & gave exacting requests. Most spoke of HGTV, and were obviously learning gardening.

    Changed back to the dark ages a few years ago. Clients again have little ‘garden’ vocabulary.

    LOVED the old Victory Garden on PBS with Bob Thomson.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  4. I get my gardening fix on YouTube. Search for British Gardening, Gardening, Allotment, Alan Titchmarsh, Highgrove, Chelsea Flower Show, Alys Fowler, Horticultural Channel, How to be a Gardener, to name a few. Believe me, with the suggestions on the right-hand side of the screen, it’s a slippery slope!) Real gardening, showing real gardens and allotments (we call them community garden plots), with real information. For cooking from the garden as well, try the River Cottage series, especially Spring, Summer’s Here, Autumn, and Winter’s on the Way. I have started so many playlists, I fear I will never be able to view them all.

    HGTV has become a wasteland for me, just like most of the other channels.

  5. I was just thinking of Kathy Renwald this morning, very odd. She was so personable and knowledgable, and lovely in person too.

    I’m catching reruns of Recreating Eden, but I miss Alan Titchmarsh (?) and Monty Don. I wish we could catch more BBC programs, they know gardening.

  6. I had the pleasure of listening to Paul James talk at our local “Gardening Day” in the Spring. Besides being an incredibly eloquent and entertaining (I forgot how funny he is) speaker and advocate of just getting out and getting your hands dirty, he lamented the sad state of affairs at HGTV. I fondly remember how much fun his shows were and how much I USED to enjoy watching that channel.

  7. This really hit home with me. HGTV IS 98% real estate. I, too, miss Gardening by the Yard and Gardener’s Diary. Sorry, but Yard Crashers is ridiculous (although I do love Ahmad). They show up at some average little home and the next thing you know they build some kind of volcano waterfall and bali-inspired “oasis” in somebody’s yard. It’s absurd! I now get my fix from youtube. Thanks for the hulu link to Gardener’s Diary – I’ll be catching up with those now! Goodbye HGTV.

  8. My husband worked with a guy who’d been on one of those home-improvement shows back in the day, where they come in and fix up a couple rooms into dream rooms or whatever.

    Cost him thousands to fix afterwards. Apparently they would work right up to the line-of-sight of the cameras, which they knew to the inch, and then stop, so you’d get baseboards that just stopped in mid-wall, dreadfully sloppy paint jobs, art hung over holes knocked in the wallboard—all kinds of problems.

    I would run those people away from my garden with a shotgun.

  9. I took this story as an omen that it was time to break my House Hunters habit. Plus, I kept yelling at the TV — “No, you do NOT want stainless steel appliances — they are impossible to keep clean.” “Open Plan means lots of noise from other rooms — put in some doors.” The show (and real estate agents) seem determined to put misinformed buyers into expensive, hard-to-maintain houses. Time to turn off the TV and go in the garden!

  10. Mary, thanks for mentioning the other REQUIREMENT these days, those stainless steel appliances. They cost a LOT and I agree, aren’t practical. But never mind!
    You reminded me of another one – the open plan – and there’s also hardwood floors. Do people really walk away if a home doesn’t have all these? I recently bought a house with brand-new carpet, unfortunately, and had to remove it – what a waste! The sellers should have just given the buyer a credit toward whatever floors they wanted. As a cat-owner, the carpets are not an option for me, especially the cheapest carpet in the world like this one was.

  11. There are still some good gardening shows on public and “progressive” radio (especially Wisconsin). The Chicago Tribune used to have a Home and Garden section that was pretty good untill they dropped the “Garden” and the garden writer, Beth Botts. I wonder what the dynamic is here. Is it the shrinking of the audience for gardening media or is it the shrinking of media budgets forcing a focus on the easiest and biggest markets? Either way, I’m afraid it becomes a vicious cycle. At least we still have the internet.

  12. I LOVE my weekly gardening show, “SILENCE! Ca pousse.” I move to France a couple years ago, and I watch it weekly almost without fail (DVR). I started watching it when my French was not so good with subtitles, but now I understand it all. I remember in my French classes, my teacher was impressed with my strange vocabulary based around plants that the show gave me. It’s a publicly funded channel, but a kind of all-around show which has a formula of 1. study of some intense farm/orchard/grower (last week was a lotus grower) 2. visit to an interesting garden usually in France 3. Talk with an expert (that’s how I found my local co-op and learned I can get a community garden plot quite easily since my husband works for the national rail company) 4. A how-to of a current gardening task (like planting and spacing in the vegetable garden) and 5. A make-over of someone’s garden/balcony/anything (one time they even did an edible garden on a guy’s houseboat). And sometimes, they come back to garden’s they’ve done in years past and fix things that no longer work (like when the family no longer wants to have drinks outside but a place for thier toddler to play) and the gardens still look good! So yeah, “silence, ça pousse” rocks!

  13. When dealing with remodeling contractors for the old farm house we bought a couple of years ago I found the simplest way to get through to them was to shush them, then drag them over to the tv in the living room with rabbit ear antennas. They took a while to understand, no cable tv, no cable tv show styled demands for the latest and greatest features. Never had it, never wanted it, still don’t.

    None of the above expose comes as a surprise. It always looked fake to me.

    One day the network bosses will be in front of a mic whining about how they’ve lost their audience. They’ve only themselves to blame.

  14. Thanks for this post! I signed the petition for Ahmed Hassan. HGTV should be ashamed to even include “G” in their name nowadays. We need a petition to bring back “Gardening by the Yard.”

    Thanks, too, to commenter Mary Lou for the YouTube search suggestions!

  15. My neighbors were recently featured on Turf Wars on the DIY channel. And full disclosure here, I’m responsible for them getting the show since I told them about the casting call at my favorite IGC. I had long-known these shows weren’t the god-send to the homeowner that they make themselves out to be, but what I saw really surprised me.

    Like UrsulaV said, it costs thousands to fix after they come through. The neighbors had to screw down the deck boards because doing so wasn’t expedient for the show. Plants were ill-chosen & ill-placed – the only consideration was what looked impressive for TV, not whether, say, those shade-loving plants should be placed against a Western-facing wall in full sun. Irrigation was ignored, and it is vital in our semi-arid climate. Mulch was used to cover everything they didn’t feel like fixing. And lots of those “extras” like hammocks & hot tubs & outdoor appliances get taken back by the “donor/retailer” even if they get screen time. There was a lot of clean-up. A lot. Six months later, you can still see the scars on all parts of the yard that were not camera-visible.

    On the plus side, my weed issues are much lighter this year since the weed patch next door has been replaced with lawn & decking. And the neighbors across the street (TW involves two neighbors competing with each other) finally got to replace what was fondly referred to as the “polar bear habitat” left behind by the previous owners. And I scored a few of those straw-filled barriers (used to keep mud & construction debris from flowing into the creeks) which I then ripped apart & used as mulch for every un-planted spot in my entire yard.

    Would I do one of these shows ? Not on your life. In fact, I rejected that idea outright when one neighbor suggested it. Am I glad my neighbors did ? Yes. And I’m pretty sure they are too, despite the weeks of work it has taken to make the improvements livable.

    I do wish they’d put some serious “G” back into HGTV. Or some “G” into DIY channel. And bring back Ahmed for the real gardening shows.

  16. The show I hated the most was “Suprise Gardener” with the uber-perky Susie. I loved Paul James, though some of his Kentucky-Tennessee advice didnt translate too well to Northern CA. Also, in the days before Martha had a studio audience, some of her garden guests were interesting and informative.


  17. Here in Buffalo, our newspaper garden writer, Sally Cunningham, had her Friday gardening column moved TO the front page of the home and garden section a couple years back! And in color – with a break to continue to the inside front page! But we’re aware that’s not normal.
    Used to watch HGTV with the garden shows – that morphed into makeover shows – which resulted in what’s on now. Now I get more kicks from reading garden blogs. At least they’re real. I rarely watch HGTV – usually during commercial breaks from other channels. We have one casualty of HGTV garden makeover shows here in Buffalo, “While You Were Out” garden guru/celebrity/gardenista/star Peter Bonsey lives in a Buffalo suburb. Oh, and PBS’s “Victory Garden” star Roger Swain visits once in a while (his son lives here). “Victory Garden” used to be the only gardening show I knew of years ago, back before we had more channels than content.

  18. I agree with all above! It is sad how gardening is supposed to be one of the most popular hobbies in this country and there is such a huge lack of information to the general public!
    I am a big fan of English Gardening information because as already said, they know gardening. I get my extra supplements of info from podcasts that are on itunes or on individual blogs. I love these because I can load them on my device and take them in the car with me and actually learn something while driving or cleaning the house, or on the stereo while cooking supper.
    Keep posting, keep listening, and keep learning and then spread the word!
    And thanks Garden Rant!!

    • I love gardening podcasts too and can honestly say that I learned the most ever about gardening from Felder Rushing’s Gestalt Gardener podcast.

  19. Boy, has this touched a nerve! I’m right there with all of you. HGTV has been a joke for years now – no Gardener’s Journal, Gardener’s Diary, Gardening by the Yard, etc. P. Allen Smith has one of the few “literate” garden shows left on TV now, and his folksy charm does get a bit wearing after a while. “Victory Garden” is absurd, and has been ever since Roger Swain left it. Podcasts are OK, but there’s just nothing like sitting down for half an hour and seeing beautiful gardening vistas rolling before your eyes. Alas, I think those days are gone forever – even though they keep telling us that gardening is one of America’s biggest hobbies. You’d never know it to watch HGTV, though…..

  20. Wow, this post and the comments are reallly informative. I don’t watch HGTV except when I go to the dentist or when it’s on at a friend’s house. I had no idea the shows were mostly fake. I get my garden “fix” from listening to the garden radio talk shows and by looking up KLRU’s “Central Texas Gardener” on YouTube.

    Gotta’ say though that when I was looking for a new house last fall, I didn’t want granite countertops and almost EVERY house had them. Someday they will be as dated as the avocado green carpets and orange countertops of the ’70’s. (I decided not to buy a new-to-me house in the end.)

  21. Did we really think that HGTV cameras were following would-be home buyers around for weeks or months while they decided on a home? Not likely. Having heard about the reality of the show some time ago it hasn’t lessened my enjoyment at peering into all those houses, especially the “House Hunters International” ones. Who knew it was customary in many countries to take the kitchen sink and everything else including the cabinets with you when moving house?

    As for the garden shows – I miss Erica Glasener’s knowledge, and Paul James was such fun to watch. There were certainly some duds then, too, including as someone else mentioned, Surprise Gardener. And does anyone remember Keely Shaye-Smith “gardening” in clothing and shoes fit for an elegant lunch at a nice restaurant?

    With all that said, for other media we are fortunate in Denver to have a weekly supplement to the Denver Post called Grow which features gardening articles and plant advice for the Rocky Mountain area. Its published every Friday March through June and every gardener I know looks forward to it. Presumably, after June, everyone sits back and just looks at the fruits of their labor. I certainly do.

  22. The real estate shows are kind of addicting in that they are mindless (if you are having a lazy day) and it is always fun to get real estate tours. But I agree with the post above saying that stainless steel and open floor plans are not all they are cracked up to be. The last straw for me 22 year old newlyweds buying a house for almost a million dollars and complaining about the master bath (which was bigger than my bedroom) being too small or some nonsense.

  23. Hehe – our front yard was on one of these shows… boy was it fake!

    I took the opportunity to have my closed-in front porch opened up and privet hedge removed in favor of a stone wall and redesigned entry path. The plants we got? They are being replaced one by one from the standard, symmetrical, cookie-cutter look of form-cut ever greens (yuck) and lawn (which I explicitly asked not to have, but they didn’t think America would ‘relate’), not to mention sun-loving plants on our north-facing shady front yard, with my choice of viburnums and natives and winter interest and wildlife friendly etc.

    It was fun at first, then frustrating, and not free (sadly) and the work they did was ‘TV quality’, so if you ask me if it was worth it – meh.

  24. Wow. I agree with you 100% I love the Gardening Guy and love, love love Erica! I stopped watching HGTV long ago when the real gardening shows were replaced with shows about backyard makeovers that highlighted products from the two ‘big box’ home improvement retailers. And quite frankly, I think these makeovers look so uninspired.

  25. I’ve spoken to a garden owners from Minneapolis and they concured with the comments. Also spoke to two for the past stars and they said there was no way to voice viewer support about their shows and to request a return of their shows. Maybe the sponsors should shoulder some responsibility. The public is most offen assumed to be too stupid to notice the truth. Those who know better should continue to speak up. Thanks Susan for getting the conversation going. Fertile found here.

  26. Glad to hear I’m not the only one P-O-ed about the so-called HGTV non-coverage of gardening. I have been muttering for a while that it ought to be called RETV; odd that the real estate focus continues despite the housing debacle. I loved Gardening Diary and also the Gardening Journal, a Canadian show.

  27. I don’t have cable TV so I’m not missing much. We have “Wisconsin Gardener” on WI Public TV which is great and “Garden Talk” on WI Public Radio (can be streamed I think). I dash off to Barnes & Noble at the beginning of the month to purchase one of their 5 monthly copies of BBC Gardeners World IMO a great magazine (missing the garden crafts articles though).

    I had a garden client one who was scared silly of “bugs” she wouldn’t even go outside to see what I was doing-should have been another apt dweller.

  28. A thought that came to me recently : What does Mike Holmes of Holmes on Homes think of all of the slap-dash work being done on the other shows on HGTV ? This dawned on me as I was watching his show (apparently there is one show I still like on the network) & he was railing against all of the shoddy, careless work & temporary (made permanent) fixes he came across. Isn’t that what most of the other shows involve ? So the other programs throw things together without a care … and he goes through and fixes the same kind of stuff??

  29. It all comes down to the single idea I have railed against for years. That is that anyone with a shovel and a free weekend can build a garden/landscape. The complexities of real garden design don’t translate well to TV…who wants to watch a French drain being installed or soil sample being taken or irrigation being installed correctly? Watch a dry stone wall being built would be like watching paint dry on TV. It’s boring to the general public who want eye candy and entertainment without substance on most of the TV they watch. Think about how many weeks is spent on a home renovation on This Old House…that’s how many it would take to convey what real garden design is about. By the way, Drurie’s Outdoor Room is about just that-creating an outdoor living space even if it is sponsored by Monrovia.

  30. I have found my tribe! I agree with everyone that misses the good ol’ days of HGTV. I found Paul James to be entertaining and credible in his advice. It’s possible to be entertaining and impart knowledge at the same time.

    I want gardening and real decorating ideas. I don’t want to watch some 21 yo couple buy a house with a budget of $500,000. Who has that kind of budget at that age? Not real people! I also don’t want to see someone make over an entire room in two days. DH and I have remodeled 3 houses and we know you have to let paint dry before you start moving furniture in!

    Stepping off my soapbox now…

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