The gardening industry is in a spot of bother. TV viewing figures are down; book sales are down and youngsters are turned off by it. 25 years ago Gardeners’ World programme used to attract 5 million viewers. Now it’s 2 million. What is happening?
I’m afraid it’s a victim of our modern times; where perception is everything, reality is nothing. Like it or not the image of gardening needs updating. This is a huge task and there’s only one medium capable of achieving it; television.
TV can make and then break the public perception of an industry. Look what it did for cookery and cars. Remember the cookery series Food and Drink back in the 1980’s; pretty ordinary wasn’t it. Then Keith Floyd came along. Cookery on TV was never the same again.
Top Gear is another success story. Back then it had a minority audience of bearded men in overalls. And then a brave TV producer took a risk and let Jeremy Clarkson off the lead. They may have lost a few viewers initially but they managed to collect some new ones too; the last count was 350 million. If these specialist industries can transform the way they’re perceived, why can’t gardening?
In evolutionary terms, gardening TV is still at the ‘Food and Drink’ stage. It plods away preaching to the converted…but that market is dwindling. It needs to adapt, it needs new formats and new faces. These are the people who change the public perception of an industry; its role models. If you only ever saw artists like Tony Hart, rather than Tracey Emin representing the industry, its image would be very different.
It’s so frustrating because gardening TV could have a much wider appeal. Nearly half the population of Britain has a garden but the TV coverage is aimed at only a tiny percentage of them; the gardeners. This doesn’t even scratch the surface of what it’s capable of. New markets are out there. The masses are interested in their gardens they just don’t have the time to be tinkering under the bonnet any longer. They’re interested in how it looks, not how it works. This market is confident when designing the inside of their homes but clueless when it comes to the outside. What they need is an innovative, practical design programme; not whimsical makeovers or banal competitions.
Whether you liked it or not, Ground Force was on to something; it got the nation talking about gardens as never before. The industry should have built on that success; instead the format was copied to death and gardening TV regressed as a result.