Thursday, 14 August 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Heartfelt green-fingered blues


So the big announcement at Gardeners' World was finally issued by the BBC yesterday at noon, revealing that rank outsider Toby Buckland got the job of fronting Britain's most popular gardening TV show. (By rank, I don't mean that Toby smells, simply that his name wasn't even on original lists drawn up by the bookies in May.) 

I'm not quite sure I would include amongst Toby's life achievements "making a garden for Andrew Motion" (as the Telegraph did), but there we go. That's showbiz.

It's that showbizziness that's giving me bad vibes about the way in which the decision itself was made. I don't know what was going on in the production team's heads and perhaps they are right and Toby will be fantastic in the job: I have definitely enjoyed his column in Amateur Gardening in the past, and his more recent spots on GW itself. But I have a feeling that the BBC have gone about picking someone for slightly odd reasons, that may be more to do with money and budgets and the future of the programme than we would like.

I am always intrigued the way individuals make major decisions, because it's often so idiosyncratic. I was talking to my dad recently who had made a decision about moving house: he said he'd made a list of all the things he missed about other houses he'd lived in, and looked for a house that had all of them. (This included, my friends, "lawn big enough to mow on a ride-on tractor mower". Says my dad, "I've been missing doing that since we sold the Temple in 1986". Who moves house so that they can have more lawn to mow? Yup, bonkers, as I said.)

But I wish that someone had made the Gardeners' World decision by doing what my dad did: making a list of what they missed from the past. I still miss Geoff Hamilton; we all do, it turns out. (He died very prematurely of a heart attack in 1996, aged 60, while doing a charity bike ride.) I miss someone who had an over-arching philosophy of what he was doing - a view of the world that combines caring about how it looks now, with caring about how it will be in future. I miss how completely he was himself on television - a talent in itself. I miss someone who would talk about each plant like it mattered, rather than chucking things into a planting scheme with the overall effect in mind. I miss how kind and generous Geoff Hamilton was.

I still remember all these things, and I mourn them. Geoff would have been 72 tomorrow, and I wish he was still alive: one properly good way to honour his memory is to look after your heart, as we've been told repeatedly over the last week, including in a fairly alarming ad. And, I guess, let's cross our fingers about Toby Buckland. I hope he turns out to be a great choice.

Photo from Barnsdale website. Barnsdale garden is open daily to
visitors, where you can the TV gardens that Geoff created as well as
newer areas designed by his son Nick, author of "Grow Organic". The nursery runs a mail-order side and won a silver at Chelsea for its display this year.

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