Monday, 13 October 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Where's Carol Klein?

420x190_carol_vegBy Emma Townshend

It's not often I take the possibly risky step of criticising a piece that's appeared in our own paper, but I was bemused to find whist checking out the "Green List", a list of Britain's 100 top environmentalists that appeared in yesterday's paper, that only three horticultural greens made the grade.

Gardeners ought to be all over the list, though. For a start, we all know the stuff about growing your own and how it can help to reduce carbon emissions associated with food transport. Eating more home-grown veg also means that we're doing as the UN told us recently, moving over from a more animal-based diet to a more-vegetable laden one. Not only that: in the last twelve months fruit and veg sales have rocketed as the great British public experienced a kind of epiphany, falling in love with everything to do with grow bags, allotments and pinching out.

You wouldn't know this looking at the list though. Okay, in the top ten you'll find Monty Don, coming in at a not-to-be-sniffed-at number 4. But although Monty is about to take over the helm of the Soil Association, I would have said that he is the kind of gardener who cultivates, hmmm, how shall I put it, strong feelings either way. And whilst watching him digging his potatoes is lovely Friday night viewing, I don't think he has been particularly successful in convincing people to switch over to growing their own. In fact I can think of several people I think have been much more important: If I was in charge, Carol Klein would have been top of the list for her inspirational series Grow Your Own, as would Joe Swift whose allotment antics on Gardeners' World have, ahem, made people think even they could manage to grow something.

Further down the list we've got Tim Smit, at number 56. I concede that the Eden Project is a wonderful thing which owes its very existence to Smit's (actually slightly scary) energy, but again if you're looking for the person who's made the most difference to garden-based conservation I reckon the name on the list should be Tony Kirkham from Kew, presenter of The Trees that Made Britain. This programme has been a hymn to native species and their interest and importance: while hothouse gardening is great for schools to learn about the wider world, preserving our own natural heritage goes undervalued and Kirkham has gone a long way towards addressing that. 

Finally at number 67 there's Guy Barter, a face some will know from RHS presentations on climate change. However, if I was going to pick an RHS figure who epitomised that organisation's serious approach to the subject it would have to be Matthew Wilson, author of New Gardening: How to Garden in a Changing Climate. Guy Barter is a nice enough chap but Matthew Wilson is the Mr Darcy of Climate Change, sexing carbon neutrality up to a remarkable extent. There's just no competition. 

Out of all of these omissions it's Carol and Joe's that offends me the most, though. Monty Don is an easy choice and yet his kingdom of corduroy puts loads of people off growing their own, imagining that they would need to sashay about all day long in leather jerkins to achieve anything in a veg bed. We need gardeners like Joe and Carol on TV to make viewers feel it's possible to have a go. They've been criticised for the gentle pop music soundtrack and the incompetent rotovating, but the truth is they make you feel it's something you yourself could attempt. Watching in awe is one thing, but achieves nothing. Watching with a smile on your face is what's required to get you out there the next day, having a go of your own.

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