I never watch reality television shows. Well, almost never. But this week I have been watching a competition among 6 amateur garden designers vying for a chance to do a garden design in the small gardens category at the Chelsea Flower Show. It follows the lines of the Great British Baking show-or at least I think so, because I have never actually watched that. They were chosen from hundreds of applicants and now they enter the final stages of the competition.
On day one, under the watchful eye of Joe Swift, their mentor, and judges Ann-Marie Powell and James Alexander-Sinclair, the group of three men and three women, all amateurs, set about designing a Cottage garden in a 4m x 3m space. And, in true reality show manner, one was bumped off at the end of the day. Day two saw them designing a Formal garden, with the second lady leaving the scene. Yesterday, I watched day three. The briefs are getting more difficult, this one was to be a Conceptual garden.
I should make it clear that my main reason for watching this program is really just to see those gardens although I may learn a thing or two along the way. When several of them started putting in their gravel paths before they had done their planting I did wonder if that was staged. Joe Swift stopped them working and told them that that is the very last thing they do. Even I would know not to do that. There have been some really creative ideas including the one below which won gold in the episode I watched today. In three segments it showed a dry Australian outback garden followed by the same scene after a brush fire. There were even smoldering embers; and then the final section showed the renewal. I can relate to this because there are lots of burnt out stumps on our lot where wildfire raced through our land in the drought-stricken fifties.
But those judges are critical. It reminded me of being in school and, at the age of 15, hearing the English exam results being read out by the teacher. It was typical to start at the bottom with something like 35% and work upwards reading out each girls' name. When she got to 70% and my name hadn't appeared I was wondering if I had missed it. But no, at 75% there I was, second to top. (In my day marking was harder and if you got over 70% you were at the top.) I let out some kind of sound and the teacher looked across at me and said, "You still have room for improvement" Typical British teacher from the 50s. Rarely a moment of praise.
The last woman standing called her garden Thirst. Her garden appealed to me because of the dry desert scene. Behind the desert scene there was an oasis with a water faucet which was, alas, dry. The judges didn't feel the scene made them feel thirsty and there was criticism about her attention to detail. The agaves had sand covering their bases. She was out.
The competition has by now finished and one of the three men left will go to Chelsea and design a garden. It is going to be very interesting to see how well he does. Will he get one of those much sought-after medals? If he does, he will be well on the road to designing gardens as a career. Or will he?
There was much furor about this show. Garden designers described the show as 'dumbing down' their profession and demeaning the industry. Really? As an onlooker I can only say that I doubt it. Do they really think that people who watch this program are going to go rushing out there and start designing gardens for the public. If anything it might encourage young people to go into the business-to take formal education in landscape design. Anyone who is a gardener knows how difficult it is to design a garden. In the business world there is room for everyone to try their hand at what they want and if they fail, well...just part of life.
By the way, at the very start, Joe Swift said that the cottage garden was the easiest of gardens to create. I'm so glad I picked the easy one! I'd like to tell Joe that it may be easy for him but taking care of it is endless amounts of work keeping things under control. Not that I am going to change.