Don’t be Fooled by The Landscape Man!

Screenshot Channel 4’s new series Landscape Man website

Did you watch it Thursday night? Channel 4’s new series called Landscape Man. It was pitched to be like Grand Designs but about creating gardens.

The opening episode of this new six part series was jaw dropping. A couple living in Devon had bought a 4-acre site and sunk every penny they had into developing their dream garden to the point of severe financial strain. Keith and Ros worked relentlessly to raise all their own plants in their small nursery as well as plant and tend the garden as it developed. Predictably following the traditional TV formula of will they / won’t they.

You could not fault the couple on passion and commitment but they were as ‘mad as a box of frogs’ as a friend of mine would say (in the nicest of ways). Their garden is their obsession. Keith would talk about his dream with wild staring eyes and a look of fervent determination as he explained his ideas.

Garden creator – Keith Wiley screenshot Ch4 series Landscape Man

Is Happy-Go-Lucky The Best Way?

Keith’s process to landscaping his garden was to climb in his mini-digger and spend entire days digging down into the bowels of the earth to create, what the presenter, Matthews Wilson (aka Landscape Man) would describe as ‘canyons’. He would excavate until it was too dark to do any more, every day until he had totally re-sculptured the flat landscape into a series of intricate mounds and paths which he would then plant up with his beloved flowers.

‘Canyons’ screenshot Channel 4’s new series Landscape Man

Then he started work on his Mexican garden (no, I have no idea why he wanted one in the middle of his plot either) and then his water garden, which he excavated to extraordinary depths. I was torn between being slightly aghast as he took on far too much but willing him to succeed at the same time. Apart from the tried and test television plot line, my gripe about this show is I think it is very misleading and could potentially set gardens back, not forward if it continues in the same vein each week.

Misleading

The show made it look like Keith had an idea and off he went to build it without doing a design. In some ways that was true but if you looked really closely he clearly understood design. As much as his Mexican garden wasn’t to my tastes, the paths lined up with focal points and view lines, he had a thought about how it was structured. He had no garden survey or plan to work from, he did it all in his head. VERY few people can do that. I know I can’t and I’m a professional garden designer.

What About Design?

As much as I found the show to be entertaining, I’m worried that people will think that creating a garden is all about digging holes and planting things. It’s not. Keith, bless him, is a creatively passionate guy, who knows his plants and can visualise how things will look. He didn’t draw a plan because he could see it all in his mind. Honestly, not a good idea. My advice is: PLEASE DON’T TRY THAT AT HOME! Draw out your ideas first. If you are new to this blog and want to find out why design is SO important for your garden read: Why Having a Garden Plan Saves You Time and Money.

What he achieved was impressive, partly because of the sheer scale of his undertaking, and because of his unusual methods. But, just imagine what could have been achieved if he had have come at it with more design focus and less plant obsession. He would have created an absolutely outstanding garden. Passion can only take you so far.

Flower garden screenshot Channel 4’s new series Landscape Man

I’m Worried

I have visions of folks up and down the country hiring a mini-digger for the weekend and carving out their ‘dream’ garden. The results of which don’t bear thinking about! The very worst case scenario with any garden is to dig first, think later. Don’t be fooled into thinking Keith just ‘did’ his garden and it all turned out OK in the end. It didn’t. He planned his garden obsessively, day and night albeit in his head (if anything he over designed it). Be a thinker, not a tinkerer!

Reality?

I do hope that future episodes of Landscape Man talk about how important design is to a successful garden. I’m very much in favour of programmes inspiring people to take action, as long as it’s done in a way that actually helps. The problem with ‘reality’ TV is it is anything but real. The budget of £10,000 is a great example of this. You can’t realistically landscape 4 acres with that amount, it would be a struggle to do 1/4 of an acre for that.

HelpGuideCov_pictureIf you missed the show you can catch up with it on the Channel 4 website (the link may not work for those of you outside the UK). And if you want to read more about how landscaping is REALLY done, please download the FREE garden report below which explains the whole process, step by step.

Comments

comments

About Rachel Mathews

Professional international garden designer for over 20 years. My mission is to de-mystify garden design and make it easy for people to successfully design their own garden - without needing to spend a fortune!

Comments

  1. Not to mention possible archaeological and environmental impact.

  2. Yes! Good point.

  3. I agree that going mad with a digger is an unlikely way to make a great garden but I’m also not sure about the drawing a plan as the only way either.

    We have a site which already had (some of) the contours Mad Keith was making. The only way I could create the design was by marking it out on the ground (paper is flat – a major problem to me). And I did it on the same basis – relentless looking, looking, looking over seasons and even years.

    Only one bit was drawn out – the reflecting pool; because we had builders make it and they needed a plan, and because it was built, whereas most of the rest was created with planting.

    I was not taught. The result is not bad. We only had a digger for two little jobs.

    The quality and value of the programme are another discussion.

    Anne

  4. Rachel – I can understand your concerns as a designer. However, I think you are doing both the programme and its viewers a disservice.

    It was made clear in the programme that Keith has over 25 years experience in gardens of this scale and that only himself and his wife (apart from some builders help with the Mexican Courtyard) are working constantly on the project. Most viewers don’t have that depth of knowledge or time to devote to this kind of project and would seek professional help if faced with a similar idea and 4 acres to play with.

    It’s clear from the programme that only a DIY project would enable that kind of scale to be achieved on such a tiny budget. I don’t think many people would substitute a glorified shed for having house either in favour of realising their dream garden.

    I’m sure any designer would love to be given this kind of brief and would come up with something gorgeous. However, I’m not sure the results would be quite as unique as Wildside actually is.
    .-= VP´s last blog ..Will Blog For Chocolate =-.

  5. No, putting things on paper isn’t the only way to do things BUT it is a really good place to start because it forces you to think differently and often ‘see’ things that it’s easy to miss when you are actually in a garden.

    You are right about contours being tricky and yes, in that instance, your method was the right one for you. Having seen photos of your garden, you are someone that spends the time to think and plan. You may not have be taught in a classroom, but you have studied to understand how design works by reading and educating yourself. That’s the important part – knowledge. And actually the reason behind this blog, to help people do what you’ve done.

    As long as people think about how they do their garden, rather than just doing it, then, for me that’s the most important thing.

    If you’ve not seen Anne’s garden take a look at http://www.successfulgardendesign.com/inspirational-gardens-and-the-people-behind-them-part-1/

  6. VP – I hope you are right! I really hope I’ve done a great disservice to the viewers…
    Having lived with the results of Ground Force for years – people tend to see and hear what they want to see and hear. It will be interesting to see how this show motivates people.

    I think with anything we see, our brains takeaway the portion that’s relevant to us. So those people that want to start digging will be inspired to go for it without thinking first.

    You are right about the uniqueness of Wildside. It’s really easy as a designer to be too caught up with precise design and sometimes the real magic is lost as a result. I would love to bottle Keith’s energy and passion and just mix him with a bit more design focus.

    We had an interesting discussion about that a while back http://www.successfulgardendesign.com/why-i-think-you-can-create-a-better-garden-than-a-designer/ – it actually was the reason The Great Garden Challenge was set up.

  7. Me again. You’re right, Rachel, it’s in the looking and looking..and thinking. And allowing time for real vision to emerge..

    Much entertained by this £10,000 ‘too small a budget.’ As penniless amateurs, that amount would have been manna from heaven for us. But we did it slowly over many years and there are bonuses in that – you can respond in the design to what is actually emerging.

    The programme? Well, I’m not fond of plants just strewn about the place and it was hard to see if they worked together in any better way than an over enlarged hanging basket. That aspect of design was totally overlooked – closer examination and discussion might have shown the garden and the thoughts behind it to better effect.

    But really – isn’t everyone tired to the back teeth with that formula? Not quite so bad if it’s convincing and has real life drama but the totally invented jeopardy? Was anyone holding their breath? What would failure amount to?

    As every ful kno, you need teashop and every plant labelled to please the paying public. (Or so they tell me…) Will next programme be ‘Will the kettle boil in time?’

    XXXX Anne

  8. Yes – the ‘Ground Force effect’ crops up quite a bit doesn’t it? I wonder whether the programme might help counteract that a little though. After all it’s looking at what happens over the space of 1 year rather than 2 days, so people might start to think ‘ahhh this garden creation lark does take some time then’.

    People who want to get stuck in probably will do so anyway irrespective of whether or not they’ve watched this programme?

    There’s another 5 programmes in the series, so let’s judge on the whole thing rather than just the first one. I’m pleased there’s an intelligent programme about gardening for a change.

    I’d like to bottle Keith’s knowledge too – his deep understanding of plant associations and what will and won’t work from the top to the bottom of those canyons is amazing.
    .-= VP´s last blog ..Will Blog For Chocolate =-.

  9. Anne – I think you’ll find the Wileys are in a very similar boat to you but have chosen to allocate their budget perhaps a little differently. The money to do what they do is derived from the income from their nursery, garden visitors, Keith’s talks and any paintings Ros sells. Almost everything they earn is ploughed into the garden rather than having the kind of comfortable lifestyle most of us would choose. When Keith left the Garden House he only had enough money to buy those four acres and nothing else.

    If you’re wanting to know more about Keith’s thoughts on the garden’s design and what influences his planting decisions, I can thoroughly recommend attending one of his talks.
    .-= VP´s last blog ..Will Blog For Chocolate =-.

  10. Anne – I should clarify my thoughts on 10k being unrealistic. What I meant was, these programmes should tell people how much a garden like this would actually cost if a professional landscape team had done the work.

    The problem we tend to find is people remember how much money was spent but forget how much work the owner did. It’s horrible to see people’s face drop, time and time again when I tell them how much these things really cost to do if they are done in one hit by a landscape team.

    I find that not many people these days are prepared to develop a garden over many years, they all want it now, sometimes yesterday and they expect it done in a week for the figures they saw on Ground Force…

    The honest truth about the tried and tested formula is yes it works. If a camera crew followed me around on a day to day basis, it would be very boring television! I turn up – interview client, work hard to give them the best design I can – deliver a garden they want. Then we build it.

    No hassles or conflict. We all get on, we do a good job and then we leave. Dull! Though a few weeks ago on site, I did nearly lose a wellington in deep mud… oh the drama! ;o)

    VP – Yes, at least this was shown to take place over a year, a big improvement from good ol’ Tommy Two Days’! And yes, it is too early to judge an entire series on one episode.

    I think if someone is wanting to go digging, this type of thing tips them over and justifies their actions… seen it happen so many times!

  11. I’m going to fill up your comments stream, should really shut up. Of course people should be given a realistic idea of what a professional design + landscaping job costs. (And a year for a garden? umm, no…)

    I didn’t mean to deny that, just acknowledge it’s all totally beyond people like me (and possibly the Wileys, VP – I know we have some things in common with them..)

    It’s not too early to judge, because this programme has a formula which it will now follow relentlessly. But it may be fun to discuss the individual projects on here as they go.

    Trouble is I found myself tweeting rather than paying proper attention after a bit. Can we add a fun factor to our watching somehow maybe?
    Spot the … what?
    XXXA

  12. I’m still clinging to my optimism that next week’s show will be more realistic! I’ll judge it after that…

    Actually it might be quite fun to discuss the projects here afterwards – but if you are right about the relentless formulaic approach, it could get a bit repetitive!

    Perhaps we should get our thinking caps on and come up with our own idea for a show that would make for interesting TV but one that isn’t so obviously contrived – is that even possible?

  13. Of course it’s possible – remember the one that shot Dan ‘the Saint’ Pearson to fame?

    So, eg. an in depth study of a garden – design, it’s journey through weather and seasons, – one garden an hour for a series. All contemporary and inspiring (I hate that word, like ‘lovely’ it has been killed but ..). No ‘take home’ or ‘how to’ demonstrations, just serious discussion about how to, and problems and successes…

    Shall we have a vote on whether our attention spans could cope with that?!

    XXXX Anne

  14. Oh yes vaguely – that was years ago, don’t remember it well enough to comment on the format though. My challenge to you is to come up with a programme on garden design/creation that can hold our attention in today’s society and even compete with Twitter!

    Interesting article on Telegraph website about the behind the scenes factors of the programme. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/7625457/The-Landscape-Man-is-this-the-reality-of-gardening.html

  15. Oh, a programme like that would. Don’t believe gardeners need ‘jeopardy’ , contrived drama and deadlines and over excitment..

    An in depth look at a garden, involving planting, plants, design, things that have gone wrong, problems and successes, – including opinions from other gardeners on all those aspects (you knew I’d get garden criticism in somehow!) would captivate the serious gardener and there are a lot of them out there.

    Most gardeners are grownups.

    XXXX A

  16. Hello

    It has been very interesting reading your comments about Landscape Man and the associated xosts of producing a garden. As a contributor to the programme, I think we are number 4 on the list, most of the work was completed by myself. However we did engage professionals to complete some of the tasks that were beyond our capabilities or to dangerous. Digger work on a steeply sloping cliff top is not for the feint hearted. Our budget was £50k of which 20% was spent on one professional feature. Consequently given the size of area, location and the associated cost of employing people to do the job for us, would have blown the budget out of the water.

  17. Hi Ed

    Thank you for commenting and giving a breakdown of the costs involved. I think it’s very useful information. Very interested to see your garden, sounds like quite a project.

    You raise a very good point. A mix of doing the work yourself and working with a contractor is a good way to get a garden done to high standard whilst keeping costs manageable. A lot of contractors are happy to work with clients and do the parts they can’t do. Very sensible not try digger work on cliff tops, I certainly wouldn’t want to try it!

    Do tell us more about your garden and your experiences of the show (if you are allowed, before it airs?).

  18. £50 thousand pounds and they did most of it themselves!!!!!

    It must be a totally amazing place – kind of keeps you watching, hearing things like that, doesn’t it? Wow.

    XXXx A

  19. And here I am agonizing over every $100 I’m spending on my garden!

    Clearly the gardens in Landscape Man are on a whole different scale. I’ll have to ask my family in the UK if they saw the show and what they think of it.

    Personally I’d be concerned about safety with changing the whole contour of an area – I hope Keith knew what he was doing. I have visions of landslides. I’ll stick to building 12″ high earth banks and digging out 6″ deep rain gardens.
    .-= Alison Kerr´s last blog ..Celebrate Earth Day in Your Garden =-.

  20. Haven’t seen the programme, but it sounds like a really interesting project. I really don’t like the high drama “will they make it” style of TV though.

    I’d like to think *my* attention span could cope with something that’s about plants and design rather than about the drama, but then I don’t watch a lot of TV at all. (Just Dr Who, really.)

  21. Alison, you may be able to watch it on YouTube – the trailer is here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44F4SpKIRX4 and the actual show is on CH4 page – but again that may be blocked for overseas. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNOVGGbU_bI&playnext_from=SL

    Budgets are always a tricky one and things invariably cost more than you expect. The end result is the main thing, we often work with clients to help them cut costs but keep the look they want for their garden. This is where having an overall plan really helps. It enables people to do their garden in phases and get everything in the right place.

    I’ve known people barter with trades people they know to get the hard landscaping done. I did that with my first garden in fact. Got a landscape pal to help me with my patio and I ended up designing and decorating his house… not sure who got the better deal there but it worked!

    There’s always a way, if you really want something, just may not be as instant as shown on TV.

    Willie – glad to know I’m not the only one that doesn’t watch much TV but manages to see Dr. WHO! ;o)

    Anne- laughing! Glad you’ve been tempted to watch more of LM, I think it’s now compulsory, even if it does prove to be formulaic!

  22. Although I’ve not seen the program, your outline provides enough for me to surmise that they’re clearly focused on creating engaging television vs. depicting any sort of reality. I have a background in communication design and photography – very visual, but designing a landscape is so different. I agree that FEW people could do all that in their heads. And the thought that if you just hop in a digger and start digging holes you’ll end up w/something resembling a cool landscape.

    Sketch ideas on paper allows the design to evolve. You can draw several concepts then map them out w/string to get a perspective (my inexperienced garden design approach). It’s tough to get a perspective by moving dirt. Nor is this a DIY project fit for most people.

    So they may be creating good TV – but it’s certainly not something you should watch to figure out how to do it yourself. Sounds like entertainment that happens to use landscape design in the plot . . .

  23. I’m hoping that people will learn to do their homework before planting anything. Both the homework of design and the homework of learning which plants are most appropriate to the conditions and region where the garden is located.

    Too many times I’ve been hired to “fix” gardens where someone went to the nursery and bought every pretty thing they saw and plunked them in the ground with no regard for the plants light or moisture needs, how big the plant would get at maturity, or whether a specific plant would be invasive and take over the entire garden.

    I’m so glad that you are teaching people to do their design homework. Thanks, Rachel!
    .-= Carole´s last blog ..Bishop Weed: Most Hated Plants.. =-.

  24. Thanks for your comments Patrick. A lot of people are scared to put things on paper because they don’t think they’ll be any good at it. I hope with some easy to follow tutorials I’ll be able to get folks past that fear and show that it is often easier to plan it on paper first.

    Carole, I know that feeling! Thankfully, this time, planting was the garden owner’s speciality subject. He had many years experience and was in charge of The Garden House at Buckland Monochorum in Devon before he set upon his own garden.

  25. A comment from the other side of the pond:

    I think we should have pair up the Landscape Man and Martha Stewart and let them have a go at it.

    Martha has achieved wonderful results in her gardens, but then she has the resources to pay for the backhoes, mini-diggers, tree spades, rose experts etc. etc. etc. And yes, many people want to imitate her gardens.

    My gardening teachers were quick to warn us against trying to achieve those “Kodak moments” in the garden design magazines, when everything looks absolutely perfect because real-life gardens rarely look that way.

    Bravo for keeping it real!
    .-= Marsha Stopa´s last blog ..The Surprise of Spring Depression =-.

  26. Fantastic points Rachel! Unfortunately I often fall into the plant now, ask questions later, category. This is a great reminder that a little design goes a long way!

  27. My dad has a koi fish pond made out of an old bathtub, so the idea of taking a mini digger out and playing in the dirt sounds like something he’d jump on wholeheartedly!

    I’d say in addition to having a good design in mind – make a plan for steps you’ll take every day to achieve it. Don’t just leap out of bed in the middle of the night with some great concept for a butterfly garden until you’ve taken stock of what you need to finish it!
    .-= Sherice´s last blog ..Schedule Facebook Posts, Keep Up with Social Networks using Sendible =-.

  28. Hello Again

    I am feeling slightly nervous about our programme going out this coming Sunday (9th May). trying to create a garden on a hugely over grown, steeply sloping cliff top was a real challenge, especially when you have little landscaping/gardening experience We live on a 4 1/2 acre site on the south coast of Guernsey. The island is essentially a lump of granite with a relative;y mild climate but is lashed with with high winds at various times through out the year. Consequently high winds and sea spray have a detrimental effect on many plants. Hence our plant scheme we intrroduced had to be tolerent to the above. We also largely relied upon the wild flowers naturally occuing on the island, which included blue bells, campions, vetch, oxide daisies, various plantains, wild grasses etc.

  29. Hi Ed

    I’m really looking forward to seeing your garden. It sounds really challenging one to do. I can imagine it being a little bit nerve-racking having everyone and their brother cast judgement on your creation!

    The main thing though, is if you are happy with what you’ve achieved and it meets your needs, then it doesn’t matter what other people think!

  30. Hi there

    I’ve been rather amused reading this thread – but wanted to assure Ed that the programme featuring his garden aired in NZ last weekend – and our whole family sat down to watch it (yes, including the 8 year old daughter who is passionate about such matters!)… We were in awe of the natural view that you had to work with, and were quite thrilled (on your behalf) of the view within your garden which you created. What a difference! It was also quite novel experiencing the change that you and your wife went through, regarding the philosophies of ‘gardening’, and I’m sure that this happens in many garden design teams/marriages!!

    Regarding the format, I have to say that I’m okay with the rather predictable set-up, and feel that the most important factor here to consider, that it is raising the profile of gardening, which surely must be the main point. Having created a garden ourselves out of a paddock, I’m aware of the troubles incurred when one purchases one plant at a time, and one of each variety – (it’s not ideal) – but having said that, experience most certainly is the best teacher.

    Thanks for the thread – I think I’ll save this to my favourites!

    Erana 🙂

    • Hi Erana

      Wow, didn’t know that our good old Landscape Man was even making it to NZ! Ed’s garden was quite an undertaking, amazing amount of work. I was certainly impressed with the results!

      You are right with your comment about raising the profile of gardening, it is something that no matter how predictable the programme format is, it does get people thinking about their garden. The more thought that goes into planning, the better the results will be. It will be interesting to see how the second series of the show does – apparently they have involved more designers with this time. So watch this space! ;o)

Trackbacks

  1. […] forward to next week’s show though. If you read the comments on the review I did on the first Landscape Man programme, you’ll have read Ed’s comments. His garden is next in line to be shown in the series […]

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