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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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