Next year looks like being a record one for gardening television, at least in quantity, with up to a dozen series planned.
Four series will begin in the first week of January – quite a novel move, given that few gardeners are active outdoors. Apparently the trend is led by increasing use of catch-up TV, meaning viewers might watch repeats when the gardening season actually starts.
Meanwhile, garden makeovers are well and truly back, as are competitions, prompted by the success of The Great British Bake Off.
For broadcast on Christmas Day and December 28, Alan Titchmarsh kicks things off on ITV1 with The Queen’s Garden, presented in two one-hour programmes.
Then, on January 2 at 9pm on BBC Two, The Big Allotment Challenge starts a second series. The six-part first series attracted an average audience of 1.9 million, with contestants Alex Lomax and Ed Bond winning the prize.
Audiences for The Bake Off-inspired grow, cook and flower arranging competition dipped from 2.77 million after the first showing in April 2014. Twitter grumblers moaned about a lack of solid horticulture advice, so chief judge Jim Buttress will give more grow-your-own tips this time around. Contestants will compete singly rather than in pairs this season.
Meanwhile, also on January 2, Sky TV is going into gardening with Show Me Your Garden, a six-part series airing on Sky 1 HD weekly at 8pm. Three gardeners from six locations are “out to prove that they have the best garden in town”. Actress Alison Steadman narrates.
From January 5 at 7pm the Great British Garden Revival is back, with a second 10-part series airing on BBC Two. Series one won a Garden Media Guild award for Rachel de Thame and James Wong’s reports on topiary and roof gardens, which attracted 1.49 million viewers.
The new series will feature episodes on knot gardens and soft fruit (Alys Fowler); grasses and scented gardens (Toby Buckland); conifers and daffodils (Carol Klein); pelargoniums and tulips (Tom Hart Dyke); lilies, rhododendrons and woodland gardens (James Wong); peonies (Charlie Dimmock); bog gardens and climbers and creepers (Joe Swift); lavender and wildlife gardens (Diarmuid Gavin); roses and irises (Rachel de Thame); blossom trees and shrubs (Chris Beardshaw) and carnations (Christine Walkden).
Finally in January, a new three-part series called Britain’s Best Gardens begins on January 6 at 8pm on ITV1, with Alan Titchmarsh.
Toby Buckland, a regular presence on Gardeners’ World and Great British Garden Revival, says that the deluge of gardening shows in January is a reaction to “box-set” culture: “I think in winter gardening viewers are stuck indoors, and shows shot in summer provide a welcome holiday programme brightness,” he says.
It’s also considered that new programmes do best when they are “block” broadcast over a week, making them less likely to be lost in the schedules. Should they do well, there’s still time to recommission and shoot again in the summer.
Buckland adds: “The ‘block’ concept is inspired by the Breaking Bad box-set culture where stories are so gripping that you’ll want to gorge on one after another, even if that means paying for it. I’m not convinced the idea works for gardening. However, for new programmes it means marketing beyond the launch is much easier and makes recording or watching on catch-up more likely – the catch-up audience has become ever more important, especially as it’s now included in viewing figures.”
From early March Gardeners’ World will return to BBC Two for a 47th year, with Monty Don presenting. Viewing figures for early 2014 were comparable with the previous year but tailed off badly in autumn. From late April, Carol Klein will present four episodes of Carol’s Plant Odyssey on BBC Two, exploring the history of the rose, tulip, iris and water lily.
For 2015 Chelsea Flower Show coverage the BBC has persuaded the RHS to split the Great Pavilion into UK and overseas sections, to make it more filmable. Also new this year is Designs on Chelsea, a four-part BBC Two competition that awards an unknown designer with a place at the show.