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Why haven’t TV horticulture shows given gardening the Great British Bakeoff boost?

TheGreat British Bakeoff is a TV cultural phenomenon that’s inspired a generation of bakers and domestic confectionary enthusiasts. At the height of its popularity, the 7th series, which saw an average of nearly 14 million viewers across its 10-episode run, the nation was positively gripped by the simple-format culinary show. 

Its winning formula of funny, amiable hosts and likeable, everyman contestants—with a dollop of expertise from the Hollywood and Berry-shaped judges—seemed to hit just the right note with the viewing public.

Because of its widespread appeal, it’s perhaps understandable the effect GBBO has had on the sales of baking goods in the UK over the last decade, as viewers attempt to recreate the showstoppers and technical challenges seen on the much-loved Channel 4 show.

As early as series 6, in which the first episode drew in 9.3 million viewers—that’s 43% of the entire TV-watching public—the impact was hard to ignore. In 2015, Tesco saw a 30% rise in the demand for cake decorations, a figure that rose to 40% the following year. 

According to the data analytics and market research company, IRI, sales of baking products have risen by a staggering 62% since 2010. Clearly, GBBO has lit the fires of budding home chefs and the baking industry has prospered as a result.

With great success, of course, will come a trail of imitators. With GBBO being such a unanimous megahit, plenty of other seemingly humble pastimes have been given the Great British treatment—with varied results. The Great Pottery Throwdown was followed by the Great British Sewing Bee, the latter of which has received modest viewing figures but has just finished its 7th series.

But what of gardening? Have any horticultural shows managed to inspire a new generation of nascent gardeners to the same degree as GBBO?

And, if not...why not?

In 2013, BBC Two launched the Great British Garden Revival, a documentary series hosted by a litany of familiar household names in the gardening world. The short-lived venture was designed to offer viewers plenty of useful tips and practical green-fingered advice. It was, however, perhaps a little close in terms of style and production as the BBC staple Gardeners’ World to be revolutionary—particularly as some of the GW regulars were pitched front and centre of the series. Monty Don hosted the first episode.

Elsewhere, to ape the GBBO format, the BBC also launched The Big Allotment Challenge in 2015; a Fern Britton-hosted gardening game show in the style of the breakaway baking hit. Judges, challenges, contestants. It’s pretty clear what the producers were aiming for...but it only lasted 12 episodes.

So why haven’t gardening programmes incited a similar cultural impact that television behemoths like GBBO have over the last decade? Have British institutions like Gardeners' World become a little too stale and outdated to reach younger audiences? 

Do they prefer a more light-hearted, comedic approach to their media intake, to offset the practical, expert advice? Is the Noel Fielding role just as important as the Paul Hollywood role for multigenerational engagement?

In 2016, no doubt a conscious effort to make gardening the next hobby du jour, producers at Gardeners’ World decided the long-running show needed a bit of a shake-up. Still fronted by Monty Don, GW would double its running time to one hour and add a host of new features—including a rotating roster of younger presenters to catch the straggling under-35 demographic. Also, to give Gardeners’ World that seemingly magic ingredient of passionate amateurism, the new format would also showcase the horticultural talents of some of their viewing public.

Fast forward to 2021 and Gardeners’ World still has a hugely loyal fanbase. Indeed, Twitter is a hive of activity during its weekly airing, with the hashtag #shoutyhalfhour a regular feature on viewers’ timelines. 

What started as a chance for audiences to vent their potential quibbles at GW, has now been commandeered as a tongue-in-cheek, catch-all tag that viewers use whilst live-blogging along with the show. It’s all generally good-natured and mostly everyone engages in the right spirit. 

Although not everyone, it seems,is a fan of the deluge of amateur segments. As one viewer mused:

“This is cheap programme making - so many viewers' gardens.  It's ok, but sometimes I want a bit more.”

Blissfully quaint escapism like Gardeners’ World is almost the perfect antidote for the uncertain age of COVID, and there’s certainly been a steady spike in audience figures in the last 12-months.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s also been a 30% increase in the sales of Miracle-Gro since May 2020! Pandemic aside, those figures do suggest that Britain’s love of gardening isn’t on the wane just yet.

We’d love to hear your thoughts. What can programmes like Gardeners’ World do to improve their output and captivate a new generation of horticulturalists? What kind of show could give gardening the GBBO boost?

Posted on June 22nd 2021

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