When next-door neighbors combine their front gardens – before and after.

Good news! England’s beloved gardening guru Monty Don is now streaming on Netflix with his make-over show Big Dreams Small Spaces. Currently just Season 2 is streaming – six 1-hour episodes, each covering two gardens.

Unlike the outdoor make-over shows that HGTV’s programming has devolved to, it’s the right kind of make-over show, produced by people who really know gardening and aren’t trying to fool anyone about how easy it is.  I love this show because:

  • Homeowners do all the work themselves, with Monty coaching them every step of the way. First they share their own ideas with Monty and his reaction is possibly the most instructive part of the show. I found his focus on paths particularly helpful – their importance, choosing a route that feels natural, and creating a destination.
  • Next we follow the homeowners as they visit gardens that Monty suggests they see for ideas – gardens chosen based on the style of garden they (think) they want. (Monty may then tell them they’ve just chosen the most difficult style possible.)
  • The make-overs take place over a whole season or even a year. This longer-term perspective is emphasized throughout, with Monty declaring that gardens are never finished, and that garden’s aren’t a place but a journey.
  • So viewers can learn a TON about creating garden spaces they really enjoy. Very good teaching is going on here.
  • The big “reveal” at the end doesn’t show the homeowners their new instant garden. Here they’re showing the results of their hard work to friends, family and neighbors – with Monty popping in to everyone’s delight.

  • Monty asks about the available funds up front, and by the end of the show we’re told how much was actually spent – surprisingly little in some cases.
  • The gardens, many in back of rowhouses, are truly small.
  • Monty’s super-smart but always positive and encouraging with these beginner gardeners. He’s a doll.

Monty says gardens are about PEOPLE.

Stray observations

  • Monty Don is obviously famous in the U.K. like no gardening guru has ever been in the U.S.  We’re talking Tom Hanks-type famous. And I can see why – I fall for his charms, too – but the much larger audience for garden gurus in the U.K. is apparent.
  • Homeowners selected for the show represent a variety of human stories – sisters or neighbors working together, or people coping with adversity. I guess the human story is popular with viewers but I’m old enough for the adversity stories to remind me of the show “Queen for a Day,” and not in a good way.
  • One interesting garden advice from Monty is that “No garden needs more than seven plants,” which he later admits isn’t strictly true but I found intriguing.