Who will replace Monty Don as presenter on Gardener’s World?
Well, it’s likely that you don’t care much in America, but perhaps you should. It’s one of those ‘has to be diverse’ appointments.
Monty Don has announced that he will retire in the next couple of years and that his replacement must be diverse: ‘In a truly just and fair society, we wouldn’t care what someone’s colour or race or creed or sex was. But the truth is that it’s much more delicate. And I think that I’m absolutely persuaded that in order to include everybody, you have to open doors that either are or seem to be shut. And if the door is perceived to be shut then it is shut even if actually you think it’s not.’ (The Times 9th Nov 2023, paywall)
Well, we can all imagine to ourselves which way this is going to go, but I would like to comment on two of the types of so called ‘diversity’ which in the UK come low down on the list.
The first is women.
The first person many keen watchers of the programme are likely to think of as the ideal candidate is Carole Klein, who has been an underling presenter since she began in 1988.
There was a time when Monty Don stood down – and his replacement was Toby Buckland. Carol’s thoughts on this were pungent: she called it an ‘upsetting smack in the chops‘. Here were my thoughts on that at the time. Well, Carol is still there and this is what she thinks of her chances this time = “She added that proper recognition for female horticulturalists has been a long time coming and said: ‘There is a bit of grass ceiling when it comes to women.’”
I find one of the reasons why men have forever filled this slot humiliating and infuriating: the BBC sees women as sort of presenter groupies. They may even be right. Maybe I’m alone in wanting something different and better than that.
I used to see a lot of women when I went to the Society of Garden Designer’s conferences.
(I used to write for the Garden Design Journal in the radical days when they also had challenging articles by Tim Richardson each month. See here. I once used to have to publish without photographs!) We would sit in a lecture hall full of about 95% women and watch presentations by men. I have no idea if this is still the case – perhaps someone will cheer me up and tell me the numbers have been reversed.
That is a while ago, and at that time not totally dissimilar percentages applied to most aspects of the garden world. Women did it, men wrote about it, designed and landscaped it, and talked on telly about it. I don’t have figures for how much this may have changed, but I’m prepared to bet that women are still the majority of gardeners. So will Carol be in the running this time?
All that actually touches on my second category.
There’s another reason we all know it won’t be Carol.
In spite of her expertise. Her popularity. Her (actual) attractiveness. Her depth of knowledge. Her experience as a presenter.
The reason is her age.
In the garden world age ought to be a recommendation. It takes years to get to know this thing even partially. Plants grow differently in different places, weather changes every year for most of us, and if it doesn’t we need a whole different kind of expertise. We need to learn about design, aesthetics, plant hardiness and the plant hardiness map, ecology, botany, nomenclature, a horrible catalogue of pests – I could go on and on, you know that. And if you grow veggies, and a TV presenter must, (I imagine?) there will be a whole lot more pests and stuff = compost, fertilisers, and so on and on…
None of us can learn all this quickly, even if we attend horticultural courses.
But that will make no difference to the choice of presenter for this major garden programme.