HGTV Show Backlash – Putting the “G” back in HGTV?

Gardeners are mad as hell, and….not going to take it any more?

Recently we wrote about the show Dirty Business on HGTV which chronicles the projects of the landscaping firm I’ve started watching the show since the episodes started up again. It is entertaining: The guys appear to be great (and funny) people, amazing designers, and they have wonderful solutions for the back yards that I’ve seen. Both backyard designs have been utterly gorgeous.

But the projects on the show, and many others like it, are not what you could really call “real gardens by real people”, which is what we at Toronto Gardens yearn for.

As a reality check, view a real person’s garden, Helen’s Microgarden. This is it. The whole thing. Well, almost. Below is the other side of the table; the good corner. Plus a step back to take in the whole darned thing, with wildlife.

Here’s an example of this “Upstairs/Downstairs” vibe from a recent episode: One of the hitches on a Dirty Business gardening project was a cost goof: It was, “Oops, the approved landscaping cost for the project was $9,000, but it’s really going to be $18,000!” It’s not shown how this hitch gets resolved, but as it wasn’t mentioned again, I assume the homeowners simply ate the additional cost.

It’s clear that these garden reality shows are a far-off fantasy for most of us watching. What percentage of viewers could spend $9000 on plants for their backyard, let alone $18,000? And that’s just plant costs, mind you, not hard landscaping –not the wood, the glass, the rocks, the high-end furniture, the labour or the actual design costs.

Garden shows that used to have a bit of a homey reality – David Tarrant on CBC – or some other smaller-scaled shows that gave everyday tips the average gardener could use seem to have disappeared. Now most shows, particularly on HGTV, are becoming the horticultural equivalent of that old chestnut, The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. (sans the famous part) They are way beyond the reach of 90% of the viewers. While fantasy has its place, and the garden projects are, of course, droolworthy, where does it leave all of us regular eager beavers in our gardens, who want to spruce things up and find a better way to do common garden tasks, or find a way to tackle some simple, affordable, improvements. Where can most of us find inspiration that is within economic reach?

The main problem appears to be that the shows have moved away from plant material, and towards hard landscaping: the most costly thing. There are long segments on Dirty Business showing the designer picking out the super fancy upholstered garden furniture at the showroom, but I literally had to rewind the PVR and play in slow motion to catch a glimpse of the garden tags on the shrubs, perennials and trees they were planting. The emphasis seems all off, especially in these economically straitened times.

As one American commenter on the garden iVillage forum GardenWeb says:

Many, many of us are fed up with the lack of real gardening programs on HGTV (what ‘G’?). The more I think about all those wonderful shows that are gone/cancelled, the more I fume.According to a producer, gardening doesn’t sell, but ‘landscaping’ does.

Link here.

A Canadian commenter writes this:

Isn’t it about time to gut the “G” back in HGTV? Your website lists only 3 shows in the garden category. Now let’s be honest. The description for “Take it Outside” talks about outdoor rooms and fixtures, but the words “garden” or “plant” never once appear in the description of that show. “Green Force” is basically a knock-off version of Extreme Makeover Home Edition for landscaper wannabes.

Link here

One gardener has started an HGTV protest campaign to get the programmers to see sense. She writes:

Look anywhere on the net and you can find statistics that show how the ‘gardening and growing your own food’ trend has gone through the roof. They’ve taken to calling them Recession Gardens. It doesn’t matter if the available space is 50 acres or a small balcony and containers, people are doing it.

Every day hundreds of people are making the decision to start a garden, whether it be because of the economy, worry about the planet, better flavor, beauty, or simple food safety, they’re hungry for information. And yet, HGTV seems to completely ignore these people and the facts.

Ever since I saw their gorgeous bathtub patio at Canada Blooms in 2002, I’ve always had a fantasy of having the guys makeover my teeny 8 by 8 foot deck outside my kitchen door. ( Their design was simple, not over the top, and used recycled materials – it was beautiful.) I figured out long time ago that that it would probably never happen, because they’d hit the big time: Big clients with big money. Good for them, they deserve their success, but watching the show now, I realize that dream is father off than I ever imagined.

To learn about the HGTV protest campaign click here.
And also here.

Incidentally, thinking of “champagne wishes and caviar dreams”, here’s an opinion from Jim Sollich at the Wall Street Journal blaming HGTV for what he sees as its part in the housing bubble. He writes:

HGTV is an evil empire that never rests.

1 comment

  1. Very interesting article. The G in HGTV vanished a long time ago and I agree that what they do show is not within the budget of the average gardener. I really don’t watch that channel much anymore as I’m fed up with these makeovers of how to sell your house, and all the expensive designers. Thank goodness it is time to work in the garden and not watch tv.

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