Binge-watching Gardeners’ World: A guide for U.S.-based cold-climate gardeners

– Posted in: Flowers on the Brain, Miscellaneous, Recommended Links, Things I Love

The holidays are over. Seeds have been ordered (or not–I decided to take a break from seed sowing). The temperature is dropping (-5°F tonight) and the wind is blowing (wind chill advisory in effect). Time to binge-watch some gardening shows. I’ve been watching BBC 2’s Gardeners’ World for several years now, and I’ve got some tips for you to get the most out of it.

Gardener’s World is an hour-long British gardening television show, currently moderated by Monty Don but also featuring other presenters. It usually opens with the camera approaching Monty Don as he’s working on a gardening task. He looks up and says, “Hello, welcome to Gardeners’ World.” It feels like he is welcoming you to his personal garden (which it is) and talking to you as a fellow gardener.

Each episode of Gardeners’ World has several segments, some of which take place in Monty’s garden, Longmeadow. These are usually demonstrations of a gardening technique. I learn just by watching him work in his garden. Just to see him dig with a shovel or prune a shrub helps me understand how to work more efficiently in my own garden. I also learn more about plants, even though I have to run it through the gardening-in-my-climate filter (see below). We also see garden techniques demonstrated by other presenters, in their own gardens or in other locations.

The visits to other locations–grand estates and more modest gardens as well–sometimes provide seasonal inspiration and sometimes focus on a particular topic. I especially love it when they feature the holders of National Collections (eg the National Collection of  Irises bred by Sir Cedric Morris). The people who are so focused on one species are a little bit wacky and a lot nerdy–and I kind of identify with that. I mean, I have over 50 different kinds of colchicums, and could easily tell you more than you wanted to know about them.

Since the pandemic started, they have also featured garden videos sent in from viewers, predominantly from Britain but also other countries, including the U.S. But before you start bingeing, there’s a few things you should know.

The British Climate

There is no place in Great Britain colder than our USDA hardiness zone 8. (I consider USDA hardiness zones 5 and lower to be cold climates.) If you don’t believe me, take a look at this map. The RHS’ coldest hardiness rating is H7–plants that tolerate -20°C (-4°F). Any plant rated H7 is considered “very hardy.” I’m not sure they can even fathom temperatures any colder. There are some places in Britain where they rarely even have frost—ever—and can leave tender plants in the ground. Also, their growing season is much longer than ours in terms of number of frost-free days, due to prevailing winds that bring the warmth stored in the Atlantic Ocean. They also have much longer daylight in summer because they are so much further north. (Of course, their nights in winter are even longer than ours.) So be skeptical when you hear a plant described as hardy. It may be hardy for us, but you’ll need to do further research to be certain.

Their conception of hot weather is also skewed. For example, one year the presenters kept complaining about how hot it was at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. I looked it up, and it got up to 24°C—which is about 75°F. Not exactly too hot, if you ask me! (One perk of watching a pre-recorded show is you can pause it and convert C to F using Google or the calculator built into Windows 10.) And if they want to grow decent tomatoes, they grow them in a greenhouse, because they need the extra heat to ripen them.

Because our summers are also cool, there’s enough overlap in featured plants to be familiar, yet enough differences to keep it interesting. Pruning is the one area where I’m not sure their conditions apply, specifically when to prune. For example, Monty prunes his roses in January, but I wait until they start to leaf out, because I know there will be dieback and I wait to see exactly how far down it goes.

Differences in gardenspeak

Most of the time, when the British pronounce words differently, they mean the same thing. For example, the first syllable of privacy is not a long i, but rhymes with give. Evolution begins with a long e sound. And saint, as in St. Mark’s Square, is pronounced sin–barely pronouncing the vowel at all. If you’re like me, you’ll suddenly recognize a word you had heard many times whose pronunciation had concealed it from you.

But there are some words which have a different meaning. British gardeners mean something different by the word “compost” than we do. To them, compost (pronounced cumpust) is any kind or type of potting mix. “Garden compost” is what we would just call compost. And when they say “chalk” they are referring to a free-draining alkaline soil derived from limestone. If they say it grows well on chalk, it probably won’t like my acid clay.

Also, they like to use grit a lot. I don’t find horticultural grit in big box stores or independent garden centers, but I can usually find chicken grit in feed stores. You can also use turface or vermiculite instead.

Where to find past episodes

The BBC closely guards their Gardeners’ World episodes. And why not? That’s how they make their money. (They do offer some sample clips on their website.) Gardeners’ World episodes on Youtube are quickly taken down. But there are a few legitimate places to find and watch them. If you are already subscribed to Britbox, you will find them on there. But if, like me, you find the subscription fee a little steep, there is another source: HDClump. I’m not exactly sure why they have permission to archive these, but apparently they do. All the episodes from 2021 are in this folder. They are arranged in reverse chronological order so the first episode of 2021 is here. There were 30 regular season episodes and then three Winter Specials 2021/22. (The Winter Specials 2021 are actually recaps of the 2020 season, which due to COVID restrictions, was not up to the usual standards.)

But wait–there’s more!

That will get you started. But HDClump has a lot more. At the top of their home page they have a “Gardening” menu item. Hover your cursor over that and a drop-down menu appears. This will keep your busy for a lo-o-o-ng time. I especially recommend to you Monty Don’s armchair garden travel specials. The first of these was Around the World in 80 Gardens, released in 2008. This was followed in later years by Italian Gardens, French Gardens, Paradise Gardens, Japanese Gardens, and, in 2020, American Gardens. It was fun to watch Monty explore the United States gardening culture, but also frustrating, because there was so much more he could have seen (How could he skip [insert your favorite garden here]?) and so much that was painted with too broad a brush (We’re not all slaves to our lawns). He’s currently touring the Adriatic; the second episode goes live tonight.

There’s a lot in the Monty Don menu list that I have yet to see myself. And I still need to explore most of the non-Monty garden shows, though I have watched Carol Klein’s Life in a Cottage Garden series and enjoyed it very much.

And if you haven’t gotten enough of Monty, you can follow him on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and his own website. (BBC Gardeners’ World also has a Facebook account.) And he’s written many books. He’s also been written up in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the New Yorker, among many others.

So there you are, my winter-weary, cabin-fever-crazed fellow gardeners: a way to enjoy gardening from the comfort of your own couch, feasting your eyes on green and growing plants, and perhaps picking up a tip or technique or two that you can use when our long winter is over. By then, the next season of Gardeners’ World should be airing. (I kid you not: it begins in March, when we are still dealing with mud season.)

What about American gardening shows?

Our family is unusual in that we don’t own a television set and don’t subscribe to cable or any streaming services. Until I was introduced to Gardeners’ World, I rarely watched any videos at all. So I don’t know much about American gardening shows. I do know that for years, U.S. gardeners have been complaining that there’s not much G in HGTV.

HGTV used to have a show called Gardening by the Yard, featuring Paul James, but that was canceled years ago, and I could only find a few episodes. Let’s face it, as Monty says, “In Britain, if you go to a dinner party, you wouldn’t consider it odd or unusual to meet a gardener. In America, the chances of finding someone who actively gardens is far more remote: it’s not part of the zeitgeist, and it’s seen as eccentric.” Growing a Greener World is the closest thing we have to Gardeners’ World, and it produces 11 half-hour segments a year, contrasted with Gardeners’ World’s 30 one-hour episodes–not counting the specials.

Of course, there are many “plantfluencers” on various social media platforms with large followings. If you have a favorite you follow, or know of another American gardening show, please let us all know about it in the comments.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

~Albert Camus in Albert Camus quotations

Comments on this entry are closed.

Beth@PlantPostings January 19, 2022, 9:01 pm

I always enjoy Monty Don’s shows and have watched many of them. I haven’t seen this show, so I’ll have to look for it. Thanks for the info. I like the way you described us winter-weary…etc….gardeners. So true. And the longest month is ahead. 😉 Time for more garden shows!

Julia Hofley January 19, 2022, 12:17 pm

Wonderful advice and guidance here Kathy! Eric and I love watching Gardeners’ World on a cold winter’s night fireside…it takes you away from the cold and right into the garden with Monty or the other gardeners. Thank you for sharing!

Geri January 18, 2022, 11:47 am

While tv gardening shows are a rarity in the US, there are quite a few good YouTube gardening series. Among my favorites are The Impatient Gardener, that focuses on gardening in northern climates, Y Garden, a zone 6 series, and Harmony Hills, with more of a mid-Atlantic focus. While not professionally written and produced, they are good quality and usually quite informative.

Kathy Purdy January 18, 2022, 2:49 pm

Thanks for those suggestions, Geri!

Tracy January 15, 2022, 1:29 pm

Thanks for telling us about HDClump. A storm is coming tomorrow, great time to binge on gardening shows.

I wish there were more (any) U.S. gardening shows, like Victory Garden. The few that were on HGTV were mostly revamping a yard in two days, not much useful information, focused on hard scaping.

Kathy Purdy January 15, 2022, 1:54 pm

Thanks for commenting, Tracy. Check out some of the other comments for videos to watch, and give Growing a Greener World a try.

Deborah January 15, 2022, 1:26 pm

I visited Weeping Ash Garden (Warrington – England) in 2007. John Bents, retired owner of Bent’s Garden Centre, was in his garden at the time. I inquired of him as to Plant Hardiness Zones in the UK. With a twinkle in he eyes, he replied that “there were 2 growing zones in Britain – wet & wetter”.
A Brit gardener commented to me at one time that”if it were not for the warm Gulf Stream currents, the British Isle would be an ice floe for the polar bears”.
Gardeners World in the one garden show by husband sits and watches with me.
From Champaign, Illinois Zone 5b

Kathy Purdy January 15, 2022, 1:53 pm

Yes, Deborah, I hear they do get a lot of rain, except in the SE part of England. Some scientists now discredit the Gulf Stream explanation. I linked to the alternate explanation in my post.

M A Jaworski Landscape Design January 15, 2022, 12:31 pm

Thanks for the comments! I’m a landscape designer in USDA zone 4, Ottawa Canada, and we have winters just like yours. But this winter has been unusual – very little snow (much less than in the mid-Atlantic states!) with temperatures alternately hovering near O C some days, and then plunging down to – 25 – 30 overnight. I expect plant losses in marginally zone-hardy plants like lavenders, but also in zone-hardy plants with shallow roots, like heuchera, which are prone to frost heaving. Climate change means a re-thinking of what species to put in a garden, not just for now, but in future years (eg for trees). I enjoy your blog – which reminds me, your favourites, galanthus, adapts well to temperature see-saws, and their roots go quite deep. Happy New Year and all the best in 2022! Martine Jaworski

Kathy Purdy January 15, 2022, 1:50 pm

Thanks for commenting, Martine. We have had less snow than usual, too, but a storm is predicted for Sunday night. Of course, by this time last year we had already had record-breaking snow accumulation. Yes, galanthus have seemed to enjoy growing here. But to be clear, they are only one of my favorites, which also include narcissus, peonies, and the colchicums I already mentioned.

Sterling January 15, 2022, 11:47 am

Old series A Gardeners Diary with Erica Glasener was the best. Old shows can be found on YouTube with search A Gardners Diary.
(Spell it Gardners)

Kathy Purdy January 15, 2022, 12:21 pm

Thanks, Sterling. I have heard good things about Erica Glasener but have never watched her videos. I believe she is much further south than us.

Joanne C Toft January 15, 2022, 11:20 am

I have gotten a quick morning garden fix from the You Tube/Instagram account of Garden Answer. Laura LeBoutillier is a young gardener in Oregon . They are building a large garden over time. They are short 15 to 20 minutes and cover all kinds of projects. Does not put herself as an expert but learning along the way. Just a fun quick look at gardening. Lots of good ideas.

Kathy Purdy January 15, 2022, 11:45 am

Yes, I watch her videos occasionally. She does not put herself out as an expert but she does know a lot, having grown up in the business. I have a friend in her early 30s who learned just about all she knows about gardening from Laura’s videos.

Carol E. January 15, 2022, 9:39 am

Summer Rayne Oakes, from Spencer NY and NYC, has a couple YouTube channels worth checking out. I enjoy her interview style and she knows plants: “Plant One on Me” (houseplants) and “Flock Fingerlakes” (not just gardening topics here)

Kathy Purdy January 15, 2022, 10:20 am

Yes, she does good work. I liked the FF one where they planted thousands of bulbs, and the one featuring the rock garden in Ithaca.

Carol January 15, 2022, 8:59 am

A wonderful and insightful post, Kathy!
I cannot think of any additional shows to mention. I do have BritBox and watch Gardener’s World using it. I did notice that some past years, 2017? might be available with just an Amazon Prime account. As for American gardening programs… vintage Martha Stewart? Maybe more gardening programs are queueing up since more people are now discovering how wonderful gardening is!

Lee January 15, 2022, 7:55 am

Thanks Kathy. I like watching the British gardening shows as eye candy rather than horticultural I formation. It’s great bloggers like yourself and YouTubers I follow and read for how to information in my zone 6 garden.

Kathy Purdy January 15, 2022, 10:17 am

Thanks for your kind words, Lee. I agree, they’re mostly eye candy for us. But certain skills, like taking cuttings, are pretty much the same the world over, so we can learn from British gardening shows just as well as American ones in that regard.

Donalyn January 14, 2022, 8:08 pm

Thanks for telling us about this – I’ll be checking it out!

Patterson Webster January 14, 2022, 4:13 pm

A terrific post, Kathy. Informative and entertaining, with a nice degree of skepticism.

Linda Brazill January 14, 2022, 3:19 pm

I discovered Monty years ago before he became as famous as he is now. He is so charming and knowledgeable that he’s a joy to watch. Like you, I love the national collections and laugh at the climate differences. We don’t have cable and rarely turn on our TV except for PBS. I usually just find Monty wherever I can. I have a Carol Klein book and have heard her speak a couple of times. In person, she is just as much fun as on TV but she always goes way over her time slot! I thought so many of the viewer garden videos were amazing and inspiring. Such a shame that there is nothing similar in the US. Then again, our growing zones are so different, I think we would need a bunch of regional shows. We used to have a Wisconsin Gardener show, but no more. Thanks for the great post.

Kathy Purdy January 15, 2022, 10:19 am

You are right–regional shows are the way to go. I subscribe to Northern Gardener magazine, based in Minnesota, for the same reason. I don’t live in that state, but their climate is very similar to mine. I know Oklahoma has a televised gardening program. I wonder how many other states do?