Garden Rescue: secret vice or comfort food for the soul?

Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun …

Confession time: I have a Secret Vice.

To be more accurate (and more truthful), I have several, but today let’s concentrate on just one: I am helplessly addicted to a TV show called Garden Rescue.

Yes yes yes, I can hear you saying, ‘Gardening, Charles? You? Really?’

It all started because my Best Beloved is a very keen gardener indeed, and an elaborate plan is currently being concocted for a radical transformation of the Lower Forty, scheduled to take place next spring, assuming that the entire planet has not by then been (a) reduced to a smoking ruin by nuclear war or (b) under thirty feet of polluted water following an ecological catastrophe of some sort.

Now: my attitude to gardens and gardening is not that dissimilar to many peeps’ attitude to music. In other words: they enjoy it, they have preferences and they’re not averse to watching the odd concert or documentary on the subject. They do not, though, wish to learn an instrument, perform, compose or even familiarise themselves with the leading independent labels from the LA R&B scene of the 1950s or the personnel of mid-level 1970s UK punk bands.

Me: filling (and occasionally utilising) watering-cans is as far as I go in terms of hands-on involvement, but I’m an appreciative audience. Heh-heh, I just like to watch, heh-heh … and luxuriate in the results. This is obviously an inheritance from my late sainted father who — much to the combined amusement and annoyance of my late sainted mother, herself a fanatical gardener — was unable to recognise and name any flower which wasn’t a rose.

The Beeb’s flagship garden show is, of course, the venerable Gardeners’ World. It’s pleasant and soothing and shows lots of pretty stuff, but after a while a certain same-oldiness sets in, with genial old Monty Don endlessly pottering around his huge fuck-off garden trailed by a couple of amiable dogs and periodically cueing film inserts in which his satellite presenters visit other people in their huge fuck-off gardens before assigning his viewers their ‘jobs for the weekend’.

Garden Rescue is, however, loads more fun, tweezing its elderly predecessor’s format with licks nicked from game-shows and reality TV. Here’s how it works: first viewers compete to get their gardens done over, providing the budget for the materials involved while the show kicks in the layout and landscaping labour. Then two designers compete in their turn to get their design chosen by the lucky punters, with the loser working on the winner’s design.

One design faction is The Rich Brothers, a brace of laid-back hipsters who’ve won a whole herd of gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show. Dapper Dude Harry and Hairy Hippie David (it should be the other way round, of course, but the Great And Powerful Gods Of Alliteration are rarely as cooperative as one would wish) go up against and then collaborate with the veteran TV fave Charlie Dimmock: a game old bird, broad of shoulder and grin with a flowing Robert Plant mane, decades of variegated horticultural experience and a far less conventional mindset than you might expect. And she does a MEAN water-feature. Broadly speaking, she’s the traditionalist and the Riches are the modernists. In fact, you could get a fairly lethal drinking game going during most shows by taking a glug every time one Rich or other uses the words ‘modern’ or ‘contemporary.’

So the three of them rock up to the site, inspect the premises, interrogate the clients and then go home to switch into Design Mode. Los Bros Rich fire up their Mac and Ms Dimmock puts on her specs and breaks out out her water-colour paintbox. Then they head back and pitch. Clients make choice, and then the landscapers — a bunch of hairy-arsed blokes including a geezer who looks like Billy Gibbons on steroid — go in and do the heavy lifting, digging, dredging undsoweiter before the Big Three arrive to lead the assembled company through the arty creative process. For some reason, the show is somewhat reticent about exactly how much time elapses between the trio’s first consultation and the final grand unveiling of the completed masterpiece to the astounded and delighted clients. Without a count-off (Deh Won!), we have no way of knowing whether it’s the team’s collective expertise or simply sympathetic editing which ensures that we never see anything going hideously wrong. Like one Rich Sibling attempting to decapitate the other with a chainsaw or the householders screaming, ‘WTF have you done? It’s horrible!’

Mind you, in an attempt to whip up spurious drama, the opening titles suggest that there might be conflict — Dimmock vs Riches or Rich vs Rich — but in practice that hardly ever happens: despite all Teh Bantz, it’s good humour and mutual respect almost all the way.

Without wishing to compromise my legendarily steadfast opposition to gender stereotyping in any form whatsoever, it should be noted that the Riches’ style is very ‘masculine’ — they loves them some straight lines and sharp angles — whereas Ms D’s layouts tend towards curvey and comfy and enfolding … almost maternal, in fact.

So why does it work? At a point in our planetary history where a foetid tide of horror threatens to engulf us all — for the lucky ones it laps around our feet; for the less fortunate it’s at nostril height — Garden Rescue represents an oasis of optimism wherein happy enthusiastic peeps who know what they’re doing and enjoy doing it can make a real difference, even if all they’re doing is transforming a wasteland rubbish tip or a blank featureless lawn into a delightful and diverting refuge.

Which is possibly what is meant by what our French neighbours would call cultiver notre jardin and our US cousins characterise as ‘moving to Montana’ (to raise me up a crop of dennil floss – thank you, Uncle Frank). Not an admission of defeat or a wholesale retreat from the Big Bad World’s nasty bits, but the creation of somewhere nice to hang out to regenerate a little before returning to the fray.

And finally: very good, Ms Parker. Now use the word ‘horticulture’ in another sentence.

Phun Phact: autocorrect seems to have a tireless need to transform ‘Dimmock’ into ‘Gimmick.’ I shudder to speculate as to why.

When Ian (Hislop) Met Anna (Chen): Who Should We Let In?

As I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself three years ago to serve out a period of Trappist silence, which commenced when I realised I was not, at the time, capable of writing anything of interest even to myself, let alone anybody else, a silence broken only by a piece mourning the departure of David Bowie.

I’m now determined to be a better friend to the world, so I’m kicking this site back into some semblance of life. THERE WILL BE STUFF.

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Anna Chen on Victorian and Edwardian-era Yellow Peril fears with Ian Hislop on Who Should We Let In?

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In the meantime, as an appetiser, a reminder that Ian Hislop’s rather excellent BBC documentary/polemic Who Should We Let In?, anatomising originally shown by BBC2 on Thursday 22nd June, is still available on BBC iPlayer until the end of July.

And, of course, it features a sparkling guest appearance by Anna Chen, who tells you all about it here.

Check it! And let’s meet again soon …

Charles Shaar Murray and Bex Marshall visit the Ozarks

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… that’s Ozark Guitars, not the celebrated US mountain range after which the brand of exquisite acoustic guitars is named. Mi sistah-in-blues, the awesomely talented Bex Marshall, is a major user of these fine instruments and since she was about to pay a visit to the headquarters of Stentor, Ozark’s parent company, to get a couple of her road-battered Ozark resonator electros given a good seeing-to, she very kindly invited me to tag along and get some minor damage to my own beloved Ozark 3515 BTEG repaired.

Such is Bex’s status amongst Ozark users that we got this work done personally by the company’s genial head honcho and chief designer David Carroll … and a fun afternoon was had by all. Megathanx to Bex, and to David. Needless to say, there is no bigger bang (or twang) for your resonator buckage available anywhere in this time zone (a word to the wise guy or gal)… and we couldn’t wait to get home and play our freshly rejuvenated ‘Zarks … and fall in love with them all over again.

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Hothouse Spring 2014 is GO – we have lift-off!

541398_10152227691108012_967829795_n This is just a quick word to announce that the first session of the first Hothouse Project course of 2014, “Journalism as Craft and Art” kicked off with the proverbial BANG. Another intriguing bunch of students showed, and it looks like the next seven weeks will generate fun and enlightenment for all concerned … me included, of course.

And, equally needless to say, I can’t wait for the first batch of homework to arrive.

(Yep, there’s homework … I’m’a work ’em like DAWGS.)