Exploding the Makeover Myth
Sturgeon, veteran of garden makeovers as a presenter
for BBC2’s Garden Neighbours, lifts the lid on
the most talked about area of gardening.
‘Ground Force’ is in its 28th series. It’s
on once a day, except Sunday when it’s on twice.
And there are now plans for a dedicated Ground Force
Channel available on cable so you can watch it all day,
every day. We’ve become makeover crazy, we just
can’t get enough and the programme makers can’t
churn them out fast enough. Like mobile phones, you
wonder how on earth we managed without them.
But what’s it like having it done to you? Being
invaded by a TV crew is initially exciting but the glamour
evaporates in milliseconds and pretty soon a bunch of
TV types in your home can be a real pain in the posterior.
Ask anyone who works in telly whether they’d let
their home be used and they’ll say categorically
no. There’s a reason for this.
Take a look at the end credits of any of the programmes.
There’s a cameraman, soundman, director, assistant
producer, a couple of researchers, a runner maybe, a
horticultural assistant, a few presenters and maybe
even some real gardeners. Already you’re up to
about a dozen people before anyone’s even lifted
a spade. Imagine all those people stumbling through
your flowerbeds and walking through your house for days
or even weeks on end.
When I spent over three months working on ‘Gardening
Neighbours’ for BBC2 we transformed a row of eight
gardens on the outskirts of Birmingham. I’ve cleaned
it up for family consumption but shortly before the
end, one of the neighbours said to me, ‘‘don’t
take this the wrong way but I can’t wait till
you lot have gone.’’
Inside Out’ (or Bad Hair Day as it should be called
given the hirsute presenters) causes so much chaos that
they have to move the owners into a hotel. But with
budgets spiralling well over 25 grand it’s easy
to see why they agree.
On Ground Force - now in its 71st series - the presenters;
Lord Alan of Titchmarsh, Tommy and a girl called Charlie
something, genuinely do most of the work themselves
and do it quite well. The landscape industry, however,
is appalled at some of the short cuts employed by ‘Ground
Farce’, as they call it. On top of that the idea
that it can all be done in a weekend by three people
gives a totally unrealistic impression to the viewing
Allegedly almost a third of the ‘surprised’
punters know all about it beforehand. But are they happy?
Desperate to unearth a little dirt I spoke to loads
of people who I know at the BBC and made countless phone
calls. One man spent two years building a pergola which
was destroyed in half an hour and Nelson Mandela thought
Charlie was a Spice Girl but apart from that no big
A soon to be screened programme appropriately called
‘Garden Invaders’ has not been so lucky.
They recently took a beautiful country garden and turned
it into some sort of post-modern cat litter tray that’s
been described as a ‘feline utopia’. The
owners were deeply upset that their silk purse had been
turned into a sow’s ear and it’s now undergoing
a second makeover to turn it back and rid the countryside
of bright orange scatter cushions and grey chippings.
Recently for ‘Home
Front in the Garden’, Anne McKevitt (an interior
designer with questionable taste and no horticultural
credentials) transformed a large garden. Horticultural
professionals were weeping with laughter as she tarmaced
the patio, painted the house green and pink, put a huge
plastic pot around the base of a mature tree and made
the lawn such a bizarre shape that it became impossible
There were however some rather good elements, like a
swimming pool and a wall of Perspex framing a window
onto the surrounding countryside. The owners, recognising
that these assets represented about fifty grand’s
worth of improvements, immediately put their house on
the market thus breaking their contract with the BBC
and sticking two fingers up in thanks to the licence
Carol Vorderman’s ‘Better Gardens’
were not satisfied with just building a garden for some
lucky couples. For no apparent reason they gave a house
away to the owners of the best garden. What had they
done to deserve this? Well nothing actually.
The King of makeover, Diarmuid Gavin does incredibly
well to come up with so many different and often excellent
televisual designs but has occasionally been accused
of designing teletubby land. In one of his early series
he apparently designed a garden for two ravers in Leicestershire.
One of them loved it, one of them hated it but generally
they were too smashed to care.
So if the TV people come knocking at your door, be warned.
reprinted with premission from Greenfingers.com