There's a helicopter in the garden

In England, gardeners can indulge their passion for plants almost around the clock, thanks to television

Gardening is such a fundamental part of British culture that TV gardening shows sprout up nearly every night. In one recent week, you could watch "The City Gardener" on Tuesday, "Ground Force Revisited" on Wednesday, and then a lineup of three programs on Friday: "Gardening With the Experts," "The Flying Gardener," and "Gardeners' World."

All of these shows aired during prime evening hours, between 7:30 and 9. Each promised expert advice on dealing with difficult terrain: clay pits, damp shade, steep inclines, aridity. (With conditions like those, the noncommitted might wonder why anyone gardens at all.)

The practical advice on garden design and planting choices that these shows provide can indeed be useful. But if they offered only guidance, I doubt they would last. (And last they do. "Gardeners' World" is in its 34th year.)

No, this is entertainment, complete with attractive presenters, high production values, catchy music, and exotic locales. They're one part how-to and two parts fantasy.

Take "The Flying Gardener," which offers the extraordinary combination of helicopter flyovers and garden makeovers.

To a background of electric guitar, handsome Chris Beardshaw flies in to help homeowners in distress.

Taking a look around their garden, he agrees that it's dreadful, then takes off in the chopper with the lady of the house to seek inspiration in the manicured grounds of a historic stately home. While she oohs and aahs appropriately, hubby is back home digging new beds. (We never see him again.)

In Act 2, the makeover segment, young Mr. Beardshaw arrives with a lorry load of plants and proceeds to transform the once-dreary garden into something altogether different.

Not quite what you're channel-surfing for? Then try competitive gardening. Once a year, five gardeners go head-to-head for the title of BBC Gardener of the Year. Each is allowed one assistant, a limited budget, an identical rectangle of land, and just 3-1/2 days.

In a special one-hour show, the five contestants frantically construct paths and decking, install fountains, and finally insert their chosen plants.

Meanwhile, their work is periodically interrupted for quizzes to test their gardening knowledge. On occasion, a contestant heads for the shed to make an on-camera confession, "Big Brother" style. At the end, three celebrity gardeners arrive to agonize over choosing a winner.

Yes, celebrity gardeners. There are plenty of them over here. There's the exquisitely photogenic Rachel de Thame and the appropriately named Bob Flowerdew and Pippa Greenwood. There's Charlie Dimmock, described on BBC's official gardening website as "famed for her lack of supportive underwear." She's an expert on water gardens, too. Open-shirted Diarmuid Gavin is known for his flamboyant garden designs.

And who could forget the most celebrated of them all? That would be Alan Titchmarsh, gardener, novelist, and all-around Mr. Congeniality. He's just left "Gardener's World" after hosting it for six years - and he's taking his garden with him. It turns out the show was filmed in his own backyard.

This winter, as a sort of goodbye present to his legions of fans, he presented a seven-part series called "How to Be a Gardener," giving his tips on laying out a garden in various difficult situations. Those who missed it can buy the book ... or watch clips on the BBC website ... or catch up in Gardeners' World, the magazine.

You get the picture. It's a 24/7 gardening culture in England. And all you need to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

By the way, did I mention radio gardening shows? But that's another story.

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