The Big Allotment Challenge

Hot on the heels of The Great British Sewing Bee, this week saw the start of the BBC’s much publicised new gardening program The Big Allotment Challenge. Now I have to confess I was bit indifferent to it, so much hype can do that to you, and didn’t watch it when it aired on Tuesday evening, however browsing through social media yesterday I was so surprised at the mostly negative comment that I caved in and watched it last night instead.

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Presented by Fern Britton the idea of the program is simple, nine pairs of gardeners are given an empty patch of ground and a greenhouse and whilst they are told what to grow, how they decide to plan their plot is up to them.  They then have four months to cultivate it from seed until ‘Show Day’ arrives when they compete in three different challenges under the banners of grow, make and eat.

This week they had to present three perfectly matched radishes, six stems of sweet peas, a hand tied bouquet, a fruit jam and a fruit curd. Very much along the lines of a traditional horticultural show.

Most of the criticism seems to be around the lack of authenticity, gorgeous location and almost Disneyesque presentation of the plots but really was it ever going to be about allotments as we all know them?  Even I have no interest in watching someone clearing up weeds and potting on for an hour and I’m mad keen.  Also with prime time scheduling of course they will be looking for viewing figures in the millions rather than the thousands, so it needs a wider appeal.

I also think a big part of the problem is that there’s such a lack of programs about gardens and gardening in general that when one comes along the weight of expectation is so huge that people are bound to be disappointed on some level.

To my mind the program was utterly charming and has great potential to encourage new gardeners.  With rain forecast for Sunday if your looking for an hour of light entertainment give it a go. It’s sunny and there’s not a slug in sight.

 

If you have watched it or decide to over the weekend I’d love to know your thoughts.

Available on BBC i Player here.

Get to know the contestants and read more about the show here.

The series is filmed at Mapledurham Estate in Oxfordshire. Information here.

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52 Responses to “The Big Allotment Challenge”

  1. lewisham Gardens April 17, 2014 @ 10:48 am (#)

    The show is deliberately twee and cosy; focused on tasks and personalities rather than growing, but of course it is! Silver River is the same production company as Bake Off and Sewing Bee. The whole concept is a rose-tinted, disneyfied, candy floss programme for non gardeners. Which is fair enough actually.

    The sun shines and radishes and sweetpeas appear instantly. As a bonus- there’s no mare’s tail or old bed frames to get rid of!

    The problem is – as you laid out so clearly – there are so few gardening shows on TV that everyone piles on when we do actually get one!

    The show isn’t for gardeners who get their hands dirty and so the vitriol heaped on it wasn’t at all fair.
    It’s like people in their late 30s complaining that Radio1 has gone down hill. What were you doing listening in the first place? It wasn’t meant for you!

    James Wong and Christine Walkden are both fronting new shows- we can but hope that they will be proper gardening shows.

    I did really enjoy Garden Revival over the winter; given the space and the freedom to work, the presenters and plantsmen came up with some thoughtful, dynamic episodes.

    • Southbourne Gardens replied: — April 19th, 2014 @ 5:44 am

      I enjoyed Garden Revival too. My only wish was that there had been a bit more supporting information available on the BBC website in the form of plant lists etc.

  2. Sophie Cussen April 17, 2014 @ 11:39 am (#)

    I haven’t watched the programme so take my comments as you will -(I will catch up!), but I was quite surprised at all the negative comments on-line. Like every other hobby (obsession to us, I know), any publicity is going to be good publicity. It’s never going to please everyone and of course it’s going to look nice and appear easy – don’t all programmes do that? In the name of entertainment it was just some light hearted television. Nothing more.
    There is still very much (I think), an ageist ‘issue’ with gardening although this is getting better, and this programme will go some way towards promoting the interest to people under the age of 55.
    One thing is for sure the BBC will have done plenty of marketing and viewing profiles before they structured the programme to ensure they got the most appeal possible.
    The BBC are competing heavily with on-line based programmes now, which in many cases are more detailed, interesting, created by real down to earth gardeners, and readily available when I, the viewer, need them – principle on a Sunday morning when I’m trying to figure out how/where to plant my veggies seeds 😉

    • Southbourne Gardens replied: — April 19th, 2014 @ 5:48 am

      Completely agree with all your points Sophie. And yes, I’m more likely to ‘google’ now than pick up one of my many gardening books if I want to know how to do something.

  3. Lynn Barnes April 17, 2014 @ 12:19 pm (#)

    I found the programme one of the worst ever about any form of gardening. They lost me when they were measuring radish leaves to 40 milimeters. Too clean and sterile.

    • Southbourne Gardens replied: — April 19th, 2014 @ 5:51 am

      Hello Lynn, thank you for taking the time to read the blog. The RHS produce a book that defines show standards for fruit and veg and I assume for better or worse this is what they’ve decided to use for the program. It’s one of the reasons I’ve never entered any of my produce into competition.

    • T o'brien replied: — April 22nd, 2014 @ 7:40 pm

      Totally agree

  4. Joanne April 17, 2014 @ 12:58 pm (#)

    I loved it, it was huge fun, very twee & far from the kind of gardening I do. It was also interesting watching it with my non gardening husband, he thought it looked ahem – easy! I don’t particularly watch a lot of television so am happy not to be reminded about the battles going on in my real life garden.

    • Southbourne Gardens replied: — April 19th, 2014 @ 5:55 am

      I think around two and half million people watched the first episode so I’m guessing that there were many non gardeners. Interesting to know what they thought of it. And yes, I’m totally with you on that last point.

  5. Joanne April 17, 2014 @ 12:58 pm (#)

    I loved it, it was huge fun, very twee & far from the kind of gardening I do. It was also interesting watching it with my non gardening husband, he thought it looked ahem – easy! I don’t particularly watch a lot of television so am happy not to be reminded about the battles going on in my real life garden.

    • Southbourne Gardens replied: — April 19th, 2014 @ 5:55 am

      I think around two and half million people watched the first episode so I’m guessing that there were many non gardeners. Interesting to know what they thought of it. And yes, I’m totally with you on that last point.

  6. Sue@GLAllotments April 17, 2014 @ 4:26 pm (#)

    I’m afraid we won’t be watching it again. Martyn actually gave up half way through but I stuck with it to the biter end hoping for an improvement which in my opinion did’t come about. WE really enjoy Bake Off but I think this scores in that you see more of people actually doing something. It may be my perception but it did seem nost of the time was spent judging. I’m not into growing to compete so really the show didn’t have much to interest me. Do people really grow radishes for show?

    The other thing that struck me was that the contestants had been gardening their plots for 15 weeks and yet seemed to have enough fruit to make jams and curds with. Also of the plots were in Oxfordshire and the contestants came from some distance away how on earth did they tend their plants especially things in greenhouses – did they move to Oxfordshire for the 15 week period.

    Listening to next week’s offering the programme will end up almost being a repeat, replace radish with runner beans, sweet peas with roses and jam with chutneys.

    Surely the proof of the pudding is that a show that was aimed at gardeners – wasn’t it? – shouldn’t have bored so many gardeners. It wasn’t that I wanted to watch people digging and weeding. We know it wasn’t going to be realistic but I wasn’t expecting something so – for want of a better word – bland!

    • Southbourne Gardens replied: — April 19th, 2014 @ 6:00 am

      I’m not sure it is aimed at gardeners Sue. Agree it would be good to see more footage of the contestants time on their plots especially during that first fifteen weeks. Perhaps we will as the series progresses.

  7. carminered darter April 17, 2014 @ 5:07 pm (#)

    Watched it yesterday, found it slightly too long, but entertaining.
    I don’t understand why people complain about the setting. Master Chef is also set in a professional kitchen, so this programme probably is intended to show how nice a garden planted from scratch can be (once you have finished clearing up ; )
    I can see that the programme may become a bit repetitive, but aren’t all these programmes judging a dish, cake, dress, etc every week but people still find them interesting? I for one learned that sweet peas turn out nicer if trained on trellises!

    In any case, thank you for starting the discussion : )

    • Southbourne Gardens replied: — April 19th, 2014 @ 6:06 am

      I think you’re right. In many programs like this it’s all about the contestants and how invested we become in them. On the sweet peas, we have a couple of growers on our site who show in competition and it’s hours of work to get those straight stems, I’m not sure I’d have the patience for it. Their displays always look stunning though.

  8. David Ford April 17, 2014 @ 5:21 pm (#)

    I didn`t like it, very little to learn from it and it`s in a format that I hate along with Masterchef, Bake off, Sewing Bee etc this irritating pause now with programmes that tell you who is leaving but then let you wait for ages for maximum effect, I usually go out and wash the car, go on holiday for a week and come back just in time to get the name of who is leaving.

    • Southbourne Gardens replied: — April 19th, 2014 @ 6:08 am

      We don’t generally watch this type of show David but I think I’ll be sticking with this one.

  9. David Ford April 17, 2014 @ 5:21 pm (#)

    I didn`t like it, very little to learn from it and it`s in a format that I hate along with Masterchef, Bake off, Sewing Bee etc this irritating pause now with programmes that tell you who is leaving but then let you wait for ages for maximum effect, I usually go out and wash the car, go on holiday for a week and come back just in time to get the name of who is leaving.

  10. Gavin Jones April 17, 2014 @ 7:00 pm (#)

    So flat and uninspirational. The idea is a good one but the execution of it is dire. Its a shame because the potential is there but it just misses the goalpost. Wont watch again.

    • Southbourne Gardens replied: — April 19th, 2014 @ 6:12 am

      Hello Gavin, thank you for taking the time to read the post. I’m guessing that they’ve started with a ‘tried and tested’ formula and will tweak it a bit as things progress.

  11. Sarah April 17, 2014 @ 7:51 pm (#)

    I watched the programme on Tuesday, hoping for great things after all the build up. Maybe that was the problem, they’d built up expectations too high – it was ok, but not that great. It would have been nice to have more of a mixture of traditional and new ways of growing on the allotments to compare the results… and just to add a bit of variety and interest really. Might give it another chance next week, especially if the weather’s grey and cold because, as you say, there was sunshine.

    • Southbourne Gardens replied: — April 19th, 2014 @ 6:18 am

      Quite a lot of the first program was spent introducing the contestants, so hopefully we’ll see more of the plots and the contestants different styles of gardening in the next few weeks.

  12. AllotmentinmyGarden April 17, 2014 @ 7:56 pm (#)

    I was a bit disappointed in it too – mainly because I was hoping to really learn a lot about growing ‘stuff’ but that bit was glossed over I felt. Will give it another go next week to see if it gets better as we get to know the contestants more.

    • Southbourne Gardens replied: — April 19th, 2014 @ 6:15 am

      I think they’ve got some great contestants, would have liked to have seen more of them before the voting off started.

  13. hollymayroberts April 18, 2014 @ 7:41 am (#)

    I was sent an application form for this show but I haven’t watched it. I was put off by a clip where they were examining radishes. Bored me within the first 30 seconds. I enjoy the “shove it in and see what happens” type of allotmenting. I also enjoy my funny shaped parsnips and unruly rasberry bushes. I think allotmenting, to most of us, is about community, sharing, nature, being outdoors, escape; not about the colour and texture of our radishes. They should have called it “The Great Kitchen Garden Challenge”, then it wouldn’t have annoyed so many of us.

    • Southbourne Gardens replied: — April 19th, 2014 @ 6:36 am

      I don’t have a lot of luck with radishes so would have definitely fallen at the first hurdle. Yes, I did wonder whether the idea of a kitchen garden would have given it a wider appeal.

  14. Julie Drake April 18, 2014 @ 7:53 am (#)

    It made a change to watch and I’ll watch the series just for the odd tip but it would be nice if a TV company made a series following the life of several allotment holders as they work through the year to maintain their plots. Show the ups and downs, the tears and joys and the passions various allotment holders have. My passion is Strawberry plants, some like their giant veg others like their social life. Having said all this though any bit of publicity is better than none and with the threat of some loosing their plots for building this helps. So from me I’ll say thanks.

    • Southbourne Gardens replied: — April 19th, 2014 @ 6:20 am

      Thank you for reading the post Julie. I’d like to see that program too. My hope is that if this is a success then it might happen.

  15. Julie Drake April 18, 2014 @ 7:53 am (#)

    It made a change to watch and I’ll watch the series just for the odd tip but it would be nice if a TV company made a series following the life of several allotment holders as they work through the year to maintain their plots. Show the ups and downs, the tears and joys and the passions various allotment holders have. My passion is Strawberry plants, some like their giant veg others like their social life. Having said all this though any bit of publicity is better than none and with the threat of some loosing their plots for building this helps. So from me I’ll say thanks.

  16. aaron April 18, 2014 @ 10:17 am (#)

    First off, I will be watching again, but I did think that the format and the subject were a bit shoe horned together, and that a bit more thought is needed if they want to develop the show into a firm family regular favourite like Bake off and Sewing bee. There was too much run-around-and-be-busy-for-an-hour things going on, and that divorced it from what allotmenteering is all about (I do have an allotment and have been cultivating it for nearly a year so this is my first full season currently underway). In my view allotment gardening is about knowledge, technique, choices, patience and persistence. The fact that it wasn’t about those things is the reason why your husband thought it was easy. If those core values are placed at the core of the format then I think a better program would result.

    I was also uncomfortable that the only goals were grow to show, flower arranging, and preserve making. It therefore came across as more of a Krypton Factor for the Women’s Institute and would have been more suited to growing in a country garden than an actual allotment. I think that is what has got a lot of people worked up about it. It promised allotment gardening and then sidestepped the whole substance.

    Where was the challenge where they see “Who got the bumper crop”, “Plant 10 different crops in 10 square foot of ground”, “Who has the tastiest tatty”, and of course it cant be an allotment show without a ‘comedy carrot’ category. Any flowers on my plot are there for the bees not to sod about making posies with, so flower arranging was a surprise and not something I would be geared up for so I completely sympathise with anyone that messed it up. I am not comfortable with the idea that your ultimate aim as a gardener is to grow 3 radishes that are identical and that this is a good thing. That is what the supermarkets do, and it is completely the opposite of what allotments are about. Where is the taste challenge? How do I go about making a summer salad from field to fork? How can I see that this radish was grown from a sustainable variety and benefitted from companion planting in an organic method and packs more of a punch than the over priced ‘Best-we-can-sell-you’ range from the biggest supermarkets?

    If that was added to the format I think the program would benefit and not only appeal to gardeners but also to a wider audience. Bake off didn’t dumb things down by giving everyone cake mixes, and I think Allotment Challenge should avoid doing that as well.

    • Southbourne Gardens replied: — April 19th, 2014 @ 6:28 am

      Yes, not many plot holders on our site enter show their produce either. From what I’ve read the judges did taste the radishes and it would have been nice to see that rather than the focus on appearance. The contestants are all experience allotment holders so I’m sure we’ll see their different approaches to growing as the series goes on.

  17. annjenny April 18, 2014 @ 8:21 pm (#)

    We have been away for a few days and so I missed the programme, but must catch up on i-player. It certainly seems to have provoked a lot of comments on social media.

    • Southbourne Gardens replied: — April 19th, 2014 @ 6:31 am

      It does Ann and it reminds me of the Oscar Wilde quote about the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

  18. lizard100 April 19, 2014 @ 5:55 pm (#)

    I think it’s worth a go. Any tv show which has expertise involved will be criticized by the armchair guru. If this one sparks an interest that helps increase allotment interest then that’s a great thing!

    • Sue@GLAllotments replied: — April 20th, 2014 @ 7:34 am

      Armchair guru – I wish and I love picking up tips from anyone who has expertise in anything,

      • lizard100 replied: — April 20th, 2014 @ 7:36 am

        It’s all about learning and sharing! : )

  19. lizard100 April 19, 2014 @ 5:55 pm (#)

    I think it’s worth a go. Any tv show which has expertise involved will be criticized by the armchair guru. If this one sparks an interest that helps increase allotment interest then that’s a great thing!

    • Sue@GLAllotments replied: — April 20th, 2014 @ 7:34 am

      Armchair guru – I wish and I love picking up tips from anyone who has expertise in anything,

      • lizard100 replied: — April 20th, 2014 @ 7:36 am

        It’s all about learning and sharing! : )

  20. joseph woosey April 20, 2014 @ 9:53 am (#)

    I don’t think it is like an allotment program which is sad its more like a TV
    gardening talent program which is very sad I was looking forward to live on an allotment than a talent show I wish they would of told us it was a gardening talent show than an allotment show.

  21. therookieallotmenteers April 22, 2014 @ 12:59 pm (#)

    I was really looking forward to watching this, but like so many I was pretty disappointed. The allotments themselves miraculously sprung up to perfection in 5 minutes (in almost plastic looking technicolour), then it was 55 minutes of making, showing and competing. Very little actual hard graft shown, and next to no useful advice given. That said, I’ll watch it again as it’s ‘easy watching’, requiring very few brain cells or exertion after a hard days work on the REAL allotment !! 🙂

  22. therookieallotmenteers April 22, 2014 @ 12:59 pm (#)

    I was really looking forward to watching this, but like so many I was pretty disappointed. The allotments themselves miraculously sprung up to perfection in 5 minutes (in almost plastic looking technicolour), then it was 55 minutes of making, showing and competing. Very little actual hard graft shown, and next to no useful advice given. That said, I’ll watch it again as it’s ‘easy watching’, requiring very few brain cells or exertion after a hard days work on the REAL allotment !! 🙂

  23. Sue April 24, 2014 @ 11:46 pm (#)

    I’m so frustrated at not knowing how the contestants tend their plots from a distance? Please someone, put me out of my misery and let me know!

  24. Sue April 24, 2014 @ 11:46 pm (#)

    I’m so frustrated at not knowing how the contestants tend their plots from a distance? Please someone, put me out of my misery and let me know!

  25. tpals April 26, 2014 @ 1:36 am (#)

    I don’t like ‘reality’ type shows, so almost gave it a miss, but am glad I watched. I love the setting and it’s fun to see the harvest while still slogging through the mud and manure time of year. It may not be my type of gardening (competition standards based) but it is interesting for now.

    I would like to know more of the details behind it all: are they only allowed on the allotments at certain times? Are they guarded against vandals or sabotage? Are they also maintaining their home allotments (exhausting!)? After they leave, does someone maintain their plots so they still look good for the rest of the show or can they return for harvesting?

  26. Michelle bumford May 8, 2014 @ 8:53 pm (#)

    Wrong decision to vote off Shirley and Victoria this week . Their produce is one of the best grown. The trouble with this programme is , it doesn’t judge the quality of the allotment . How many allotment growers use their produce to make fancy flower arrangements or cook fancy pickles, jams etc?

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