So, it's over. The Big Allotment Challenge, the programme that, according to editor of Horticulture Week, Matthew Appleby, the industry hoped would create a "boom time" for gardening in the manner of Ground Force. It ain't going to happen, is it?
If you're like me, you really wanted - expected - to like this programme. So I felt considerable pain two weeks ago when I turned to Husband and admitted, "This is really boring, isn't it?" Last week, it fell second choice to a Rockford Files episode on DVD, and on Tuesday to The Odd Couple. (For a couple of media opinions see The Guardian and their gardening blog.)
But I watched last night's final with an analytical eye. It was meant to be another Bake-Off - what happened? Here's my take. I'd love to hear your opinion.
Why the Great British Bake-Off works and The Big Allotment Challenge Doesn't
- GBBO has a great team of judges with expertise in the same subject. BAC lacks the spark of disagreement between experts.
- Individuals competing. Unexpectedly, teams seemed to dilute impact, rather than double it. GBBO builds relationships between presenters and competitors. BAC faces teams of two, which are a subtly more self-contained unit.
- GBBO is active at every stage of development. It makes you feel that you might just have a go at that choux pastry, now that you've seen it made and had it explained. BAC makes very passive watching; I'd be surprised if any non-gardening viewers (were there any by the end?) felt the urge to leap outside and stick seeds in the ground at any time in the last six weeks.
- Time jeopardy. The GBBO contestants always seem to be up against the clock, whether that's clever editing or not. The BAC can't replicate this - the best it seemed to manage was an over-ripe melon a week in advance. Result? Disappointment, not tension.
- Repetition. Whereas GBBO manages to ring the changes each week for those interested in baking, BAC presented just more of the same, even for gardeners. Why the fascination with pickles? And aren't there other things to do with flowers than arrange them?
Will The Big Allotment Challenge return? Possibly, but surely with a different format. Here are my ideas on making it more interesting:
- Don't get rid of contestants - make it a competition based on points built up during the series (actually this isn't my idea. I found it on another blog but I've forgotten which. If it's yours, let me know and I'll put in a link.)
- Sell flowers. Send the competitors to a local market with bunches they've grown and see who makes the most money.
- Have a Generation Game-type challenge. Jonathan Moseley could create something tricky and competitors have to copy it in two minutes.
- Grow to show a modern variety and a heritage variety of a certain veg. The comparison should be educational.
- Build a support for climbing peas in half an hour, and let's see if it stands up to their weight during the season.
- Grow the topping for your own pizza - show imagination. Honestly, if I'd seen Thane Prince pop a teaspoon of mush in her chops one more time, I think I'd have squealed.
I could go on (note to producers: Feel free to ask) but I bet you can think of a few challenges yourself. What would you like to see on The Great Allotment Challenge? Or did you like it just as it was?
And here's another review from Two Thirsty Gardeners: Sarah Coomer's Guest Review: The Big Allotment Challenge.