I’ve got Spring Fever, and I blame Monty Don, otherwise known as Britain’s Favorite Gardener. After discovering a season of Big Dreams, Small Spaces on Netflix that I hadn’t already seen, I spent a couple of weekend mornings watching intently as people across England transform their backyards with the help of Monty. When I came to the end of the unwatched season I wasn’t satisfied. I started watching Monty Don’s French Gardens, and Monty Don’s Italian Gardens. All of this is on Netflix, ready to be binged. And while you might be saying, “I don’t care about gardening, that show isn’t for me,” I’m going to make a case for why you should all be watching Monty Don.
First, let’s talk about how soothing I find Monty Don. He’s a bit of a silver fox, but unlike, say, George Clooney, he’s not perfectly groomed, and clothed in tailored suits. I started to describe the over-sized linen “suits” Monty often seems to be wearing, and I decided to Google it, because the truth is, I have no idea what’s up with this guy’s nearly universally blue clothes. Here is how Monty describes his sartorial rules:
“Never wear tight trousers. Always buy trousers at least one waist size too big, make sure that the pockets are big enough to comfortably hold penknife, hanky, string, phone, pencil, labels and perhaps a mint or two. The pocket thing is a matter of fine tuning. Too deep and you are rummaging around up to your elbow in them. But I have big hands and if they are too small you cannot find the knife/hanky/label and extract it without causing uncomfortable restrictions or having to let go of the object in order to extract your hand.”
Anyone who devotes their life to gardening–in a non-Martha Stewart-y way–is bound to be a calming presence. Maintaining a garden is one of those things that takes infinite patience for often very repetitive tasks like weeding. It’s meditative, and the people who do it often give off a calm, contemplative energy that I find wonderful to be around–even if it’s only via the television.
In that way, Monty Don’s shows are a lot like The Great British Bake Off. While Big Dreams, Small Spaces isn’t exactly a competition, there are usually two yards being transformed, and they are racing against time to get their gardens done by Monty’s final visit. The stakes are low. At the end, all they get from Monty is a nod of approval and maybe a toast, yet you get a sense of how important it all is…how English it all is. Sometimes, Monty and the gardeners are even sipping tea while walking around the yard and taking stock.
So where does Anthony Bourdain come into this? Well, if you watch one of Monty’s other shows, where he travels around the famous–and sometimes not so famous–gardens of other countries, you start to get a bit of Bourdain. Instead of being about food and people, it’s about history, art, and gardens. And because it’s a show about gardening, kitchen gardens often come into the picture–and therefore food. When Monty is sitting on a Paris street sipping a coffee, or biting into a fresh Italian tomato, it’s hard not to flash back to Bourdain.
It’s Not Just About Gardening
Here’s the thing about Monty’s travel shows, it’s not all about gardening. Sure, you spend plenty of time looking at plants–and after a while, the formal gardens can start to look at lot alike–but it’s also about art, history, and food culture.
I thought my favorite episode was going to be the one about French kitchen gardens. Normally, there’s nothing I love more than well-structured, beautiful patch of vegetables. But then Monty surprised me with a whole episode about visiting artists’ gardens. And then he hit Giverny to see Monet’s garden is April…and my jaw hit the ground.
As I write this post, it’s snowing outside and it has been for most of the night. A couple of days ago I was out on the ice, walking around without a care in the world. It will be months before I can plant anything outside. Thank goodness for potted plants, and since they’re succulents that are especially averse to over-watering, I won’t have anything to do again for months. So I’ll head back to Netflix and rewatch some old episodes of Monty Don. Repeat until Spring.