‘There is something pretty damn cool about him’ … Monty Don. Photograph: Laura Rawlinson/BBC/Lion
This could be the gardening show for me: Big Dreams, Small Spaces (BBC2). Well, I’ve got the small space; maybe I can cultivate my big dream with some help from Richard and Helen here in South Yorkshire, plus John and Jan in West Sussex. And Monty Don, who flits between the two projects, providing inspiration and tips, and the odd Latin name. I imagine the phrase “horticultural Grand Designs” came up at some point when the seed of this show was sown.
Monty Don. What a name! He should be a fine dessert wine. Or a Canadian policeman. Or a Mexican drug baron. Or would that be Don Monty? Whatever, it’s a name that suggests a certain badassness; he should have a big hat, a horse and a theme tune by Ennio Morricone to play as he swings open the garden gate. Monty Don, he’s back in town.
Instead you get this rather charming posh chap in a shambolic blue jacket. He does know an awful lot though, about soil, and how to plant a hedge, and what can and can’t and should go where. That jacket comes off, too, to reveal braces; he gets involved, which the ladies seem to appreciate. “It’s not just the garden that’s getting some well deserved attention,” coos narrator Vicky Hall, as Monty tugs manfully at the undergrowth in John and Jan’s overgrown little piece of Yorkshire.
“He’s very strong,” says one of the neighbours, looking on admiringly.
“Just watching Monty, he’s like a ferret,” adds her friend. “Talk about a lean, mean gardening machine, he’s what’s known as getting right stuck in there … ”
What? Imagine if this was Rachel De Thame, say, in her T-shirt, and three dirty old geezers came along to gawp and compare her to a ferret and go, “Whoa, look at that, you can clear my undergrowth any time you like darlin’!” There’d be an outcry. Boo! Sexist!
To be honest, I don’t mind that much. I’m sure Monty doesn’t – or even notice, he’s probably above all that. They’re certainly milking his sex-symbol celebrity status here. “Relieved they have the country’s top gardener on hand to help,” says Vicky Hall, “Helen and Richard are setting themselves even bigger challenges.” They’re doing a path from reclaimed bricks, something Helen saw in a book. “I wonder whose gardening book that’s from … ” says Vicky.
“It’s actually Monty’s book,” says Helen.
“Thought so,” says Vicky, and everyone watching at home. The ferret ladies haven’t brought their copies, but later on we do see Monty autographing their flower pots. At least they’re not getting him to sign their bodies.
To be fair, it’s not just women who are in awe. Richard’s nervous because Monty – yes Monty Don, the Monty Don – is coming back to see what they’ve done. “I mean this is Monty Don coming back to our garden, I mean this is it!” he says. And here he comes, striding purposefully along the wall, next to a field of poppies … yeah, OK, maybe there is something pretty damn cool about him. Although I still think he needs that theme tune, for maximum impact.
Good news: he likes what Helen and Richard have done with their raised beds for veggies and the central greenhouse and everything else. (I like it too, I’m inspired; maybe next year). The man called Monty, he say yes … That’s it, he’s the Man from Del Monte. Well, he would be if the jacket was white not blue, and if he ever said no.
Which he doesn’t. In Sussex, Monty can’t quite hide the fact he really doesn’t like what Jan and John have done at all. “That’s fantastic, that’s great, that’s nice … ” he says, his diminishing praise a dead giveaway, like he can’t keep up his own lie, though they don’t seem to notice. It’s not just that they haven’t taken his advice and screened off the noisy road; J’n’J’s entire gravelly attempt at making a Portuguese paradise in Petworth has ended up looking more like a big cat litter. A cat litter on a busy noisy road. But Monty declares it a good place to sit, and that it’s a garden “that’ll get nicer and nicer as the years go by”. What – because it can’t get any less nice?
Perhaps Monty could do with being a tiny bit less nice himself. Less nice, more badass, whiter jacket, more horse-mounted. In order to live up to the name. Not that anyone – Yorkshire women, Yorkshire men, Sussex gravel spreaders, narrators, anyone anywhere – is complaining. He’s Monty Don.