Catherine StewartReview: ‘Dream Gardens’ on ABC TV

When I first heard that someone was going to make a new Australian TV show about gardening, I was amazed. Then excited. Then cynicism started to creep in. Would it be another quickie makeover show? A dumbed-down ‘reality’ show filled with manufactured drama? Then I heard Michael McCoy was the presenter and I breathed a great sigh of relief because I knew he wouldn’t have anything to do with either of those.

 

I’ve seen previews of the first two episodes of Dream Gardens. You’ll get to see the first 27 minute episode on ABC TV at 8pm next Thursday, 9 February 2017. And I recommend that you watch it, because it’s pretty good, it’s a new show about gardens (a rarity on Australian TV) and because it’s about garden design and construction rather than gardening.

Following how garden makers create their ‘dream gardens’ (and, in this show, that means garden designers working with their home owner clients) is a show premise filled with huge challenges.

First, unlike say Grand Designs, when the newly finished building looks at its pristine best (and from there it’s all downhill of course), gardens rarely look like anything much when they’re first built and planted. The built elements totally dominate the plants until they’ve had a few years to grow. How do you show a ‘da DA!’ TV reveal that doesn’t look ridiculous?

Secondly, I wondered who would be the ‘star’ of each segment – the designers or their clients? Or the presenter? The best gardens inevitably come from a strong and trusting partnership between the designer and client but too many ‘reality’ shows seem to end up being more about the presenter, building up the drama.

Thirdly I wondered whether the ABC could make a garden show that was significantly different to Gardening Australia. Could they be edgy? Deal with controversy or conflict?

So does Dream Gardens succeed on all counts? Here is my analysis…

1. Show structure

Like Grand Designs, we see what garden there is (or isn’t) before anything starts and then revisit it over the next 6-8 months as construction progresses, leading up to the reveal at the end. During this time we see various problems solved by designers and contractors, innovative construction techniques and design ideas, as well as the continued involvement of the home owner, as the dramas and delights unfold.

In each episode there’s also a small segment with another designer who has made a garden that has similarities to that week’s garden, such as on a steeply sloping block or a large productive garden. I’m really pleased that we get to see even more of Australia’s garden design talent on show.

And the show has a good balance between time with the home owners, the garden designer, Michael’s questions and then his voice-over segments.

Dream Gardens is very much about the trust that a home owner must have in the expertise and ability of a garden designer and, to a certain extent, also the contractor/builder. This reveals itself in a subtle way throughout but I’d like it more forthrightly discussed. While all garden designers are obviously not of the calibre of those we see on Dream Gardens, when people without innate design skills choose not to use a garden designer, especially for a difficult site, the awful results are everywhere. Not many people take on designing a house themselves but they will feel totally competent to design the landscape around it. A few are, but most are not.

 

2. Presenter Michael McCoy

First a disclaimer – Michael is a friend and that makes it very tricky to make criticisms. Fortunately I don’t have to as Michael is a natural in front of the camera, cheerful but not cheesy, and articulate and engaging. Why he hasn’t been on our TV screens in the past decade is a mystery. The only thing I found annoying was how he is able to wear a cream linen shirt walking about in dusty country and keep it clean and completely uncrumpled. Reality? I think not.

Michael’s offerings throughout the show fall into two categories. He interviews the garden owners about what they want – their ‘dream’ –  and also the designers about how they plan to make that dream come true. This works very well although there was one occasion when I would have liked a bit more probing. In Episode 2 when we see the colossal garden disaster that needs to be fixed (and you absolutely have to watch that as it’s mind-blowing), we don’t really find out why that happened and who was responsible. I didn’t want names named, but I was frustrated at not knowing whether it was a classic case of a builder who knew nothing about gardens attempting to make one, or the home owners not understanding a landscape plan, or both. Fortunately, landscape designer Georgia Harper is called in for the rescue and the result is miraculous.

Michael often talks about design concepts during the show to the garden owners, such as “the space”, meaning the defined three-dimensional limits of any part of the garden, and how the design is creating the right sort of space, how it’s covering up faults and flaws, and also enhancing good points to make a dream garden that transforms a home and even lives. Although I did wonder a couple of times if the garden owners understood what he was talking about, I say a loud Halelujah! that, finally, this stuff is not being dumbed down on our screens into “isn’t this garden lovely“. Those likely to watch this show are, I’m sure, quite capable of learning this design talk and I loved hearing it.

 

3. Production style

This is the first time I’ve seen drone camera work used so extensively in a TV show. Michael had told me about it and I was a bit sceptical but it works brilliantly. The bird’s-eye views of the gardens both before and after make it so much easier for someone unfamiliar with reading garden plans to relate what’s on the ground to what’s in the designer’s head and we really do get to understand the “space”, on the ground plane and also in elevation.

And the animated graphics showing an elevation drawing of the design being superimposed on the actual site are incredible, showing where this design is heading over time, especially when we know we’re not going to see fully-grown plants by the end. So the garden’s big reveal at the end, even without its fully-grown plants, is still satisfying and well managed.

But…I was disappointed with a couple of things about the look and feel of this show. I’d hoped for something that felt completely different to that other ABC garden show offering, the long-running Gardening Australia. Does gardening always have to be presented so nicely and prettily, with gentle plinky-plonk music and close-ups of bees buzzing around flowers? I must be a hopeless unromantic but I find these shots boring and time-wasting. Come on, we’ve only got 27 minutes to explain this design and find out what happened so why are we looking at a flower gently waving in the breeze? What does that tell us about anything? It would be much more informative to see the pool tiling detail, or the step ratios, or how well those timber corners are mitred. And the show’s title animation also looks alarmingly like we’ve stumbled into a GA spin-off.

My other directorial gripe is the style of camera work I call ‘face-the-camera-and-walk-towards-me-talking-loudly-and-gesturing-meaningfully-as-you-do‘. I was hoping for something much more David Attenborough or Monty Don, with that quietly spoken, conspiratorial over-the-shoulder close-quarters style of delivery to the camera. As a viewer, it makes you feel like you’re in the story, following the presenter and experiencing everything with him. So much more engaging, and I know that Michael would do it brilliantly. Britain’s superb garden shows use this all the time but Australian shows stick resolutely to the ‘talk loudly at me’ rather than ‘speak softly with me’ presenter style. The ‘face the camera’ filming also means that the presenter’s face must be front lit with reflectors to get rid of the harsh daylight shadows. Michael’s a good-looking guy but this does look a little weird at times.

My score

If those criticisms sound too negative, I must ‘fess up that I’ve allowed myself to have a rant about Australian gardening TV that I’ve been wanting to do for about 10 years. And that’s an unfair impression to give you of Dream Gardens, as it is a good show and well worth watching. I’d give the two episodes I saw a comfortable 4 stars out of 5.

Like this post? Why not share it with a friend?


Catherine Stewart

About Catherine Stewart

Award-winning garden journalist, blogger and photographer; writer for garden magazines and co-author of 'Waterwise Gardening'; landscape designer turned landscape design judge and critic; compulsive networker and lover of generally putting fingers in lots of pies. Particularly mud pies. Creator, curator and editor of GardenDrum. Sydney, NSW.

61 thoughts on “Review: ‘Dream Gardens’ on ABC TV

  1. Very interesting review and critique Catherine. I agree with you entirely about gardening shows needing an extra ‘edge’ to them. When I was doing Talking Plants on RN I kept trying to get garden folk to argue, debate and be provocative, but with limited success. We do need to get comfortable with (constructive) criticism and differing perceptions of beauty – not always judging a garden lovely or charming. It’s tricky to get this balance right but we probably need to take a few more risks in our media approach.
    Looking forward to seeing the show!
    Tim

  2. That’s a pretty fair review, not ranty at all!

    I’ve been looking forward to this series for a good year now. There’s been a lot of love and care put into it by the production team, as much is obvious from the promo. It looks sumptuously shot and will no doubt be a hit with the gardening-inclined.

    As for the drone footage, I agree with you up to a point. A lot of the gardens that make it to air on GA are very difficult to imagine spatially. A drone shot or two in this regard does wonders. That being said, it’s the newest thing and in that sense there’s a tendency to overuse it – too much leaves your head reeling and gives one armchair vertigo. There’s a lot of it in the promo, I just hope it’s used more moderately in the episodes.

    And, yes, very much looking forward to seeing Michael McCoy on the telly! He’s warm and engaging, wonderfully articulate and always has an insightful observation or two in hand. I’m also perplexed as to why it’s taken this long for him to be given such a gig.

    I’ll be watching!

  3. I’m looking forward to seeing Dream Gardens next and am hopeful that Australia’s female garden designers are well represented during this series.

  4. I am sure this will be nice to watch… However I do wonder what this kind of show has to has to do with the way most people live and garden. Those of us who struggle along alone or with a partner and can’t afford a “landscape designer” or whatever the term is would like a bit of help as well. Will they take on small city lots full of old Maple tree roots, or places where the soil can’t actually be called that. I don’t know… what makes this different? And truth be told, I am kind of sick of looking at men talking to other men or women with clean fingernails about gardening. Strong, etc. and able to call in help with muscle power and all kinds of other help. Actually I think I will skip it.

    • There’s a mix of projects in these stories. While some are extraordinarily high budget, in others the labour is all by the owners, and most of the materials salvaged and reused. I think too that there’s an argument made that finding the money to pay a landscape designer can often save you much more in the end.
      And I can assure you that there are not too many clean fingernails in this show. In fact, Michael is one of the few presenters who you’ll see talking to the camera with his hands covered with dirt. as he’s a real gardener himself.

  5. JenniP on said:

    After reading Catherine’s honest review, I’m more excited than ever to watch what looks like will be a beautifully-presented program. As a follower of Michael’s jottings & fortunate to participate in one of his Garden Conference Workshops, I feel there are going to be a lot of deeply passionate gardeners of all degrees of competence who will draw inspiration and learning from this program and yay, it’s going to be on iView so we can watch it if we have to work late.

    Interested in the comments re drone footage; it’s certainly a wonderful videography element if not taken to extremes. When garden-surfing, I find myself staring over and over at the footage on this French garden designer’s website, particularly the drone footage: http://www.jardinsdeglanum.com/

  6. Thanks for this review Catherine – I can’t wait to watch it. I enjoy Michael’s writing on gardening, so I am looking forward to his enlightened hosting. More people are now interested in design concepts, not just quick make-overs, so we are ready for this language on television. I laughed a lot about your “rant” about the buzzing bees and flowers wafting in the breeze – spot on! – and I too am more interested in the construction details. (Give me a conversation about nicely mitred finishes any day.) But maybe that’s just us?

  7. Stephen Read on said:

    I reserved my opinion until I watched the first episode. You are spot on with the review. Mostly what I was hoping for in a high brow garden design show. However there seems to be a little hokey ABC flavour I could do without, the background music and opening sequence could be brought into this century.

    Very happy generally with the show. Looking forward to next weeks episode with the lovely Georgia Harper saving the day.

  8. Trevor Nottle on said:

    I watched the first one and found it better than past programmes of the garden make-over variety but one thing bothered me – and it may be addressed in furture episodes; Michael (if I may be so familiar) didn’t attempt to discuss with the makers and designer why the potager style of vegie patch was appropriate to the landscape setting. I’m sure Michael would have the tact and sensibility not to attack but to probe gently for the reasons and thinking behind what was done. That is the edge that needs confronting in everything we do as garden makers in Australia. Why is copying a European style design developed in response to landscape, cultural and climatic conditions in, say, Normandy, a good basis for a garden made on the Darling Downs. Until we can begin to understand the relationship we have with our own landscape, culture and climate we’ll be stuck with aping whatever is ‘new’ and fashionable in far away places that are not HERE in. Australia

  9. Gil Teague on said:

    Great program. Covers a lot of territory in 27 minutes, much more than has been attempted in any other Australian gardening show, EVER.

    • Gil Teague on said:

      and an excellent review, Catherine.

  10. found it very ho-hum. Idiotic when they said ‘to see what it will look like in 5 years’ and then switch Toowoomba to NSW Southern Tablelands…. They created a garden at considerable expense that is so water intensive with no discussion on viability or sensible use of ground water. I found it very – very irritating.

  11. anita poddar on said:

    Watched the program with great anticipation and must admit to feeling pretty let down, perhaps becase I so like Michael’s writing and approach to design. Like Trevor I couldn’t wrap my brain around a potager plonked in the middle of the Darling Downs. And I sat there going where’s the water coming from about twenty times so I sympathise with Andrew’s query too.
    I wondered too about shelter from wind. Pioneer gardeners always, always tackled some kind of windbreak with good reason, and there was no sign nor apparently an intent to plant one. I strongly suspect that without a windbreak the garden will struggle.
    I’ll watch again next week and hope that there is a little more about context and practicalities rather than the things that have me abandoning the later series of Grand Designs, mad projects with little context but lots of cash splashed to deliver impractical and ugly projects.

  12. Julie Kearney on said:

    Great show. Very refreshing to the drawn out 1 hour Reno shows normally on TV.

    • Trevor Nottle on said:

      I watched DREAM GARDENS number 3 and was left flabbergasted: $400,000 for a garden and a very ugly power pole shifted for $35,000 and it was still dominating the garden, tho’ not in central position. I’m happy Paul Bangay has begun to warm to the usefulness of flowering perennials etc but there were still many questions to be resolved – the wind again, the water supply, the visual disconnect between the modest farm-house and the grandeur of the new garden. Is this brought about by the confidence of having enough money to do what you dream of but not having the confidence to cast aside imported concepts of power expressed long ago – in this case Renaissance Italian gardens fiddled with a tad to introduce a few flowery bits?

      • Yes, what I saw also was a new garden that was totally unconnected with the style and scale of the house. Bangay’s own garden on that scale at Stonefields works because it surrounds a large, imposing and very handsome house. While I do like and admire the layout and planting of the new garden, as soon as I saw that massive new pergola completely dominating the rear of the house I thought oh-oh, we need a bit more transition here so this doesn’t now look like a pretty little dolls’ house in a garden.

  13. Darren on said:

    The most disappointing thing about all these shows, and this one is no different, is the clear disinterest in explaining the art of gardening to people or any discussion about the specific plants and why people love them. It’s always about design. I’m afraid it’s just verging on garden porn for the toffs.

    I do love Michael’s writing in GA. His presenting not so much.

    • I think that Dream Gardens is a welcome change from shows that are devoted solely to gardening! This is the first time in Australia we’ve ever had a show dedicated to insights and explanations about garden design, rather than inappropriate and fashion-driven makeovers. We have had plenty of air time on TV for years for shows that talk about gardening and plants. I love plants too but this is way overdue. I’m sure Michael would like to talk more about plants in design, if that were the show’s scope.
      Although the gardens we’ve seen so far have cost extraordinary dollars, there have been plenty of well-explained design ideas in them that anyone can use.

      • Darren on said:

        Who is planning a $400,000 (most of that went to Bangay I would bet) reno of their garden when the majority of people live in the city in increasingly small gardens in their units and townhouses? I’d like to hear some of these design ideas that are relevant for the vast majority of the gardening population who don’t go to this extreme.

  14. I have now watched the three so-far aired shows and am wondering like many others, of the relevance of these garden’s designs to their surroundings. I hope we will move away from these ‘formal’ styles which I am finding pretty ho hum and as others have commented, largely irrelevant to our country. As my partner commented the pleasure of gardening is developing your plantings over time and so far we haven’t seen much of that. I suppose that ep2 showed the reality for many people who have no idea or interest in gardening. Thumbs up to the designer who managed such a decent result out of that disaster.
    I will continue to watch, despite my partner’s running critique of all episodes so far. Let’s hope we do see some shows of designs for people who actually enjoy gardening.

  15. Trevor Nottle on said:

    Well? Where are you all? This ‘stuff’, or is it ‘puff and fluff’ is supposed to be the thinking person’s ABC best effort for gardeners. The most recent episode featured ‘umbraginous tension’ between the garden owners and the designer. Was this twaddle diagnosed, explored, exposed ………………. NO. It certainly leaves the dream world in firm control of the aesthetics and form of the landscape ‘profession’. Who could take them seriously? Money is all.

    • Darren on said:

      I’ll take your word for it. I got about five minutes into this episode until I turned it off. Talk about taking the joy of out gardening.

      • Darren, the show is not about gardening or growing plants, nor has it ever pretended to be. It’s about how and why different people make their ‘dream gardens’ which I assumed, before I even saw the first episode, would mean gardens into which they put a lot of effort and money. A designer is involved because it’s usually a very difficult or very large site and the garden owners know that it’s beyond their design skills. Gardening Australia TV shows gardens every week that have been lovingly created by plantsmen and women over many years. All have excellent plants but only a small percentage that I have seen are well-designed gardens. Dream Gardens is about the people who make their gardens in a completely different way and it’s equally valid and worthwhile.

        • Leonie on said:

          Catherine you make some good points about the aim of the program, certainly paying a designer to come in and manage large scale change is valid. However I think the question remains just how worthwhile the outcomes have been. I think it splits, so far, half and half because I think that only two lots of owners had any interest in the garden and the other two needed to tidy up around their house. I believe that you can have both a designer come in and an interesting garden, but so far that has barely been achieved. I keep my fingers crossed for the remaining episodes. Maybe the next series could be 30 minutes on all those finished gardens we’re being shown tantalising glimpses of.

        • Julie Suter on said:

          Hi Catherine, the idea that a garden design programme is not about gardening or how to grow plants is this show’s problem.

          • Hi Julie, as a practicing landscape architect for over 25 years I respectfully disagree.

            Plants are but one element of a garden. But the whole is; how the grading is dealt with, where people sit, how they move through the landscape, how spatial volumes are manipulated by the design, how water moves in the landscape, and a hundred other considerations that most people aren’t even aware of. Even many keen gardeners who actively make gardens often don’t think about how space is created and manipulated and what that does to anyone who finds themselves in a garden.

            I find these types of considerations really no different to building design to any extent. The skills that we, as designers, bring to bear upon a project. Often we have to help clients edit their ideas about spaces and material palettes, whereas many people approach garden design/creation as an additive process until a space is filled.

            Remember that the landscape is the container of everything, so rather than approaching a garden design as a painter (who adds) think of the process by how a photograph is taken (subtraction via the framing of the shot) and you might begin to think a little differently about the show.

          • What can I add here but YES. Thank you, Duncan, for that eloquent and helpful comment

  16. M.Maas on said:

    I have watched all four episodes so far. Ridiculous so called gardens put up for offering. More extreme concrete than gardens in two episodes and one at an outrageous cost. The potager garden seen in the first episode was nicely done however. I’m sure ABC can do better. At least I hope so

    • Trevor Nottle on said:

      I guess the ABC’s input was limited to reading a proposal and making a decision to buy the programme as it was described, and maybe to put up some cash. The selection of the content was most likely made on the basis of the imagery rather than any garden content. The visual impacts are by far the greatest persuader for ABC programme producers. If it looked impressive, and picturesque they would have fallen over themselves to but the programme concept as the director(s) put it to them.

      Gardening is suffering a great malaise thanks largely to the blind leading the blind. A presenter with a ‘name’ who looks and sounds good on camera and a lot of good imagery is all they seem to care about.

      • The show was conceived and filmed and produced in-house by the ABC. The selection of gardens for TV shows (and also open garden events, which I know as I convened Sydney’s first ‘Hidden’ design festival) is mostly based on what is available and put forward when the call for content goes out, rather than a producer’s wishlist. (And yes, the call for content for Dream Gardens was advertised and promoted on GardenDrum, so the many plantaholic designers out there who read it could have contributed if they’d chosen to). To find a garden being designed and built at the right time, and where the owners will reveal private details about themselves and their family and how much it cost, as well as commit to being filmed over many months is extremely difficult, and I’m surprised they were able to get as many and varied projects as they did.

        • Grand Garden Hopeful on said:

          GardenDrum? only discovered this website when I went hunting to find somewhere to express my extreme frustration about Dream Gardens! Normally I wouldn’t bother to comment.

          • Hi GGH – Glad that you found a place where such things are discussed and debated. And I can only hope that you enjoy reading GardenDrum more than you liked watching Dream Gardens.

  17. Trevor Nottle on said:

    If nothing else the comments posted here give a fair indication of some strong feelings about matters not being addressed in the horticultural media including the ABC Gardening Australia and Dream Gardens. Among other things we have a deep and rich garden history, even if only after 200+ years and it is not being revealed or included, or even referred to. There is for instance no reference to the plein air school of painters – the Heidelburg School, and their ideas. Whoever in Australian gardening ever speaks about the quality of light, let alone using it to advantage in gardens. These things do not happen by accident; they are planned.

  18. Bryan Adams on said:

    I have tried to give this show a chance. I love gardens. Its one of the worst gardening shows I have ever seen. A lot of it is to do with the subjects. I dont care a jot about them, they are immensely wealthy people playing around with that wealth. WHO CARES. How was that woman that removed all the brown stones from her rooftop garden to replace them with black. WTF! How is anyone except the super rich supposed empathise with this.

    The shows format is like a Aussie ripoff of Grand Designs and MIchael is okay as a presenter but he doesnt carry it off with the same flair as McLoud who practically invented this format.

    Surely we can do better than this.

    • First it’s not a gardening show. Second, why does it matter if it uses the same premise and format of Grand Designs? To my knowledge nobody has tried this with gardens before. Like Grand Designs, it’s mostly about people who are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars or pounds on their dreams. You and I might not like the result (and I often don’t on Grand designs either) but this is the reality faced by most landscape designers on a daily basis – trying to make gardens for people who actually don’t care much for plants. But I think it’s dangerous in any sphere to only watch, listen to and read things that affirm your pre-existing ideas about how the world should work.

    • Darren on said:

      Spot on Bryan. It’s one big ego trip on account of the owner. It’s not the format or the idea that is putrid, though, it’s the actual show itself being very poorly made that is off putting. Plants are a big part of the landscape and this show hardly recognises that.

  19. Trevor Nottle on said:

    MacLeod may manufacture it but he does liven up GRAND DESIGNS by his almost continuous sceptical line of presentation: I don’t think they will be able to finish this – on time, within budget, with the experience of the builder/ site manager/ project manager etc. Would Australian garden owners be willing to be presented this way – over ambitious, got enough cash flow, will the contractor/ designer/ owner relationship last under the strains and so on. Would McCoy have the chutzpah to approach presentation in this questioning and mildly confrontationist manner?

    • I think that as the show is proving so successful, and I hear that Dream Gardens Episode 4 was the 3rd highest rating ABC show that week, after the News and 7.30 report, then a Series 2 would give the producers and Michael room to make this show more of a critique than it is currently. However unlike Grand Designs, there is not just the ego of the home owner-builder to consider here but the ego and willingness of a garden designer, who has a business dependent on good publicity, to put forward a project for scrutiny. Too much criticism and confrontation and those projects would dry up.

  20. I am glad to hear that the ratings are high. I hope they continue on with a second series if all parties can continue to give it a go. I am sure that there was a similar garden design show in the UK, part of which was memorably circulated on Youtube, when the designer dug up a piece of unexploded ordinance and everyone had to leave the site very quickly. I breathed a sigh of relief that at least there seemed a better balance in last night’s episode, although deciding to throw in a whole new building part way through the project did nothing to detract from the view that this is a game only for the wealthy. What I did like was that the process was a bit better demonstrated, thumbs up to the builder and designer. Perhaps like any show this is a learning curve and what was filmed in this episode was just better planned or generally more interesting.

  21. Kerrie P on said:

    As a relatively novice gardener, I would like to add that the target audience for this show is probably not the professionals here who are so highly critical of it. I am an enthusiastic amateur/armchair gardener who knows practically nothing about garden design apart from what I’ve gleaned from magazines etc and I find the show accessible and very enjoyable. Whilst I too wince at the decadence of spending such vast amounts of money on a garden, I enjoy picking the tidbits of general principles out of it and the voyeuristic pleasure of seeing someone else achieve something that is completely out of reach for me. I enjoy Michael McCoy’s style as well as the glimpses of similar more established gardens and whilst a bit more discussion about the more philosophical and technical aspects would still be very interesting and educative for me, i certainly won’t be throwing the baby out with the bathwater and will continue to enjoy this show because as Catherine points out it is a different type of garden show (primarily addressing garden design) to what we usually see. But my approach to gardening is it should be something that brings the owners pleasure and connects them with nature and their surroundings in a sustainable way. It doesn’t need to please every person who lays their professional eyes on it. While some design mistakes draw the eye of the professional in an irritating way, such as the disconnect between the modest house and the grand garden, the same thing applies in reverse in a very idiosyncratic way to the owners. For example, the family wanting to retain the boulder beside their pool may have forever looked at that space with irritating regret, had they agreed to have it removed, no matter how much more correct the planting design may have become.

  22. Grand Garden Hopeful on said:

    Have to agree with the many disappointed comments above. What a Misnomer! These might be Dream Gardens for the professional designers ($$$$!) but for mere mortals they are simply nightmarishly costly ones. To date, none of the episodes have resulted in anything ethereal or different. Neither has there been any in discussion of design principles relative to the sites eg orientation, local environmental or ecological issues, soils, appropriate plantings. The content also suggests severe confusion as to what constitutes an Australian plant. And as for that awful theme music…Michael would do better to run with a program which explores some of the gardens he has referenced as examples and title it truthfully as Expensive Exteriors! The ABC also owes apologies to look-down-his-nose Kevin McCloud for imitating the Grand Designs format. So sad.

  23. ConnieCat on said:

    Very disappointed in Dream Gardens more about people with lots of money who have no idea and want their five minutes of fame.
    I wonder how the properties were selected?

    • Hi CC – as you are disappointed, then you were obviously expecting DG to be about something else. What was it that you were expecting?

      • ConnieCat on said:

        Hi Catherine
        I thought it would be visiting gardens where the owners were passionate gardeners.
        Helping them with a design and naming the plants that were going to be used.
        Conniecat

        • Darren on said:

          Agreed Conniecat. More than a few people, in fact, a lot of commenters here, were expecting the landscapers to explain their use of plants within the landscape. You would expect at least a few comments on why a certain plant is being used because, obviously, a dead plant makes a great addition to any landscape. We are getting none of that and so, the show is inherently irrelevant to home gardeners or those interested in reforming or designing their own gardens.

      • Jason on said:

        Agree wholeheartedly with CC. A TV series devoted to the blandest uncreative gardens designed by overplayed so called designers.

  24. Julie Suter on said:

    I have to agree with CC, I’ve not managed to watch a full episode of Dream Gardens as the clientele are far from any reality I know. To spend $100,000 or more on a garden is quite insulting. All of the wonderful gardens I know were designed on a budget, took many, many years to achieve and almost all the plants in these gardens were taken as cuttings from other people’s gardens. This instant garden design idea lacks the fundamental aspect of gardening… Planting, nurturing and learning about plants and the environment. I find the show superficial and rather sad.

  25. peter jones on said:

    i’m finding dream gardens to be a entertaining sit down .Michael comes across as being a very nice bloke but seriously are people that stupid in spending the amounts of money he quotes throughout the show on their gardens and do we need to know ?Very pretentious…. It started looking like a fantastic show with the garden on that farm in Queensland ( and the work the owners put into it )and has gone sideways ever since ..

  26. I’m perplexed about several commenter’s attitudes to the idea of spending a lot of money on a garden. If people have money, surely spending it on a garden is way better than dropping it on the roulette wheel at Crown, or yet another ski trip to Aspen, or endless indulgent dinners at 3 hat restaurants? Or even keeping it in the bank? Why are gardens less deserving of a big dollar spend than a building? I’ll never have $100K to spend on a garden either, but I’m very glad that others have, and do.
    Spending money on a garden supports landscape designers and architects, landscapers, plant nurseries, irrigators, paving suppliers, turf growers, horticulturists, garden maintenance companies and endless other trades. It keeps Australia’s ‘green industry’ alive.

    • Kerrie P on said:

      Hi Catherine, the ‘wince’ i mention above at $400,000 being spent on a private garden comes from someone who works in medical research, where we ‘dream’ of receiving a research grant of 5 figures, let alone 6 figures, and months are spent fruitlessly every year writing praiseworthy but nevertheless rejected grant applications to that end, and I volunteer in a charity that feeds ~70 free meals per week to people who can barely afford to rent a boarding house room, and provides an organic community garden space on a shoe string to try and educate about healthy eating and provide some ‘gardening therapy’ and inner city reconnection to nature to those with mental health issues, but as I said, I don’t begrudge others choosing to prioritise beautiful outdoor spaces and I vicariously enjoy seeing the results on Dream Gardens!

      • Totally agree that more philanthropy would be an excellent use for everyone’s money. And, who knows, maybe some of the people we’ve seen on DG already do that. But I do find it strange that so many of those commenting here are insulted or disgusted by the idea of spending big bucks on a garden. Many of the world’s great and inspirational gardens, now visited and enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people each year, were begun by a rich person who had the money and the vision to invest it in a garden, from Versailles to Sissinghurst to Longwood Garden. I’m not saying that Dream Gardens has shown us Australia’s Longwood Garden yet, but we can always hope.

  27. Anita on said:

    I’ve seen every episode in the hope that the show would improve but have been disappointed. Was expecting gardens that all Australians could aspire to. As it is, the show would be more aptly named “Ridiculously expensive and obscenely self-indulgent outdoor construction projects”. This is the kind of show we would expect on commercial television. Very disappointing from our public broadcaster. Please try again ABC, with something more informative, achievable, sustainable and inspiring.

    • Darren on said:

      Yet another knob that wants a pool and masses of concrete and paving. In a garden full of deciduous trees mind you. Good luck with the sweeping and maintenance. I’ve got one birch and it’s a pain in the arse. The whole garden will be a mess shortly.

  28. Stuart Hughes on said:

    Very disappointed in dream garden design . Not a garden we can all have, budgets out of this world . Very disappointed in this series will not watch again .

  29. Geoff on said:

    I have to say I was quite disappointed by “Dream Gardens”. It didn’t seem to be about the gardens at all. The focus was around major built structures with gardens nestling those things into the landscape somehow. The people, who despite the homespun, quaint music, didn’t seem that “into” their gardens as such. The seemed more concerned having something they could show off, often with price tags that could still buy houses in rural Australia. The things I did enjoy however were the often amazing gardens that the host visited for inspiration – now THEY were dream gardens. They would have cost a bomb too but they were often on large properties where ideas about space and plantings would not be overshadowed by futuristic backyard pools.

    • I’m truly astonished that anyone should think a garden is only about plants and pruning. That idea is a relatively new one since most people didn’t have any kind of garden unless they were in a growing middle class in the late 1800s or out on a farm. Gardens, and the whole notion of gardens is as varied as the landscapes settings they find themselves in. Why should anyone wanting a pool in an urban setting be rubbished for wanting one that is well designed and thoughtfully integrated with the house and the garden? As it is, employing a designer, or landscape architect can often save money and deliver a better result. It includes considerations for everything, including plants.

      As to the notion that these clients don’t necessarily have a green thumb somehow makes their gardens any less legitimate, well I find such a conclusion ridiculous. We all relate to the landscape in different ways. That these people, who have allowed we the audience into their lives, are willing to spend money on a garden that isn’t necessarily to your taste, doesn’t mean for a single minute that gardens that are more like those on Gardening Australia (and probably to your taste) cannot be just as, if not more expensive.

      As a landscape architect I often find that clients who might not initially have a green thumb, find one when their garden is completed since they are that much more invested in the space they’ve commissioned you to create for them.

      The basic take away from Dream Gardens, I’m sure all you detractors of this show should be able to agree upon, is that if the basic structure of the garden is wrong, that no amount of planting will improve it. Good detailing and planting design will also go a long way to lifting a garden from a mere collection of plants to an artwork.

      Anyone who creates a garden deserves congratulations!

  30. Julie Hughes on said:

    They call this show dream gardens , it is not a garden if there are no bees . Most of the gardens shown are designed for lazy foux gardeners who like to pretend they give a s#$t about their environment. Boring uninspiring self indulgent clap trap. The end.

  31. Maria on said:

    I am really disappointed with this show, which is such a shame given there are hardly any gardening or garden design shows ever presented on TV. The program’s title and preview suggested the stories would be about people who dream of creating beautiful garden spaces and perhaps have at least a passing interest in plants. After all, what distinguishes a garden from an indoor ‘room’ is the natural environment. In reality, the presenter focuses on stories of people who want some landscaping around their house renovations and have next to no interest in either plants or gardening. Just about every episode has focused mostly on a pool as the centrepiece of the so-called garden, and then hard landscaping, following by a passing mention of plants towards the end of the program, just in time for the final reveal.

    The part of the show I do like is when the presenter visits the other ‘inspiration’ garden, which is often beautiful and well-designed and the designer’s brief, design ideas and site considerations are informative.

    • Darren on said:

      I was particularly amused how the inspiration garden this week had absolutely no relevance to the one being built.

  32. Oh dear, I had (perhaps foolishly) thought that this final garden where we were told that the owners were directly involved with the building program would be different. But no, not really. Again a perfectly ‘nice’ design that all the grumbling rellos can be happily surprised by.
    Yes please let us focus on those beautiful gardens that are featured or move to slightly more mature gardens where can can see some evidence of ongoing engagement with the outside world. All I can see is that these will be expensive versions of those backyard makeover programs where a few months further on all is going back down the drain, although the well built infrastructure will remain.
    Yes, I am in that sad little group of gardeners that troup around the open garden scheme to admire the work of people actually interested in plants. I rejoice that my less than perfectly formed front native plant garden attracts blue banded bees, a colony of bull ants and stacks of native birds. Our scrambling organic veggie garden has produced two kilos of beans in the past week and kilos of tomatoes for the coming months.
    Perhaps Millie Ross could present the next series and we might find some dreams for other types of gardeners!

  33. It’s been fascinating reading all the comments on the ABC Dream Gardens series. Thank goodness for your overview Catherine and considered comments from those like Duncan Gibbs’.

    I was just extraordinarily grateful that the ABC agreed to produce this series. I was also grateful to all the designers and garden owners who shared their projects with us – knowing that (sadly) they may well be at the receiving end of abuse by armchair critics.

    Sure – some of the garden owners definitely weren’t gardeners – that’s why they employed designers. It doesn’t make their gardens any less relevant to those of passionate do-it-yourself gardeners. At least they consider a garden important enough to pay for.

    On the subject of dollars. Yep – some of the costs seems exorbitant, but let’s remember all the people involved: landscapers, earth movers, electricians, plumbers, paver layers, pool builders, engineers, builders, carpenters, designers, plant breeders, plant propagators, plant growers, gardeners, nurseries etc.

    Yes, $400,000 would go a long way for research, but jobs keep our country prosperous and everyone involved deserves to make a living. And most likely some of the garden owners are in a position to already be philanthropic.

    As for the format of the program – ABC could have chosen any number of approaches. The one they ran with worked OK. In a very short time frame the editors presented what they thought was interesting – adding the predictable jeopardy TV demands. No doubt there were bucket loads cut out.

    I’d be equally happy with in-depth analysis on mature, beautifully designed gardens, as in the handful of videos Our Australian Gardens made.

    Michael McCoy’s intelligence and easy manner brought it all together. Even in frustrating situations he showed patience and a gentle demeanour. Old fashioned traits that would never cut it on so many tacky reality TV shows.

    Please ABC TV – let’s have a second series so we can see how the gardens have matured.

Leave a Reply (no need to register)