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I just don't dig Super Garden

GARDENING programmes were like persistent weeds during the Celtic Tiger years. Get rid of one and three more seemed to pop up in its place. Greenbacks were often as important as green fingers.

The genre bred a new species of exotic fauna: the garden designer, who minced pretentiously in wax jacket and designer wellies, urging those who could afford it to spend shedloads of money gussying up the backyard.

A garden was no longer simply a place for the kids to play. It wasn't even called a garden anymore; it was "the room outside", a valuable asset that, with careful fertilising by wheelbarrows of cash, could add untold thousands to the value of your house.

Given the state we're in now, you'd imagine this kind of guff would have been confined to television's compost bin, yet here comes the new series of Super Garden, which is as welcome as a slug in a cabbage patch.

The routine is the same as before: five budding garden designers, under the mentorship of expert Mary Reynolds, a woman with all the screen presence of a length of trellis, bring their unique "visions" to someone else's garden. The prize for the winner is a spot at this year's Bloom Festival.

Each of them has "just" €5,500 to spend and first up was Mary O'Neill-Moloney, whose brief was to design "a real garden for real living" at a house in a Carlow estate. Mary's big innovation was to turn a standard garden shed into an arbour.

"That's fabulous," she said of the finished work, "it's just as I imagined it would be." Which is to say it looked exactly like a painted shed with one side torn off.

I admit to having an intense dislike of gardening programmes. They bore me rigid. I'm possibly influenced by my own uselessness in the garden. I once had a whole bed of strawberries commit hara-kiri and the only thing I could ever successfully cultivate was rhubarb, which is about as difficult to grow as eyebrows.

Super Garden, produced in the same bland, forcibly upbeat style as every other product of RTE's amorphous Lifestyle Department, offers little in the way of practical advice for the dedicated gardener to get their trowel into, while for the rest of us the entertainment value is zero.

In fact it's more advertainment than entertainment, since the three judges -- pictured, in a mouldy visual cliche, with arms folded, looking stern -- are the chairman of the Bloom Festival and two representatives of the series' sponsors, Woodie's DIY and Bord na Mona Growise.

At one point a small army of volunteers went to work painting a fence magnolia. That hoary old critic's standby "like watching paint dry" never felt more justified.

With talent shows smothering the TV schedules like creeping ivy, Hidden Talent seemed an off-putting title for a new series. But appearances can be deceptive. Nine-hundred Britons attended open "test days" to see if they had undiscovered aptitudes.

Maggie, a youthful-looking 45-year-old grandmother who works as a rapid-response nurse, demonstrated an instinctive talent for rock-climbing. After a couple of weeks' training by an expert climber, she scaled The Old Man of Stoer, a terrifying 200ft needle of rock that juts out of the water off the Scottish Highlands.

During the climb, which made for a tense and exhilarating spectacle, Maggie's heart rate barely rose above normal (watching her do it, mine was racing like a thoroughbred).

I'm less convinced of the usefulness of retired bridal shop owner Brenda's talent, which is spotting when someone is lying. Whisked off to Florida for a week, Brenda was schooled in interrogation techniques by two ex-FBI agents and quickly unmasked a handbag thief (not a real one, obviously) from a group of five, simply by asking a few questions and observing their reactions. Mind you, I wouldn't care to be Brenda's husband, who said he's prone to the odd little white lie.




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