I have to admit something.
I cried watching a gardening television show. Not during the reveal of some kind of makeover for a deserving family. Nope. I cried watching Monty Don talk about American gardens.
Let me back up a bit. For those who are unfamiliar, Monty Don is perhaps the most well-known gardener in the world. He has been the host of the wonderful “Gardeners’ World” television show on BBC (in the UK) for 16 years and has done countless other specials on gardening and written several books as well as writing regularly for several publications. He is a gardener’s gardener, a guy who wears the same faded blue pants and jacket and a sweater with holes in it because it’s obviously his favorite.
He’s also an incredibly knowledgable, self-taught gardener, from whom I’ve learned more than probably any other single source. And if you think I’m carrying on, you should be happy I haven’t joined the legions of his fans who think the only thing better than his gardening knowledge is his rugged and perhaps slightly earthy good looks.
I believe I’ve seen every Monty Don special, including those on Italian, Japanese and paradise gardens. I even went down the rabbit hole and watched a show called “Fork to Fork” from 1999. I own at least two of his books, maybe three. Finding these shows can be difficult, but some are available on BritBox or Netflix. Others can be found with a rather aggressive search of YouTube or through a highly sketchy website called HD Clump. (Warning: the BBC is on top of people who record and repost these shows on YouTube, so they often come and go on random channels.)
So when I found out via Instagram that Monty was coming to the U.S. for a three-part series on American gardens, I not only tried to figure out a way to stalk him, I started counting down until the moment I could watch them. I struck out on the stalking, but I was delighted to see the first episode last Friday. (I caught it on YouTube, but I see it’s also here.)
Why was I so excited about this series? Because I desperately want Monty’s approval. It is absurd to think of a person who doesn’t know you exist as a type of mentor, but I do. And while I would be horrified to have Monty in my garden (if he didn’t like it, and I doubt he would, I would simply wither). But I wanted his approval of our best gardens in this country.
In the first episode he visited several gardens that I’ve been to, so I was especially excited to hear his thoughts on the Lurie Garden, Longwood Gardens, Chanticleer Gardens and Central Park. I found a bit of personal satisfaction in hearing him comment on noticeable aspects of some of these gardens in the same terms I myself have used (or at least thought).
He also visited gardens I didn’t know existed, including the most amazing community garden I’ve ever seen in the Bronx, where people of all cultures and ages came together to grow, do yoga and art and just be together, and a garden called Federal Twist in Stockton, New Jersey, that is inspired by the prairie and generally allowed to run rampant. When owner James Golden told Monty that he “Forgot to mention that I hate gardening,” my mouth was agape (and, frankly, so was Monty’s). I mean how could you say that to Monty? Well, spoiler alert, Monty, who managed to land in the U.S. during last summer’s heat wave and was by the end of the show positively melting on camera, declared that he “adored” the garden.
In fact, Monty loved a lot of the gardens. I’m not sure he’d say if he didn’t, but he strikes me as a straight shooter, so I suspect we’d know if he didn’t. And despite the fact that he visited gardens from the middle of the country to the east coast, he managed to find a unifying theme: the pioneering spirit that is in the DNA of this country. And I will be honest, I had never thought this before.
At Chanticleer—the garden Monty says he was referred to more than any other—he commented on the wide range of garden styles there, something he said you’d never find in the U.K. “What’s binding it together is not so much design but an incredible sense of optimism and enthusiasm and the idea that with the resources and the will you can do and make anything,” he said.
As an American, there are times, particularly these days, when it can be difficult to take pride in this country. But as I watched Monty talk about the pioneering spirit he found as a unifying theme among otherwise disparate gardens, I was full of pride. And yes, I shed a tear, on not just my first viewing but also my second. And not just because a British gardener approved of them, but because he is absolutely correct.