BBC’s “Monty Don’s Italian Gardens” Educates, Informs and Entertains, Brilliantly.

Monty Don's Italian GardensWatch­ing Mon­ty Don amble lov­ing­ly through some of Italy’s most spec­tac­u­lar gar­dens is rather like watch­ing Bruno Ganz’s angel expe­ri­enc­ing the rap­ture of final­ly falling in love in Wings Of Desire.

You feel that here’s a man who’s spent all his life bur­dened with a pas­sion that he some­how could­n’t quite put his fin­ger on. And the sense of joy now that he’s unearthed it is pal­pa­ble. This man lives and breathes gar­den­ing. And it’s infec­tious. Or rather, he makes it infectious.

Like all the best ideas it seems obvi­ous in ret­ro­spect, and it’s slight­ly sur­pris­ing that a pro­gramme like this has­n’t already been made. But that of explor­ing Italy via its gar­dens is an inspired one. And, like most appar­ent­ly sim­ple things, he could all too eas­i­ly have got it hor­ri­bly wrong. Hap­pi­ly though, Don strikes exact­ly the right bal­ance between the pro­gram­me’s dif­fer­ent elements.

Water, as is becom­ing increas­ing­ly obvi­ous, is by far and away our plan­et’s most pre­cious resource. So nat­u­ral­ly it was the cur­ren­cy through which the Ital­ian aris­toc­ra­cy expressed its wealth. What bet­ter way to do so than by extrav­a­gant­ly wast­ing it as wan­ton­ly as pos­si­ble? And few things waste water quite like an Ital­ian garden.

Episode 1 was cen­tred around Rome, and as he walked us around the grandeur of the Vil­la D’Este there, Don put the opu­lence of the gar­den into the con­text of the his­to­ry and the soci­ety that helped pro­duce it. But he nev­er lec­tures, nor do you have the sense that he’s mere­ly show­ing off. Instead, he’s sim­ply explain­ing how some­thing that extra­or­di­nary came into being.

It’s not a ques­tion of him being inter­est­ed in his­to­ry and gar­den­ing, rather it’s his con­vic­tion that it’s not pos­si­ble to be inter­est­ed in one with­out the oth­er. And watch­ing him elab­o­rate and hear­ing him explain, it’s impos­si­ble not to be drawn in.

Sim­i­lar­ly, when in sub­se­quent episodes he talks about food and the pro­duce from the land, it’s not yet anoth­er area of inter­est, it’s all part and par­cel of what gar­den­ing is all about. It’s all of it born of the same passion.

Cru­cial­ly though, his enthu­si­asm is tem­pered by an intel­li­gence that has the capac­i­ty to stop, stand back and calm­ly sur­vey. It’s an intel­li­gence in oth­er words that’s been mold­ed by expe­ri­ence and under­stands the need to always take your time before reach­ing any con­clu­sions. Were he back at Cam­bridge, one of his more annoy­ing class­mates might prof­fer that his is the per­fect mix of the Apol­lon­ian and Dionysian urges.

Before ever he got the gar­den­ing bug, and after a host of oth­er things, he began work as a job­bing writer, and you can get a taste of his tal­ents and this pro­gramme here.

If you missed it first time around it’s cur­rent­ly being re-shown on BBC4 on Sat­ur­days. It’s pro­grammes like this, and peo­ple like Don that give the BBC its august rep­u­ta­tion. And it’s one of the rea­sons that it con­tin­ues to be the yard­stick against which all oth­er broad­cast­ers are mea­sured. I hope they appre­ci­ate him.

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