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Greg Dyke


Speech given at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Monday 19 May 2003
Printable version

Thank you very much for inviting me today.


There are some things in life that are predictable and others are not. If someone had told me 20 years ago that I'd be Guest of Honour at the Chelsea Flower Show I doubt I'd have believed it.

My only regret about today is that my father is no longer alive to see this. As a keen gardener he would either have collapsed laughing or just shaken his head saying, "Chelsea isn't what it used to be".

My father spent many hours at the end of our garden. It didn't always seem productive but for him, as for so many gardeners, it was the best escape from his wife and three children.

Unlike my two brothers, I did not inherit either his interest or talent for gardening, so Chelsea is a revelation to me.

It has always seemed interesting to me that despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that most people in the UK live in towns or cities there is enormous and seemingly increasing enthusiasm for gardening.

Somehow the notion of a green and pleasant land is hardwired into the British psyche, even if many people's own patch of green is limited to a window box or roof terrace.

What I do understand about gardening is that firstly it increasingly dominates BBC TWO's schedules and secondly that the BBC gardening presenters seem to end up as the most unlikely sex symbols.

A bit like the visual arts, however, horticulture can arouse strong passions amongst enthusiasts whilst at the same time being a little intimidating and mysterious for the uninitiated like me.

The BBC tries to satisfy both the keen and knowledgeable gardener as well as bringing new audiences to gardening and hopefully, over time, encouraging everyone to take their interest in gardening further.

From Ground Force which is watched by many including those who don't even have a garden, to Gardeners' World, relaunched with Monty Don, a new sex symbol in the making I hear, for the more committed gardener, the BBC aims to cater for all levels of interest and expertise.

Which brings me to why I am here today apart from annoying my late father.

The Chelsea Flower Show is of course the Wimbledon of the horticultural calendar, although the British seem to do rather better at Chelsea than they do at tennis.

I'm sure I was invited because the BBC will be broadcasting coverage of Chelsea on BBC ONE, BBC TWO, Radio 4 and just about every local radio station.

There will also be extensive coverage online on our gardening website.

We never forget that although Chelsea happens in the south east, it is very much a regional, national and even worldwide event with hundreds of passionate gardeners and growers each making their personal pilgrimage here. This year even Songs of Praise will be coming from the bandstand in Ranleigh Gardens.

Mind you, changing television technology offers more possibilities than ever.

Our interactive coverage of Chelsea on digital television, first launched last year, has tours of every one of the show gardens and in depth interviews with each designer.

Now you can explore the gardens in much more detail from the comfort of your own armchair - and you don't even have to strain your neck to see over the heads of people in front of you especially if you're short like me.

What you may not know is that the BBC's co-operation with the RHS goes much further than bringing Chelsea to the nation.

For instance, without an enormous contribution of expertise from the RHS the 'How to be a gardener' online gardening courses would never have been the success they are.

These educational resources have encouraged thousands of people to learn more about the basics of gardening and garden design and by doing so introduce a whole new generation of people to what must be one of the nation's favourite pass times.

In fact I'm able to announce today an exciting new scheme supported by the RHS to cultivate a nation of successful, amateur gardeners.

It's called BBC Neighbourhood Gardener. Enthusiastic leisure gardeners will be able to take a course at their local horticultural college and then pass on their knowledge as volunteers in their neighbourhoods.

A similar idea has been hugely successful in the United States with over 60,000 'Master Gardeners' operating throughout the country.

We're delighted that the RHS will be advising us and helping us deliver this ambitious project in its pilot stage this summer and, if that's successful, hopefully beyond.

Like the RHS, the BBC is passionate about gardening and we look forward to a vintage Chelsea week to inspire people across the country to share that enthusiasm.


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