Alasdair Glennie, Daily Mail (London), August 4, 2014
With its amiable discussions on greenfly and compost, it may seem as innocuous as a radio show could be.
So regular listeners to Gardeners’ Question Time will be surprised to find it caught up in a race row.
For an academic claims that Radio 4’s long-running programme is spreading covert racist stereotypes disguised as horticultural advice.
Dr Ben Pitcher, a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Westminster, says the panel show is ‘saturated’ with racial language.
From debates about native and non-native plant species to advice about the purity of different soil types, the programme’s resident green-fingered experts are secretly feeding nationalist and fascist fantasies, he claims.
Speaking on another Radio 4 programme, Thinking Allowed, he said: ‘Gardeners’ Question Time is not the most controversial show on Radio 4, and yet it is layered with, saturated with, racial meanings. The context here is the rise of nationalism. The rise of racist and fascist parties across Europe. Nationalism is about shoring up a fantasy of national integrity. My question is, what feeds nationalism? What makes nationalism powerful?’
Dr Pitcher said there is a ‘crisis in white identity in multicultural Britain’ caused by the fact that ‘white culture’ is historically associated with racism and far-Right views.
White people are therefore forced to find other ways of talking about white identity–such as through gardening–so they do not appear to be racist.
Speaking on the same programme, Lola Young, a crossbench peer and former professor of cultural studies, agreed with Dr Pitcher’s argument. She added: ‘I remember back in the late 80s-early 90s when rhododendrons were seen as this huge problem, and people were talking about going out rhododendron-bashing.
‘That was at a time when Paki-bashing was something that was all too prevalent on our streets. This kind of slippage of language into alien and native is a thread in our language.’ It is not the first time Gardeners’ Question Time has been embroiled in a race row.
In 2008, listeners complained after a plant known as a ‘black man’s willy’ was mentioned. The BBC was accused of ‘pandering to political correctness’ after it apologised.
Last night horticulturalist Stefan Buczacki, who was on the programme for 13 years, said Dr Pitcher’s claims were ‘utterly absurd’.
‘Many things have been said about Gardeners’ Question Time, but you can’t say it is racist,’ he said. ‘His comments show a complete lack of understanding of the natural world.
‘Gardeners understand the fluidity of species over space and time.
‘They come and go, and adapt to different environments. That is what we mean by native and non-native species. It has nothing whatsoever to do with nationalism or racism.
‘There is enough real racism in the world without looking for it in places it doesn’t exist.’
A BBC spokesman said: ‘The passing mention of Gardeners’ Question Time was part of a broader discussion about language and race . . . the comment simply reflected the programme’s use of accepted gardening and horticultural terminology.’