The Victory Garden (TV series)
The Victory Garden is an American public television program about gardening and other outdoor activities, produced by station WGBH in Boston, Massachusetts, and distributed by PBS. It is the oldest gardening television program in the United States, having first aired in April 16, 1975.
It was conceived in response to the tough economy of the early 70’s and an increased interest in self-sufficiency after the Arab oil embargo. The show’s creator, Russell Morash (also the creator of This Old House), thought that it was time that people got back to practicalities in their own backyards, and the title itself was chosen to harken back to the homespun victory gardens of World War I and World War II. Accordingly, each of the early programs showed viewers how to get the most from their own plot of land, both in terms of floral beauty and vegetable bounty. In the first seasons of the series, there was an annual contest where viewers sent in photos of their "Victory Gardens" (with the winner being chosen by the Morashes and the show hosts (Jim Crockett and later Bob Thomson). The grand prize was a feature segment about the winning garden, and other prizes included gardening equipment horticultural care products.
The first host of The Victory Garden was James Underwood Crockett and the show was originally called Crockett's Victory Garden. Although Crockett had no television experience, he was no stranger to the garden: a past director of the American Horticultural Society, he had spent 34 years advising gardeners and commercial growers on vegetable and flower gardening, and was the author of 15 books, including several of the early Victory Garden volumes. His friendly, down-to-earth, you-can-do-it style quickly made the show one of the most popular programs on public television, and made Jim Crockett an icon of American gardening.
During the 1979-80 gardening season Bob Thomson arrived on the scene and the show was renamed The Victory Garden, first as a short-term replacement for the ailing Crockett, and then as full-time host after Crockett’s death from cancer. Thomson rose to the sad occasion and brought with him the same affable spirit that Victory Garden fans had come to expect from the show. Bob Thomson was not only a seasoned gardener with some 20 years of radio broadcasting experience, but he was also a professional nurseryman.
Marian Morash appeared on the air to do her recipes on the program from 1979 to 2001.
With Thomson at the helm, The Victory Garden began to change its format. In addition to the regular demonstrations of planting, potting, pruning, and pest control, the series began to make room for more guests and travel features. These excursions led them to some far-flung botanical sites including the once-a-decade Floriade in the Netherlands; Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, France; and the gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley, England.
In the 1990-91 gardening season, Bob Thomson left the show, Roger Swain replaced Bob Thomson as host. Known as the “man in the red suspenders”, Roger had a remarkable ability for clear teaching and for providing inspiration to others. Roger also brought great insight to the series. He had a broad background as a biologist, gardener, and well-known author. When he wasn’t hosting The Victory Garden, writing or giving talks, Roger was busy tending his own farm garden and orchard in southern New Hampshire.
After Swain’s retirement in 2002, Michael Weishan became the host of The Victory Garden. At that time, he and executive producer Laurie Donnelly decided to return the series to its roots, embracing some of the practical knowledge and projects so favored by Jim Crockett, as well as the tours and exotic gardens prominent in the later programs. A well known designer and garden writer before coming to The Victory Garden, Weishan quickly became known for avuncular practical advice combined with a trademark sense of humor. Weishan was joined by Paul Epsom as garden correspondent; gardener Kip Anderson (who had been tending Victory Garden locations for over 20 years before his first appearance during Weishan's tenure); and, during his last two seasons, Sissy Biggers as lifestyle reporter. After five seasons as host, Michael Weishan left the show to return to his design landscape practice.
The search for a new host led the producers to Jamie Durie, Australian TV personality, designer, and somewhat notoriously, former member of the Australian version of the male stripper group, the Chippendales. After joining the series as host in 2007, Durie worked to infuse The Victory Garden segments with an international environmental influence and clean, modern design sensibility.
Despite Mr. Durie's energetic efforts, however, the series lagged. The program's new direction did not seem to be what dedicated viewers wanted, and also failed to draw in a new audience for the show. After a couple of seasons, it became apparent to regular viewers that post-2007 episodes were being repeated frequently and no new episodes were airing. In 2012, PBS confirmed that although the program is still promoted on the PBS website, a new episode of The Victory Garden had not aired since late 2009 and that the program is no longer in production.
There have been four main Victory Gardens over the show's history; the first beside WGBH's Allston, Massachusetts, studios; the second at Lexington Gardens Nursery in Lexington, Massachusetts; the third was at the home of producer Russell Morash in Lexington, Massachusetts. The fourth garden was also located west of Boston.
- Weishan, Michael and Laurie Donnelly. (2006). The Victory Garden Companion. ISBN 0-06-059977-4
- Crockett, James Underwood. 23 April 1977. Crockett's Victory Garden. Little Brown and Company. Paperback. 326 pages. ISBN 9780316161213