A popular BBC radio gardening show has been denounced as racist by an academic. Dr Ben Pitcher, a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Westminster, said that discussions on non-native species and soil purity promote racial stereotypes, with white listeners using the show as a covert way to vent discriminatory opinions.
BBC Radio 4’s “Gardeners’ Question Time” is generally viewed as a gentle show that has provided help and advice to gardeners across Britain every week since 1947.
Dr Pitcher says, however, that the panel show is “saturated” with racial language. Speaking on another Radio 4 show, 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 added that the “crisis in white identity in multicultural Britain” means that people are unable to express what they really think of immigrants and ethnic minorities for fear of being labelled ‘racist’, so they express their opinions in other ways, including through gardening.
“Nationalism is historically about narratives of blood and soil,” he said.
“The distinction that gets made between native species and non-native species and this kind of policing of what belongs and what does not belong I think is symptomatic of a kind of desire to defend the fantasy of the national space.”
Speaking on the same programme, Baroness Young of Hornsey, a former professor of cultural studies, agreed with Dr Pitcher.
“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.”
However, Stefan Buczacki, who has appeared on the show for 13 years, said the claims were “utterly absurd”.
He told the Daily Mail: “Many things have been said about Gardeners’ Question Time, but you can’t say it is racist. 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.”