Over Christmas, I was suffering from withdrawal symptoms - not from some kind of ill-advised pre-festive detox, but the aftermath of the conclusion of the Serial podcast. I came to this 12-part audio dissection of a 1999 Baltimore murder case late, and ended up binge-listening to the whole thing over a period of 10 days, catching up just in time for the final instalment. If you haven't already been drawn into Serial I warn you: it's addictive, so play part one at your own risk.
I've never before been a fan of those "true crime" documentaries that lurk in the TV channels where your remote control becomes marooned when you've got past the first hundred or so and your finger wearies, but somehow the story (high school student goes to prison for killing his ex-girlfriend, implicated by a friend who says he helped to bury the body - but who's telling the truth?) got its hooks into me from the start. And it got me thinking - why haven't I heard any good - by which I mean compelling, informative, addictive, viral - podcasts about plants, gardening or anything else horticulture-related?
So, I gave myself a mission over Christmas and New Year. My tablet was my constant companion as I tore my way through dozens of podcasts, trying to find something that filled the Serial-shaped hole in my listening schedule. The truth is, I am not interested in podcasts that tell me how to plant tulips or what to do when my poinsettia drops its leaves. BORING. If I want that kind of information, I'll open a reference book or even (what the hell!), Google it.*
What did I find? Well, loads of great, addictive listens**, but not a lot in the way of current, plant or horticulture-themed podcast series. But I did find individual podcasts that covered ground that fitted my horticultural brief. Here Be Monsters (tagline - "the podcast about the unknown") is a spooky listen at the best of times, but none more so than an episode called The Roman Slug Death Orgy, which though not directly about gardening, will prove strangely affecting to those of us who have ever done battle with slugs.
I loved one particular episode of the Criminal podcast ("Stories of people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle") that delves into a Venus flytrap crime ring in the southern US. (If you like this you may also want to click over to this long read from the Guardian (disclosure: my employer) about the theft of the smallest waterlily in the world from Kew Gardens).
There were a couple of not-so-current podcast series that I locked onto, too: there was a Radio 4 collaboration with Kew called Plants: From Roots to Riches exploring our changing relationship with plants during the last 250 years. This was just the kind of thing I was looking for - but as a podcast it felt so Radio 4-ish. Don't get me wrong, I adore Radio 4, spend most days listening to it for several hours, but as a standalone podcast it was just a bit too buttoned up; I felt as if I should get my exercise book out and start making notes for a comprehension test later.
More laid back was Garden Confidential with Andrew Keys, "stories at the intersection of people and plants", from US magazine Fine Gardening. Keys' laid-back drawl is like nothing you'll hear on R4, and there's a mischievous tilt to some of the podcasts - one episode about invasives includes a "dramatic reading" of blog comments from gardeners getting all steamed up about Japanese knotweed, for instance.
Emma Cooper has been podcasting about plants for several years, her Alternative Kitchen Garden show ticking many of my boxes... she's on a podcasting hiatus at the moment, but she recommended a couple of other shows to check out: Gastropod - it's a new food podcast, with a heavy dose of science, and many of the episodes touching the edges of horticulture and botany. So too does Jeremy Cherfas' Eat This Podcast, which is also worth a subscription.
All this listening made me want to start creating. A dozen podcast ideas beban to clutter up my mind: plants whose stories that haven't been told and charismatic plantspeople, garden designers and botanists who would make the most illuminating interviewees. That said, I know, from speaking to Emma and others, that podcasts are Hard Work. That's why so many good podcasts come from US NPR stations, like Serial, or peter out after a dozen or so episodes.
So I am asking - or maybe challenging - anyone who wants to hear more cool podcasts about plants: let's start something here. In the past I've been told that podcasting about gardens doesn't work because "it's so visual" but I don't believe that's true (think of commentary of football matches, radio shows about films, the list goes on ...). And, just maybe, I'd like to prove it.
*Warning, link contains Bad Language.
**Other podcasts I've fallen in love with that have nothing to do with plants or gardens: