Festivals, Flower Shows and TV Programmes Inspired Gardening Trends in the 80s

By Jane Duncan, freelance writer

June 08 2022

During the 80s, a number of garden festivals were held in cities throughout the UK. The first was officially opened by the Queen in Liverpool in 1984 and was used as a model for four more festivals, regenerating large swathes of derelict land in industrial areas. With landscaped parklands, large commissioned sculptures and features such as steam railways, Ferris wheels and cable cars, they were designed as recreational attractions. 
However, with a number of themed exhibition gardens, they also provided encouragement for people to become more green-fingered. For anyone unable to attend one of the five festivals, the decade saw the introduction of a range of popular new TV programmes about gardening, from nature series aimed at children, to the first televised Chelsea Flower Show. Presented by charismatic celebrity horticulturalists, these shows inspired people of all ages to get out in their backyards and make the most of the latest contrasting trends in garden design.
Botanic Man - a journey through evolution with David Bellamy (hardcover book) 1981

Botanic Man was one of many books written by David Bellamy during the 1970s and 80s. First published in 1978, this is the 1981 edition. It is based on the 1978 Thames Television series shown on ITV in the UK.

Naturally Wild Back Yards

While exhibition festivals drew attention to new manufactured garden features such as decking and crazy paving, the enthusiastic botanist and TV presenter, David Bellamy showed people how their gardens could be teeming with insects, birds and other wildlife. Throughout the 80s, he entertained and inspired generations of nature-lovers with his passion and enthusiasm for the natural world.

In his 1981 children's programme, Bellamy's Backyard Safari, special effects were used to shrink him to the size of an insect so that he could explore a typical British back garden as if it were an exotic jungle. The show highlighted the important role that bugs play in the garden, whether as pollinators or food for birds.
By letting a backyard grow naturally, it becomes an important habitat for wildlife, adding an extra feature for all the family to enjoy.

Neatly Manicured gardens

In contrast, gardeners also found inspiration from the neatly manicured exhibition gardens featured at the Chelsea Flower Show. The show was first televised in 1983, and presented by the horticulturalist Alan Titchmarsh, before he became a household name. With a rise in the popularity of neat lawns edged by regimental bedding plants, the straight lines of a typical garden were only broken up by a rockery, the must-have garden feature of the decade.

While Titchmarsh was just beginning his long TV career, Percy Thrower was already a well-known presenter and gardening expert. Anyone who watched Blue Peter as a kid in the 80s will have fond memories of Percy Thrower’s gardening features on the show, but will also have shared his dismay when his carefully designed Italianate sunken garden was famously vandalised in 1983.

With no shortage of inspiration from garden festivals, flower shows and TV programmes, the 80s saw a resurgence in gardening. Enthusiastic presenters on popular shows encouraged more people to get out in their gardens,  whether it was to create a low maintenance backyard to encourage wildlife or a more formal design embracing the very latest garden trends. 

Percy Thrower - Quick Tips for Better Gardening (1985)

Quick Tips for Better Gardening - hardcover book by Percy Thrower. Published by Littlehampton Book Services LTD in 1985