Questions for this gardener…

I have had a good gardeny couple of days, and without doing very much in the garden, which is probably just as well as certain parts have turned to mush. But the snowdrops are coming up (admittedly on very short stems, but they’ll grow), the crocuses are materialising around the base of the big cherry tree and I’ve even got some wallflowers doing their thing. The pruning is complete – er, even the plum, which should not have been pruned at all right now but I lost my temper – and reclaiming the blurry edges of the beds has started too.

I did have to leave the warmth of the house for my good gardening time, though, because I went off to Portmeirion with a couple of friends to attend a recording of Gardener’s Question Time. But before that I spoke to about six million people about what is, to me, a radical decision – not to rejoin the RHS. It was interesting, and revealed a very clear north/south divide.

I joined years and years ago, when I was a baby exhibitor at Chelsea. This was so long ago that The Garden was the tiny size, and very dense, and almost unreadable. When you did read it, it was knowledgeable and often intimidating, but it stretched you. Or it stretched me, I should say. Now it’s bigger, prettier, has lots of bright pictures and sometimes appears to be written for eejits who’ve never been near a garden. It doesn’t work for me, and living here in North Wales very little else RHS-y does. Take a look at the ‘events’ pages, for instance. I picked a Garden at random – I think it was June, when there should be plenty going on – and there were three whole columns of events, excluding pics, for the west and east Midlands (an area also without an RHS garden to bulk up the info). The whole of Wales merited a third of a column. Of the nine gardens very briefly listed there, six were down south – and it’s easier to get to England than it is to reach Cardiff from here.

parpI decided I might have got the Celtic Hump, a well-known disorder, so rang some other friends and this is when the north/south divide became crystal clear. Even my brother, who is within a (long, admittedly) drive of Harlow Carr, has decided to quit. It makes me sad but – so long, RHS. I did ring and explained why I wasn’t renewing, but they’ll probably just assume it was the Celtic Hump Disease and recommend spraying…

Now for something much more enjoyable: GQT.

I learned of an impending visit by the BBC’s Garden Question Time team (try saying that in a hurry) at our garden club, where it was mentioned in the notices. So three of us – well, one other member and A N Gardening Other – decided to get tickets, think of a bright and intelligent question which would transform us into respected gardening gurus overnight, and go along. We also decided to go early, take advantage of the admission to Portmeirion and have a look round; a cold winter monsoon interfered but we’re gardeners, for heavens’ sake, and we went early anyway.

And that is how we ended up in the bar of the Portmeirion Hotel, steaming slightly, drinking wine and discussing our questions.

I had wanted to ask about how you could persuade middle-aged men not to hang out of trees by their teeth while chainsawing, but that was vetoed – vehemently vetoed. In the end I settled for a rather boring one about windbreaks, so it wasn’t surprising mine failed to make the cut, though talking with another audience member gave me some good suggestions. Our other questions, also unsuccessful, were about overwintering pepper plants and whether you really need to disinfect the soil in a polytunnel, one of my companions having taken over the veg garden of a local pub and a vast supply of Jeyes’ Fluid.

The questions which were picked were a combination of interesting – how the heck to stop bamboo spreading (Napalm, IMO), pruning a grandiflora magnolia (don’t) – and wilful battling against the whole concept of ‘right plant, right place’ – trying to move a 5′ x 6′ bottlebrush to an as-yet-undecided location while not killing it and wanting roses and a lawn in a bog (???). Maybe it was the wine – and there was wine for the audience in addition to that possibly unwisely imbibed by some of us in the Portmeirion Hotel – but that was the point at which many of us lost it; the woman behind me was doubled up and wheezing with laughter. The team – Eric Robson in the chair, Matt Biggs, Christine Walkden and Matthew Wilson this time – came up with some great suggestions for the lady with the bog, but I suspect she’ll still try roses.

All in all, by the end of the evening I felt I’d done some gardening. Unfortunately, I don’t think the garden feels the same, but almost all gardens look like the wrath of god at this time of year. But not all gardens have a collapsed rose arch spread across them waiting for someone (ahem) to find the motivation to break it up and take it to the tip along with all the broken pots. Now there’s a question: how do I summon up the energy to load the car with all the non-compostable seasonal rubbish?

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32 thoughts on “Questions for this gardener…

  1. Christina

    It isn’t just a North South divide as I remember Helen at patient gardener writing a similar post last year. Even though I live in Italy so quite a trek to reach any RHS garden I am a member. Why? Because I’m passionate about all things ‘gardening’ and I want to support the only charity that is trying to help all gardeners whether they are new to gardening or experts and is large enough organisation for the government to actually listen to them sometimes. If we gardeners can’t support them why should anyone else? I agree the magazine isn’t perfect but at least the information is accurate, you should try reading an Italian gardening magazine, half the time the articles aren’t even about gardening more about fabrics with flowers on and stuff of that ilk; you’d get the idea just by looking at the picture of the editor who is wearing one of those white blouses with extra-long sleeves that fold back, you get the impression that the most she ever does in the garden is perhaps smell a few roses. End of rant sorry!!!!

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Please rant away, no need to apologise!

      Yes, I remember that post too. You take the same view as Karen – the support for the charity – as did I to a certain extent, but money’s been tight this year as I couldn’t work properly for six months. I honestly feel that for my £50 I’d like to get a little more than a mag I no longer like; even a couple more events would have swung it for me. But hey, what am I complaining about? I’m not in Northern Ireland, where there are fewer gardens listed than there are in France.

      I think the mag took a marked downward slant a couple of years ago, even though it hasn’t yet reached the flowery-fabric stage – French gardening mags can be similar to Italian ones – and probably won’t (I’ve been buying Gardens Illustrated sometimes, which does stray a lot closer to the fabric thing, but I find it rather more inspirational). I’ve still got a heap of old ones and refer to them – the newer ones… nah.

      Reply
      1. Christina

        I’m sure you didn’t take the decision lightly. I subscribed to Gardens Illustrated for a year that finished last July (I think) and it is very inspirational, more than any other gardening magazine and I’ve just started taking it electronically on my iPad. This has disadvantages and advantages. One of the pluses is that you can follow links very easily for more information the down side is I haven’t really decided if I like reading a magazine in this way. I happily read books this way, almost actually prefer it ( I have a kindle too) which is a handy size for reading in bed, my preferred place to read. But somehow I miss flicking through the magazine before reading particular articles but I have so many magazines and though I do refer to them from time to time they do take up a lot of space and used a lot of trees in their production. What are your thoughts on that?

        Reply
        1. kate Post author

          Oh, yes, the trees issue. I think that over the years I have probably been responsible for deforesting an area roughly the size of the Taiga, but I do recycle and have for years, either to the recycling centre or the surgery. I haven’t got a tablet or a Kindle – until recently I had problems with the display frequencies and my vertigo – but I do know that I love flicking through (and reading) a good mag. I’ve not yet subscribed to GI but probably will – Dan Pearson’s top 100 plants in the latest issue, for instance, have had me writing down names…

          One of the things I did during my recovery was have CBT for my insomnia – caused by the neck problems, but it did help. One thing they absolutely banned was any screen – and I mean ANY, incl TV – for the last hour before bed. I know I’d find a Kindle just too tempting!

  2. VP

    I love the pic Kate, that Poppy looks like it’s sticking out its tongue ;p

    I had a massive debate with myself re RHS membership ages ago. I’m not quite as badly served as you are in Wales, but there’s still very little a Wiltshire gal can take advantage of in terms of RHS gardens and reciprocal gardens which aren’t a major day trip. What swung it for me in the end is their commitment to funding independent research (dwindling dreadfully despite what the government says) and related stuff like the AGM trials, reviewing hardiness ratings etc. I’ve also used their advisory service a few times, which has proved to be prompt and comprehensive.

    I’m envious of your wine fuelled GQT! Ours was coffee and cake fuelled, but still most enjoyable. We had the same panel as you, plus the discovery of some competitive parsnip growing between one of the questioners and Eric Robson. This was cue for much mirth, probably as much as your rose-filled bog lady.

    It was a great evening, worth bunking off choir for, especially as I got to snog Matthew Wilson!

    What struck me was how everyone left smiling broadly after the recording finished, even my non-gardening friend D from choir, who was there under sufferance because his partner wanted to go.

    I wrote up the evening over at mine last year and I plan to return from time to time this year, as and when I put the panel’s advice into practice.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      First – SNOG MATTHEW WILSON???? Does Karen know of this?? (I thought the wine was standard – but perhaps coffee would have been more sensible. Actually the bog woman’s question and reaction were really good – a great example of determination perhaps going a little far…)

      The poppy does, doesn’t it? I think it was criticising my weeding technique (leave it and it will rot down eventually).

      RHS – neither of us is as badly served as N. Ireland, as I just said to Christina, and while I do agree with both of you, I’ve spent the last 11 years giving them what was in effect a research donation – about £500 in total or maybe more, once you add in a couple of gift memberships. I do feel a bit of a traitor for going, but I’ve tried protesting from within and they are just uninterested. I don’t imagine that voting with my feet will have any impact, but perhaps they ought to think about some form of ‘exit interview’ as it were. Then maybe they could act and increase the membership and, with it, their clout.

      Reply
      1. VP

        I KNOW!!!!!!! I clomped down the stairs to the questioners’ seats (having sat at the top of the stairs safe in the knowledge my question wouldn’t be picked) and Matthew came off the stage to plant a kiss on each cheek in front of about 300 people! Eric Robson remarked ‘I see he’s at it already’ 🙂

        Reply
        1. artistsgarden

          Humm, No VP, I didn’t know about “The Kiss” …. sigh. Had I known Matthew was going to be there of course I would have gone with Kate and co to the recording, what can I say, it was raining, my car “died” I was sad, I stayed home 😦

        2. kate Post author

          Are you still speaking to VP, I wonder? We could easily have fitted you in the car… (Probably just as well you didn’t, could you have been trusted???)

  3. croftgarden

    I think I can join the rant about the general “dumbing down” of the RHS journal to a comic. I stopped subscribing sometime ago and I’m still looking for a general gardening periodical for real gardeners. I like Hortus but my pocket money doesn’t stretch that far, (profligate buying of bulbs did the damage). Any suggestions?

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      I’m with you on that description. I’ve not found one – I buy Garden Illustrated but it has the capacity to drive me into a fury / make me think about recreating Winstanley’s Diggers. I buy it essentially for plant ideas, not for anything sensible. Unless revolutionary rage counts as sensible, ahem…

      Reply
      1. VP

        I did suggest they offer The Plantsman as an alternative read to the magazine, but I can’t remember if they acted on it. Kate, I know what you mean about ‘acting from within’ – at least they took heed of my suggestion re Gift Aided membership, which means more £ for them and NAH can claim it on his tax return. I agree an ‘exit interview’ should be de rigeur with these organisations – I’m trying to do the same with the Garden Media Guild, but to no avail. How else can things be improved? :/

        Reply
        1. kate Post author

          Oh, I wish they had. I’d much rather have had that!

          Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that questioning why people leave / suggest things / chunter is being deliberately avoided, possibly on the grounds that it would open a nightmarish can of worms, or people fear that it might. I think it’s useful, and that cans of worms need to be examined. And possibly that I could use fewer clichés!

  4. Jane Scunthorpe

    Hi Kate, I have, like you, cancelled my subscription to the RHS because I couldn’t really see what the benefits were any more. I really wanted to be convinced, honestly. I think the subscription is quite expensive and does not give value for money. Wish I could find an alternative …

    Reply
  5. Janet/Plantalisciousj

    Hi Kate, I think the “chainsaw wielding whilst hanging out of a tree” question was an excellent one, but still sounds like a fun trip – with or without That Kiss. As for the RHS, I stopped my subscription when I found myself living on benefits, its hard enough to save the extra for seeds and plants. I already have a severe case of Celtic Hump, but then I am predisposed after a year in Edinburgh and even just living “up north” while a student. Twenty years living in and near Bristol didn’t cure me. I love the way the RHS do plant trials and make the results freely available, but I am not in a position to contribute, and short of combining a rare visit to my sil in Leeds (we hardly ever leave the Island!) with a trip to Harlow Carr the gardens don’t help me at all. I adore Gardens Illustrated for the plant porn and recommendations, and it infuriates me with the product recommendations that require a banking CEO’s salary and/or a tendency to Laura Ashley. Overall, inspirational in a way the Gardener’s World Mag never was, the latter was frequently useful. I do plan on joining the National Trust though, so that I can make frequent forays to Plas Newydd. Seems rude not to. Assuming I am well enough to drive, but that is a whole other issue!! As for weeds, my garden is growing a splendid crop of them and laughing at me. I can still just about see the edges, but it is touch and go in places…

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Sounds as though we’re on the same frequency with the RHS, doesn’t it? The comments here are an almost exact replica of the chats I had before making my mind up – a mixture of ‘can’t afford it / no benefits for me living where I do’ and ‘support for them as a charity’. I didn’t find anyone outside Surrey / Sussex who thought that it was worth joining for the RHS per se. I’m not sure this is sustainable. I joined the Nat Trust at Penrhyn Castle one year, and went once. But then it’s further for me; I’m sure you’d use membership more.

      Gardens Illustrated as plant porn. Oh yes!

      Oh, PS – I haven’t forgotten about garlic chives…

      Reply
      1. Janet/Plantalisciousj

        Oh, how wonderful, I had – forgotten, that is, what a lovely thing to remember! I shall look forward to them. You may well be right about even Plas Newydd too, there is so much to do here, and so much fun to be had either pottering in the garden or out in a boat, that I regularly turn round and find a month has flown by without me going anywhere. Saves loads on petrol, but doesn’t help me get to know the Island more!

        Oh, and re the tip trip, out pile has become so enormous we are ordering a skip, which is more fun to fill but crikey they have become expensive. Mind you, when you drive an ancient camper with appalling petrol consumption, perhaps not!!

        PS Glad the CBT was useful, how interesting about the screen thing…

        Reply
        1. VP

          I’ve just been reading a book about sleep – it confirms the dire warning about no screens before bedtime. I can also confirm that the best cure for insomnia is to read said book about sleep 😉

        2. kate Post author

          I’ve just been clearing some of the winter’s rottable mess (strangely we’ve had a day with no rain), and I think I may need a skip for that. The compost bins are full, the brown garden refuse bin is full… agh…. (Robin wars broke out while I was doing it – which robin had the right to sit on my trug and shout at the other robin. I nearly trod on one of them.)

          I’m moving somewhere with a smaller garden next time. Grumble.

  6. Cathy

    What an interesting discussion! I am an RHS newbie (this time round) of one year, and during the year I did think I mightn’t rejoin as I didn’t the magazine particularly useful. Then I realised Wisley is about 20 mins from Elder Daughter and after a visit last summer I was impressed with their trials, but also realised how many partner gardens I could get into free – being in the Midlands makes more places more accessible – although that then excludes the Golfer. I’ll see how it goes – but I do enjoy my Which? Gardening magazine. You will have to let us all know when that GQT is to be broadcast (or has it been?). ps I recommend some nice cake to come home to after you have been to the skip….

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      When I was living in London I used Wisley a lot, and would have really missed my membership – I also used to go to shows at Vincent Square, etc, etc. It certainly sounds as though you’ll get quite a lot out of it, even given your reservations about the mag.

      GQT is being broadcast on Friday 7 Feb and Sunday 9 – watch out for the lady with the boggy garden (wonder how they’ll edit it?)

      Reply
  7. Pauline

    I have been an RHS member since moving here to Devon. Of course we are lucky to have Rosemoor in the same county, but as it takes nearly 2 hrs to get across country we don’t manage many visits each year. We find that we visit lots of “partner gardens” during the year and as our son lives in London we always try to fit in a visit to Wisley when visiting. I feel there are quite a few pluses in being a member and don’t begrudge the membership fee as I feel I get value for my money.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      I think it’s partly the absence of partner gardens here – Portmeirion and Plas Brondanw being about it, oh, there’s Bodnant of course, but that’s a long drive away – which has helped me make my decision. You do sound as though you’re getting your money’s worth, at least.

      Reply
  8. Lei

    I heard about how godd GQT was, from a number of sources………but no-one else mentioned kissing!!! perhaps it was because they were all men. I am sorry also I missed it, it sounded very interesting, and hope to listen tonight on iplayer. Its one way of catching up twith the world! Soon be spring!

    Reply
  9. wellywoman

    We cancelled our membership at the start of the year. We’ve got the Celtic hump too. We used to live in Surrey and then Berkshire. Membership meant lots of free visits to Wisley which was perfect for us, but then we moved. It was the same with the National Trust. I often looked enviously at the talks and events at the RHS gardens and wish I lived close enough to go. I really think they need to widen their reach and create centres of horticulture in each region. Yes, it is a charity but when money is tight and there are so many other demands a spot of financial pruning is necessary. The money we saved went to the homeless charity Crisis instead. Membership of the RHS seems to be doing well. I’m not necessarily sure that is being driven by gardeners though. The cafes and restaurant at Wisley during the week are more like a meeting ground for ALL the local mothers and toddlers groups.

    GQT sounds like it was a fabulous. As for actual gardening. Well as it is tipping it down yet again, I’m finding it impossible to muster up
    any enthusiasm. Perhaps rice will be the only thing I can grow this summer. 😉

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      That sounds very like me – except I was in south London, nice and close to the A3, straight down to Wisley. I agree with you totally, and I remember that about the Wisley caff from years ago. My brother – who was there relatively recently, before his own membership came up for renewal and he decided that Celtic Hump had got him too, North Yorkshire being yr hen gogledd, the old north – was chuntering about exactly that just before Christmas.

      GQT was wonderful, am so looking forward to seeing how on earth they edit the hysterics…!

      Reply
  10. Anna

    An interesting post Kate as I’m debating right now whether to renew my RHS membership. It’s a good distance to any RHS garden from here too although there are a couple of partner gardens in reasonable distance. No longer so keen on ‘The Garden’ – too many adverts, too much ‘RHS’ advice and too much ‘ RHS Life’. Having just reached a certain birthday milestone I wondered whether they offered any concessions. I checked the website but had to phone to enquire about the cost of senior lifetime membership. Put it this way I wasn’t at all confident whether I would ever recoup the expense so have decided not to go down that line 🙂 I think that I may well be talking myself out of renewing and will be able to spend those pennies on plants. Has that edition of GQT been broadcast yet?

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Another one – and you’re confirming my impression that quite a few of us have been going through this recently. I’m not going to miss The Garden either. Does sound as though you’re reasoning your way out of renewing too…

      ‘Our’ GQT goes on this Friday afternoon, 7th Feb, and again on Sunday, and I’m away on a spinning retreat. I’ll have to pick it up on iPlayer.

      Reply

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