Sunday, 24 August 2008
A few days ago Aunt Debbi did a great post on Murphy's Law for Gardeners. You know the kind of thing - there's never enough compost; if you water plants in the morning, it rains in the afternoon; it'll turn cold as soon as you plant out your more delicate specimens etc. etc. She asked for other observations to add to her list, so I contributed my one on Houdini Plants - i.e. a plant you mentally decide to get rid of because it's not thriving, makes a miraculous recovery.
Her post reminded me that I'd been planning a follow-up one to my Houdini Plants, on another irrefutable law as far as my garden is concerned: publicly voice your misgivings about a plant and it will surely die. A few years back, Chippenham Garden and Allotment Society hosted Gardeners' Question Time (GQT)* and I was invited not only to be a member of the audience, but also to provide some of the 'soundbites' aired as the scene setter at the start of the programme. The questions are provided by members of the audience, and NAH and I duly filled out our cards for consideration by the chairman (Eric Robson) and the panel that night (John Cushnie, Bob Flowerdew and Anne Swithinbank) before the recording started. Imagine our surprise when my name was called out as the first questioner and NAH's as the first reserve i.e. an extra question in case the edited programme fell short of its allotted broadcast time.
So we asked our questions - mine was how to train a wisteria as a standard 'tree' (a question NAH had said would never get accepted as the programme's question guidelines had said ones on wisteria flowering were a complete no-no - hah!); NAH's about the sentinel conifers either side of the middle patio steps. One of them had been damaged by an insect the year previously and was growing into a loose, 'flared' shape, whilst the other was retaining its tightknit form.
Our questions were answered to our satisfaction: John Cushnie describing me as too young to be contemplating a project that takes at least 20 years to complete, though the other two were much more encouraging. NAH and I also nearly fell off our chairs when we realised that the programme's microphone holder (and deputy producer) was a woman called Jo King. Her steely glare when she gave us her name, prevented us from actually laughing out loud though. So we went home happy after gaining an insight into how one of our radio's great institutions works and duly listened to the broadcast a few months later. NAH's question didn't make the cut.
So what happened next? Well, my 20-year long project never really happened as 2 years later my wisteria died. And this year (another 3 years on), the conifers are beginning to die back and will have to be removed. I reckon because my question was actually broadcast, the effects of the 'Curse of Gardeners' Question Time' was much more potent than it was for our conifers.
So remember this irrefutable law: mentally get rid of your plants and they will thrive; publicly voice your concerns about them and they will give up the ghost. Broadcast your concern on the radio and the potency of this law is increased 10-fold.
* = broadcast on the BBC Radio 4 every Sunday afternoon and one of our longest running radio programmes (since 1947). Most of the recordings are hosted by gardening clubs and the waiting list for a visit by the production team is several years long. NB if you click on the GQT link, it includes the opportunity to listen to the latest programme.