The Curse of Gardeners' Question Time - Part 2*

I was a little miffed whilst listening to Gardeners' Question Time (GQT) today as Pippa Greenwood had a little dig at the quality of advice handed out by bloggers. The implication was that other media sources are much more reliable, so the following must never have happened:
  • When I asked a question on GQT a few years ago, one expert advised me not to bother training a wisteria into a tree whilst the other two were most encouraging
  • Me shouting no that's wrong, or you need to tell them about x whilst listening to GQT
  • A certain allotmenteer rotovating all that couch grass on the telly
  • Growers in places such as Scotland saying the RHS' plant trials aren't relevant to them because the conditions at Wisley are so different to theirs (I referred to that debate here, but unfortunately I can't find a relevant online link for you)
  • My plants growing much taller than it says on the label
  • Some of my plants thriving in conditions the book says are the kiss of death

Of course, Pippa Greenwood is right. There's oodles on the internet - not just by bloggers - which is poorly researched or misinformed, but the above examples show it's not just the internet where this happens. And of course plants are quite plastic in their behaviour, so a small variation in soil or aspect for example can be enough to prove that expert tome isn't quite as authoritative as it seems.

She was also talking off the cuff (I believe the experts still don't get to see the questions beforehand), so there isn't much time to think through the implications of everything that's being said at the time of saying it. I also need to say there's loads of blogs out there which are extremely good - you soon get to know which ones are the good 'uns. And because we can leave comments, any further questions, clarification, debate or extra information can be added immediately for the author to respond to. That's something I couldn't do today, so I shouted at the radio... yet again.

It's also a bit ironic really as I've just found out she has a website with a blog. And actually, the best bits on GQT are when the experts argue and start having a heated debate aren't they?

It gives me great pleasure to give advice on this blog and to answer your questions. But after today's hastily made remarks I feel I need to say something about how my advice and answers are put together. I'm no expert, so a lot of what I tell you about is from my own experience or my working something out. I always try to back this up with further information to prove or add to what I'm saying **. That's why my blog is so link rich and they're from the most trusted and informative sources I can find.

If I'm not sure about something or don't know, I'll also say so especially if I can't find something via my research which clarifies things. I also believe you have lots of common sense, and therefore read my posts with your own experience and the conditions you have in your garden in mind. The quality of the comments you leave bears that out :)

However, do remember that you need to take anything I write under the You Ask, We Answer heading (YAWA, my spoof magazine) or in response to those quirky internet searches which hit my blog (found under Question Time along with the more useful answers) with a hefty pinch of salt. Though even here, the odd bit of useful information may creep in from time to time ;)

And to show there's no hard feelings here's a link to the episode of GQT I was listening to today. The bit at the end when the lady asked a question about her rather poorly plant is one of those classic moments in my opinion which keeps us tuning in every week.

The picture is of part of the damson tree in the garden of the cottage where we stayed in Shropshire recently. I fear it may be bacterial canker, but I've just found out about a similar looking condition called gummosis. Therefore I'm just about to fire off an enquiry to the RHS members' advisory service before I tell you anything more about it.

* = Part 1 is here.

** = Guess what my major offline reference is for pests and diseases? Yes, it's RHS Pests and Diseases which is co-authored by Pippa Greenwood.

Update 3/10: Stopwatch Gardener has written a most thoughtful piece in response to this post with a great response in her comments. It's worth a read and illustrates one of the strengths of blogging: the response and interaction we get across one or many blogs. I also found out yesterday the BBC have revamped their gardening pages this week and started a new blog, with regular updates due from Alys Fowler, Bob Flowerdew, Jim McColl (Beechgrove Garden) and our very own The Constant Gardener.

Update 12/10: And the debate has now crossed the pond. More thoughtful posts and comments can be found here and here.


  1. I'm glad you wrote this, VP. I agree that there's a lot of tosh out there from all sources. There have been a few times I've read or heard garden advice from "garden gurus" here in Canada and shouted at the screen (or book or newspaper or magazine), "No! That's not right -- in fact, it's irresponsible."

    I'm like you, and try to give well-researched info, or admit my ignorance when writing a blog. Sometimes, that means a mea culpa if I've screwed up, in which the original/incorrect content remains in the post with strike-outs and an editor's note in the body of the post. I believe that's just good blogiquette.

  2. I didn't hear today's GQT cos I was at work, but I caught up with last week's the other day. I was most amused by the lady who'd written to Wisley to ask what she should do about her overgrown bromeliad (Fascicularia pitcairnifolia), only to receive the reply" "Does not overwinter in this country."
    I'd better not ask them about mine, then (outside in pots for, er, years) - they'll probably say they're figments of my imagination.
    That's the great thing about reading blogs - it's not just textbook stuff, it's real people's experiences. And if something works for them, it might work for you. Wouldn't life be boring if we all did things by the book all the time?

  3. I hears that VP, and was annoyed too. Nothing to do with her writing several columns of course!

  4. sounds to me like ms. greenwood is feeling a bit threatened by the excellent bloggers who do research, link, & are open to what information & experience have to share.

  5. As an ex GQT team member, I can tell you that there's often no time to think your answer through with enough care to make it work. And then, when the programme editor knows virtually nothing about horticulture, mistakes can get through to the aired programmes.

    I got sacked from GQT, probably for being too much of a smart arse, but also for being too combative when misinformation was being doled out as it often was, and still is, by certain panel members.

    As for Television - credibility never was a strong point there, but now it's worse than ever, on the few times that I watch.

    So thank goodness for blogs. At least with those, you get a cross section and a lovely mix of sage advice and absolute tosh. (Always the former from yours VP!!!

  6. I welcome responses from fellow bloggers as I feel that it's firsthand, practical advice that they're giving me.
    I also often answer questions on several forums and it's interesting to note that at times how others respond rather differently.
    Plant Mad Nige's comment is of note! Flighty xx

  7. Helen - good point re adding corrections. I haven't done strike outs yet, but I do add an update note at the bottom of the post

    Victoria - I'm often tempted to throw the book out of the window sometimes. Now I just see them as a starting point.

    Hermes and Petoskystone - I think it was more off the cuff than protecting her own circumstances.

    Aww Nigel, thank you :) However, I think you have a nack of appearing when the utter tosh I've written is well hidden ;) Can we have you back on GQT please? I see The Garden Monkey has started a campaign...

    Flighty - I think 'reader beware' applies to anything we read, hear or see as far as gardening advice is concerned. Well, most stuff actually

  8. I'll join GM's campaign for Nigel back on GQT. He is just what it needs instead of all that guffawing turning every question into an excuse to be 'humorous'.

    By the way - did I ever tell anyone that Chris Beardshaw killed my hebe? He said on TV they could be cut back hard so I cut it back and it died!! When I cornered him at Chelsea about this he said that obviously no-one in their right mind would cut a hebe right back to the old wood. When I asked why didn't he say that on TV then he said they had probably cut it as they quite often cut bits of information out!!

    Now I come to think of it I have told everyone that story rather a lot of times but at least this time it was relevant!

  9. I don't ever seem to catch up with GQT, but have always been a bit of a fan of Pippa Greenwood's, so am disappointed she came out with such a daft comment. There is good, bad and downright ugly advice on pretty much any channel you use, on any given subject, but a bit of care and you quickly learn who it is worth listening to, whether blogger, broadcaster or author. Love the story about Chris Beardshaw killing of a hebe with bad advice, though his comment about stuff being cut is interesting. I agree that one of the things that makes blogs - and forums - more robust than radio shows is the ability to leave comments and therefore turn it into a discussion - or argument. I always seem to learn more when people are disagreeing, forces me to work out what I think. And I have cut back hebes hard and had them both live and die. Oh, and believed what it said on a packet of seed only to have my Cleome grow to mammoth proportions and look ridiculous! So from a newbie blogger and inexpert gardener, thank you for the "reader beware" warning, but please don't stop telling us what you find works either!

  10. Arabella - blast! I should have referred to the Hebe incident in the post. I have managed to successfully cut back some of mine though and had disasters with others. I think it must depend on the cultivar. I've had success with those that had new growth coming from the bottom of the plant.

    Janet - there'll always be plenty on here re what works... and what doesn't!

  11. Hi VP

    I had wondered what happened to last season's allotment on gardeners world. Interesting.

    It took me a few years of consuming all the gardening media I could find before the contrasting opinions and outright contradictions became clear. It didn't make me angry, rather it gave me confidence that the rule book was a fluid thing.

    Sheila Averbuch -- Stopwatch Gardener

  12. Sheila - welcome and thanks for your complementary piece over on your blog. And yes, we soon get to realise that gardening's extremely fluid: what's a glut one year is a famine the next; 1 plant thrives yet the one next to it dies. It's all so wonderfully complex and such a mixture of different things (art, science, exercise etc.)that it could never be considered boring :)

  13. Great blog VP. I love GQT although quite often it makes me shout at the radio but I have learned just as much from books and magazines and conversations with friends and from blogs of course! Plants are fluid things and sometimes things work and sometimes they don't. I once wrote a blog to my newly gardening daughter where the first sentence was "Things die".

  14. Elizabeth - that's just inspired. I wish I'd thought of that when I wrote my what I would teach post last year

  15. I'm sorry I missed the beginning of this. (I've been lost in artistic endeavors.) One of the things I like best about blogs is the personal, anecdotal evidence and findings: this plant does x in my garden. Plants don't read books, so finindg another garden with similar conditions to my own is an invaluable resource.

  16. MMD - I'm most impressed with your artistic endeavours. And 'plants don't read the manuals' is fast becoming my mantra

  17. Hi VP

    I missed that GQT though I have not been a regular listener to the programme ever since my favourite gardener John Cushnie passed away.

    Anyone of us could pick up a book and spew out info on our blogs about gardening - but most of us don't. Our blogs are about our own gardens and plants indoors and outdoors and our own experiences in growing and nuturing them.

    I grow in a frost pocket in NE Scotland and I think it's good that there is information on the web about growing conditions up here and I'm glad to see that we've got Jim on the new BBC blog. Gardening is not an exact science - there are so many factors to take into consideration and I think that garden blogs show that wide variation of factors.

    Just read some comments to posts and you will see where a fellow blogger has had a difference experience to growing a particular plant. I can glean so much useful information from the comment section of a blog post along with the actual post.

    I even had a type of fasicularia growing in my front gravel garden here for years but I pulled it out before last winter as I wasn't getting much of the nice red colour in the centre and "it wasn't earning its keep".

    RHS Pests and Diseases is also my off line reference book and if I have a problem in the garden that's where I turn to before I ever go to the web.

    Unless I have tried something out for myself then I won't blog about it and what I do write about I try to give good links when required.

    BTW I've just put a disclaimer on my homepage.

    Thanks VP for your thoughts :)

  18. Leavesnbloom - welcome! Good idea re the disclaimer - everyone's then clear on what you're about. Re John Cusnie - I'm reading his postumous book at the moment...


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