The BBC Radio 4 Gardeners’Question Time Team l-r – James Wong, Matthew Biggs and Bob Flowerdew.
“When is the best time to take cuttings?” When no-one’s looking. (Bob Flowerdew)
I’m at the annual Garden Show Ireland at Antrim Castle this week. The event outgrew its old site at Hillsborough and moved to this lovely site last year. I arrived early as the BBC radio 4 are doing a Gardeners’ Question Time in the grand marquee and I didn’t want the curtain closing without me being inside to hear James Wong, Matthew Biggs and Bob Flowerdew give us the benefit of their wisdom when the public get answers to their gardening issues.
Eric Robson was in the chair to move things along and the gardeners with questions to ask are all sitting on the front row so the big fluffy microphone on a stick can be put in their face to get the best sound quality.
After a few light hearted jokes such as “why don’t hedgehogs just share the hedge” and being prompted to clap, the questions begin.
First with the ‘fluffy mike in face’ was Rachel. “Should I put my potted lemon tree outside?”
Organic gardener Bob Flowerdew is the first to reply “Yes, but you’ll have to buy another one next year if the frost gets it.”
Edible garden expert James Wong steps in and tells us that you can eat the leaves from the tree and they are usually very expensive to buy.
Gardener Matthew Biggs then advises turning the pot to get an even growth.
Jenny asks the second question
“We have a lovely Hawthorne hedge but the farmer cuts it so we never see the lovely flowers. What can we plant underneath that will give colour?”
All three panellists have a long list of suggestions. Honeysuckle or clematis is attractive. If you have a good relationship with the farmer then blackberries will be colourful, give you fruit and a hiding place for wildlife. The rambling rose is suggested, but they can get a bit unruly the panellists agree.
Gerry from the audience asks about potatoes.
“I get a poor yield every year he tells us. That’s because of a few factors. Bob Flowerdew knows his spuds. They are 95% water. He says, so will need at least an inch or two every few days. The soil needs to be warm for planting too, and feed well. They suggest Sharp Express or HomeGuard for disease resistance and the ability to grow in tubs.
Jane asks about curly leaves on her tomato plants.
“Will they ever recover?”
The answers are favourable. Bob has great advice for growing strong plants “Take the side shoots and growing tip from the plant and root those. They produce stronger plants, better yields, flowering lower down their stems and are hardier out of doors. The main reason is that the plant cuttings think they are going to die so make the most of things.
James starts to humorously fidget a bit in his seat when he tells us that this is a great way to save money when buying F1 seeds as you can increase the stock for no money. “Also feed the plants half an aspirin in half a litre of water as they are growing. This will help them tolerate the extremes of heat and cold, give the plants better disease resistance and we will see a 5% increase in yield” A top tip indeed.
Rosemary asks what will grow well in tubs outside the front door.
James, who is all about edibles suggests Morello cherry trees and even under planted with salad.
Matthew likes topiary and a more formal look to the doorways so he suggests something formal like Box. He is also suggesting the post be brightly coloured which doesn’t seem to go down well with most people. “The main thing” adds Bob “is that the drainage is good and even put the post on small blocks”. His planting suggestion is for holly bushes pruned to a geometric shape.
As they are on the topic of Box plants, their next question has fitted in nicely.
Annie asks how she can stop passing dogs from “relieving themselves” on her hedge and killing the lower leaves.
“Box isn’t very tough” says Matthew, you would be better with privet or hawthorne. There is usually a gap at the bottom of these hedges so the dog wouldn’t cock its leg up high enough to reach the leaves. Bob mentions pepper dust and reminds the listening radio audience that we are being broadcast in Ireland so it will need to be redone a lot because of the amount of rain we get.