Saturday, May 16, 2015

BBC Gardeners' Question Time at the Antrim Garden Show

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.

Question Time
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.

There are more questions. You can listen to those- edited to cut out the planes flying overhead occasionally from the International airport- by going onto the BBC Radio 4 Gardeners Question Time On Demand iPlayer and look for ‘Antrim Castle’ Airing date 16th May 15

Thursday, May 14, 2015

RHS Perfect for Pollinators

A few years ago I started to get a bit of indigestion when I bent down to do some weeding.  I put this down to the fact that I ate a large bowl of porridge every day. Well you have to blame it on something other than age.  I only then got a twinge when I eat biscuits with my tea, so I don’t eat biscuits in the garden (It’s the saturated fats apparently) 

I thought I was on my own having to cut out the enjoyment in my life (if you can call a bowl of porridge enjoyment) but it seems I am not the only one who has or had heartburn when gardening.  There are loads of us that feel like getting the Rennies out when we are bending over to pull up a creeping buttercup from the soil. 

Heartburn and Gardening
I asked around and have been given some great answers. I’ll not mention the over the counter remedies people mentioned as these are only temporary solutions as the antacid alkaline causes the stomach to eventually produce more acid in the stomach, resulting in more heartburn. A manufacturers dream to get you hooked on their product!  These tips and ideas come from keen gardeners who have been afflicted at some time.

For a start, when you are weeding, bend the knees and keep the back upright. This allows gravity to keep the stomach more settled. It’ll also stop you from going dizzy. Digging after a meal isn’t recommended; leaving at least thirty minutes after eating is the norm.
Another suggestion was to get someone else to do the weeding, which probably isn’t that helpful, especially if you enjoy the task.

Most gardeners seem to recommend certain herbs to ease the stomach.
  • Ginger. This is good for all sorts of digestion problems.
  • Fennel seeds and mint leaves. These can be chewed slowly when working.
  • Mint tea or carrot apple orange and ginger juice.
  • Bicarbonate of soda. 1 teaspoon in a mug of warm water.
  • Liquorice. Either in liquid or sweet form could help.
Have a go at sampling the different remedies and I’m sure you’ll find one that works.

RHS Perfect for Pollinators
The Royal Horticultural Society have produced  downloadable plant lists to help gardeners identify plants that will provide nectar and pollen for bees and the many other types of pollinating insects.
Flying insects such as bees and hoverflies which visit flowers for their nectar and pollen perform a vitally important pollination service. Pollination is where the pollen from one flower is transferred to another flower, bringing about fertilisation. Some flowering plants are pollinated by the wind but the majority rely on this service from insects and without it plants would fail to produce seed and, in some cases, fruit.
Our wild bees and other pollinators are considered to be in decline. By planting nectar and pollen rich flowers over a long season, gardeners can help reduce this trend. In return, an abundance of pollinators will ensure garden plants continue to reproduce through seed and that many fruit and vegetable crops such as apples, strawberries and tomatoes successfully set fruit.

How to attract and support pollinating insects
Aim to have plants that are attractive to pollinating insects in flower from early spring to late autumn. Winter flowering plants can also be of benefit.
Grow garden plants with flowers that attract pollinating insects.
Avoid plants with double or multi-petalled flowers. Such flowers may lack nectar and pollen, or insects may have difficulty in gaining access.
Never use pesticides on plants when they are in flower.
Where appropriate, wildflowers can be an attractive addition to planting schemes and may help support a wider range of pollinating insects.
If you have the time, encourage bees by keeping honeybees yourself or allowing a beekeeper to place hives in your garden. 

There are lots of ways to make your garden as perfect for pollinators as possible
While the lists will continue to evolve and be improved on by the RHS, they represent some of the best cultivated and wild plants for gardeners to attract a wide range of pollinating insects.
A selection of Perfect for Pollinators plants from their free download include:

Wild plants
Common yarrow, greater knapweed, common foxglove, common honeysuckle, large thyme, white clover.

Garden plants
Caryopteris, sweet William, hyssop, common jasmine, English lavender,bergamot.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Give Us a Sign - Getting to the Garden Show Ireland

 Maybe I was just there too early...?

Is it me?
Motorway signs are huge. They have to be.  Margaret Calvert, the designer in the 1960’s realised that people would be zooming past them at over 70 miles per hour so you needed plenty of warning when your exit was coming up. It’s no different today on the M2 as I headed to the Garden Show Ireland at Antrim Castle. It’s just a pity the organizers of the event didn’t follow Margaret’s example with signage.
The basic directions on their website were pretty good, telling me to exit at Junction 2 then take the 5th exit.

All good so far.

From the roundabout onwards there were no signs anywhere to tell me I was heading in the right direction. After a few miles fluorescent plastic police traffic cones started to appear on the side of the road, telling me that there was something coming up where parking on the road wasn’t allowed.

 I’m there… nearly
“I must be there,” I thought to myself. Just at the entrance to the Antrim Gardens, there was a printed board confirming this, telling me to turn in. 

Inside the main gates a person in a high visibility jacket stopped me.

“Have you any bags or heavy items?” he said with a smile as I wound down the window.

“No, just me,” I said, thinking he was going to search me.

“In that case, do a U turn and head over to the industrial estate down the road opposite the barracks and park up there.” 

As I was holding the traffic up onto the main road I dutifully U turned and headed to the industrial estate. I had to guess where to go as again there were no signs. I came into a large, nearly empty car park area, where I was blissfully ignored by 2 more High Viz lads. I took this as an indication that I was parking in the right place.

The next step was negotiating walking across the busy main road before entering a side gate to the castle gardens.  I walked in following a couple of people who thankfully seemed to know where they were going.

More Visibility
As I approached the buildings there were no signs again, but there was a queue of about twenty people standing near a large gate. Like a lot of the population I avoid queues at any opportunity so thought I’d ask High Viz man 4, who was propping up a metal barrier a question.

“Is this queue for the Garden event or is it for the BBC Radio 4 Gardeners Question Time recording?” I asked hopefully“

“I have no idea,” came the reply. “Try the main reception, they might know.” High Viz man 4 then pointed in the direction of a building 50 yards away. I dutifully followed the direction of his pointy finger to a doorway that thankfully did say ‘Reception’ on it.

At reception I asked the smiling woman at the counter if she knew where the event entrance was. “No, sorry, we just hire out the gardens” she told me.

“Do you have a map of the event then so that I can make my own way around?” I asked?  

“I have a map of the castle gardens if that’s any good.” She said helpfully and handed me the tourist map from the counter. As lovely as it was there was no indication of any Garden Show. “Thanks” I said, and walked out into the sunshine.

I came upon another young lad (High Viz man 5) who was directing traffic and asked him if he knew how to get into the event “No idea mate” he said “I’m just here for the weekend to do traffic”

Now I am enthusiastic about gardening and do go to shows with both childlike enthusiasm and a bit of daftness, so I thought I might have missed some signs or information. Maybe they were so big like the motorway signs, that I just didn’t see them. 

There were no signs.

At the Gate
As I got back to the queue it was moving, so thought I might as well join in the fun.  We were taken passed the loos where a young (non-high Viz this time) person handed me a brochure with a map in the centre pages. “At last” I thought, “I know where the entrance is now. Even if I am inside the event already!”
I gave the next person along my free press ticket, which he scanned with a phone. He then passed me on to another woman behind a desk, handing my ticket to her as he did.

“On the website I was told to ask for the Press Tent” I said to the lady as she scrutinized my ticket. 

“There isn’t one” she replied “But if you want to wait under the dome tent (pointing to it in the distance) there should be other press people meeting there later in the morning.”

“Thanks” I said and walked the other way. 

I dislike waiting as much as I dislike queuing.  A cup of tea and a biscuit would have been nice though to get me into journalism mode after my two hour drive from Inishowen.

Looking at the map for an idea of where I was, I couldn’t help feeling that it was actually printed upside down. I’m not sure if such a thing exists, but when you look at it and get directions you had to turn the page around to understand where you were. This made the writing the wrong way around. It might be the fact that I am left handed though as I didn’t hear anyone else moaning. 

To be fair I didn’t see anyone walking around in a lost glaze like I did either. Is it just me?, was I there too early? Have I lost that ability to understand public places that don’t have signs as large as the M2 motorway?

Maybe, or it might be that in the Garden Shows second year at Antrim, everyone has been here before.

After a happy three hours at the event ( I did enjoy it really), there was one huge sign I saw that was really loud and clear. 

It said “WAY OUT.” That’s the way to do it……but change the OUT to IN…….

PS..... The actual review of the BBC Question Time will be here next week....

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