During a week in which Britain has demonstrated itself to be exceptionally bad at several things, including but not limited to international relations, various sports, and summer, it is reassuring to remember that there are still some things we are good at. One of these is informative radio broadcasting, and another is horticulture, and therefore a day at the Gardeners’ Question Time Summer Party was just the antidote to a week of embarrassing mayhem on the international stage. As we mingled with the kindly faces of fellow Radio 4 listeners perusing stalls for garden societies and reclaimed wooden furniture, who among us couldn’t feel comforted by the sense of continuity of all that is and always has been British? The lawns, the bunting, the mildly eccentric celebrities, the fizz of anticipation as we waited to see whose questions had been picked for the broadcasts…
Not mine, it turned out, nor that of my friend and fellow gardener M, who was as thrilled as I was to spot Bunny Guinness doing a piece to mic about a patch of dahlias right next to the bench where we were sitting as we agonised over what questions to write on our purple slips for the ballot box. Both of us were determined to achieve the glory of putting a question to the panel. Eventually, M plumped for the ‘boring dry shade question’ (her phrase) while I wrote a plea to cure or condemn a hydrangea of mine that has odd brown patches all over the leaves. In the end, eleven far more interesting questions were picked out of the 700 submitted, and M and I no doubt enjoyed the show all the more for not having to sit in the front row with the other questioners, fearfully waiting our turn to have our quavering voices broadcast to 2 million listeners.
Elsewhere in the Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh, where the party took place, we enjoyed demonstrations on composting, bread-making, and crop rotation among others, ate our lunch to the strains of a local Scottish folk band, and admired the Botanics’ wildflower meadow and bounteous summer borders, as well as the giant lily pads and other tropical wonders in the glasshouses. At a plant disease Q&A session, I was finally able to put my hydrangea question directly to Pippa Greenwood, who helpfully diagnosed a magnesium deficiency, which I might cure with a foliar spray of diluted Epsom salts.
The Gardeners’ Question Time Summer Party is broadcast on Radio 4 in two parts, the first today (Friday 15th July, repeated on Sunday), and the second at the same time next week.