Friday, 25 April 2014

My Wild Cherry

It was like working in a snow storm in the high winds at the beginning of the week and this was the culprit.

Prunus avium
Sprouting from the hedge at the bottom of the garden this wild cherry stands well over ten metres in height and has been around for at least 40 years. When the high winds blow, as they invariably do at blossom time, the petals fill the air and leave a speckled carpet, not just in the back garden but somehow get over the house and into the front.

I never new its botanical name, always thinking of it as the wild cherry, but fascinatingly the avium bit comes from the seeds being carried by birds, evidence of which is a couple of much smaller specimens nearby.

After the birds have had their fill the mice take theirs, nibbling a meticulous round hole in the top of the stone to get to the contents. They take them to a safe spot to eat as evidenced by a piece of pipe I disturbed whilst cleaning up some rubble near the base of the tree, it was packed with stones all with the signature hole. All in all a very useful tree considering, as a British native, it is seen as a weed by many, just like Ash which was also regarded as a weed until it became threatened by disease and has now somehow become very precious.   

Friday, 18 April 2014

Where is horticulture going today? Conclusion - A very magnum opus.

Well the better weather has arrived, for the first time this year I have been able to have an early morning stroll round the garden clutching my cup of tea without my body warmer and being cut in half by the icy winds. I have seen the first butterflies including a stunning peacock and felt the satisfying crunch from the first lily beetle being crushed between finger and thumb.
View from the back-door a few days ago.
I started a series of posts entitled "Where is horticulture going today?" and have been musing for some time on how to finish the series off without being totally negative. In today's world when there seems to be a lemming-like need to re-invent the wheel over and over again experience is so often seen to be negative, the fact that something has been done before and failed does not mean that it will work this time round, it actually means that it is more than likely going to fail again.
When my interest was first sparked in horticulture it was in the grey days of the 1950's and I have watched it go through many phases since then, my observations are very much my own and I do recognise that there are dedicated people out there who are working hard to promote more revolutionary developments in gardening but I fear they are fighting against a closing door.
In the red corner

Camellia japonica 'Mark Alan'
Going back to basics, why did you first become interested in gardening? To the majority of keen gardeners today I suppose the answer would be through one or both parents or, as in my case, mainly through the neighbours. Unfortunately the breakdown of the modern family and the fact that we seem to be becoming more insular as a nation would seem to make these less likely scenarios. To be more positive one can look to the schools where much work is being done to encourage children to take an interest in nature and growing things, although with too much of a "green" bias for my liking, it must be a good thing overall. There are successful neighbourhood projects and the fact that many youngsters are spending more time with their grandparents, who hopefully have more interest and time to pass these things on, could be a bonus.
There are many opportunities in further education available to pursue horticulture as a subject both through the Park's Departments and commercial enterprises and yet there still appears to be a stigma attached to taking this as an option which means that the majority of students already come from a horticultural background. In my case, other than one guy whose father worked for N.A.A.S (D.E.F.R.A.), I was the only student whose parents didn't have a smallholding or nursery and I don't think things have changed very much since, unless you had the "family business" to rely on it was very difficult then to become "landed" in the industry unless you had access to substantial funds, something I would have thought virtually impossible today.

Magnolia stellata
  Moving away from those who would wish to pursue a career in horticulture we need to look at the influences on a person who is new to gardening but nevertheless wants to have a decent garden or even an allotment. Let us not delude ourselves gardening costs money and the beginner is the prime target for the great horticultural marketing machine using all available media.
First we have the printed media, financed by its advertising and therefore already biased in what it preaches, it provides the same advice year on year because that is what it does best. One would think that the RHS magazine would be an ideal guide but it is now the mouthpiece of a money led political animal which, like many charities, is more interested in currying favour with which ever pressure group serves its financial interest. Society membership is now increasing again after a significant dip however this is linked to an upsurge of garden visits through the introduction of more favourable membership terms which leads one to think that free entry has more to do with the improvement rather than the magazine content.

Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messell' just coming into flower.

 Next is TV and although the number of programmes on terrestrial television appears to have dropped there are of course dedicated channels. It would appear to me that TV gardening is very much a spectator sport much in the same way as the cookery programmes are, plenty of people watch it but only a tiny minority put the knowledge to any practical use. This also applies to magazines, garden visits and to some extent garden centers where the cafe and gift shop are now more important than the plants.
The internet is a massive source of information and probably the most acceptable to today's young gardeners, the blogosphere, society sites and forums, commercial sales and a host of others make up a veritable cornucopia of information, available to all who know what to ask for.
Other areas of influence are the retail outlets, which are soulless centers of commercial exploitation who could just as well be selling clothes pegs as plants and private nurseries and specialist growers who are slowly being eroded by the former and should be be preserved as national treasures.

This unknown white Camellia is quite old but has never flowered well, this year, although it is pictured just coming into flower, it has over 50 buds on it.
Societies be it for alpines or allotments are an area, which, if they could find a way to attract the novice, could be the most influential. The drawback is that, particularly on the gardening side, they have a reputation for being comprised of a more senior demographic, too formal and rather cliquish, which may be true in some cases however on the whole they are a friendly bunch of people who are only too pleased to encourage the interested novice. Comprehensive seed lists offering economically priced seeds, newsletters and regular functions and visits: they can't be all bad! On the whole allotments seem to have the best record for attracting people and if anything are amongst the last examples of community spirit in action. They are incidentally, along with anyone who has a large vegetable garden, the last true growers of food crops, the professionals only grow what is best for their soil and climate.

Not flowering well this year - Camellia japonica 'Adolphe Audusson'
In conclusion, having skipped through what is a complex and diverse subject in a few words I think that we can safely say that gardening is going to carry on much in the same way as it has for the last 50 plus years I have experienced.  I somehow doubt that there is to be some revolutionary upheaval, it is not in the nature of the beast. There will always be a hard core of gardeners and allotment holders who will know the joys and tribulations of working with the natural world which often leads me to think that we are born not made, there is some primeval force or genetic code within us which enables us to put aside the vagaries of the climate and subsequent disappointments yet still look forward to the following year. For all those potential members of the growing community we need to find a point of contact and a way of instilling into them the very basic principles and beliefs so that they are able to discern what is right for their garden and not suffer the needless, unexplained disappointments which are all too often responsible for people turning their dejected back and hiring the "mow and blow" man to keep their sterile patch tidy.