Six on Saturday: 25 November

Well I’ve done a history six, introduced naked gardening and had an ornamental six. I have racked my brain (took me a while to find it though) again and this week have come up with a new six idea.
It’s the garden 101. You know, that series on the TV. This is my version. Six garden-related things that I would like to consign to Room 101. With how many will you agree?
I will, in the best traditions of such things, announce my results in reverse order.

6 The RHS

Pause for a moment and ask yourself what is the purpose of the RHS!
My humble opinion is probably not a lot. In evidence I offer this discussion on the thinkinGardens web site.
Consider Chelsea. The daily crocodile moving ponderously around the showground. The growing number of exhibitors who have called it a day because they cannot justify the cost. The show gardens, with their idiotic budgets. The environmental overhead.
Think of my “local” show in Cardiff. The garden-related stands crammed together making it difficult to get at whatever plant it is you’d like to examine. The tat, sorry, craft, and food stalls with loads of space around them. The show gardens placed beyond the end of the temporary pathways, making it difficult for those in wheelchairs to get to them if it rains. The floral marquees. with their diminishing number and size of displays, again because of cost.
Think back a few years to the unfortunate partnership with Interflora to promote Valentine’s day bouquets. Bouquets of imported flowers. When there were plenty of growers in the UK supplying flowers in season. I get the feeling that the RHS exists, primarily, to make money. It could do more to promote British horticulture.
I also offer this tweeted advert for the RHS qualification course “How to kill your seedlings!”
Oh, come on! Every idiot knows how to handle seedlings, don’t they?

5 Monty Don

“What?” you exclaim! OK, Monty hasn’t somehow made it to the exalted beatificated heights of St Geoff of Hamilton. But he’s a friendly fellow. Why should he go to room 101?
It’s blinkers, you see. He not only refuses to garden with chemicals (good) but refuses to even allow their mention. And so loses the wonderful opportunity to educate. He says “There is only one way to kill lily beetle.” Doesn’t even explain squishing properly. Not everyone wants to squish. So they reach for the chemicals. Word on the street is that the only chemical is a neonicotinoid. Eeek! There are less harmful chemicals that will do the trick if used right. But people don’t read all the information on the labels. You know, the bit about spraying in the evening when bees aren’t flying all over the place. You know, about not killing beneficial insects at the same time.
The opportunity to educate is lost. He doesn’t even mention the trick of holding a plastic cup under the leaf on which the lily beetle is chomping. So, if you miss first time, the disturbed beetle does what disturbed beetles do and falls to the ground. Upside down (that’s the black side). Much easier to find if it falls into a cup.
Sorry. He seems to take for granted the fact that he says something and everyone will listen and obey. Fact is they don’t.

4 Garden Centres

“What?” I hear you exclaim! (again)
Yes, I’d like to abolish garden centres. They are a response to mass consumerism. They sell what the masses will buy. When it comes to plants, this means plants in flower. Try buying Heleniums in March. Summer bedding, flowering before its time in polystyrene packaging, appears in the middle of frost season. The poor, tired plants give up halfway through the summer. But not to worry! The punters will look at their dying plants and decide to flock back to buy bulbs and winter bedding in late August. They may also find Heleniums then, heading towards the end of their flowering season.
And to get to the plants you have to navigate through the concessions. You have to resist clothes, shoes, furniture, dog-grooming, haircuts, wine, tat and so on. And the tropical fish, the fitted kitchens and bedrooms. Don’t forget Christmas decorations (in season). And the half-price sale of Christmas decorations (out of season).
And don’t try to buy a flower pot in November!
Far better to find a nursery. In nurseries, staff know what they’re selling; they probably grew it. And they know what it was grown in. And they won’t have covered a plant labelled “Perfect for Pollinators” with chemicals that harm bees. They’re happy to talk, to give all the advice you want. They care about their customers because they want them to return. You are a person, not a a mere member of “the masses”.

3 Plants for Pollinators (that aren’t)

Once plants arrive in my garden, I can decide if I want to drench them in chemicals. And I decide what chemicals to use. There’s chemicals and there’s chemicals. You know what I’m leading up to, don’t you?
Neonics. Or to give them their proper name Neonicotinoids.
They’re pesticides. And pretty nasty pesticides at that. Because they’re systemic. Zap a colony of aphids with soapy water and that’s all you’re doing. “SB Plant Invigorator” (also now sold under other brands) will also zap but will feed the plant at the same time. Contact pesticides, used properly, will kill what they hit and then dry off.
But neonics can last almost the life of the plant. And neonics harm pollinators. So a plant treated with neonicotinoids shouldn’t have a “Perfect for Pollinators” label.
Because it’s not.

2 Roundup

Roundup is a product, not a chemical.
Glyphosate is a chemical. It is the main chemical ingredient of Roundup. But it is not alone. There are other ingredients. Monsanto makes Roundup. The trouble is that they have resisted attempts to get to the details of the make-up of their product. Many have long argued that the other ingredients are more dangerous than Glyphosate. The trouble is that no-one is actually certain what those other ingredients are! The composition is protected information. Look at
The World Health Organisation decided that Glyphosate was, on balance, carcinogenic. The EU decided, on balance, it WASN’T.
Some bright sparks noted that this difference of opinion might be down to a simple matter of process. The EU had looked at the impact of Glyphosate on its own.
I’m not a chemical scientist. Rather a confused observer.
But meanwhile, in the real world, the lack of “education” of users (see also 2 above), leads to over-use. Glyphosate takes some time to work its way through a plant and down to the roots. It is only when it reaches its destination that it completes the job it started out on.
But if you cover a plant with Roundup, the added ingredients will kill the top growth in no time on a sunny day. The uneducated gardener pulls off the deadness in the name of tidiness. Goodbye Glyphosate. Underground, the weed’s roots start the process of regeneration. The weed regrows.
And so the uneducated gardener shrugs their shoulders and sprays again …….

1 Plant Name Changes

I know. I’ve been here before. But this tops my list so I’m here again.

Most sensible gardeners talk about plants using their common names. We have Joe Pye Weed, Busy Lizzie, Crab Apple, Laurel and so on. The problem with these is that the same plant may have different names in different countries. You know, it’s like tell American parents to make sure there’s always a rubber in their children’s pencil case. And then there are the catalogues. I did once attempt (but gave up) to work out what every plant in a Bakker catalogue was. So many companies invent their own names for everything. And if you can’t work out what something really is, how do you know what the best growing conditions are (hint: DON’T trust the catalogues).

Thus every plant has its proper name. We have Eupatorium, Impatiens, Malus, Prunus and so on. And in the collection of books weighing down your bookshelves, you’ll find everything you want to know about these proper names. All you have to do is fork out £50-60 for the RHS Encyclopaedia and you’ve got all the information at your fingertips.

Until someone decides that some Asters, not all, mind you, are now Symphiotrichum. Joe Pye Weed’s no longer Eupatorium but Eutrochium. Stipa tenuissima is now Nasella tenuissima (unless it’s changed back; there’s uncertainty about that). And if you look for a plant using its old name and the nursery’s changed everything to the new name, your plant will be “out of stock” or “not found”. Then again if you’re quick off the mark and the nursery isn’t, you’ll get the same result. Either way that expensive bookshelf of books is now irrelevant. Useless,

The RHS (see above) will, of course, rub its hands with glee and commission a new edition of the relevant encyclopaedia and Dr Hessayon will come out of retirement. Botanical gardens will spend a fortune relabelling everything. And everyone will get confused.

I’m beginning to think that every plant should, in future, have three names:
  1. The common name such as Joe Pye Weed
  2. A horticultural name such as Eupatorium. This is what real gardeners have always called and will continue to call the plant and what its label in the nursery et al will say. All the encyclopaedias will use this name.
  3. A biowhateversomenamingcommitteedecideitoughttobecalled name. No-one in the real world will use this name but those scientific, academic and otherwise highly expensive tomes will be free to use it. It may appear in square brackets, italics and upside down lettering, after the horticultural name when the RHS update one of their encyclopaedias but it should be a legal requirement to state in bold letters on the front cover, and in every advert for the book, whether the new edition has changed from the previous one simply to include these new whogivesadamn names.
 Meanwhile I will continue to grow Asters and enjoy them very much thanks.

We do have our own language!

 I’ll get off my soapbox now. If nothing else, I hope I’ve made you think.

Meanwhile, why not pop over to The Propagator’s Blog to see his post of the day (after all he did invent this Six thing). Repeat visits are advised as through the day others who offer less controversial sixes than mine will provide links to their posts in the comments section. Alternatively, pop over to where the meme page for this get together has links to the blogs of a lot of contributors.

Until next time, enjoy your garden.


17 thoughts on “Six on Saturday: 25 November

  1. In my experience of using Roundup l have never seen the leaves die back quickly, usually takes around a week for the leaves to change colour and two to kill the roots. There is a relatively new product,Resolva, which is a mix of two chemicals, glyphosate with a contact weed killer which kills top growth within 24 hours. This was introduced because gardeners didn’t think roundup was working!

    1. That’s interesting, Brian. As I don’t use the stuff, I chatted to neighbours who do (and who I try to persuade to “don’t”). The consistent message was one of speed. “I spray in the morning and the weed’s dead by the afternoon,” sort of thing. A couple mentioned seeing the weed dying within a couple of hours of applying Roundup on a sunny day. In all cases they said Roundup didn’t work because the weed regrew. Yep, they’d removed the top growth too soon.

      My only experience with the Resolva brand was its stump killer, which didn’t work.

    1. I don’t watch GW these days. Much more interesting is Beechgrove Garden (BBC Scotland, rebroadcast on BBC2 nationally on Sundays). If you have Sky or Freesat you can watch it (in season) on the Scottish channel. Or on iPlayer of course. Much more variety in the content; reminds me of the St Geoff days of GW when he developed his garden on TV rather than expecting us to watch him working his way in his mature garden. He wanted chemical free, organic gardening too (before it was really fashionable) but he didn’t ram it down people’s throats. We just listened, learned and did it.

        1. They brought the 2010 series out on DVD (I reviewed it here: If you shop around now you’ll find it for around £17. I eventually bought a copy for, IIRC, about £12. Oddly, although originally released at £26, within 6 months the RRP was around £40. Must have been popular!

  2. Most of these chemicals, Roundup for sure, are banned in the bylaws here (Victoria, BC, Canada). I’ve got a terrible problem with dandelions in the lawn and decided to try an iron based spray (Fiesta, I think it’s called). After two applications, it did turn some of the dandelions black and they shriveled up. Perhaps it has reduced the dandelion population, but I’ll wait until next summer to make that call. Some people tell me to just live with the dandelions, but I’m having trouble accepting that “solution” although I could see a garden with no lawn eventually. I’ve done a lot of digging with an excellent tool, but never seem to get ahead of the game.

    1. Sorry, long reply but hope something in it is helpful. I just had a read of your byelaws. The word “Draconian” springs to mind. Dandelion tap roots can go a foot into the ground. Not easy to remove in one piece!

      One trick is to always carry a cigarette lighter with you. When you see a dandelion turning to it’s silver seed stage, ignite the head. Burns up in a second or two. Then you can safely remove the head (chances are if you just tug the head off you will free some seeds at least). The yellow flowers are, by the way, great for bees. I don’t have a major problem fortunately. I let them flower in the spring to feed the bees, kill the seedheads, pull of the leaves for my neighbour’s tortoise and then grub the root out with a specialist tool. In the borders, removal is easy, of course. Over time, regular mowing will weaken the plant but won’t kill it.

      You might try boiled white vinegar (look it up online). Boiling down makes the solution stronger. Carefully applied it’ll do the trick but you will most likely get some collateral damage to the surrounding grass. It’s better to dig out the plant and then to pour a bit of the vinegar solution into the hole to kill any root you’ve left behind (tap roots break easily and the weed regenerates from the smallest bit)

      You won’t be able to avoid seeds blowing in from your “live with them” neighbours but you can do something to stop those seeds germinating. Check out what I think is called “Corn Gluten Meal” on your side of the pond.

      A bit of web trawling also revealed a product called “Muriatic Acid”. This is used as a brick cleaner over here under a different name and our laws ban its use as a herbicide. However your laws may allow it. The idea is that this stuff is applied to the centre of the plant CAREFULLY using something like a meat baster. It will, so the story goes, kill the dandelion dead for ever.

      If things are really bad, I guess your only option is the smothering trick using thick black plastic sheeting. But this takes time – really a season to be effective – and will also kill the lawn.

      Must dash now. Got to think up my next Gill-substitute post. Good luck.

  3. Great idea for a blog and I totally agree about garden centres – places from hell. But sorry – Monty – no no. He cheers up my Friday nights with joy, poetry and delight. We are so lucky to have him. Each to his own though.

    1. Like I said, Monty polarises opinion. He is a friendly chap but the fact remains that an opportunity to educate people about safe use of chemicals is lost. My local garden centre (yes that was a photo of part of it) has now rebranded itself from “Garden Centre” to “Garden Village” which is, at least, honest I suppose. Still can’t buy a flower pot there though.

  4. That was a fine soapbox. If lily beetles have a tendency to drop off leaves when disturbed, it sounds as though you could adapt the approach we take to controlling Japanese beetles on this side of the pond: when you use a cup to catch them, put some soapy water in the bottom. It’s less icky than squishing them, and quite satisfying to watch them reenact that scene from Titanic.

    I have a talk I sometimes give to local orchid societies about why they should embrace the name changes. Eyes glaze over about the time I pull out phylogenetic trees and start talking about monophyly and polyphyly. I only get asked to give that talk once per society.

    1. I don’t mind squishing; I like that satisfying “pop” and the knowledge that they don’t suffer a slow death. Actually, lily beetles don’t get killed by soapy water but I find that camomile (chamomile if you prefer) tea works well. It’s a surprisingly good insecticide if you make it at the right (undrinkable) strength. Zaps just about anything Pyrethrum would kill and also helps to prevent damping off in seedlings.

      You take trees to your talks? Wow! The speakers we get usually turn up with a laptop and a digital projector. 😉 My lot would lap you up and probably ask intelligent questions at the end!

    1. Thanks Brigid. Monty’s a nice enough chap though he often comes across as patronising and does tend to polarise opinion. I just wish he’d allow discussion of things a bit more. I’ve just ordered another couple of cases of wine as the rack’s looking empty. Filling in for Gill is proving to be such a strain. 😉

  5. Glad I wasn’t on the same episode of 101 as you, I’d have wanted the same six items, though perhaps not in the same order. Glyphosate especially I’ve been known to get my soapbox out for. And I haven’t watched GW since MD started.

    1. Damn! Foiled again. Thought I’d be controversial but the first comment agrees with me (in the wrong order).

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