28 July 2015

Garden Experts? - Pah!

Anne Wareham raises an interesting question: Do we need garden experts?

I've thought about this recently and wonder what you think? In the most excellent gardening blog Thinkin Gardens, Anne protests. I mostly protest inside my own head, being less connected and courageous than Anne.

Here are Wareham's thoughts to consider 

This winterGraham Rice , a garden expert if ever I met one,  put up a post on Mr Fothergill’s (a seed company) blog called “Top Five Plants to Avoid in 2015!” (here). Two of his no no’s were disputable to me. He portrayed variegated ground elder as an evil spreader, and warned us off hellebore seedlings that our friends might offer us.
Well, my variegated ground elder is getting swamped by quite ordinary (if vigorous) garden plants, and where it once was a dramatic ground cover, doing a sterling job of keeping weeds down, it is now reduced to looking super in spring in rather small patches. (see here).
Nor have I personally found that it or ordinary ground elder actually seeds much (if at all?) – my plants of both seem remarkably static. As well as useful. ( see here.)
So I objected a little on twitter and instantly we got a variety of responses. Jane Perrone of the Guardian grows it in gravel and eats it, so finds she never has enough. Whereas Philip Clayton of ‘The Garden’ has had it spread into his lawn and finds it a pain. Chris Young, also (editor) of ‘The Garden’ ripped it out when he found it was too rampant and smothering all his many treasures. Two people added their appreciation of my ground elder on the evidence of their visits here, someone else spoke of how good it is restrained in a pot. The discussion spread to Facebook where David Stevens defended it – and other people howled about it.
And hellebore seedlings? Graham thinks they come up inferior and weedy. Well, I love the ones that come popping up at my mother in law’s all the time: she keeps bare soil, unlike me, so she gets lots of seedlings and never a dud, I’d say. Other people also seemed to treasure all their random seedlings too and said so. 

So – my point? I don’t want to have a go at Graham. He knows a lot and has experiences, for example of new plant varieties, which make him a valuable resource and help. But I think this little episode illustrates something.
Most of the people I quoted above would get called ‘experts’ in the garden media and they had a variety of experiences and thoughts about Graham’s bad plants. That was interesting and illuminating. And online where we could all comment, people could see that the subject was not resolved by Graham’s opinion, so no harm is done. Social media and the comments on many online articles mean that people can read a variety of responses to an issue now and begin to make their own judgements.
But elsewhere and ordinarily, in magazines, television and books, ‘experts’ are able to pontificate unchallenged. They present authoritatively rather than hesitantly, and we’re supposed to believe their every word. And what’s more they are expected to be positive all the time. I had many struggles with my editor in relation to my  (warning, advert...) new book about garden pests, when I honestly declared either ignorance or despair. Some rather tense emails were exchanged with pleas for me to be more positive. It was a struggle to stay honest.
Isn’t it time we let the world know that gardens and plants are infinitely variable and the notion of a garden expert is largely a fallacy, unless it’s on a very specific, well researched and updated topic? That we should all watch television and read the garden press armed with a huge pinch of salt?

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