Gardening in the 21st Century – a zoom talk by Timothy Walker
a review by Carine Carson
Well, if it was a Monday or Tuesday and one of my ‘Grandma Carine’ days, it would be to the moon! However, in this instance it is to the bijou study in my bijou bungalow in Wetherby to hear Timothy Walker, our first Zoom speaker for WYHPS during this time of the Covid pandemic and various social distancing and lockdown measures.
Before I get to Tim’s talk it seems appropriate to say something briefly about Zoom. I think that, in common with the rest of the population, almost none of us had heard of Zoom before lockdown 2020.However, thanks to the younger members of our families wanting to maintain visual contact and setting up family quizzes etc, we were forced to take the plunge. It has been a steep learning curve for us all, but, as with the other evening, people are prepared to have a go and those of us who are just one step ahead are happy to chip in with the odd bit of knowledge we have. I feel we all managed incredibly well and I’m confident we will soon be telling other members how straightforward it is to negotiate zoom.
I also thought that Zoom worked really well in the context of a WYHPS evening meeting. No one had to negotiate the Leeds traffic, come out in the cold and dark (if that is your issue) and some members even managed to make the whole event even more enjoyable with their favourite tipple to hand! I for one enjoyed being able to sit at the desk in my study and make notes instead of scribbling in the darkness of Paxton Hall.
I was one of the really lucky people who had never heard Tim speak before and so the evening was a wonderful revelation to me and an introduction to a truly inspirational speaker who delivered his talk in an extremely entertaining manner (never known a garden speaker to squeeze in so many naughty words and phrases – more below) and Tim was certainly someone who wore his knowledge lightly. As most of you know, I am the ELC (early learning centre) branch of the HPS so forgive me if I have missed important technical details of Tim’s talk and I can hear you all saying -we are all learners – well can I just say, some of us have more to learn than others. Here goes anyway.
Tim led us through his ten pieces of advice for gardening in the 21st Century. He started with our soil, about which he warned us, although we can improve it, we cannot change it! He advised on how you might improve the soil, for a herbaceous border this is done in February, and in various ways – notably by adding nutrients such as a general organic NPK fertiliser, such as Growmore. Tim told us of an infamous border in which he had employed the extreme measure of double digging (historically known as b**tard-trenching) and from the morning after was henceforth known as the b**tard border!
Tim’s second point was to choose plants that like your soil and his motto now is ‘if at first you don’t succeed, sod it!’ There speaks a man of experience. However, Tim did point out that we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss plants that wouldn’t appear to be able to thrive on our soil – the acid/alkaline issue. Here he spoke most lovingly of the winter-flowing shrub, Hamamelis mollis, whose perfume apparently makes Chanel no 5 smell like Dettol. Also on plants, Tim’s next point was to make use of native plants like Honeysuckle which is great for supporting moths. He waxed lyrical about Viburnum opulus var. americanum ‘Compactum’ which has gorgeous flowers and the bonus of beautiful berries in winter. Two further points on plants encouraged us to grow fruit and veg and to raise new plants in loam-based compost.
Tim then addressed his concern about watering and informed us he aims never to water except when planting. His recipe here is to dig the hole and half fill with soil, firming it well around the roots of the plant and then topping up to the brim with water, which you allow to sink in before back-filling with the rest of the soil but not firming this in as much, to encourage the roots. Some call this puddling!
Tim’s next piece of advice was not surprisingly to avoid using pesticides, favouring alternative means of control – with his Hostas, for example, he goes for copper tape collars on his pots. As I have no water feature in my garden to help with the slugs, I keep all mine in pots and use sharp grit. I also use nematodes in the soil in spring but if some of you are feeling really brave you might go for the ‘Scandinavian cannibal slug method’ as recommended in the current issue of Cornucopia.
There were three further pieces of advice from Tim.
First, that climate and weather is just a great unknown – thank goodness for a clear piece of advice at last! Whilst he recommends Sir David King’s book: A Hot Topic, Tim’s conclusion, as a respected scientist is that it is impossible to know what will happen and what will grow. Don’t you just love someone who gives an honest answer!
Meanwhile we should join our local Wildlife Trusts and Plant Heritage to support conservation. Tim suggested we also get involved in planting hedges in our own garden, in a community garden or on our estate (I don’t think he meant the variety that runs to our own personal hundred or so acres!).The best thing we can do is to get young children involved – they are our gardeners of the future. Although, for those of us who are grandparents, we might want to practise a little more health and safety than Tim apparently did with his children – and I was certainly reassured that he was speaking about them all in the present tense – so ultimately the gardening bug has done them no long lasting harm!
And finally, who didn’t laugh when Tim put up a couple of photos of combinations of rhododendrons in flower and uttered that memorable quote – ‘people who grow rhododendrons are colour blind’! He did qualify this slightly but it did make me laugh. So, all in all, if the looks on people’s faces and the comments people made at the end of the talk are anything to go by, we all thoroughly enjoyed our first zoom speaker and Tim will be a hard act to follow.
A great start to our Zoom future – hope to see more of you next time with or without the wine!