Q. My brussels sprouts are being ravaged by what seem to be golden eagles and I am at my wit’s end to know what to do about them.
A. Relax. They are not golden eagles, which hate brussels sprouts, but Pyrenean condors. The simplest method of discouraging them is to sprinkle your garden liberally with plastic imitation brussels sprouts (available in boxes of 100 from FUN FRUIT, King’s Road) so that the condors rapidly go off the idea of eating them. Or, alternatively, develop a new taste for plastic sprouts.
Q. I have developed a new rose and am not quite sure about how to go about naming it. Can you suggest a good simple non-denominational service that would stand up in a court of law? I want to call the rose Frank Sinatra.
A. It is generally enough to sprinkle some water over it, at the same time intoning, ‘I name this rose Frank Sinatra’, followed by a few prayers for rain. I am a little doubtful about your choice of name, though, as I personally would not like big men in dark glasses coming round and filling in my rose beds or me for that matter. I would suggest something less controversial like Caruso or Des O’Connor.
Q. My garden is rather sombre. How can I brighten it up?
A. Try a mixture of laurel and hardy annuals.
Q. I have an open-air swimming pool which I never use now since my accident and would like to turn it into an attractive area of aquatic growth. What do you recommend?
A. The most decorative approach would be to fill it in with bulrushes, lilies, etc for which you will find clear instructions and descriptions in the Old Testament. If you prefer in these hard times to make a more practical use of it, I would recommend the cultivation of seaweed, which makes delicious laver bread. For this, of course, you would have to partially empty the pool twice a day and refill it, to simulate the tidal movement of the sea, and I do not know if your accident would allow you to do this.
Q. I am having trouble with my cineraria, which has gone blotchy and does not respond to spraying.
A. I am no doctor but it sounds as if your bloodstream is deficient in iron and calcium. Lots of exercise, fresh air, and fresh fruit should do the trick.
Q. What do the Dutch call Dutch elm disease?
A. They call it French oak blight. The mistake is understandable, as they have no elms in Holland – they would only block the view and raise the average height above sea level by 40%. Generally they go in more for shrubs and bushes. In the 1960s they had a terrible outbreak of Italian privet droop.
Q. I live on the fifteenth floor of a modern block and would very much like to brighten the outside of my flat. Unfortunately the architects forgot to build in window-sills, so I cannot use window boxes.
A. Why not turn the outside of your flat into a miniature version of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon? There are a variety of plants such as ivy-leaved toadflax which grow more happily on walls than anywhere else, and a cascade of dangling plants would look very effective to anyone living nearby on another fifteenth floor. To complete the effect you could add authenticity by occasionally throwing a slave from the top of your hanging gardens, though you would probably need planning permission for this.
Q. I say that Bonzai is an ancient Japanese fighting art but my friend says that it is what kamikaze pilots yell when they do their last dive. Could you settle the argument, please?
A. Your friend is on the right track. During the last war the woodlands of Japan suffered heavy damage from the kamikaze training flights and rather than replant with normal trees which would instantly be knocked down again, the Japanese Forestry Department instituted a crash programme to develop trees too low to be hit by crashing planes. Hence the cultivation of dwarf trees in which the Japanese are now acknowledged masters. Many of them, sadly, fall victim to low-lying clouds of pollution; the Jap Forestry people are now engaged in a crash programme to develop tall growing or what we call “normal” trees. Bonzai, incidentally, is the cry given by Japanese foresters when felling dwarf trees, rather like our “Timber!”. It means roughly, Mind your toes.
Q. If wellingtonias were named after the Duke, and forsythia after a man named Forsyth, does this mean that heather, or Erica, was named after someone called Eric?
A. No. After someone called Erica. The same happened to such flowers as rose, lily, daisy, ivy, myrtle, etc.
Q. I would very much like to grow some plants where I work, but unfortunately I am an attendant in an underground garage where there is very little light and not much fresh air. What do you advise?
A. A vase of daffodils would be your best bet. The only plant that needs no light at all, apart from dead daffodils, is a fungus. There is a wide range of colourful poisonous toadstools on the market now which need very little care; in fact, they benefit from neglect.
Q. When I planted a yew tree in my garden I was warned of its toxic qualities and that it might well affect nearby growth. All that has happened is that the yew tree has wilted and the rest of the garden is fine.
A. I’m afraid your yew tree has poisoned itself.
Q. Two years ago I planted a vinestock and although I have watered, fed and mulched it ever since, it stills shows no sign of putting out shoots. What should I do?
A. I don’t know how to break this to you gently, but you have devoted the last two years to feeding a log.
Q. I often listen to Gardener’s Question Time on the radio and can never understand the way the experts frequently give totally conflicting advice. Why is this?
A. Speaking as an expert, I’d say it was undoubtedly because they haven’t the first idea what they were talking about; on the other hand, it may be because they know so much about the subject that they have lots of different theories to fit anything. What part of the world are you in?
Q. The Chilterns.
A. Ah well, you’re in chalky country there, which means you may be getting poor reception due to the surrounding bumps, what we call hills. How long have you been listening to the programme?
Q. About a year now.
A. Well, I’d give it a little more time if I were you and I’m sure it will come right eventually. Next question?
Q. If this country is ever subject to nuclear attack, we are told we would have about four minutes time in which to act. What do you recommend?
A. Prune roses back hard. Get rid of those dead heads. Water carefully. Apply a top dressing. Run like mad.
Q. I have tried everything on greenfly, but with no result. Is there a spray which gives them wanderlust?
A. No. You could try Benidorm, which causes them to go introspective and moody, but unfortunately it seems to give roses hangovers. There is a new spray shortly coming on the market which is said to upset the greenfly’s libido and thus diminish breeding, but of course it could have the reverse effect and lead to a frenzy of sexual activity.
Q. What should I do about elm suckers?
A. Sell them as many elms as you can.
Q. Is there any added VAT on seeds in the Budget?
A. Mr Healey says he won’t impose extra VAT on seeds on condition that the TUC undertakes to encourage 3 per cent more vegetable production on its members’ allotments. He has put an extra 2p on a packet of glad, 1p on a pint of Bio, and 30p on a bottle of fortified fertilizer.
Q. I am told that it helps plants to sing to them. Can you suggest any good songs?
A. Yes. Embraceable Yew, I can’t give you anything but Baby-Bio, Begin the Begonia, Hello Dahlia, Sweet William Brown, Peonies from heaven, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes Not To Mention Your Hair and favourite old Cardigan, I’m Dreaming of a White Chrysanthemum, Alexander’s Ragwort Band. (Enough –Ed)
PUNCH Spring Special 1976