Why do we tweet – the sequel…

July 30, 2013

Tweeting is something I decided to do rather hesitantly and very much in the slow lane, as a conscious effort to keep myself up to date with the various tools available to me as a writer. My previous post on the subject was perhaps a bit naïve – and managed to wash all sorts of stuff out into the gutter…. Now, having edged out into the middle lane, got a few Tweets under my belt and a few followers, I can re-asses things a bit.

Of course Twitter provides a too-often misused platform for those who want to get rid of unsavoury aggression or whatever – enough people are looking at that, so I won’t. And there are those compulsive but basically harmless self-publicists – I am learning to ignore those too. But for run-of-the-mill, salt-of-the-earth gardeners, Twitter can be a definite plus, I think.

A love of plants and gardens bordering on mild obsession with them, spending time messing around amongst and in them and writing about them can be quite a solitary thing. You can be out there all hours, twiddling or toiling or in my case a scatty mixture of both, and you think things, notice things – they can be appalling, glorious, or even be just jaw-dropping moments of realisation about something – things that you would love to share. But next door’s cat isn’t listing, the robin just shrugs his shoulders and the blackbirds have other things on their minds. So the random-thought-and-picture-tweeting, which is what I find myself doing quite a bit, is a neat alternative. (O how sad this sounds, but it’s not, I’m not, and I will press on…).

So heartfelt thanks, Karen Tolmie, who was encouraging after my previous post, and to fellow Tweeters for sharing your similarly random thoughts, pictures and enthusiasms, your RT’s, your Favouriting (you see, I am getting the hang of it slowly), which indicate from time to time that others ‘get’ what I get, which in turn makes me realise that we gardeners are all in it together and that in itself, dare I admit it, gives me a bit of a warm glow. And we have had a bit of a larf, too.

My unilateral declaration of ‘n vwls dy’ provided light relief on a sweltering day.

I shall be declaring ‘n vwls dy – th squl’ shortly…

Twitter: so far – so what?

July 15, 2013

A few weeks of Tweeting (I am still floundering with the subtleties of Twitterworld) leaves me somewhat perplexed – and in truth, rather inclined to back away into the undergrowth.

Why do we Tweet? Is it because we want to shout our thoughts/opinions or share interesting occurrences with as many people as possible – whoever, wherever?

Do we therefore pride ourselves on rattling out all sorts of random personal stuff, following everyone we can find just to make sure they listen?

Or do we home in on and follow people who are likely to know who we are*, may find our thoughts/opinions/enthusiasms etc. interesting, the less trivial ones even possibly thought-provoking – in the knowledge that they will pass some on to similar others.

Is it ‘mean’, therefore, not to at least follow everyone who follows you, as one very prominent and prolific Tweeter suggests? (You see, I am too pursed-lipped to even mention his/her name!)

Maybe the pursed-lipped shouldn’t Tweet.

Am I missing the point of it all?

Comments please below (or, in a sealed envelope, marked Private and Confidential, addressed to…)

Over and out.

*I tweet as one who, in a very,very small arena, admittedly, is relatively well-known.

My friend Kate’s goosegogs

June 26, 2013

Grow your own gooseberries

Today’s letters page in the print version of The Telegraph carries an abridged version of one sent to them by Kate Metcalfe – the very ‘my friend Kate’ who features in my Thorny Problems page all too frequently.

The single half-standard gooseberry bush she bought (from Ken Muir‎, and yes, it did cost quite a bit) has so far yielded 50 lbs of fruit in 5 years. So this year her goosegogs are ‘costing her 60p per lb, and of course getting cheaper every year’ (despite not going metric yet, she can do sums, because she is an accountant and has such facts at her fingertips).

I can’t understand why anyone would grow anything other than half-standard gooseberry bushes (i.e  those with short trunks, so that the fruiting branches are more-or-less waist-height instead of ground-sweeping), since they do make the horrid job of picking them a whole lot easier.

The two I have on my allotment, despite pretty savage pruning, are staggeringly prolific and provide far more fruit than I could possibly consume or freeze, so I have been known to prune off whole branches and give them away, laden, to friends. A pretty mean version of PYO, I suppose.

Amongst her many other talents my friend Kate is (unlike me) a pudding-maker par excellence and a generous hostess. Crumbles, fools, goosegog muffins, g’gogs-in-the-hole, you name it – half the village will have savoured it!

Bought-in bumble bees

June 16, 2013
Bumble bee

If gardeners want to buy-in mail-order bumble bees, please don’t try to put them off.

Normally I am pretty much a Ken Thompson fan, enjoying immensely and learning a lot from what he has to offer in the way of really helpful stuff for gardeners.

I would, however, like to register a bit of a protest about something Ken wrote in Telegraph Gardening on June 15 about the ecologically pointlessness of the gardening public buying-in bumblebee nest-lets to keep in their gardens and allotments – because what he had to say absolutely missed the point, I think, about why many gardeners (as opposed to commercial tomato-growers, for example) buy bumble bees in the first place.

It is surely all about the very simple pleasure the bees bring as they go to and fro from their little boxes (or their slightly twee ‘hives’).

Bombus terrestris, the buff-tailed bumble bee is our commonest species, apparently. And even though the little chaps we see around the place abuzz on the alliums or reeling drunkenly around on the sedums may not actually be ‘ours’, it is fun – and totally harmless – to imagine that they are.

And for households with children, a visibly busy bumble bee community can provide a useful reminder to the next generation of how important – and actually how gentle -are these charming little creatures whose presence we usually take for granted.

Only the silliest gardeners would imagine that by buying a box-full of bees they will be doing anything to save the planet or even much to pollenate our crops. And there are, after all, plenty of less responsible ways to spend money on your garden: on obtrusive garden lighting, extravagant and inappropriate ‘water features’ and colonies of nasty Chinese plastic meerkats and other atrocious nicknackery.

Nothing more to add. I leave everyone else to fight about the science.

  • Bumble bees and their wooden ‘hives’ and lots of instructions for bee-ginners can be purchased from Dragonfli.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

My garden in Wadhurst, East Sussex, will be open for charity…

June 8, 2013

…as part of the 2013 Wadhurst Open Gardens Weekend, on Saturday June 15 from 4 – 6 pm and Sunday June 16 from 2 – 6pm.

For further information about tickets etc: lizrosevear@hotmail.co.uk

Here are a few recent pics to whet your appetite…

Chelsea – digging myself a big hole?

May 27, 2013
Tulips at Eldenhurst

Tulips in my garden (click to enlarge)

I just don’t get it, I am afraid.

Whilst I appreciate the skill, the team-work and the sheer pressure involved, I find the very idea of competitive gardening a la Chelsea Flower Show totally perplexing.

Fellow writers and garden designers probably despair about my naïvety – but I do acknowledge another view:  We should appreciate Chelsea for what it is – the best and the most prestigious garden design arena in the world.

For the designers, a Chelsea medal (preferably gold) is as good as it gets. Long live aspiration and ambition; for the most innovative and inspirational few, the rewards can lead to international respect, megabucks even, and almost chef-y celebrity.

And I also get the idea of charities big (and especially small), using Chelsea  to raise their own profiles by sponsoring gardens and, in so-doing, showcasing the work of less well-known designers.

But how is it that big-hitting Chelsea-style competitive design has become so divorced from the day-to-day pleasure of fiddling-around-getting-soil-y gardening.

An ‘ordinary’ garden is a place of creativity and personal achievement, often – but not always – beautiful in the eye of the beholder. But more importantly it is a place just to be in, to potter in, or simply to sit and do nothing in (albeit for two nanoseconds after which you notice something that needs ‘adjusting’).

Is a garden that has nowhere obvious to sit – with walkways that are so narrow, between stylishly clipped, broad and dense hedges that you would have to travel around it on a scooter, and where you can scarcely even reach to touch, smell or tend the pretty pockets of plants between them – really a garden?  Not for me it isn’t.

And I don’t think that a garden loomed-over by a vast rusty-looking lump of something that resembles a chunk of space debris (containing a ‘studio’, apparently) cuts the mustard as a place to relax, either.

I should love to have a gander at the clipboards of the RHS judging posse as they stand around stroking their beards wondering which Emperor, this year, is wearing the very best new clothes:

Dominating inanimate but incomprehensible feature… tick.

Arty torrents or mesmerising black water (no blanket weed, not a single stray leaf floating in it)… tick.

Something deeply symbolic made of rough-hewn stone… tick.

Uniformly sized perfect trees planted too close for comfort all in a row… tick.

And (this year) muted fluffy planting, lots of cow-parsley-lookalikes and not a square inch of the essential brown stuff showing anywhere… tick.

Meanwhile, pressing against the ropes, the gardening public ogles, overwhelmed – or in some cases, dare I say it, somewhat under-awed by it all.

Ah, but following months of preparation and a frantic week of high-brow discussion, there is a special award to placate the traditionalists and design-numpties like me: The People’s Choice Award, voted for by the gardening public, invariably goes – surprise, surprise – to the garden that looks the most comfortable to be in.  Sadly, it doesn’t seem to have anything like the cachet of the others.  After all, what would the gardening public know?

So every year I return home from Chelsea, breathe a sigh of relief, pour myself a glass of Sauvignon, go outside and slump on to a bench to take in the day’s delights and think:  My garden – right now.

For me that’s the place to be.

‘Gardening in Pyjamas’, anyone?

March 22, 2013
Gardening in Pyjamas

Gardening in Pyjamas, out on 11th April

As anyone who looks at this regularly must know, I have gone off blogging a bit – it suddenly seemed to be an ego-trip too far.

But I have just popped in because – as my helpful son points out – it just daft to miss the opportunity to flag my new book ‘Gardening in Pyjamas’, which will be officially available from April 11, published by Simon & Schuster , RRP £12.99 – less on Amazon, of course).

Essentially it is a complete re-vamp and up-date of ‘Gardening in Your Nightie’, which I wrote in 2000.

A modest book of words that pre-dated my Thorny Problems page in the Telegraph, ‘Nightie’, hit the spot for a lot of gardeners – those keen enough, daft enough, to get out there in all weather first thing in the morning (usually inappropriately dressed, hence the title) but didn’t quite know what to get on with and how to go about it – and why.

‘Pyjamas’ is updated to deflect criticisms about sexism, reflect 21st century wardrobe refinements and, more importantly, modern ‘greener’ gardening habits. It’s got no glamorous pictures, no ‘helpful’ pruning diagrams, minimal mumbo-jumbo, Latin and science. And, of course, the new book also benefits considerably from 12 more years of my own experience as a gardener and writer.

I’m really proud of it, and I hope you like it.


What price ‘freebies’?

June 24, 2011
A man covertly giving someone else cash

Not how gardening journalism works

And now for something a bit precarious, professionally speaking –  a little bit out on a limb:

A reader of my Telegraph page wrote to me about my lawnmower, a Bosch  lithium-ion cordless model that  I have been using for about four years and about which I cannot speak too highly.

Referring to it recently on my page, I mentioned the liberating effect that lightweight battery tools have on gardeners.

I bought my first lithium-ion battery gadget five years ago –  a hedge trimmer that is still going strong:  no more wrestling with a filthy stinking heavy noisy petrol monster, nor the alternative – fiddling with infuriating and seemingly inevitable cord-splicing every time I cut my hedges.  I have been an Battery Evangelist ever since.

Bosch happen to be the market leaders in this particular field, so both mower and hedge trimmer are made by them. The reader, wanting to get a bit more low-down from me,  wanted to know if I had been given my mower or whether it was on loan. It obviously never occurred to him that it was just ‘my mower’.

It would seem that now that more and more writing in newspapers and magazines is pretty much ‘advertorial’,  the opinions and judgement of writers of columns like mine that occasionally mention gardening products and tools, and indeed the feature I did for a couple of years for the English Garden Magazine, may appear to the reading public to be very, very suspect.

In fact, in the time I was the writer of the tool-testing feature for the English Garden, I had a remarkably free hand.  I asked not to be told the price of the goods I was testing,  so that I wouldn’t know which were the posh and expensive ones (although it was often obvious, of course), and it was left completely up to me to decide which was my ‘favourite’.  It was, all in all, a bit of a dream job.

On only one occasion since then have I been offered a significant ‘inducement in-kind’ – in the form of a discount on a product in return, presumably, for a big, glowing ‘mention’ in the feature.  Nothing was specifically said about it, but the implication was clear.  In the event, the item did get its mention, but even with the discount on offer the item was still extraordinarily expensive and – even if I had been tempted to ‘glow’ in print –  I couldn’t possibly have afforded it. (The fact that garden writers earn a diminishing pittance for their work is another matter entirely, and one that I won’t air here).

So how do we deal with all this?    I admit I don’t really know how other writers carry on, but certainly for lesser fry like me there aren’t many ‘freebies’ kicking around these days anyway.  When I need a major item for the garden I ask for – and generally receive – a trade discount.  I am, however loosely it may be perceived, ‘in the trade’ after all.  When I am sent something to ‘try out’, I am generally happy to do so.  But only if I really like the product or gadget after using it and it is appropriate to write about it in the context of Thorny Problems (or whatever else I write, or when I am lecturing),  will I personally recommend it to other gardeners. Very occasionally I take the opportunity in print to suggest improvements or modifications to products or packaging, and I like to think that in one instance at least,  my comments have been influential.

The other side of the coin is that if I consider the item I am offered or sent unsolicited to be really ghastly and useless (and this happens quite often, believe me), I will not slag it off.  I just keep absolutely stum.  And eventually I might slip it into a Horticultural Society raffle or something… (oops!)

Anyway, in my view this is a reasonable deal, and one which keeps my integrity intact in a world of journalism that is increasingly dominated – you could say ‘tainted’ –  by marketing.   And I think, judging from my mail and from the general vibes I get, that the majority of my readers understand that this is where, somewhat naively perhaps,  I stand.

Blogging for the BBC..!

June 21, 2011

My first, and I hope not my last post for the BBC gardening blog is up and running – about posy pickers. Here’s the link:


Commenter Stephanie Donaldson is obviously a dedicated PP like me, and on her blog, ‘The Enduring Gardener‘, there are some pictures to inspire, of extremely tasteful garden posies she has put together – and a slightly more lavish thing for her recent wedding. Do have a read of that too.


Gardening in my slippers – a cautionary tale

June 17, 2011

The (now-ex) primulas

Two days ago, early in the morning I was carefully walking along the edge of the pond (precious primulas in full sail to my left, water to my right) in order to haul out some of the mass of oxygenating weed that was threatening to engulf the pump.

I had just wandered outside, having completed the ‘weekly tips’ section of my Telegraph column, in which I  including advice on the need to keep pond weed in check at this time of year.

I was inappropriately wearing slippers (as you do) and yes, I slipped.

I think this is what happened:

My right shin scccccraaaaped down the brick edge of the pond and into the water.  When my slippered foot hit the sludge on the bottom of the pond, it skidded sideways, and as I struggled to recover my balance, I thwacked the inside of my right knee against the edge of the pond, and into the small protruding overflow pipe that sticks out of the brickwork into the water (supplying constant moisture to primula bed).

The result of a split second of stupidity:

My right shin, from ankle bone to knee is totally bruised and grazed –  hot, throbbing and bright scarlet. The entire ankle and calf have swollen to what looks like twice their size.  I have a 5″ diameter dark purple mottled bruise (a haematoma, the nurse called it) on the soft bit on the inside of my knee and a similar large purple patch on the bony bit under my kneecap.

I am now wearing an elastic tubigrip  bandage from the arch of my foot to above my knee. I am on penicillin and heavy duty anti-inflammatory/painkilling drugs and had to have a tetanus jab as a precaution.  I am not supposed to drive till things improve,  and am told to keep my right foot above the level of my heart whenever possible, which ought to be most of the time.  And until the heat and swelling on my leg starts to subside, I should if possible strap an ice pack to it made out of a tea towel and a bag of frozen peas.

I am told it might be some weeks before the swelling goes down and my leg returns to normal, during which time the colour from the healing bruise will gardually drain down to my foot.  Attractive.

Oh yes, and  – just a small additional bit of sadness to the outcome:  quite a lot of the primula stems bit the dust, too.

All this because I slipped – well, actually only one leg of me slipped – into a  small garden pond barely 18″ deep.

Fellow early-morning slipper-wearing pond-lovers, of which I suspect there are legion, consider yourself warned.

For my part, I am tempted to only undertake weed-removal duties in future if wearing full protective gear including flippers and a snorkel, although I consider installing a life belt by the pond a step too far.