Sunday, 3 January 2010


First, a very sad thing.
It was shocking to hear that John Cushnie, a fellow panelist on BBC Radio 4's Gardeners Question Time, had died on New Year's Eve. John was terrific fun to be with and had a profound and thorough knowledge of his subject. He also had a rapid wit and brought a sparkle, not just to the programme but also wherever he went. He'll be sorely missed. GQT, without a leavening spark - if you'll pardon a mixed metaphor - can be dreary in the extreme. And without genuine horticultural expertise, it can also be a mine of misinformation. John had both the smarts and the knowledge and was therefore doubly precious to them.

The Way through the Woods - A sunny walk on New Year's Day

And an extraordinarily happy, prosperous, pleasant, edifying, uplifting and above all, good gardening New Year to you, too! To everyone who sent good wishes, I give joyful returns, and with interest hugely above the niggardly base rate which ensures that my retirement date will not be until at least 2025.

Will you forgive me for a slightly nepotistic plug? My esteemed brother has recently begun a blog which should be jolly to visit. He lives in a deliciously Dickensian environment, down in Kent and has a natural history library which I covet feverishly, every time I visit his home. His cellar is pretty good too and both he and my sister in law are sublime hosts and superb cooks. You'll find his blog here.

He is naturally distressed about plans to remove street trees from Faversham's Abbey Street. Street trees are problematic from time to time, apparently, but the difference between a street well furnished with greenery, and one without leaf, twig or flower is profound. In the former, you have shade from summer sun, a softening of the harsh, manmade landscapes, birdsong, flowers or berries from time to time, butterflies, moths, a changing pattern of colour from spring blossom, fresh green foliage, autumn tints, winter outlines - need I say more?

The disadvantages are few: honeydew on the precious car bonnet; leaves in the gutter; the odd paving slab shifting and perhaps even a little movement here and there, among the buildings. But these are small prices to pay. In my brother's part of Faversham, the houses have been around for a very much longer time than cars and lorries but seem to have managed to stay standing, despite centuries of trees growing near them. So my message to the Faversham tree haters is: pull yourselves together, get a life, sort your priorities out and go outside now, this minute, and hug your trees. And while you're at it, spark off a pressure movement, not only to keep the trees you have, but to plant more.

An angel descending? No, it's just the first sunshine of 2010 at Bourne Woods.

I've often moaned at urban planners for being such vandals, when it comes to greening cities. However, a recent initiative by CABE which you can see here should give heart. I just hope this shows a genuine will to go greener in cities, rather than just paying a bit of greenish lip service.

By the way, if you want to see how to green a city properly, go to Singapore. I'm going out there in June, to help with community gardening projects but it is really we who should be seeking help from them!

By way of renewing my friendship with trees, I spent part of the Christmas break in the woods. Even in midwinter, our woodland never really sleeps - compared with woods I remember in Upstate New York, where I lived in the 1960s. Honeysuckle leaf buds are popping, grass is green in odd places and the sun on the dead, frosty bracken creates a beautiful rusty floor cover.

Dead bracken and oak leaves - a beautiful floor cover, protecting the spring plants from the cold.

Mosses seem to be vibrant, even when frozen solid and in parts of Bourne Wood, visited on New Year's Day, the trees were full of tit flocks hunting for small insects, particularly in the conifers. We saw almost the full complement: coal tit, great tit, blue tit and marsh tit. There's been a big movement of robins, too, and I watched a particularly nasty punch up between two who must have arrived simultaneously at the same bit of territory.

Meanwhile, my friendly robins in the garden at home both disappeared. On each side of the garden, one of them would lurk nearby, waiting for worms. If I was on my knees with a handfork or trowel, they would almost take food from my hand and I had to keep a beady eye out for our evil cats. But a female sparrowhawk moved in, last September and has eaten them. Nature can be a bit of a bitch, don't you think?

Oaks at Bourne Woods. The'll preside over a bluebell carpet in about 16 week's time

I'm reading The Old Curiosity Shop Thought it was time for a bit more mawkish Dickens after all the Christmas slush.

This Week's Film was Let the Right One In - a bitterly disappointing Swedish vampire story with a snot-nosed prepubescent protagonist played by one, Kare Hedebrant. The story is even more preposterous than most vampire tales; the characters are cardboard and the film is devoid of any kind of tension. There may be a depth which I've overlooked, because the crits have been enthusiastic and the amateur reviews online ecstatic. Perhaps the best part is the portrayal of the Swedish winter which, like the film, is long, dreary and monochromatic.

This day in 2006 I took the bus to Peterborough, the train to London Kings Cross and walked from there to the RHS at Vincent Square. What an exciting day that was!


  1. Perhaps it would have suited John Cusnie's humour to have gone out with the Blue Moon?

    So marvellous at deflating anything airy-fairy or pompous, but kind as well.

  2. I'm not sure why I listen to Gardeners' Question Time. I grow hardly any of the plants mentioned and don't need to know how to do many of the things the questioners ask - but it seems an essential part of my life . . . in large part, I suppose, simply because it's there - and that's reassuring. And it's gently entertaining too - and I value that; entertaining in its predictability as much as in any new advice the panelists might offer (digs at spouses, plants for school gardens, how to prune vines . . . ) And John Cushnie was as delightfully predictable as anything - prick the bubble, turn the question, scorn the sprouts. His sudden departure must be awful for the people who knew and loved him. I, remote, have been going around feeling heavy today, ever since I heard he died. It must be odd for you, Nigel. Hope you are ok.


  3. John Cushnie was the main reason I listened to GQT. His dry sense of humour always hit the mark but was never biting or unpleasant, and he always made me laugh out loud.

    I'm very sorry to say I never met him, but I always wanted to. I was so sad when I heard the news: I think we'll all be the poorer without him.

  4. Happy New Year Nige!

    So sad about John Cushnie - he was on the GQT panel when I attended a recording in 2003 and he immediately won me over when he told me I looked rather young to be attempting serious gardening projects!

    I must go over and visit your brother's blog immediately we had a complete change of town politics in Devizes a few years ago over the planned felling of trees in the town centre. At town council level the usual suspects no longer get a look in, it's up to The Devizes Guardians to determine what's best for the town.

    I've got a whole post lined up about the CABE campaign - it gave me great heart when I found out about it a few weeks ago.

  5. PS re Let the Right One In: it completely split the film club in 2 over whether it was tosh or genius when it was shown a couple of months ago.

    I thoroughly recommend Morris - it's about Morris dancing, but in a This is Spinal Tap style. Hilarious.