Thursday, 17 May 2012


 Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus the true pheasant's eye in my mini-meadow.

Good morrow all, and a very happy Chelsea to you.

A month since my last post?  Disgraceful!

There's little excuse. Time vanished and ideas dried away  – 'Like to summer's rain; / Or as pearls of morning's dew, / Ne'er to be found again.'  (A minor prize for she - or he - who identifies the boring quote.  Victoria, consider yourself not allowed to answer first. )

There have been a few minor distractions in my life – Mother! Untimely frost!  A car crisis!  Don't Ask!

Also, a slew of unexpected tasks.  I'm appalled at the  mathematical pattern of gardening journalism over the past quarter century.  A bit - but not a lot - like those gases, in Boyle's Law,  the volume of work is inversely proportional to the rate of pay.  I've discovered that in real terms, my average rates, per thousand words are about 60% of what they were when I began this, my third career.

If it's the same for all garden journalists – and I have no reason to assume otherwise – it means we're all having to behave like the White Queen, in Alice who, if I remember rightly, has to run faster and faster to stay in the same spot.

I'm not moaning. It's good to get the work. But it is a little sobering.

Another vexing thing . . .
I've been answering gardening questions for much of my time in this weird life, on radio, television and  - since being given the 'bum's rush' from GQT - mainly in print. And I've come to the conclusion that we're all useless.

Why?  Because the same questions keep being asked every week of every year.  And if questions are constantly repeated, it means we're not giving the right answers.

Whenever I look over anyone's  fence, or peer into the serial cock-up that is my own garden, I see the same mistakes and the same misguided husbandry.  It's hopeless.  No one seems able to learn and as 'teachers' of a kind, that is fairly and squarely, our fault.  We should be ashamed.

In my own village – where there are at least six people far better at gardening than I – I saw daffodil leaves newly knotted.  The bulbs had been 'naturalised' ie, planted in a neat row in a close-mown lawn.  And when the flowers had 'hastened away,' the leaves were skilfully twisted into tight hangman's knots.

Bulb knotting was done routinely, half a century ago, but has long since been discredited because it can foster disease and doesn't help the bulbs.  But it also looks HIDEOUS, UNNATURAL, REVOLTING, PERVERTED AND BRUTAL.

And in the case of this particular garden, the whole effort was wasted because within a few days of  knotting the leaves were mown off and the lawn shaved.

 Why aren't we hitting the targets with our answers?  And why does so much of my query mail look like this. . .

Dear Neil Coletorn
   Can you identify the encl. ( flower/twig/leaf/rotted black mush/torn-off shred of kitchen roll/live hungry aggressive arthropod etc.)

Why, when people ask for a plant identification, do they also ask whether the plant is a weed?  When any fule kno that a weed is identified not by what it is but by where it is.

I also get,

Dear Mr Cobbin,
   How can I kill. . .daisies/pheasants/mice/shield bugs/ants/snakes/lichens/moss etc. 

I've had -  
'How can I keep slow worms out of my wall? And where can I get cyanide to deal with the moles and wasps?  And even 'How can I keep bees out of my garden?'

Also. . .

Dear Sir or Madam
   Now that Arsenic, Lead Arsenate, DDT and Nicotine shreds have been outllawed, how can I possibly grow crops? 

Some folk want to douse their allotments with Jeyes Fluid, others want to know why I don't recommend sowing by the moon and a few attack me for not being organic or permaculturist.

And one final thing.
Why, when sending emails, do some folk think that the shift key and punctuation buttons don't work?

Try this for size:

From -

I'm listening to Abba - Lord help me!  (Money Money Money, since you ask.  It's the Euro crisis, stoopid!)

This weeks film was Winter Light Ingmar Bergman's excruciating analysis of faith, liturgy, religion and relationships.  It's profoundly depressing – and when first saw it, in 1965, I was suffering Sophomore blues at Cornell Univeristy.

This time next week Chelsea will be over, as far as I'm concerned, and a good job too.

Thank you for getting this far. Bye bye!



  1. Robert Herrick - To Daffodils
    must admit a slight cheat since it is inscribed on the frontespiece of a bulb book I have.

  2. Dear Mr Corboln,



    Allineedtodoisprintoffthispostandputitondisplayfor6hoursandeveryone'squestionswillbeanswered :)


  3. Dear NC,
    VP stole my comment idea. Oh, well. I hope you enjoy Chelsea and that spring in your garden improves. I hear it has been cold in England.

  4. Fabulous. May i come round one evening when question time is on please?

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. OK, if your and others advice is so duff why do the poor saps keep coming back for more? Maybe the advice is not the important bit,but the act of seeking and getting advice is the reward in itself. Someone's garden is not so good, they confess and get a 'penance', and thus absolved they happily carry on with their 'gardening sins'.

  7. I suspect people whose hobby is building ships in bottles probably get somewhat frustrated about being asked the same question over and over as well.

    The difference being of course that the millions of people who at some stage own empty bottles don't feel any particular social/cultural pressure to fill them with something intricate, decorative and difficult to construct. Unless perhaps shiny blue glass pebbles count?

    Highly entertaining blog by the way (as usual)

  8. Oh dear you are grumpy - you need some sunshine I think.

    I suspect the rate for garden writing has gone down as there are so many people doing it and I have to say that I think the standard has also declined but I am sure I am alone in that

    I find it interesting that you obviously dislike Chelsea. I read with interest Christine Skelmersdale comment that TV had ruined it and it was all about design now and not the plants. I have to say I agree and so am not going this year. The idea of DG's over the top creation was the final straw for me.

    Never mind the sun will shine soon - surely

  9. Maybe some gardeners take years to realise that what they have been doing is just wrong, before they give in and ask for advice. Like my newish next door neighbour - I told him to cover his veg patch with mesh three years ago against pigeons, but this is the first year that he has heeded my advice. I wish he hadn't in some ways, because now his whole veg area looks like a funeral parlour for plants, as he has gone for black veils.

    The other possibility is that as more and more people take up gardening, you are always going to have newcomers asking silly questions. I have a new friend who has lived in a town all of her life until she came here, and she asks me things that make my jaw drop. Why had her bedding plants died over the winter, was the first one.

  10. I tied my daffs in a knot one year and then heard on the radio it wasn't wise to do this so I found a really simple solution to the untidy daffs problem. I never grew them again. Sorted. You don't need experts.

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