Thursday, 16 July 2009


Two rather tired bumble bees on Echinops ritro. Bees have made a come-back in our garden this year.

Well, since you ask, it's been a bit of a bastard, these last few days.

My 84 year-old mother is still on her back in hospital 150 miles from her home and has been there for a month, ticking over on 25% lung power.

Birds have eaten my third sowing of Swiss Chard - don't even ask what happened to the first two!

I did something nasty to my back when leaping energetically out of my car - it now takes a minute or two to straighten up when I stand.

Parts of the garden are getting so weedy that the perennials are under threat and the courgettes resemble torpedoes with nuclear warheads.

And a particularly nasty species of aphid has corrupted the growing tips of one of my favourite autumn perennials, Leucanthemella serotina aka Chrysanthemum uliginosum. The top few leaves have all bunched up and stuck together.

On top of that, parts of my new yew hedge, previously described here, really have failed and will have to be replaced. Still, mustn't grumble!

Woudn't yew know it? The surviving plants have done extremely well but having to replace some means a year's delay on reaching the desired 1.6 metre height. The border will have to be re-planted to face west, before the hedge develops.

Actually, I do have another serious gripe which I'm sure is not just a solo moan. What is happening to our language? Have we become so lazy that we can't be arsed to pull the right words out of our limited vocabularies but would rather resort to the same crappy old clichéd terms that everyone else uses?

In garden writing, the commonest example of such etymological sloth is the word which describes the effect of an injurious blow to the head, expressed in the present participle - or is that a gerund? I refer to the epithet 'stunning.' Is there no other way of depicting a burgeoning hanging basket, a magnificent bed of tulips, a Piet Oudolf border, the England Cricket Team's recent eleven over last wicket stand or James Alexander-Sinclair's hats than 'stunning???' I mean how about magnificent, kaleidoscopic, sumptuous, life-changing, orgasmic, voluptuous, pulchritudinous, elegiac, psychedelic, polychromatic, gargantuan, festal, fab, well-horny - indeed, anything rather than that bloody word 'stunning?'

I was once told, by an eminent editor that he finally decided to sack a garden writer - and this was decades ago, by the way - because an opening line in his copy ran something like this. 'I was stunned, last week, by the hanging baskets in Cheltenham.' The writer, no doubt, thought this was a clever shift in the use of the same cliché - from gerundive to imperfect tense - but the editor thought he had actually knocked himself out by bumping into the floral displays in that honey-stoned Cotswold spa town of second hand book shops and over-priced tea rooms. Indeed, he had knocked himself out - of the paper, that is.

So I wondered if any of you might like to join my voluntary ban on use of the word STUNNING in future postings, except where a blow to the head has actually taken place? I know it turns up on some blogs in this community, but wouldn't dream of naming names! What do you think?

And while we're on the topic, there's another word which puzzles me. What is this thing called 'leverage?' If you use a lever and fulcrum, to move an object, the task is made easier, ie, you have leverage. But now the noun is becoming a verb, so you have business people 'leveraging' things. That is not English, it's jargon - an ugly word describing ugly pseudolanguage. Comfort zone, wiggle room, singing off the same hymn sheet, pushing the envelope, blue-sky thoughts, 'bored of,' rather than 'bored with' or 'by' or worse, 'fed up of' - Lord preserve us from this hideous, babbling Babel, innit!

And some positive things:
Bees are back! They've been more plentiful, in our garden, than for the past three or four years, and are buzzing enthusiastically among our perennials. I love the sound and sight of them, but feel sad to see them working their short lives away so feverishly.

Several impromptu plants have been exceedingly pretty, this summer. Salvia sclarea var turkestanica seeds all over the place and has given us joy in the gravel, by the front gate, in odd dry corners and so on. We have two shades - albino and mauve-purple flushed.

Since removing three big whitebeams, the meadow has changed character, growing its grass and flowers shorter, thanks to the extra light, and some yellow Lady's Bedstraw, which I was sure I'd lost, has flourished and flowered. Hurrah!

One of the self-sown Salvia sclarea var turkestanica - the bracts are prettier than the flowers and last for ages.

And now that I've stood down as RHS Council Vice-Chairman - but still remain as an ordinary Council Member - I will have a little more time to do paid work and can, perhaps, be a little more outspoken than previously from time to time. Award winning journalists need no longer describe me as 'Presidential' - see his latest post - since I'm just a dogsbody these days, and with the extra time, I should be able to make even my own poor garden look absolutely stunning - whoops, sorry!

I'm listening to the cement mixer making the foundations for my fantastic new greenhouse which is coming on 17th August. I can hardly wait! Watch this space, for more news on that one.

This week's film was Hitchcock's Psycho which we haven't viewed for donkey's ears. It still works, despite the notoriety and it's fascinating to see Janet Leigh in light of the ideal Hitchcock actress. He clearly had a sort of a thing about that particular type of gal. The Photographer General tells me that one of the minor roles - Janet Leigh's colleague at the estate agents office - was played by a Hitchcock relative. Once she had explained that, I was mesmerised by the family resemblance. It was as if the portly movie maker had dropped a decade and gone into drag.

This day in 2006 I had gout and watched the Mankiewicz masterpiece, All About Eve, with Bette Davis and George Sanders.

Sorry - far too long a post, yet again, and too much ranting. Pure horticulture next time, I promised!
Happy propagules to all!


  1. There could never be 'too much ranting' in a blog. I love to know what gets people's goat (to use a cliche). I too dispise the over use of words to describe everything and anything. My particular gripe would be bloody text messages which don't even contain a single word, just lots of letters and sometimes even numbers to convey a message. My hubby often has to translate!
    Pure horticulture scares me; I am but a lowly beginner in this big world of allotments and plants.

  2. I get irritated with 'lovely' - seems so lame. I see you have Salvia sclarea var turkestanica. I wonder what you think of its perfume. Last year I posted about the ones in my garden and JAS commented say their smell was reminiscent of a housemaid's armpit!! I didnt like to ask him how he knew but on closely smelling the flowers there was a distinct off smell.

  3. I would never describe any of James' hats as anything less than orgasmic. Perhaps it is about time he posted a picture of the oft mentioned 'suit' so we can practice our verbal arts in our praise (or otherwise) of it.

    I was reading an article in an online paper (Grauniad?) today which pertained to words people disliked because of either the sound or the general 'feel' of them. Pulchritudinous was one and for some reason the word 'moist' was another.

  4. A particularly fine bit of Colborning if I might say so. The combination of aphids,chard, bees, the RHS and the English language in one post is masterful.
    Now you are a former Vice-Pres perhaps you should form a Colborn Foundation with a view to using your experience to do good works. Like the Reagan library or Jimmy Carter poddling about in a carpenter's apron building low cost housing.
    I have just done a quick search and I seem to have used the word Stunning on four public occasions which I hope is okay: I take etymological comfort from the fact that the word is derived from the French 'estonner' as in astonish. I will, however, watch my step.

    I will cop to using lovely quite a lot, Helen, but try to be slightly ironic at least 50% of the time. (By the way the housemaid's armpit thing was nicked from Nigel in the first place: I hope I said so but probably didn't and just took the credit anyway. Now I have been found out and exposed as a charlatan: dash it.)

    Arabella: you are both lovely and stunning.

    Hitchcock was a spooky old goat.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. I think I often overuse the word Amazing, but it's a word I can never get bored of.

    I wonder what people make of made-up words? Fantagasmical is a favourite of mine, a good word to describe this rant-filled blog!

  7. 'Awesome' is another word which irritates... pause for scream. Used by PMN in past posts, I note.

    Off on a slightly different tack is trying to fool the text-message reader on our incoming messages at home, into mispronunciation of the sent text messages. Endless fun. And I'm sure BT and our mobile phone company are delighted.

  8. Talking about vocabulary:- As a matter of fact, in my honest opinion, for what it's worth I actually agree.

    I look forward to pure horticulture but enjoyed your post.

    I was sorry to hear you had sufferred from gout, I am told it is very painful.

    Imagine that pain progressing to every joint in your body over a period of 6 years. Then a chance course of antibiotics for something else and the dibility and pain significantly improves. This leads GP to suspect Lyme Disease and after many months of antibiotics 100% recovery of the patient.

    Then consider that there is a huge medical controversay over diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease one side saying long term antibiotics won't help and you live with the symptoms and one saying they do help and can return bedridden patients back to full health.

    Please read my recent post

    Both parties agree that Lyme Disease can result in chronic ill health and sometimes be fatal. They also agree that if treated on an adequate course of antibiotics at the time of the tick bite then there is a greater chance of avoiding further complications.

    I understand that people trained in horticulture are alerted to the dangers of Tickborne illness but sadly less than one in ten of the general public are aware that this illness can be caught in the UK.

    I wonder if during your writing and presentations you would consider if you can raise the level of awareness amongst us hobby gardeners.

    Such a small ask which can save someone from such devastating consequences.

  9. stunning post Nigel :D

    I have never understood the meaning of the word 'leverage'. So couldn't even mis-use it.

    My heart bleeds for your Leucanthemella - I believe we have already exchanged sighs over this lovely (sorry, but it is) plant. Mine was split into two big clumps (instead of one massive one) this spring so I have plenty here should you require replacements (hope you don't though).

    re Salvia sclarea var turkestanica: I used to grow loads of this. One of its common names is housemaid's armpits (so I'm afraid someone got there before both you and JAS): another common name, which I prefer, is Sweaty Betty.

    Whenever I went weeding among this plant my husband used to insist I went and had a bath before I could sit anywhere near him.

    I can bore for England about bees now, having written two articles about them in the last month. They are indeed more plentiful this year: part of the reason for their decline has been the last two wet summers so (even though we're having thunderstorms at the moment) the heatwave was nothing but good for them.

    can't wait to see your greenhouse!

    sorry to hear about your mum - best wishes for a speedy recovery and return home.

  10. Damn - I've also just done the Colborn-check and found I have used the word stunning once - and without even a hint of irony.

    Is there an amnesty on offer?

  11. I was going to say "stunning post" but then realised it might sound like some form of medieval torture. Perhaps a stunning post could be something you have to bash your head against 100 times before people start to get the point. Personally, I favour "gorgeous".

  12. I see Tim Richardson has written a stunning article in this month's Garden Design Journal about being nearly stunned by a plant falling off Patrick Blanc's new wall in London.

    According to your rules his usage of the word 'stunning' is OK though.

    At the last place I worked, the word 'leverage' was banned, so we had to talk about 'sweating our assets' instead.

  13. Your post has worked I found myself very conscious when writing my last post describing a garden of my vocab. Tried very hard not to use stunning or lovely. Must dust off the thesaurus