The GQT Panel doing their stuff

The GQT Panel doing their stuff

200 eager gardeners packed the marquee at Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse Museum, Norfolk yesterday. Rather than post my own article answering gardeners’ questions I thought I’d devote this week’s GQT to a report on the real thing!

Well, it turned out to be a fascinating event, especially watching the ‘well oiled machine’ that is GQT in operation. Celebrating its 65th year of broadcasting this year the programme, as chairman Peter Gibbs said, ‘has become a national institution’ attracting some 2.5 million listeners a week. Pleading with the audience not to blame him for the recent weather (for non Brits he’s a well-known TV and Radio weather forecaster as well as a keen gardener), he recalled his time in Norfolk and visiting the Museum with a young family about 15 years ago. He went on to chair not one but two editions of the programme (I’ll give you broadcast dates later). And we were not disappointed with either the range and quality of the questions or the depth and humour of the Panel’s answers.

Earlier I had been involved in a ‘pre recording’ session with some fellow gardeners and the original Museum curator, Bridget Yates. Matthew Wilson and Bob Flowerdew, two of the panelists quizzed us on the history of the place and some of the more recent developments in the gardens. I was mightily impressed with the professionalism of the production team and the two panelists who seemed to conjure an interesting and relevant discussion from the barest of facts – you’ll have to listen in for the full version!

The GQT Team at Gressenhall- from left: Matthew Wilson, Chris Beardshaw, Peter Gibbs, James Wong and Bob Flowerdew

The GQT Team at Gressenhall- from left: Matthew Wilson, Chris Beardshaw, Peter Gibbs, James Wong and Bob Flowerdew

After this I was pleased to have the opportunity of interviewing Matthew Wilson myself, for the online newspaper ‘The Breckland View’. A well known Garden Designer and Director of an historic plant nursery in London, Matthew talked about his (positive) impressions of the Museum gardens and we went on to talk about growing food at home. Matthew believes this is important, not only for the freshness and flavour of the home-grown produce, but as a way for people to ‘reconnect’ with nature in an increasingly ‘virtual’ world. Though his own garden is small, he tries to ensure that his young children are able to experience nature and growing things close up. He seems to be undecided on the ‘GM or not GM’ debate, as frustrated as me on the apparent lack of ‘hard’ evidence to help us decide how to proceed with the urgent business of ‘feeding the world’, though he feels we can still achieve improvements in crops from some of the older techniques of selection and breeding.

The Question time proper featured a dazzling array of questions. The panelists – serial Chelsea gold – winning medallist Chris Beardshaw and ‘new wave’ botanist James Wong  joined Matthew on stage for the first session  – seemed effortless in their answers to questions as diverse as:

  • whether the museum’s collection of historic gardening books and other material is still relevant (a resounding ‘yes’ from all to that one),
  • trying to explain why one poor gardener could only produce some ‘micro rhubarb’ (pencil thin stalks 10 centimetres long) – the ‘answer lies in the soil’ it would seem, specifically the lack of rich, organic matter and the right position, according to Matthew
  • what kinds of veg could be grown in a wet and dismal summer – James came up with some interesting oriental varieties that in a normal hot dry summer would bolt, but in a more dim and damp period would turn out just right
  • selecting some ‘exotic’ but hardy plants for a patio. Chris initially shocked his audience with a suggestion of ‘black negligee and stockings’, but quickly added that these were references to some interesting plants – sorry, the names have eluded me after the initial image he created…!

And I can confirm that, as the programme repeatedly states, the panel were not privy to the questions before they were asked! The audience was very receptive to the ongoing banter and humour between the panelists and seemed to maintain their enthusiasm right through a second session (where James was substituted by well-known Norfolk organic gardener Bob Flowerdew). Chairman Gibbs praised our fortitude and two hours later it was all over! It had been an enjoyable evening and one where gardening colleagues were welcomed from far and wide the gardening Team from Peckover House, Wisbech and Master Gardeners from King’s Lynn being some of the furthest travelled.

The first programme should be broadcast at 3pm on Friday 5th July (repeated Sunday 7th July 2pm) and the second (from a more anonymous ‘Norfolk’ location this one) on the 23rd/25th August. So, tune in to BBC Radio 4 at these times (or try it online via www.bbc.co.uk, on their ‘i player’ or ‘listen again’ facility if you can’t listen ‘live’).

And for anyone within striking distance of Gressenhall this weekend, the Museum has a special interest day on Sunday focused on gardens and gardening, so why not pop along and meet me at the Master Gardener stall, visit the many other attractions on offer and see the gardens, which I must say are looking splendid (but then again I would say that)!

Thanks to Kings Lynn Community Allotment for the photographs

Old School Gardener

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