Garden Journal - October 1st 2007

Wildchicken Garden Journal - Miranda Hodgson


next journal entry


previous journal entry


See links to all journal entries


1st October 2007 - I have an adventure, courtesy of BBC Radio 4

I had an adventure last week. I took part in a round of BBC Radio 4’s The Garden Quiz. It was recorded at the Museum of Garden History in Lambeth, across the river from the Houses of Parliament, meaning a rare trip to London for Karl and me. I’m still not keen on the place, it was even smellier than I remember it being the last time, but I did enjoy admiring the splendid clock tower, as the low afternoon sun shone on the gilding around the clock. It is a magnificent piece of architecture.

"We chatted for a short time and then the little minx gave me a test, right there on the spot!"

Anyway, to how I found myself in this absurd predicament: a few weeks ago I saw a post on the Guerrilla Gardening website forum asking for anyone interested in entering a gardening quiz to get in touch with this person from the BBC. Before I could stop myself, I’d written in to find out more. There was a delay of three weeks, which felt like a year, and then someone got in touch to see if I was still interested and asked if we could have a chat that day. I gave her my number and she phoned within 15 minutes. We chatted for a short time and then the little minx gave me a test, right there on the spot! Ten questions, I think it was and I must have got enough of them right because she then wanted to discuss dates.


It was only after agreeing on a date that I did a search and found a paragraph on the Museum of Garden History site which made me wonder if I'd done the right thing:


"This isn't just a quiz about double digging and plants with complicated Latin names. Contestants will also be tested on their knowledge of garden history, design and science, gardens in poetry, books and film, in music, myths, legends and fairy tales as well as botany and folklore, art and topiary and more gardening tips than you can shake a pea stick at. So this is not just a quiz for the armchair gardener, it is for everyone"


Oh no, what have I done?!



So, on Wednesday the 26th I found myself at the Museum of Garden History, wondering what I’d let myself in for. The museum is housed in an old church, St Mary at Lambeth, and here you can see objects such as the original Bill and Ben puppets (smaller than I expected), Gertrude Jekyll’s writing desk, a Victorian glass cucumber straightener, a 17th century terracotta watering can (which must have been very heavy when full) and a fascinating assortment of gardening tools and equipment. The displays are kept in wheeled cabinets so can be wheeled out of the way when the space is needed.


Outside was originally a neglected graveyard, which has now been turned into a small garden. Some of the graves are still in place, but much of the space is taken up by a reproduction 17th century knot garden, said to be authentically planted. Around the edges are a variety of shrubs and perennials and they’ve even found room for a few small trees. Among them is a strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), a medlar (Mespilus germanicus) and a golden variegated holly, Ilex x altaclarensis ‘Golden King’, which has been beautifully pruned to form a spiral.


Topiary at the Museum of Garden History

Topiary on a holly - not sure I'd know where to begin on something like this.


Here we saw the tombs of the John Tradescants - elder and younger - and of Captain Bligh of the 'Bounty'. I wondered if the stone object on the top of his tomb was a breadfruit but, on looking it up, it’s nothing like one; they’re more like durians. I suppose it might have seemed disrespectful if it had been a breadfruit.


Captain Bligh's tomb at the Museum of Garden History

Captain Bligh's tomb


Tomb of the Tradescants

Tomb of the Tradescants


So, we had a good look round, inside and out, and then sat about drinking tea for an hour or so, watching a technician plugging hundreds of cables into his sound equipment, while others readied the tables and chairs. After a while, I was approached by a woman who asked me if I was a contestant. It turned out that she was, too, and then another couple of people revealed themselves to be contestants and we ended up with a cosy group of five. More tea was ordered and we sat and chatted together, a bit jittery but quite cheerful. I asked the others when they’d found about the quiz and they all said that they’d known, and had been preparing, since the end of July! That was alarming – I’d only known for just over two weeks and was now wondering if I was going to make a complete fool of myself. Oh well, nowt to be done about it now.


The producer appeared and introduced himself and Anna Ford, who was to ask the questions. It was then that I realised that Anna Ford was one of the people I’d watched carrying chairs earlier on, while I sat drinking tea. The last time I saw her on television was probably somewhere about 1992 and she didn’t have black hair any more, it was solid grey. She sat with the group and talked to us about gardening, which was a very pleasant way of putting herself on our level and removed any scariness on her part. She wasn't scary at all, actually, and came across as a very decent person.


I’d been put down as a Guerrilla Gardener, since that was where I found out about it all, and was happy to play that part, explaining the concept of ‘illicit gardening’ to beautify neglected areas of the community. I had to admit that I’m still looking for someone to Guerrilla Garden with round here and am currently only throwing down foxglove seeds here and there. I asked on the Guerrilla Gardening forum for someone to join me in Scunthorpe or Brigg, but it has yet to happen (if anyone's interested please get in touch!). That could change as Karl has expressed an interest in getting involved. If the two of us start something together, that could get the ball rolling and encourage others to get involved.


When the time came to get ready for the quiz, we sat behind tables in the space where the choir would have been when the church was up and running. We tested the microphones and the buzzers (my first buzzer!), readied our water glasses, were introduced and, one by one, ran through our introductions. I hadn’t even thought about mine, but managed to talk about Guerrilla Gardening for a couple of minutes. ‘Is it legal?’ Anna Ford asked. ‘Ish’ I said.


The quiz setting


Quiz setting

The setting, before the audience were let in - the photos were captured from a movie clip so they aren't very clear, but you get the idea. You can just see me, second from the right, in the pale blue shirt.


We ran through some practice questions and then had a short break while the audience were let in, a hundred or so of them. In came Karl’s cousin, John, and his girlfriend, Rochelle, followed by my twin brother, David, and his Czech friend, Honza. Karl was already there, of course, and had been patiently milling about while we got ourselves ready. Once the audience was comfortable, the producer got them to practice clapping (‘Okay, let’s do it again, louder this time’), which was odd to watch, and then, quite suddenly, it all began.


The introductions were run through for real and the questions started. There were few questions about gardening itself, they mainly covered surrounding areas – lore, history, plant origins, music (awful pop music, it was all stuff I try to avoid and I didn't know the answers), our ‘specialist areas’ – mine was wildlife gardening. The most interesting question, for me, was when a recording of someone describing a plant was played and we had to take turns to identify a plant. They were all plants that were growing in the museum garden so I was glad to have looked. The descriptions were well done and it wasn’t hard to identify Acanthus mollis.


I didn’t really notice the audience, though I couldn’t resist peeking out to look at the people who had come to offer their support – there sat Karl tucked into a corner, David a couple of seats away, grinning from ear to ear. They were leaning over to each other, talking. About what?


As suddenly as it started, it was all over and I was in second place. In some ways it was a shame not to win, but in others it was a relief to think that I wouldn’t have to do any more revising or need to fret about being able to remember thousands of snippets of garden-related trivia. I kept second or joint-first place all the way through and felt happy with what I’d done, considering the short time to prepare for the day. The preparation also meant that I’d learned a lot of new things and remembered others that I thought I’d forgotten.


All in all, it was a good experience. I met some nice people, had an interesting adventure, saw my brother and looked round a new museum. It was a strange dream and I’d happily do it again, if they let me.


At the end of the quiz

After the quiz - we look very cheerful, maybe we're glad it's all over.


Forgot to mention - it won't be broadcast until early 2008. I don't know the date yet, but there will be a series of quizzes over about ten weeks. As soon as I find out, I'll let you know.

© Copyright Miranda Hodgson 2007


back to top


next journal entry


previous journal entry


See links to all journal entries




Garden Article List


Garden Plant Information - Alphabetical list


Wildlife gardening for children


Professional Gardening Service