A Bumper Crop of Experts

Conspiratorially, Red's nose approached a mere spider's leg from one of the lethal barbs on the wire between our plots: "I'll tell you something," he said. "If you promise not to repeat it."

I promised. I can, however, tell you what he added; he says it often: "Way I see it, what harm is there in someone giving you a wee bit of advice?"

"No harm," I always reply.


I am not sure why Red, in his mix of Canadian and Scottish speech patterns, reiterates this conviction. But I do know that plot-holders, like the world, divide into Those Who Advise, and Those Who Are Advised.

A newcomer, I'm naturally of the second species. Red, as a plotter of innumerable decades, is naturally of the first.

But he likes to be asked. "Red, what kind of carrots grow best?" "Red, ever seen anything like this? It's meant to be a cauliflower." "Red, when do you pick your beans?"

"Advice," wrote Lord Chesterfield to his son, "is seldom welcome; and those who want it the most always like it the least."

I disagree. The plots provide splendid opportunity to pick brains. The long-timers are bursting to pass on their wisdom. Monty, Joe Gallagher, and Big Ted advise freely. Monty and Joe need to be invited. But Big Ted, after initial prompting, liberally dispenses counsel: opinionated, sage, idiosyncratic, sometimes self-contradictory.

We have a radio program in Britain called "Gardeners' Question Time." It's been on for eons. Experts fend off queries as best they may. You'd imagine that such a pedagogic format would result in educative insights beyond compare. But you never actually learn a thing because if one pro says: "Prune your gooseberries in June," another says: "Prune 'em in June, you'll never have fruit again." One says, "You can't grow paradise flowers in Britain to save your life." Another says, "I've been growing them for years without a failure." This is probably what producers and editors call "balance."

We also have "balance" on the plots. Take leeks. Red advises: "Trim the roots and leaves before planting." Ted says: "No, no. I never do that. If nature intended leeks to have long leaves and roots, there must be a good reason."

So what is a man seeking truth to do?

Red gives advice even about this: "Way I see it, listen to what people say. And then watch their plot."

And I have noticed that the advisers give out less advice at harvest than at planting time. I asked Joe yesterday how his onions were this year.

"They're rubbish!" he exploded.

But it's not his fault. His excuse? "The rain. Too much." And rain is something about which no trustworthy advice can be given.

SOMETIMES, advisers also deftly forget what they advised. In spring, Monty strongly told me the raspberry canes growing wild between Jim and Fiona's plot and mine were "useless. No good. Throw them out."

Fortunately, I didn't find time before they began to fruit - producing the largest, most succulent raspberries, with a flavor like mythical nectar.

I told Monty the other day. "Oh good," she said airily, as if she wondered why I was telling her.

And what if the advisers are offered advice? "Mind your nose," I warned Red.

His look suggested his nose was his concern.

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