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Wells, Somerset

Peter Gibbs hosts the horticultural panel programme from the Bishop's Palace in Wells.

Peter Gibbs hosts the horticultural panel programme from the Bishop's Palace in Wells. Bob Flowerdew, Anne Swithinbank and Matt Biggs answer the questions.

This week, the panellists offer their top three pieces of advice for a novice gardener, advise on how best to level out an uneven lawn, and compare notes on their favourite winter shrubs.

Also, they help a questioner battling with greedy house sparrows, try to coax an old Begonia into flowering, and offer tips on how to make heavy clay soil more manageable to garden on.

Claire Ratinon takes a different view of weeds. Should we just learn to love them?

Produced by Hannah Newton
Assistant Producer: Laurence Bassett

A Somethin' Else production for BBC Radio 4

Available now

42 minutes

Last on

Sun 13 Jan 2019 14:00

Fact Sheet

Q – What three things would the panel suggest to turn a novice into a gardener?


Anne – Separate the landscape from the plants.  For the plants you could collect cacti or succulents, intersectional peonies, bearded irises. 


Bob – Don’t take on too much. 


Q – We have an uneven lawn that I can’t afford to dig up and relay.  I find it hard to spot the hollows.  Do you have any tips?


Matt – You can lay turf on top of the hollows, surround with topsoil, and then scatter seed on top.  Over time you won’t be able to notice the difference. 


Bob – Borrow some geese and let them nibble the grass.  Then you can spot the hollows easily and you can fill them in with soil.


Q – What are your favourite shrubs for this time of year?


Matt – Daphne bholua ‘Jaqueline Postill’.  All Daphnes are good at this time of year. 


Bob – Winter Honeysuckle (Locinera fragrantissima


Anne – Witch Hazel (Hamamelis).


Q – Have you got any advice on how to stop hedge sparrows from eating my runner bean flowers?


Bob – Try putting some bird baths out so they have a source of water. 


Anne – Are we talking about Hedge Sparrows or House Sparrows?  Hedge Sparrows go around on their own or in pairs, and they are the Dunnocks; House Sparrows move around in little flocks. 


Bob – Get an aloe vera plant, mix the sap with water and then spray that on.  It’s very bitter.


Anne – You could grow a dwarf variety like Hestia and that would make it easier to net.


Q – More than 30 years ago my dad bought my mum a Tiger Paw’s Begonia.  How can I get it to flower?  I have had it for thirteen years but had no luck.


Anne – Feed it with a high potash fertiliser like a very dilute tomato feed. 


Matt – You could try Begonia sutherlandii – it is a beautiful flowering Begonia. 


Q – I love Phormiums but on my sunny, well-drained clay they get out of control.  They can reach 5m (16.5ft) in five years.  How can I tame them?  Or are there any smaller varieties?


Bob – The dark-leaved ones are slightly less vigorous than the green ones.  If you put the dark ones in a vase with some Nerines it’s a beautiful black/pink combination.


Anne – There’s one called ‘Alison Blackman’.  Or ‘Sundowner’.  ‘Maori Sunset’ or ‘Mauri Queen’. I dig up and divide them every four years. 


Matt – Try growing them in smaller pots so they’re easier to manage. 



Panel seed suggestions:

Bob – Night-scented Stock or Virginian Stock

Anne – Echium vulgare (Viper’s Bugloss)

Matt – Field poppy (Papaver rhoeas)



Q – How can I make the clay soil in my garden more manageable?


Bob – As much organic material as you can lay your hands on.  Mushroom compost is good.  It will take a couple of years though.  If you’re not growing a lot of ericaceous plants then adding lime will help.  Sand and grit help but they are heavy.


Anne – I’d put some beds on top of the soil


Matt – I use untreated railway sleepers to raise the ground by about four inches and then put well-rotted organic matter on top.  Then I use raised bed for my vegetables. 




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