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British Library

Kathy Clugston and the panel are at the British Library, London.

Kathy Clugston and the panel are at the British Library, London. James Wong, Anne Swithinbank and Bob Flowerdew answer the audience's horticultural queries.

This week, the panellists help ensure tomatoes are perfectly ripe for a horticultural show, discuss what may be going wrong with some fig trees, and debate the best kiwi fruit variety to grow.

They also advise on growing turnips and the best plants for a green roof.

Matt Biggs meets British Library curators Julian Harrison and Maddie Smith who have brought along some horticultural classics from within the British Library archives.

Producer: Darby Dorras
Assistant Producer: Jemima Rathbone

A Somethin' Else production for BBC Radio 4

Available now

42 minutes

Plant List

Questions and time codes are below. Where applicable plant names are listed.


Q – I am going to my first horticultural show in 2 weeks’ time and I have entered into the smallest ripe tomato category. Do the panel have any tips on how to make sure my tomatoes are ripe perfectly in time for the show. (2 minutes 25)


James – Hundreds and thousands tomato plant


Q – Why are orchids generally allowed only one branch? My orchid has loads of branches and roots and at least 3 of the stems have flowers. (5 minutes 10)


James- Phalaenopsis Blume (Moth Orchid)



Q – I have 2 standard figs in pots which every spring start off with healthy leaves and develop plenty of figs. Unfortunately, by mid-summer the leaves start going brown and crispy at the edges and then yellow and fall off and the figs follow. What am I doing wrong? (8 minutes 20)


Bob – Brown Turkey / Brunswick (‘Ficus Carica’)


Q – We have a wonderful book in our collection from the 16th century and it contained dried plant specimens that may well be several hundred years old. Since 2011 I have tried to figure out what they were, they are dispersed throughout the book. I was wondering whether they are stuck in the right places. The book was published in 1583 by Rembert Dodoens a Flemish physician. (11 minutes 25)


Anne – Solanaceae / Hyoscyamus niger (henbane)

Bob – Iris ‘Sagittaire’


Contemporary library books (22 minutes 20)


James – Dr. D.G. Hessayon ‘The House Plant Expert’

Bob - Columella


Q – We have just built a loft conversion and now we are overlooking our grey felted flat roof over our bathroom. We would like to create a green roof. Do the panel have any tips on creating a green roof and what type of plants would you recommend? (24 minutes 30)


James – Moss


Q – I have several small trees in large pots which need a lot of water in the heatwaves. What sort of automatic or manual water system could you recommend? (27 minutes 45)



Correspondence – We heard Bob state on the programme it is impossible to grow and ripens melons outdoors in this country despite what it says on the seed packet. As an experiment we brought a packet of ‘Alvaro’ F1 Hybrid seeds and have grown 2 plants in our allotment.  (30 minutes 20)


I can’t find Osterberries anywhere, I can find josterberries but these are different. Have you ever heard of them? (32 minutes 25)


Bob - Osterberry



Q – I have managed to have 3 plots in an allotment site and one of them is my orchard. I have tried growing this particular fruit called kiwi and I was not successful. It didn’t grow and it died. What is the best variety to grow and how long will it take to have fruits? (35 minutes 05)


James – Jenny ‘Acinidia deliciosa’

Actinidia arguta “Issai” – Mini kiwi fruit


Q – I was persuaded to enter into my local pub’s turnip growing competition. I know nothing about turnips, and I don’t have a garden, so I am currently struggling. Can the panel help me be crowed a pub turnip champion? (38 minutes 35)










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