CRAIG BROWN: Slugs in the veg patch? Sack the under-gardener! 

1947 The very first edition of Gardeners’ Question Time is broadcast from Downton Abbey, home to the Earl and Countess of Grantham. To today’s audiences, it might appear very dated in its social attitudes.

The first question from the audience is: ‘I would like to turn over our front lawn to grow vegetables. Can you suggest some low-growing but attractive vegetables we could cultivate?’

Maggie Smith played the Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey

Maggie Smith played the Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey

Home-grown panellist Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, replies: ‘I’ve never heard such nonsense! A lawn is a lawn. Vegetables are for one’s kitchen garden. Whatever next? I suggest you move house.’

She proves equally intransigent later on in the show, when a member of the public asks, ‘What can I do to get rid of greenfly on my rose?’

‘Never let a greenfly onto your rose. It will only take advantage. Next, it will be entering your home through the front door, helping itself to afternoon tea and exchanging vulgar witticisms with your guests. There can be only one solution. Dismiss your under-gardener,’ says the Dowager Countess (right).

Gardeners¿ Question Time (stock photo) has been helping amateur gardeners in the UK since 1947, but the show has changed considerably in format over the decades

Gardeners’ Question Time (stock photo) has been helping amateur gardeners in the UK since 1947, but the show has changed considerably in format over the decades

1957 Fired up by the success of John Osborne’s Look Back In Anger a year earlier, a thrusting new producer argues that Gardeners’ Question Time ‘has grown old and fusty, clinging on to an imperial past’.

Accordingly, he picks an angry young panel of experts, switching the veteran George Cauliflower for 21-year-old Vince Mean, and Lady Primrose Foliage for the caustic Germaine Nettle.

Their first show gets off to an abrasive start. An elderly audience member asks: ‘What is the best time to plant marigolds?’ Germaine Nettle says she really couldn’t care less. Vince Mean replies: ‘This sick and ailing country, still in hock to the fading glories of marigolds! I can’t take much more of this! I’m off!’ — and exits abruptly, kicking over a chair.

The chairman, Jim Riverbank, says: ‘So let’s move hastily on to the next question, please?’ A young member of the audience then asks what slugs the panel would recommend to get rid of daffodils and oakleaf lettuce, causing the chairman to call the session to a close. The experiment is never repeated.

The topic of marigolds was enough to cause a host of Gardeners¿ Question Time to storm of in the 1950s

The topic of marigolds was enough to cause a host of Gardeners’ Question Time to storm of in the 1950s

1967 Swept up in the era of Flower Power and Free Love, the first Gardeners’ Question Time of the new season is broadcast live from Glastonbury. Asked by a Lt Col Robert Montgomery about the best type of hardy perennial to grow in a north-facing plot of land, celebrity panellist Donovan replies that each of us is a flower, and only love will help us grow.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi gave gardeners some abstract advice for their flowers in the 60s on the radio show

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi gave gardeners some abstract advice for their flowers in the 60s on the radio show

From America, panellist Timothy Leary suggests giving the land over to magic mushrooms.

Finally, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi says that it does not matter in what direction the land faces. ‘Do not fight the darkness, let the light in and the darkness will disappear.’

‘That’s all very well,’ replies Lt Col Montgomery, tersely, ‘but I want to know whether I’m better off planting Paeonia Lactiflora or Lavandula Angustifolia, and, frankly, not one of your replies cuts the mustard.’

1977 Keeping up with the times, Gardeners’ Question Time adopts a flashier, less subdued approach.

The first of the new series comes from Crossroads Motel in Kings Oak, on the outskirts of Birmingham. ‘What item of gardening wear would the panel never be without?’ asks a member of the audience, Miss Amy Turtle.

In his first appearance on the programme, the young Alan Titchmarsh, sporting a mullet haircut, says he treasures his wellington boots with platform heels.

Attempting to keep up with the young, the veteran presenter Reginald Periwinkle says he has discarded his trademark sou’wester for a glittery top hat, as worn by Noddy Holder of Slade.

‘And believe me, when it comes to dead-heading the roses, that hat teams beautifully with my lime-green loon pants, that’s for sure.’

TV presenter and gardener Alan Titchmarsh appeared on Gardeners¿ Question Time back in the 1970s

TV presenter and gardener Alan Titchmarsh appeared on Gardeners’ Question Time back in the 1970s

By the end of the 1970s, Britain has become a more divided country, with fierce clashes across the political spectrum.

In a particularly memorable edition, an organisational muddle results in the audience for Gardeners’ Question Time being teamed with a panel of MPs, academics and trade union leaders from rival Radio 4 show Any Questions?

In reply to a question from the audience about the best way to prune a fig tree to ensure vigorous growth, miners’ leader Arthur Scargill demands direct action with the secateurs, not only against fig trees, but also roses, petunias, rhododendrons, carnations and all enemies of a free and democratic garden.

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