If you tune in to BBC Radio 4 this afternoon at 3pm you will have the chance to listen to a panel of experts answering gardening questions as diverse as whether it’s possible to plant a tea plant in the UK from which to make a cuppa, through to tips on how to let off steam in the garden, including giving a good stir to the compost bin!
There isn’t much these gardening experts don’t know about plants, with today seeing 75 years of the programme we know now as ‘Gardeners’ Question Time’.
Anyone tuning into the BBC Home Service on 9th April 1947 would have enjoyed the very first episode, originally called ‘How does your garden grow?’. The programme was inspired by the wartime, ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign, which encouraged families across Britain to dig up their flower borders and lawns, replacing them with vegetable patches.
Shortly after the war began the Ministry of Food realised that with enemy U-boats attacking ships bringing in much of the food imports Britain had been relying on, it was up to everyone to do what they could to be self-sufficient. Before the war Britain was only growing enough produce to feed one of three of the population – the rest was being imported. And by the end of 1940 some 728,000 tons of food making its way to Britain had been lost as a result of enemy attacks.
Unlike many foods and other commodities, fruit and vegetables were never rationed, but it’s fascinating to note that it was only when the war ended that some children saw a banana for the first time. In November 1940, the then Minister of Food, Lord Woolton, ordered a complete ban on the import of bananas as the tropical fruit had to be transported in refrigerated ships, which were needed for the war effort. Citrus fruits were also scarce, with a news item in the Bexhill Observer in February 1946 reporting that queues formed when a small quantity of lemons and oranges were suddenly available at the local greengrocer’s shop.
And so people across Britain were encouraged to ‘dig for victory’ not just in their back garden, but using any waste ground, railway edges, ornamental gardens and lawns, sports fields and golf courses. By 1943, the number of allotments had roughly doubled to 1,400,000, including rural, urban and suburban plots.
And having grown a wide range of fruit and vegetables people could draw on advice from the Ministry of Food about how to make the most of them. Recipe ideas showed how the imaginative use of vegetables could help to compensate for meat and dairy products, which were all on ration. The humble onion became a national favourite!
Our love of allotments and self-sufficiency is as vibrant as ever, with greenhouses and polytunnels helping people to grow many types of fruit, vegetables and flowers, that at one time wouldn’t have been possible in our challenging British climate. So, with gardening of every kind continuing to be a firm favourite with British people – young and old – it’s the perfect time to celebrate with this 75th anniversary of a programme that helps listeners through a maze of gardening tips.
So, if you have little more than a sunny window ledge, or a couple of indoor plants, or even if you have no garden at all, you can still delight in learning about the wonder of plants by joining some two million listeners this afternoon. Put your feet up, enjoy a cuppa and be inspired!