Sandy’s Garden ... Where have all the flowers gone?

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

“Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?”

“Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?/Where have all the flowers gone?/Young girls have picked them everyone/Oh, when will they ever learn?/Oh, when will they ever learn?”

This is the first verse of a song written by the American folk-singer Pete Seeger, a song which he wrote in 1955, was released on vinyl … who remembers vinyl? … in 1960, was first published in 1962 and was subsequently covered by many singers, both famous and little-known. Seeger’s inspiration for the song is said to have come from the traditional Cossack folk song “Koloda-Duda”, from a translation of which Seeger had jotted down these lines: “Where are the flowers, the girls have plucked them. Where are the girls, they’ve all taken husbands. Where are the men, they’re all in the army.”

As you can see, gentle reader, the song has nothing to do with horticulture and, indeed, was listed by the New Statesman magazine in 2010 as one of the Top 20 Political Songs. But the opening line sprang to mind at Polmont Horticultural Society’s Annual Show on Saturday past when, it must be admitted, the number of floral exhibits was disappointing, although there was nothing wrong with the quality of those that were there to be admired. The reasons for this scarcity of blooms are not hard to find. The August gales took their toll on any garden plants which had had the temerity to grow to more than a few centimetres above ground level; there go the chrysanthemums, the gladioli, a lot of dahlias, plenty of roses – the list goes on and on. Of course, many of these species recovered somewhat: but the damage had been done and blooms which were worthy of the show bench were hard to find.

And in my own garden at least, lower-growing flowering plants which escaped the ravages of the gales have been ready prey to the seemingly-endless army of snails which have kept up a relentless invasion of my property all summer long. Chemical defences against slugs and snails have undoubtedly reduced the invaders’ numbers: yet the invasion forces seem to have the power to keep reinforcing their advance guard, with the result that there are precious few undamaged low-growing blooms which would catch the eye of a show judge.

But, while the summer of 2016 has not been a good one for the flower-grower, there is a more disturbing long-term trend in evidence. I missed this story when it appeared in the Sunday Times last year. “Britons may consider themselves to be green-fingered: but the number of flowers in the average garden can now be counted on the fingers of one hand, a study has found,” the article began, continuing with the news that, “The average British garden contains only four species of flowers, which generally include daffodils, crocuses, roses and tulips.” Apparently, despite the number of garden centres to be found nationwide, a study by retailer Alfresia.co.uk found that four Britons in every ten regard their gardens as places in which to relax, to sunbathe and to hold barbecues rather than as decorative settings for their homes. And yes, I do enjoy relaxing in my garden, preferably on a balmy late afternoon or early evening, soaking up the late sunshine while sipping contentedly on a gin and tonic. But, while I think I am past spending long hours in back-breaking horticultural toil … which I never really enjoyed even when I was a lot younger … I do like to relax in attractive surroundings. So yes, I still grow quite a lot of flowers and yes, I am rather concerned by the study’s findings that an interest in horticulture is declining and that the time may not be far distant when many people will be asking, “Where have all the flowers gone?”