The village hall has seen a little commotion. Has the vicar again cheated at the beetle race? Has Hartley’s jam replaced Miss Perkins’ fabled homemade jam? The worst part is that Gardeners Question Time – a Sunday afternoon staple – has been exposed to be a cover for racist views.
Ben Pitcher, a sociologist, suggested in BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed program that Gardeners’ Questions Time is a “solution to the crisis of white identities” and, as such, “layered, saturated with racial significance”. He highlights the discussion of native and non-native plants as an example of more overt forms of “othering”.
This sober, earnest radio program unleashed a hailstorm and tsunami of malted milk biscuits that were sputtering in teacups. Bob Flowerdew, the presenter (with a title like that, he could not have another job), described such suggestions as ” ridiculous.” Stefan Buczacki was “speechless” after writing in The Daily Mail. Is the BBC radio show a bed full of roses, or is it a blight on the garden?
The terminology of all specialist discourses, whether horticultural or not, is based on metaphors. Few are more dependent than my field of linguistics. All those technical grammatical words that are so troublesome began as simple metaphors. For the Roman grammarians, a conjunction was simply a word that joined two sentences together (con-function), and an interjection is a literal word thrown in between other words (intersection).
The Darwinian discourse of the 19th century gave rise to a new anthropomorphic discourse that described language in a way that allowed for its birth, death, and suicide. It also included language families, sister languages, mother tongues, and native languages. These terms have a long history, but they can lead to a lot of confusion, such as the idea that the “death of a species” is the same thing as the death of a language. We need to use terms that make sense to communicate with each other. And who wants to dig up the language landscape when it doesn’t harm anyone?
It is true that, in some cases, this type of metaphorical use can be problematic. Also, it can be hard to know where the line should be drawn. Stephanie Hackert demonstrates convincingly in a recently published book that the idealized “native speaker’ has influenced what models of language are acceptable to us at the expense of others. It affects real people’s social and professional standing, and this is important.
It’s true that “native” plants are easier to understand for the average person than “autochthonous”, but it is still not a good idea to remove them, whether by root or branch. Leave Gardeners’ Questions Time alone. This is fantasy radio in the hothouse world.
The Review Show (God bless its non-literal spirit) was not something I would watch on a Friday night after a few drinks to find out what to read. Gardeners’ Questions Time allows us to return to the mythical cottage gardens of our great-aunts for a brief moment, much like The Review Show let us pretend that we were pontificating undergraduates wearing polo shirts. This is pure escapism.
It’s August; I’m on vacation, so please leave my chateaus and croissants alone.