Sunday, October 14, 2012

Plants Prefer Geordie - It's Official

If Cheryl Cole ever gives up singing, she could certainly become a gardener. So too, if they fall from TV favour, could Ant and Dec. 

I don’t know if our local heroes realise they have the power to make plants grow, but a gentleman from Essex called Chris Bonnett does. He owns a garden centre in Chelmsford and has just announced the result of a very important, if not entirely scientific, experiment.

He divided hundreds of geraniums, petunias, marigolds and begonias into ten separate groups, which he fed and watered similarly, but then exposed to different regional accents. He instructed his staff to talk each group of plants in a specific dialect (which, given they were all from Essex, must have sounded hysterical) and play them music and television programmes from the region. 

Some were played a soundtrack from The Only Way Is Essex and music from Blur and Depeche Mode; others were subjected to broad Yorkshire, in the shape of Emmerdale, Pulp and Kaiser Chiefs; still more were given Mancunian, together with Coronation Street, Oasis, Stone Roses, New Order and Happy Mondays. There was Australian (Neighbours and Home & Away, Kylie and Rolf Harris) and American (Friends, Desperate Housewives, Springsteen and Michael Jackson). Susan Boyle wailed away in Scottish, and Scouse was represented by Brookside and the Beatles. 

Mr Bonnett’s results were conclusive: by far the most successful accent, horticulturally speaking, is Geordie. Plants that listened to the Tyneside accent grew 20% more than their pathetic Manchester cousins; the Welsh dialect was second. 

Apparently a diet of Geordie Shore, Ant and Dec’s PJ & Duncan album, and an assortment of tracks featuring wor Cheryl, encouraged Mr Bonnett’s Geordie geraniums to grow to 33 centimetres, compared to just 26 centimetres for the Mancunians. 

The Scottish plants performed particularly badly, which is not surprising, considering the weediness of Ms Boyle’s annoying voice, which can cause even the strongest stem to wilt, but even less successful were those exposed to what Mr Bonnett calls the Chelsea accent, by which I assume he means the plum-in-the-mouth Hooray Henry voices they use on Made in Chelsea. 

Which is bad news for Prince Charles, of course, who, despite having the plummiest voice in the land, has been using it to talk to his plants for the past 25 years. Back then he was considered a nut: how much weirder he’d have seemed if he’d started haranguing his plants in Geordie. The growth might have been greater, but so too would have been the possibility of him being locked away in the Tower of London. 

Amazingly, after such conclusive proof, the theory that the human voice helps plants to grow still has its doubters. A refusenik from the Royal Horticultural Society dismissed Mr Bonnett’s rigorous research, saying he doesn’t believe “a word of it”. Yet a few months ago scientists from Bristol University found clicking sounds coming from the roots of corn and in 1848 a German psychologist called Fechner wrote a book about how plants benefited from being spoken to (in German, presumably). Most conclusive of all, my Mum, who like all Mums knows everything, has always sworn that talking to her plants is the secret of her green fingers. 

I’ve clearly been saying the right things to the tomatoes in my greenhouse: it’s like a jungle in there. Every day for the last two months I’ve harvested at least a dozen ripe specimens, plus a cucumber a week and as many aubergines and red peppers as our family of three can consume. Now we have tomatoes with everything and there’s no sign of an end to it. 

This morning, as I brought in another hoard, Jo begged me to “Stop talking to those wretched tomatoes – I can’t take another coulis.” But I don’t have the heart not to have my little daily chat with them: apart from the dogs, they’re the only things in our household that listen to me anymore, and they obviously enjoy it. 

So I told Jo to be grateful that I don’t have a Geordie accent, or our tomato mountain would be an awful lot higher. Tomato soup, anyone?

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