Radio 4's Plants: from Roots to Riches: This bone-dry botany show isn't going to grow on me
I am not, it has to be said, a plant person. Aside from the palm in my bathroom, which thrives in the face of outrageous neglect, I kill everything green that crosses my threshold.
So I probably wasn't the ideal listener for Radio 4's new mega-series Plants: from Roots to Riches, which promised to "explore our changing relationship with plants since the birth of botany". On the other hand, perhaps Professor Kathy Willis, Head of Science at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, and presenter of this epic 25-part investigation, would help me find my green fingers, or at least instil some sort of interest in plants.
So off I went with Willis to the palm house in Kew, that translucent cathedral to shrubbery, ready to be converted. There she stood underneath a cycad that, she said, was very, very old and very, very big. It's a "massive towering figure" she assured us. "I'm dwarfed underneath it," she added. Crikey, I thought, my head filling with visions of Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors. So I Googled it and found myself face to face with what looked like an oversized Yucca, the houseplant of choice before orchids turned all our homes into boutique hotels.
I tried not to feel underwhelmed. The cycad may not look like much but it is, we learned, the mother of all pot plants. It has been around for 280 million years, survived multiple climate changes and pre-dates most mammals. This one had come to Kew in 1775, when it was already well into middle age. Now it has earned the right to sit in a glass house, like an exotic antique, while people come and gawp.
How do visitors react to their first encounter with a cycad?" Willis asked a volunteer guide. "For a lot of people, the first thing they do is get out their camera," came the reply. I checked to see if my heart was racing. It was not.
After the anticlimax of the cycad came a lengthy discussion about the system of botanical nomenclature as devised by the Swedish taxonomist, Carl Linnaeus. The following day we heard about Joseph Banks, who was a patron of botanical science and a collector of plants the world over.
Banks was apparently a larger-than-life figure, though it was hard to find any evidence of this in his dreary missives about the best way to transport plant specimens and keep them alive.
Clearly, this was no Attenborough series, with a budget to rival the American GNP, and helmed by a presenter with more gravitas than 20 Greek philosophers. And yet try as I might, in Willis's hands, I just wasn't feeling the explosive joy of our nation's plant life.
Perhaps it was her insistence on focusing on the study of plants, rather than their workings, that drained all colour from the subject. Or perhaps it was my bad attitude.
Either way, listening to her bone-dry reflections on botanists past was like leafing through a dusty old encyclopaedia, and it confirmed my long-held suspicion: botany is boring.
By contrast, this week's Desert Island Discs with Doug Allan, biologist, explorer and long-term cameraman on various Attenborough series, effortlessly got the blood pumping.
He told of once being grabbed by a walrus that mistook him for a seal so he hit it on the head and it let him go. "It was only later," he said, "that I was told that they kill seals by putting (their) lips on to the seal's head and sucking their brains out." Now that's what I call nature.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 2 Why this father didn’t hide his daughter’s heroin overdose in her obituary
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
- 5 The most powerful passports in the world
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
Oldest footage of London landmarks released
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove