Some sunflowers yesterday

This year’s sunflowers are a bunch of pansies, a top horticulturalist claimed today. Herbert Catcher, the outspoken chief gardener at Cannabis Hall, made his controversial comment at the annual Tall Flowers conference in Titch-in-the-Marsh.

The well-attended event had started in traditional fashion, with the Secretary of State for Botany and Zoology, Stephen Stamen, making the opening speech, in which he quoted figures for the number of flowers planted this year. But he was slow hand-clapped by some delegates when he asserted that the quality of the current batch of lofty blooms compared favourably with last year’s.

“Compost!” several shouted. “Manure!” yelled others. “Magnesium Phosphate!” was also heard. When Catcher spoke, Stamen came in for more criticism.

“If you compare this year’s crop with, say, 10 years ago,” he said to the packed auditorium, “it’s as plain as the ornamental fishing gnome in my agreeable south-facing garden that standards have fallen. Whereas sunflowers used to grow ramrod straight, nowadays they droop. Not so long ago, sunflowers religiously tracked the sun across the sky – even if it went behind the clouds – but now they can barely keep up no matter how sunny it is. Not only that, but today’s weak specimens are far more susceptible to the attentions of greenfly, aphids and snails.

“I lay the blame firmly at the government’s door. The folly of pampering plants with fancy modern fertilisers is now coming home to roost. And – correct me if I’m wrong – it was this administration that amended the statute book to insist that all seedlings be staked for one month instead of two weeks.”

Catcher went on to propose a motion that special fertiliser-free, stakeless nurseries be created to toughen up next year’s crop.

However, it is not thought that the Minister will be swayed by dissenting voices such as Catcher’s. Among his directorships are positions at Progressive Lupin magazine – a periodical that extols the virtues of serenading flowers – and Bamboo Imports International Ltd., which is responsible for 80% of all plant staking retail products in the UK.