cannabis plant
A cannabis plant. Photo: Ste Pagna

A cannabis plant. Photo: Ste Pagna


One plant in 65-year-old Patricia Hewitson’s garden in Exmouth grew to five feet tall (1.52m) without her knowing what it was. So she despatched photographs of it to BBC Radio Devon’s programme, The Potting Shed, and then phoned to follow up. Gardening expert, Sarah Chesters, one of the presenters of the programme, had identified the plant as cannabis.

How the situation arose

Hewitson first became aware of the plant in July when she noticed it “growing amongst the petunias,” which she found useful as other plants had not survived at that particular spot and so “it filled a rather difficult space.” At first, it was very small, around as large as a petunia and with only four leaves. It grew and grew until it was almost as tall as her, emitting “a sickly-sweet pong” and “starting to look a bit suspicious.” She posted a photo to Facebook and asked her friends what it might be, none had any idea and several stated that it certainly wasn’t cannabis. She asked her husband (and this is a man who did botany at university), who responded, “I don’t think it’s anything you need to worry about.”

How did it happen

Chesters suspected that the bird feeder hanging above Hewison’s front door was responsible: cannabis seeds are sometimes found in birdseed mixes and people have often contacted her programme with plants that turn out to be cannabis. In this case, a particular 55-pound (25kg) bag of RSPB bird feed is believed to have been responsible. Chesters commented, “There are so many different seeds in there and very often, you know, one of them might just germinate.” On air, she informed Hewitson, “I’m afraid you are growing an illegal plant.” Hewitson’s response was “Oh dear.”

Call the cops!

Chesters told Hewitson that she had solicited the advice of police, which was that gardeners lacking a licence for cannabis must either destroy any plants or pass them to police. The plant can be destroyed by cutting it up and composting it. The police disclosed that although an offence had been committed, they wouldn’t consider prosecution as Hewitson had acted in good faith.

Cannabis in the United Kingdom

Although in the United Kingdom, cannabis is usually grown indoors with the aid of fluorescent lamps and a controlled temperature, it is possible to grow it outdoors. This is a tropical plant, so the growing season is short: only six to 10 weeks, the height of summer. This cannabis plant requires as much sunlight as possible and shelter from strong winds. Cannabis can grow six inches (15cm) a day, although the norm is one or two inches (2.5 or 5cm).

Obligatory funny endnote

Interviewed by the Mid-Devon Gazette, Hewitson, a grandmother of five, remarked that although the cannabis plant was in full view of passersby, nobody had asked her to sell them any. This would, anyway, not be an option because the plant is male and so does not yield dope.

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