This morning I walked up the garden to feed the birds in sunlight: this afternoon, sitting down to write this, it was suddenly blowing a gale with heavy rain and thunder and lightning. It's blown the greenhouse door open so I must remember to lock it before the next deluge, not that's there much in there at present – auriculas, sempervivums, sarracenias and potted agapanthus. Of the latter, I hate it when we have to repot them. David and I usually struggle to get them out, eventually taking to attacking them with a knife to force them out. I think it's one of my least favourite gardening jobs.
The garden is suddenly showing signs of life with the hellebores starting to flower, the snowdrops showing colour and the Sarcococca confusa in full bloom. I moved the latter from the top of the garden to nearer to the back door so as to appreciate the perfume but unfortunately find it rather unpleasant. Perhaps my sense of smell is different from everyone else’s, but the perfume smells a bit like gas to me! Has anyone ever grown one from the berries? My friend, who loves to propagate all sorts of things, has so I wonder if it's worth a go.
Reading an old West Midlands HPS newsletter I was struck by an article about winter in the garden. The writer says we are encouraged not to cut dead foliage back but to leave it as it has a beauty of its own when frosted. She disagreed as she says we usually only have a few days when this happens and the rest of the time it just looks awful. I have to say I agree with her, especially this year when we have had incessant rain which has knocked so much down. Still I mustn't complain too much as other parts of the country have had it so much worse than us. On the television news last night it was said that it is expected the floods on the Somerset Levels will last until late February. Can you imagine what the gardens there will look like then and how much will have drowned?
This will be my last Chairman's Newsletter as I step down in March after three enjoyable years. I am sure you will be as supportive to the next Chairman as you have been to me.
Firstly, many thanks to all those who have contributed to this edition of the Newsletter.
This year we have arranged for members to receive a discount at selected nurseries and you will find the list of these on page 9.
Another new and exciting project we would like to undertake is a video record of members’ gardens with the ultimate aim of showing the film at one of our monthly meetings. Mick Dunstan has written more fully about this on page 7, and we do hope that many of you will be willing to participate.
On the theme of getting involved, David Pollitt has written above about this year’s Plant Sale, which hopefully will build on the success of the previous two sales. However, this will only be possible with the help of the members, and it really is true that ‘the more you put in the more you get out’. It certainly was the case for me - I volunteered to man one of the cash desks at the first sale, which was not only fun but also enabled me, as a relatively new member, to get to know some other members better. By taking part and volunteering to help in our various activities you really will get more enjoyment out of your membership.
Finally, copy for the Autumn Newsletter should reach me by 11 October please.
Members are reminded that subscriptions fall due on 1st January each year. National membership is necessary for continued membership of a local or specialist group. Single membership £17, or Joint membership £19, payable by cheque to ‘Hardy Plant Society’ and posted to:-
Hardy Plant Society, 15 Basepoint Business Centre, Crab Apple Way, Evesham, WR11 1GP
This year’s Plant Sale will be held from 2 - 4 p.m. on Saturday 14th June at Peopleton Village Hall. This will be our third plant sale and we are hoping to build on the experience of the two previous ones to achieve an even better result than last year. The commitment of the members in both helping and donating plants to date has been quite overwhelming and demonstrates the enthusiasm and energy at the heart of the Worcestershire Group.
The Hall will be open and the plant reception at the entrance manned from 12 noon on the day. To avoid a last minute rush all plants should be delivered no later than 1.30 p.m. and preferably much earlier. Free tea and coffee will be available to members from 12.30 p.m. with facilities in the hall for people to eat a packed lunch. Please wear lapel badges throughout; these will be available in the foyer as usual.
The team responsible for receiving and pricing the plants will have little time to tidy up the plants and clean any dirty pots so please prepare them at home before setting off. Any additional information such as flower colour, flowering season, height and growing conditions etc. will help to sell them. In any event they should be labelled with either their common or botanical name if known. Please check and remove any unsold plants if you are able to stay until the close. Any plants left on the table at 4 p.m. will be taken to the next meeting for the donated table.
Lists will be put out and circulated at forthcoming meetings inviting members to sign up if they are able to supply plants and/or help on the day. This will assist in planning and ensure that we have sufficient helpers to fill all the jobs. If you can supply plants but are unable to attend they can be dropped off earlier either at my house in Cowsden or at Kathryn Elrick-Smith’s in Worcester. Pots and compost can be provided if required.
Most important of all, though, is to remember to enjoy the day. Yes, it can and will be tiring, but you will experience a great sense of satisfaction and fulfilment when you finally put your feet up and treat yourself to a stiff drink back at home.
Hardy Plant Society members get to find out a lot about plants month by month. It’s one of the reasons we became members in the first place.
We love finding out about other people’s gardens – large or small – and sharing horticultural passions. We like to be inspired and to try new things and new approaches.
So, to reflect that a little bit better, we’d like to weave a new strand in the story of Worcestershire HPS membership – by bringing the facts, figures and pleasures of members’ gardens to the wider attentions of other members.
We already arrange events at members’ gardens each summer – and often visit a wider range of larger and smaller gardens around the country as well.
But here’s how this new approach would work. First of all, we’d like members – and that means you – just to volunteer to be a subject of a garden profile. You can do that simply through our secretary, Judith Doughty – email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or catch her at one of our regular meetings.
We’ll then get back in touch with you, come along to your small or larger patch of paradise and take photographs and videos on the agreed day. We’ll talk to you about how long you’ve been there, what you’ve done, what you’re pleased with and where there’s more to do and how you’ve approached the year-long care of your little piece of Worcestershire, or wherever.
We promise to take things easy so you have the time to say what you want to say in the way you want to say it.
We’d then put together a short presentation – around five or 10 minutes, we think - which we’d want you to sign off. And finally we’d show the results at one of our monthly meetings in Crowle.
We genuinely want to feature all kinds of gardens – floral and vegetable, naturalistic and manicured, bigger and smaller. The best things often come in small packages. To be honest, if you’ve got a garden we’d really like to know more about it.
That’s it for now. Don’t be shy. If you’d be up for it, get in touch with Judith. Once everything’s been completed and agreed, we’d be more than happy to provide you with a copy of the presentation.
To celebrate our Group’s 20th anniversary we are organising a special event to be held at Pershore College on Saturday 12th September 2015. This will be free to all Worcestershire group members. Fergus Garrett, head gardener at Great Dixter, has already been booked as the keynote speaker. Further details will be available in due course.
In summer 2006 I won a raffle prize at a Group meeting; three buff envelopes containing seed collected and donated by our speaker. The first packet was labelled Fritillaria imperialis which I immediately gave to another member who was really keen to try growing these from seed. I am ashamed to say that I can no longer remember what the second envelope contained because, when the seeds germinated, the result was a totally uninspiring shrub. These had long arching branches which reminded me of broom and I found out that it was native to the arid regions of Southern Europe, just the sort of plant that feral goats browse on. My neighbour no longer had her goat, so I mimicked the effect by putting them through the shredder!
The third envelope contained treasure, about half a dozen seeds from a species peony, Paeonia mlokosewitschii, named for the plant hunter Ludwig Mlokosewitsch, who found the plant growing in the central Caucasus and known colloquially as Molly the Witch. I sowed the seed that autumn but by spring 2007 nothing was visible, so I left them to overwinter again and in spring 2008 two seedlings emerged. I know now that in the first winter, although it seemed that nothing was happening, the seeds were developing their radicles ready for year two. I transplanted the seedlings and potted them on a couple of times, but by April 2011 they still had not developed much, so I planted the stronger one out in open ground and kept the weaker one in its pot. This was a mistake, because a year later the open ground plant was doing well but the weaker one died, succumbing to a hard winter.
The next summer, 2012, the only remaining plant had two buds but they never developed. However, last year there were four and after a time I could begin to see the petal colour. It was then that I read an article saying that the flowers of this peony grown from seed could be ‘disappointingly muddy’. I looked at the plant every day and threatened it with the shredder. Had I waited seven years for muddy flowers? I need not have worried, the blooms were a clear lemon yellow, followed by dramatic seed pods, but sadly the seeds were infertile, so I shall have to wait at least another year before the cycle begins again.
The flowers themselves don’t last long but the plant is full of interest over a much longer period, starting with the beetroot coloured shoots which are visible for most of the winter. The young leaves are the same colour and when older retain a wine coloured rim. It also ‘dies well’ in the autumn.
Was it worth the wait? In financial terms probably not, but the plant gives me tremendous satisfaction every time I look at it and means far more to me than if I had just gone out and bought it off the shelf.
2014 seems to have started with another long, wet winter, but gardeners have to be optimists and one of the advantages of being indoors is the chance to read and re-read favourite books. My current pile always contains at least one gardening book and I confess to owning over a hundred, but still seem to find new must-haves. So while scanning my bookshelves, I found myself wondering what makes a good garden writer.
Of course there are different types of gardening books; the practical ‘how to’ manuals, the reference books and books that seek to be inspirational, and therefore garden writers differ widely too and include academic botanists, horticulturalists and journalists. It is the third type of book, the inspirational books that are harder to analyse. To quote Ursula Buchan: “the highly illustrated, large-format gardening book which is expensive to produce, full of dreamy ‘inspirational’ colour photographs and often with a truncated and colourless text” (and I would include the glossy magazines) are tempting but unfulfilling whereas “generally interesting, amusing literary works written by educated, cultured people for the edification of an equally educated gardening readership” are engaging and satisfying.
Looking through my favourite authors on my bookshelves (excluding the manuals and reference books) I find many have written regular articles for journals and newspapers over many years, the books being collections of articles. Others tell the story of their gardens. So who are they and why does their writing retain its appeal year after year?
My list includes Christopher Lloyd, Vita Sackville-West, Margery Fish, Beth Chatto, Hugh Johnson and Monty Don among many others. You notice that many of the women seem to have turned to garden writing later in life, Gertrude Jekyll and Margery Fish at 55, Rosemary Verey at 62 and Beth Chatto after her husband retired and the family had grown, while others are career writers. What unites their writing; is it their background and education, their gardening experience and ability or their personality?
Clearly they write with the intention of being read, rather than keeping a personal journal or record of the garden, in some cases there is a desire to teach and share experience, but in all cases they can convey excitement and a passion for gardening. Most have always had an urge to write, often from an early age. Christopher Lloyd wrote regular letters home to his mother from the age of 9 when he went to prep school, letters full of plant and garden observations. Monty Don is quoted describing himself as “an amateur gardener and a professional writer” and many of my favourites have earned a living and a way of funding garden projects from writing. But I think the key lies in the writer’s ability to observe - Christopher Lloyd again: “use your eyes…..make yourself more observant. So much around you is interesting…” and then have the ability to share their passion with us.
Do you have a favourite author or book? Should there be a book review in the Newsletter, maybe an older book that should not go out of print? Styles of gardening change but enthusiasm is infectious.
A long time ago, when they were still Iris stylosa, my mother gave me a piece of Iris unguicularis, variety unknown, from her garden. It settled in well under our dry front hedge and after a time I decided to split it. One piece went in at the other end of our front garden, and the other to my mother-in-law in South Lincolnshire.
The two in our garden developed a habit of flowering in alternate years (or at least that's how it seemed to me), but that was fine – there were always some of the lovely mauve, beautifully marked flowers to cheer up January. Again, the one under the hedge got too big and congested, so, after advice from the HPS Worcestershire Group, when it finished flowering we (it was now big enough for me to need Colin as reinforcement) dug it up, split it and put back some of the new pieces. At the moment (2 February) there are several flowers, which we can see from the dining room.
The other one has been trying to flower, but the stems were being bitten almost through and the buds nibbled. Alternate years I can put up with; eaten-off buds not. Investigation found the inevitable culprits to be little snails, very likely living in the Cyclamen hederifolium which had self-seeded right up to the iris. So I have been establishing a sort of ‘cordon sanitaire’ round the iris, at the expense of the cyclamen. And I'm keeping an eye on the iris and picking any buds for the house: they don't last long, but at least we, rather than the snails, have the pleasure of them.
Footnote: the piece in South Lincolnshire also got too big and my mother-in-law thought the leaves untidy, so, at the expense of a lot of effort, some bad language (me) and a spade shaft (Colin), we took it out. But she now has four nice pieces down at the bottom of her back garden.....well, Hardy Planters can't waste good plant material, can we?
As you are aware, the Hardy Plant Society aims to stimulate interest in the growing of hardy herbaceous plants and to provide a deeper understanding of such plants. As the result of a generous legacy received in 2009 from Mr Kenneth Black, a one-time HPS member and a gardener with Enfield Council in north London, the Society decided to convert its pre-existing Anniversary Bursary into the Kenneth Black Bursary, and to develop a broader provision for projects which support the Society’s charitable objects.
The Society offers a number of small bursaries to allow the benefactors to take up an opportunity that they would otherwise not be able to afford without assistance. There are two types of bursary - one for college/university students who are studying subjects relating to horticulture (but not necessarily restricted to hardy plants), and one for younger horticulturists (under 30) who are in employment. The awards are principally to provide support for travel and subsistence, they are not competitive, and there are no deadlines. Full details are available on the HPS national website www.hardy-plant.org.uk.
Awards have recently been given to Walsall Arboretum perennial garden to replant part of the woodland wildlife learning garden with perennials; and to two students – one to continue on her course at Pershore College, and the other to help fund a trip to New Orleans to investigate the impact of natural disasters on native flora.
If you know an individual, or are aware of a project, which would benefit from some financial help, please do not hesitate to contact the Kenneth Black Co-ordinator or email email@example.com.
Last year I made a fatless fruit cake for two of the coffee mornings and several people asked for the recipe. It is useful for people like myself who have problems with their cholesterol. It freezes well.
Fatless Fruit Cake
5 fruit infusion tea bags (any flavour)
10 fl oz boiling water
1 lb mixed dried fruit
7 oz brown sugar
9 oz SR flour
1 large egg, beaten
1 Soak tea bags in water for at least 6 hours (or overnight)
2 Squeeze out tea bags and add liquid to the dry ingredients
3 Add the beaten egg
4 Mix well and pour into a greased and lined loaf tin
5 Bake at 160°C/Gas 4 for approx. an hour and a quarter. Cover with greaseproof paper for the last half hour to prevent top from burning.