Newsletter Autumn 2016


From the Chair…

The days are shortening, there is a nip in the air and dew on the grass in the morning. Autumn is here and I’m sure we are wondering what winter will bring after two mild ones with hardly a frost. It has been a strange growing season with a wet, warm start bringing everything on quickly, then colder and the succession of opening stalled, with finally a long spell of drought. My apples have suffered from lack of water, but most perennials seem to have coped and the garden is still colourful as I write this in mid-September.

As always, not all my plans have come to fruition (particularly the bank along our drive which still needs much work), but I have been busy elsewhere, improving paths and trying to take a critical look at plants that have been in the garden a long time to see if they are earning their keep. Several shrubs, a lilac and a large clump of Leucanthemum have already been shredded whilst clumps of hardy geranium are, at least for now, a more manageable size!

I try to go round my garden with my camera at least once a month and over the winter I will be going through hundreds of photos and looking back to previous years. If you have photos of your garden you would like to share or feel like writing a piece for the Newsletter we would love to hear from you.

This has been another busy year for the Worcestershire Group with a full programme of garden visits and talks. Our celebrity lecture this year was given by Diarmuid Gavin who told us about his ‘mischievous life making show gardens’ and previewed his Chelsea design for an English eccentric’s garden. He is a very entertaining speaker and it was great to see the real thing, complete with Chelsea Pensioner!

The Plant Sale was our most successful to date and is gaining quite a following from the public who know that we are selling good hardy perennials. A big thank-you to all involved.

It may be hard to believe, but my 3yr-term as Chairman comes to an end next March and I wish my successor well. Who that will be I don’t know yet, but I would encourage anyone to volunteer to help on the Committee as we need a Chairman, a Programme Secretary and a Speaker Secretary. Julia who organises the tea and cakes at our meetings is always looking for helpers too and it’s a great way to get to know people.

It couldn’t be a better time to get more involved as 2017 is the 60th anniversary of the HPS. Of course we are looking to Chelsea, with our team already busy with designing the stand and growing a special selection of plants. In addition there will be a number of gardens open to the public as well as HPS members’, starting with Margaret Stone’s lovely garden, opening in February for the snowdrops. And for next year’s celebrity lecture we have invited HPS President, Roy Lancaster to join us in September, and along with other speakers, lunch and plant sales it should be a day to remember.

I’m looking forward to it all….and I nearly forgot to mention that David Pollitt is taking us on another garden tour, this time to Devon.


Alan and Sylvia Hale

In a recent letter, Alan and Sylvia Hale sent their best wishes to those members who still remember them. Due to the vicissitudes of age they are unfortunately no longer able to attend meetings but will retain their membership in order to keep in touch via the newsletter.

Alan recalls the days when meetings were held in Drakes Broughton and is gratified to see the strides the Group has made in the intervening years. The present strength of the Group is, of course, due to the contribution made by those like Alan and Sylvia who regularly attended meetings, brought plants for the plant sales table, wrote in the newsletter about the creation of a new garden in Mickleton after moving up from the South and, if that wasn’t enough, also hosted a memorable coffee morning. So, thank you, too, Alan and Sylvia for all you have done for the Group.

David Pollitt

Jenni Rolls

It was with sadness that we learnt earlier in the year of the unexpected death of Jenni Rolls. Her friend, Alison Houghton, wrote the following appreciation for the newsletter:

“Jenni enjoyed the HPS talks and always looked forward to visiting other members’ gardens. She had a gift for garden design and over many years her corner plot was carefully developed. She planted a lovely Beech hedge, Ginkgo biloba, Liquidambar, Silver Birch, climbing Hydrangeas on the house wall, cordon pears and many other choice plants.

“Brick-built, unusually high raised beds were added when Jenni's back problems became worse. Help with moving heavy pots and compost meant that there was still a colourful welcome at her front door.

“Jenni was an excellent cook and enjoyed entertaining friends. Her allotment (used until last year) and greenhouse provided fruit and vegetables to last all the year.

“Jenni had many interests and many friends who will miss her very much.”

Summer Garden Party

The days prior to this year’s Summer Garden Party, generously hosted by John and Vivienne McGhee, were marked by torrential downpours with intervals of lighter rain. The day of the event, 14th June, was no exception and there was every expectation that the party would be called off. Intrepid gardeners that they are, John and Vivienne decided to defy the elements and press ahead. Around twenty-five members braved the weather and turned up to enjoy the delights of the garden and a delicious spread of offerings brought by the members.

Those who attended a coffee morning at Half Acre in Aldington some years ago were immediately struck by the changes in the garden. The large willow on rising ground to the left has been removed and replaced by a densely planted mixed border topped by a group of three Betula albo-sinensis. Just beyond this stands a spectacular pavilion, designed and built by John, which offers not just shelter but a commanding view over the garden. Earlier problems associated with the rill have been overcome and the long adjoining border substantially replanted. The area to the right, around and beyond the greenhouse, too has been developed and planted with choice ornamental trees and perennials. The dividing hornbeam hedge has matured and screened off a highly productive fruit and vegetable garden featuring raised beds, again built by John.

The borders throughout are filled with interesting and, in many cases, unusual plants and faced with such a treasure-trove it is impossible to select any particular ones for mention. Vivienne herself particularly enjoys the view of the lawn sweeping up from the house, with the borders on either side, leading to the pavilion which she and John enjoy using. The garden is immaculately maintained throughout and it is clear that an immense amount of work has gone into creating and maintaining what has truly become a gem.

David Pollitt

Coffee Morning at Lyn Maile’s Garden

On a rather dull March morning I made my way along very narrow lanes to Lyn’s garden near Norton. Her husband, Christopher, had done a sterling job making arrangements with the neighbours to ensure that cars could be parked off the road without causing any inconvenience to through traffic.

I was directed round the side of the garage to the rear door outside of which were several vegetable plots and a large fruit cage, all these being bordered by colourful Primulas. Lyn’s house is well off the road which ensures peace and tranquillity but the main feature has to be the breathtaking view in all directions from the top of the grass bank. Even on this dull day there was a lovely view of the Malvern Hills which must have been an even more spectacular sight on a sunny morning.

There are several mature trees in the garden planted by the previous owner with Lyn and Christopher adding to these with a small copse near the bottom of the garden under-planted with Daffodils and Bluebells. Naturalised Crocus flowered in the grass beneath trees near the top of the slope and spring bulbs were looking good in all the beds which contained shrubs and various herbaceous perennials. Going round to the front of the house I was met with an abundance of colour with Scillas, Daffodils and, in a more shaded area, Hellebores of various colours.

Coffee and a sumptuous selection of cake waited for us in the house where we were able to sit in the conservatory and again take in the overwhelming view.

Thank you, Lyn and Christopher for inviting us to see your lovely garden.

Leila Mantle

Malvern Spring Festival

The Worcestershire Group were at the Malvern Spring Festival again this year to promote the HPS and this year the planting display was a courtyard garden designed to feature plants belonging to the family Ranunculaceae to bring attention to this Special Interest Group. Even with so many Ranunculaceae to choose from it was challenging to find a good range of these plants in flower for the Show as some, like the hellebores, flower earlier and others, delphiniums and aconites, bloom later in the year, but we did manage to persuade two early flowering clematis to scramble up the picket fence at the back.

It was perhaps some of the smaller plants that caught the interest of the visitors, the Anemones and Anemonellas in particular. Anemone nemorosa ‘Vestal’ is a real show-stopper having a large flower with 6-7 normal ‘petals’ surrounding a button-like centre of narrow staminoids. A.n. “Frenzy’ has bizarre violet-centred green and white flowers backed by a green ruff collar. Anemonellas are small, clump-forming tuberous perennials with ferny foliage and small clusters of flowers in spring. Native to woodland in eastern North America they like humus-rich soil in partial shade. A. thalictroides ‘Cameo’ was a favourite with delicate single shell-pink flowers, and A. thalictroides ‘Green Hurricane’ is an oddity with loosely double greenish flowers with white-centred twisted petals.

Ranunculus gramineus ‘Pardal’

A graceful plant for the front of the border is Ranunculus gramineus ‘Pardal’, a lovely form of the grassy-leaved buttercup that is found in Southern Europe and North Africa. It has delicately fringed butter-yellow flowers above blue-green foliage. Dormant in summer after flowering, the new growth appears in autumn and it needs full sun and a well-drained soil.

We also included information about the seed distribution and local group activities. This was the first year we had opted to be judged to RHS standards and were delighted to receive a Silver Medal. Many visitors to the show stopped to admire and enquire further about the HPS and over the four-day show we signed up ten new national members.

Next year the Malvern ‘Team’ will be very busy with preparations for Chelsea, so if we are to maintain an HPS presence at the Spring Festival we will need additional help from members. We would aim to just provide information about the HPS on display boards, perhaps with a few specimen plants for decoration. Please speak to any of the committee if you would like to be involved.

Jan Vaughan

“Surprised”, a Garden to Visit in Late June

Sometimes you are pleasantly surprised when you least expect it. Last June, we dashed down to Cornwall as we needed photos for a talk. As we had a short time to spare before our journey home we decided to visit Godolphin Garden, a fairly recent acquisition for the National Trust, (NT). It is an unusual garden, very different to a ‘normal’ NT- type garden. It is very relaxed with a definite wild feel, but that is not to say not cared for. The house dates from the 1600s but is used as a NT holiday let so is only open on certain days. However, the stables and the King’s Room are open and the old ’Piggery’ has been converted into a small tea room. Parts of the house have been demolished over the years and the ruins just add to the romantic atmosphere. The Godolphin family made their money from copper and tin mining and the estate is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The gardens are a rare example of a medieval garden and were designed, as was the house, for visitors to be entertained royally. I found it a very refreshing garden with the air of being real, not over renovated or even immaculately kept. Some NT gardens feel like sterile parks, but there is none of that feeling here. You almost get the feeling that the owners have just popped out and you are being allowed to wander whilst waiting for their return. In the Side Garden, several long borders were filled with Iris latifolia, the English Iris. I believe it was ‘King of the Blues’, a rich dark blue, under-planted with a powdery-blue hardy geranium. The combination of the two blues was stunning and a very pale pink old fashioned rose was threading its way through, giving a little highlight here and there. The mound of the geranium foliage softened the stems of the iris, hiding the rather unattractive leaves, a perfect combination. Aquilegia had obviously flowered earlier and the occasional foxglove was adding an extra vertical accent.

The English iris was also planted in another border but this time combined with yellow loosestrife, the flowers picking up the yellow splash on the falls of the irises, both glowing in the sun. Simple but striking, but then a blue and yellow combination is usually a winner!

The King’s Garden is a 16th century privy garden, rather special, being completely enclosed. The old stone walls, adding to the feeling of antiquity, were full of pennywort and ferns on the shadier side while the south-facing walls were home to bee boles filled with traditional woven skeps. The bees were buzzing and the perfume from the old-fashioned sweet peas was a pleasure for the senses.

Irislatifolia is from north-west Spain and the Pyrenees and found in damp grassy places. It is called English Iris because in the 16th century Matthias de l’Obel saw plants growing in England, near Bristol, passing this information onto to authors such as Dodoens and Clusius and the name has remained, very confusingly! It is a bulbous iris, which is planted in the autumn, with long leaves which appear in the spring. The flowers are large, with often two to each bract. The general advice is not to let them dry out too much in the summer and they will flower towards the end of June.

I have tried growing ‘King of The Blues’ here in grass but unfortunately they did not survive, a combination of the heavy clay and the very tough grass which is mostly couch. However, I have seen them naturalised in grass but the conditions are usually vastly different from mine, impoverished soil and the introduction of yellow Hay-rattle to depress grass growth. I tried yellow rattle but the couch won, so will have to persevere with that challenge. Being determined to try again especially as books often say “easy to grow”, I have planted ‘King of the Blues’ in a mixed border where the clay has been “tamed” to a certain extent. At least it has had copious top dressing over the years. So we will see if they perform as well as they were at Godolphin, fingers crossed.

Godolphin’s information leaflet is titled ‘A Door into the Past’ and I couldn’t agree more. It is near Helston and has some breathtaking views from the top of the hill, allowing you to see both the south and the north coast – weather permitting!

Jill Whitehead, Aulden Farm, Herefordshire

This article first appeared in the newsletter of the British Iris Society’s Beardless Iris Group and is reprinted with the kind permission of the author.

Coffee Morning at Douglas and Becky Dale’s, Thursday 8th September 2016

Douglas and Becky’s garden is a 6-acre oasis of calm in the City, rus in urbe, and our thanks are due to them for enabling us to share it with them for a short while when they hosted the Group’s late-summer coffee morning. While many gardens are looking a little tired in early September theirs was vibrant with colour thanks to clever succession planting and the terraced, south-facing borders were densely planted and full of interest. The intricate parterre by the greenhouse was a precision work of art. To complete the rural idyll, Becky’s family of over 80 ducks, hens and geese picked over the windfalls from the many fruit trees planted in the water meadows running down to the river. One could quite easily have spent the remainder of the day gazing out from the terrace over the billiard-table lawn in front of the house, mesmerised by the automatic cordless lawn mower, one of Douglas’s favourite toys. Thank you both, not least for the brilliant weather you organised.

David Pollitt

HPS Garden Open

As part of the HPS 60th Anniversary celebrations in 2017 a number of gardens will be open to members of the public as well as HPS members.

Margaret Stone will be opening her garden at the beginning of the year on Sunday 12th February from 11am to 4pm when her snowdrop collection will be in flower.

Many of us will have visited Margaret’s lovely 1.5 acre garden with hardy perennials grown informally in mixed borders but, in February, the main interest will be spring bulbs, in particular her snowdrop collection.

Admission £3. There will be teas available and plants for sale.

Access for wheelchairs/mobility scooters. No dogs.

Directions to Brockamin, Old Hills, Callow End, Worcs, WR2 4TQ: On the RHS of the B4424 on an unfenced bend. 0.5 miles S of Callow End, turn off into the car park signed Old Hills. Walk towards the houses keeping right.


Do make use of this column to source that plant you have been looking for, making a token donation of £2 to Society funds. So far there has been a 100% success rate – thank you, Leila, your Rudbeckia ‘Green Wizard’; it is growing away well.

Judy Pollitt is hoping that someone will have successfully established Tulipa sprengeri and can spare a few bulbs.

Coffee Morning at Roger Smith’s, Pershore, 20th July 2016

Reports on coffee mornings often make reference to cold, wet weather. The 20th July turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year. A representative band of members nonetheless attended and those who succumbed to the heat or were on grandparental duties or just on holiday missed a treat.

Unlike many of our gardens, Roger’s is based on a master plan implemented some twenty years ago. The plot is well proportioned and generous, the ground rising gently away from the house at the rear. This area is divided roughly into two halves. That nearer the house is landscaped on a symmetrical rectilinear grid with brick edging marking out a series of small beds with gravel paths between. Recently planted yews and pyracantha will, with time, create a parterre effect.

The upper part of the garden is screened by curved box hedges and is approached through an arch with climbing hornbeam and copper beech. Passing through the arch you enter an oasis of calm. The landscaping here is softer and based on curves. An immaculate nearly circular lawn demarcated by low brick walls gives the overriding shape. (Might it also serve as a practise ground for Roger’s putting skills?) Mature trees isolate the garden from neighbouring properties and it is easy to forget that you are in fact in a built-up area. A miniature roof garden has been created on the garden shed and whilst a handy ladder invited closer inspection I did not see anyone taking the opportunity.

The borders are richly planted with an interesting variety of perennials, the combination of Physocarpus and Lychnis coronaria being particularly striking in one corner, and specimen trees such as Catalpa and Cercis were also noted.

The working part of any garden betrays the owner’s true passion for plants and Roger’s revealed his. The greenhouse was packed with a whole range of plants in propagation

and a series of outdoor boxed frames contained yet more.

No HPS coffee morning is complete without the opportunity to gorge oneself on home-made cakes and Roger’s wife Anne and helpers had risen to the challenge with a mouth-watering offering. Our thanks to Roger and Anne for hosting such an enjoyable event.

David Pollitt

The Road to Chelsea

I was hoping to have some good news on our application for a stand inside the Flower Marquee at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017. Alas, like all well laid plans things do not always work out to our timetable. HPS Worc’s Group’s application was completed online for RHS in the middle of August 2016. At the time of writing we are still waiting to see if we have a space allocated. However, the good news is that I have been able to secure sponsorships from two outlets. There will be more on this and the stand design in our Group’s Spring 2017 Newsletter. In the meantime Mick Dunstan has provided some photographs to prove we have not been idle since our last report. This coming November, Linda Marsh will be looking for volunteers prepared to grow on some Allium bulbs. Thank you for all those who have given generously with donated plants, their time looking after plants and other tasks associated with Chelsea 2017.

John McGhee – Chelsea 2017.

Five Minutes with …. Robin Pearce

Worcestershire Hardy Plant Society member Robin Pearce is chair of the RHS Herbaceous Plant Committee and former chair of the Dahlia Trials Forum. He’s been talking to MICK DUNSTAN about dahlias, hostas and rock-climbing…

Hi, Robin. I think most of our members will know you, first and foremost, as the owner of World’s End Nursery at Hallow. But that’s all behind you now.

Indeed. We set up the business back in 1994 but the nursery is now closed – my wife, Kristina, and I retired last May, we had a sale and that’s it. We will have to sell the nursery but we have no plans at the moment. I’m continuing with a lot of my committee work, which takes up about a day a week, and we would like to sell this place and move at some stage. After we married, about 11 years ago, we created our garden here. It’s as much Kristina’s as it is mine.

So, is the nursery just empty space now?

Well, I’ve got a Noah’s Ark of two of everything that are gathering weeds at the moment. I don’t know what I’m going to do with them but I’m sure I’ll find somewhere to plant them.

Looking back, did you choose this site specifically?

I was living in a bungalow just down the road and finding it difficult to find somewhere I liked. I spoke to the people at World’s End to ask if I could rent a few tunnels until I got set up. They came back and asked if I’d consider buying it. Looking back, it was a bit of an error of judgment really. It wasn’t big enough for what I was doing – it’s only four and a half acres. We moved in in 1995 when my two daughters were quite small – they’re 24 now - and it was an exciting time.

How did you start off?

We were selling to garden centres, marketing a product in 10cm pots called Border Companions. That was our brand. They were perennials and we had a range of ornamental grasses as well. I’d buy plug plants and get something into garden centres quickly. After that, we started propagating, developing our more niche products. We planted plants in that first October and then, in April, we thought we’d better try to sell some of them. I went to a place with a garden centre with a mock-up of our packaging. They rang up a few days later saying they were at Malvern Show in a few weeks and could we supply however many hundred trays. That happened on the day we were moving in so it was a bit chaotic. Eventually, we sold more to garden designers and historic gardens and so on.

But you made a go of it for 20 years or so?

We eventually developed the whole site and employed about 10 people – 16 during seasonal peaks. By then we had a vast range of plants, far too big really for a wholesale nursery. The catalogue had 200 grasses and 1,500 perennials. Most nurseries have a range of up to 500 cultivars. Upwards of 2,000 isn’t very sensible. It’s quite difficult to make much money out of growing plants. I like to think of it as more of a lifestyle choice. I am a plantaholic. I just buy plants, exchange plants. I can’t resist them. It’s an affliction.

What were your best-sellers?

When we started, it was lupins and delphiniums. The main reason is that they always get eaten by slugs and people have to buy them again and again. As time’s gone on, things like Verbena bonariensis, which you can never grow enough of, and heucheras took over. If a plant was at Chelsea, orders came flooding in. Hosta June always did well.

Any thoughts about a good compost?

The problem is there’s a lot of misinformation. Peat is one of the biggest resources we have. It’s totally sustainable, being created all the time, faster than we can use it up. Some of the alternatives – including bringing coir from Sri Lanka – use a lot of energy. One peat-free compost that is worth looking at is Melcourt. I used the nursery grade and that’s really very good.

When did you get the gardening bug?

I’ve liked it from childhood. I can’t remember not having a garden. I had my own little plot when I was four and we moved to Worcester. I took over the garden when I was about 12. My biggest mentor was my grandfather’s brother-in-law, who was a blacksmith who also had a market garden. I stayed with them sometimes during the summer holidays. I remember at an early age being fascinated by red hot pokers and I’m still keen on them.

You’re on a few national committees.

I’m chair of the RHS Herbaceous Committee – when they were forming the RHS Centre at Pershore I went to a few meetings and, before I knew it, I was on the steering committee for it. That led on to so many other things, including the dahlia trials. I’ve been on that now for 28 years. I have been judging dahlias for years, exhibiting at the national pompom dahlia championship three times running in London. I don’t seem to be slowing down either. I’m vice-president of the Dahlia Society as well.

Tell me about your own garden.

I get so much pleasure from the garden, which is about three-quarters of an acre. It’s my third and it’s expanded a lot since Kristina and I got together. We’ve a lot of conifers and an almost complete collection of podocarpus, which you rarely see in gardens. Kristina collects hostas - she had more than 500 at one time - and geums and we have a substantial collection of ornamental grasses. Nothing’s actually been planned here though. It’s just sort of evolved. When we used to go to nurseries now, we always took Kristina’s car because it’s smaller and you couldn’t can’t get so many plants in. It’s hard to tell you what I like about it, easier to say what I don’t like. Everything is in the wrong place for a start. I do like other things – quite passionate about rock-climbing which I’ve done all over the world - but it is so easy to be consumed by horticulture. I have a large veg garden as well. I’m very much looking forward to my fourth garden.

• If you’re an RHS member, you may have seen Robin’s piece on this year’s dahlia trials in the September issue of The Garden. One of the pot-grown varieties to gain an Award of Garden Merit was Dahlia Happy Days Pink. Of the field-grown varieties, Dahlia Ocean Bird flowered well and will prove a winner with flower arrangers, he says.

Compost Views

We’re trying to decide whether to repeat the bulk compost project exercise we launched this year.

Around a dozen or so members bought bags of Fertile Fibre multi-purpose and seed compost –voted the UK’s best compost in recent trials conducted by Which Gardening magazine.

By ordering more than 56 bags of the compost, we negotiated a 50 per cent price reduction, down to £8 a bag. Fertile Fibre now say they’ll offer us the same deal in 2017.

So we went back to some of the people who bought it last time, to see what they thought. Our treasurer Roger Smith said “I really hope we order the same compost again! I ordered seven bags last time and would be happy to order the same again.

“I supply seed to HPS and order seed from both the HPS and RHS at very reasonable prices. This year I used the compost and followed instructions for growing from seed given by Rob and Diane Cole at one of our lectures. I had an excellent result with many more plants germinating and growing on to be potted on and growing until planted out or given away! Some of the surplus will be on sale at our monthly meetings!”

Chairman Jan Vaughan was equally enthusiastic. She said “I was a little sceptical at first. But I have been delighted with Fertile Fibre's multipurpose compost this year. I’m a compulsive propagator and take a lot of cuttings and divisions of perennials throughout the growing season and all have rooted quickly in this lovely, light compost.

“It does not become compacted and, unlike the early versions, it retains moisture and is easy to re-wet when watering is irregular. I have used it for repotting more mature plants too and they grow away quickly. I will definitely be placing my order next year.”

Member Pippa Hawkins said “I’ve been very happy with the compost. It certainly seems to be good for root development. I’ve had a cucumber growing in it and it has done very well. I have also had a couple of pots with geraniums etc which have grown well. I will be pleased to have more next year.”

Group secretary Lyn Maile’s views were similar too. “I will certainly have the compost again. I had virtually 100% germination with the seed compost and my pelargoniums loved it. It was also lovely to handle.”

So, we’ll try it again. We’ll be taking orders in February and hoping to get to the magic, 56-bag target. Watch out for more details next year.

Mick Dunstan

Plants and Playgrounds

As Mick said just before we arrived at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park ‘It is a public park’. Arriving from the north to go to our starting point at the Aquatics Centre meant going through bits of Park and past the Westfield Shopping Centre and other modern, usually rectangular, buildings. In stark contrast, the Park’s Aquatic Centre and Velodrome are curved and elegant.

The Park is enormous, but there are smaller spaces within it. The planting in the Three Gardens of the World is on a grand scale, but much of the effect is achieved by using a relatively small number of types of plant, repeated. The plants are not prima donnas or high maintenance: thalictrum, veronicastrum, helenium, penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’, eupatorium, monarda and cephalaria are among those used. They are given a ‘Chelsea Chop’ and then cut back in early winter with no other maintenance.

Where else might you see two groves of Prunus serrula and a grove of silver-stemmed birch? Most of the trees in the Park are obviously still ‘coming along’ and it would be worth seeing them again in a few years’ time. There is a lot of ‘wildflower’ planting. The whole Park, though obviously new, does not look raw. Twenty-three staff sounds a lot, but there are a lot of acres to look after.

A fountain with jets coming up from the ground was the first ‘playground’ we saw: others were designed around more conservative equipment or other less obvious things like upright logs. One was simply three horizontal wooden circles on springs – a little boy, barefoot, was having a whale of a time there. One area had working handpumps, sand and rocks – a sort of seaside. All the playgrounds were busy.

The Great British Garden is more intimate, tucked down. We were disappointed in the planting but the hedges and small woodland trees are home to a lot of birds. We enjoyed trying out the horizontal sundial designed to be stood on with information about how it shows the time.

Further north the spaces are larger and we were more aware of the wide walkways which would be inhospitable in rain or wind. Work meant we couldn’t follow the river all the way along, but those paths are quiet and we enjoyed the open ones.

Quite near the Great British Garden, by a bank of orange eschscholzia, footpath bridges cross the river in an ‘S’ shape. The bridges’ undersides, v-shaped, are reflective. People, the river, the eschscholzia, bushes appear and disappear and change shape in them. An unexpected playground.

Myddelton House Gardens might once have been E.A. Bowles’ ‘playground’, but they too are now a public garden, owned by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority.

I have to confess to not being too fond of island beds so was a bit disappointed to see some straightaway. But the ornate conservatory went down better, especially as it was raining at that point. Bowles regarded the Pond as where his succulents went ‘for their summer break’ - Eastbourne perhaps, and there are still a lot of very cheerful and well cared-for succulents there and in other parts of the garden.

The large greenhouses are in splendid condition and the Peach House still houses finely trained and flourishing fruit specimens. We really enjoyed these and the Kitchen Garden with its teucrium hedges. The ‘Irishman’s Shirt’ pillar and wall are fun, but the Rose Garden round the old Enfield Market Cross seemed a bit sad. It has a formal shape and we couldn’t decide whether it was now meant to be more informal or whether this is an area which the gardeners haven’t been able to keep up.

No crocuses now, of course, though Stella had seen them, snowdrops and daffodils looking wonderful in February when she did her ‘recce’, but Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ was still in flower.

So, thank you, Stella, for organising a very interesting day.

Judith Doughty

Please Spare My Pratia!

For over 20 years we have had grass - under the apple trees, somewhere for children to play and for sitting. It is uneven, full of moss and weeds, but for the most part green!

Now my husband wants a lawn, and he’s armed himself with a box of ‘Weed and Feed’ and some new grass seed. My warnings about a scorched earth look and expensive food for pigeons are falling on deaf ears. But my biggest fear is that I will lose Pratia pedunculata, the blue star creeper.

I bought this plant years ago from Beth Chatto, but try as I might it did not want to grow in a flower bed. Then it decided to naturalise in the grass and it is wonderful. The RHS lists it as invasive with a tendency to form dense mats of ground-hugging prostrate stems and advises treating it as a garden thug, but its tiny blue flowers shine like jewels in the grass and are irresistible to bees and butterflies. So if my campaign to save this little gem is successful who knows, without the nasty coarse weeds, what other plants could be introduced to colonise ‘the lawn’. When I visited Mary Keen’s garden this spring her orchard was a picture with crocus, snowdrops and narcissi in abundance under old apple trees. Now where’s that bulb catalogue!

Jan Vaughan

The Valued Volunteer

New members joining any organisation, and ours is no exception, frequently complain that the membership is not very friendly. It is true that, tied up with our own group of friends, we often fail to approach a first-time visitor or new member and offer to make them welcome. One way for the newcomer to make his or her mark, of course, is to get involved in the Group’s activities straight away. The Group is not run by paid professionals but exists solely on the efforts and sacrifices of its members and there are many ways in which an extra pair of hands can be deployed. (And they do not have to be new members’ hands either.) It could be something as simple as helping set out and put away tables and chairs or helping with the raffle or assisting with the attendance register. One area that can always use help is the kitchen, serving refreshments, and the donation of a nice home-made cake is guaranteed to win you friends! Rotas are put out at each meeting and Julia Dale or Andrea Bolton will usually be around to talk to you.

So, new or old, please do your bit – VOLUNTEER and WIN FRIENDS!

Barnsdale’s New Winter Border

Almost thirty years ago, I was fortunate enough to work as a Production Assistant on Gardeners’ World when Geoff Hamilton was the programme’s presenter. Last autumn, those of us with connections to Geoff and Barnsdale were asked by his son Nick if we would like to contribute to a new winter border – one with year-round interest - being created to mark the 20th anniversary of Geoff’s death. The answer was yes, but with what? I couldn’t think of anything in my garden that would be worthy of inclusion. I consulted with my friend Christine, who worked on Gardeners’ World for many more years than me, but she didn’t know what to offer either. After a few months of inertia, we put our suggestions to Nick. One of Chris’s choices had already been pledged, but our other ideas were enthusiastically accepted and so in April, with Stephanie Reader for moral support, I took our plants to Barnsdale. Delivering them was a surreal experience. Nick kindly emphasised that what made our plants special was that they came from our gardens. That was of some comfort but it still felt odd. I had selected a sedum because I could vividly remember Geoff splitting a clump of ‘Autumn Joy’ (‘Herbstfreude’) on one of the programmes I worked on. I also took Phlomis russeliana because it is a tough, no-nonsense plant; and Primula hybrids that had started from seed dropped from the bird table. I think Geoff would have liked that; he was always a frugal gardener. At the time of our visit, the new area had been landscaped, and bare-rooted shrubs and trees had been planted, along with 9,000 snowdrops. There was still a way to go.

The new border was formally opened in August by Carol Klein, who put in the final plant – a Lamium Orvala - from her own garden in Devon. Chris and I found our plants close to one from Alan Titchmarsh! After lunch, we joined Nick Hamilton on a tour of the gardens, before wandering around on our own for a couple of hours. The original gardens created by Geoff have changed only subtly since his death, and they still very much reflect his spirit and style of gardening. There is much to see at Barnsdale and as always it was a trip down memory lane for us. We now have the perfect excuse to keep going back: to check on the progress of the new border - and our plants!

Jayne Savage

2017 Garden Tour

Next year’s garden tour will take us to the West Country. Departing on Sunday 25th and returning on Thursday 29th June we shall be based in Tiverton, visiting gardens in Devon and surrounding counties.

As so often one is spoilt for choice when selecting gardens to visit and those chosen represent a contrasting mix of larger gardens which open to the public and several smaller, privately owned gardens, each with its own special character. The venues include some excellent nurseries and there will be plenty of opportunity to buy plants (subject to space on the coach!). The pace will be fairly leisurely with time to sit and ‘live’ the gardens, talk to the owners and enjoy tea and cakes in good company.

After a coffee break on the outward journey we will visit Chisenbury Priory, a medieval priory, its garden created by former owner Mary-Ann Robb (of Cothay Manor) with later borders designed by Tom Stuart-Smith. We then call at Westcroft Garden in Boscombe, (opportunity to eat a packed lunch), a ‘wilderness’ garden and home of plantaholic Lyn Miles. Before leaving for Tiverton we will also visit the more manicured garden at nearby Cottage in the Trees.

Gardens on our itinerary having reached Tiverton include Marwood Hill Gardens near Barnstaple, RHS Rosemoor, the Garden House (previously visited in April 2010), Keith Wiley’s the Wild Side, Bickham House near Exeter, High Garden Nursery and garden and Burrow Farm Gardens.

The final day of the tour will offer an opportunity to revisit Cothay Manor, this time in full summer splendour. (It was a cold wild day when we visited on our Cornish Spring Tour in 2010.) The trip will conclude with a visit to the Margery Fish Garden at East Lambrook Manor.

Accommodation has been booked on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis at the 3-star Best Western in Tiverton. The hotel has been inspected and the accommodation is modern with large rooms. Based on two sharing, the cost of the tour is £395 per person* with a single room supplement of £80. This includes accommodation, breakfast and evening meal at the hotel, lunch on all except the first day, admission to the gardens, coach travel and driver’s gratuity. Refreshments are included at most of the venues. There may be some minor adjustment to the cost as one or two venues have yet to fix their 2017 prices.

To book, please print, complete and return the booking form and return to me with your deposit cheque for £75 per person. The balance will be due by the end of March 2017. Bookings will be acknowledged by email, where applicable, and updated lists of participants will be posted on the notice board at meetings. In the event of any queries please contact me on 01905 381739 or by email to Please note that travel insurance is not included and members are urged to make appropriate arrangements.

Non-member spouses, friends and relatives are welcome but in the event of the tour being oversubscribed priority will be given to Group and HPS members.

* RHS members may deduct £9.00.

David Pollitt

2016 Plant Sale - Report

The gardening calendar is always crowded in June and the 11th was a date we had to share with Pershore College (Plant Sale) and the HPS’s Geranium Group’s AGM and Geranium Day. So it was rewarding to see how well supported the Sale was, both by our own members and the general public. The combined efforts of the new Publicity team of Jayne Savage and Stephanie Reader clearly bore fruit and a major achievement was a short notice in the day’s Telegraph announcing the event.

Plants started to arrive in a steady flow soon after 12 noon. The reception team of Judy Pollitt, Wendy Richards and Leila Mantle was kept busy for the next two hours and by opening time at 2 p.m. the tables, ranged all round the hall, were groaning with an amazing array of tempting plants. The customers began to appear in numbers soon afterwards. Many came with a clearly stated purpose, clutching boxes and carrier bags and for the next hour or so the two tills were kept busy as the tables rapidly emptied. By the close at 4 p.m. only a handful of plants was left, a testimony to the efforts of our enthusiastic and knowledgeable sales team and the mark of a highly successful day.

John McGhee’s plant supports, too, proved popular and he found himself putting up the SOLD OUT sign quite early on. Julia Dale had gathered together a hard-working team of volunteers to man the kitchen, offering hot drinks and a mouth-watering selection of home-made cakes. It was gratifying to see how many customers, having loaded their cars, returned to enjoy their teas and a chat. Jan Vaughan produced display boards and promotional information and a number of visitors took away HPS literature and membership application forms. Marilyn Wrightson manned the entrance to meet and greet visitors. She reported that, while many had attended previous sales, for a considerable number this was their first visit. The event is clearly building momentum and we can hopefully look forward to a growing following in the future.

The primary aim of the sale is, of course, to raise funds for the Group and this year’s takings generated a record £ 860. (A big ‘thank you’ to everyone involved for that.) At the same time, the sale boosts the Society’s profile locally (and, thanks to the Telegraph, this year nationally) helping to recruit new members. Further, it enables us to pass on some of our enthusiasm for plants and gardening and share it with others. And lastly, it is an activity that draws the membership together in a common sense of purpose and can even be fun!

David Pollitt

Some Irish Inspiration

I remember reading that Diarmuid Gavin was scheduled to be speaking to the Middlesex HPS group on 9th April. So, had he double-booked himself for our Annual Lecture at Pershore College on that same day? Thankfully, it turned out that he hadn’t – he was actually giving the same talk twice in one day! Perhaps not such a surprising scenario regarding the erstwhile enfant terrible of the horticultural world. Fortunately, Diarmuid didn’t let down the approximately 200 HPS members and visitors, and just managed to arrive in time to give us a very entertaining and lively account of his ‘Mischievous Life Making Show Gardens’, speaking for almost two hours. In reality, he talked about a lot more than show gardens.

Diarmuid’s talk was centred on what inspires and stimulates him to create his distinctive style of gardens. He began by talking of his home background and early adult life. A significant point was the impression made on him by a neighbour’s garden in Dublin that was full of gnomes and broke all the safe gardening rules followed by everyone else (in other words a riot of colour, forms and objects that stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb). This was gardening for fun and one’s own enjoyment. Whilst he was at college he learned that all garden styles develop for a reason, but he wanted to be different. He wanted gardens to make people think as they had done in the past when gardens either represented something specific or were fun, e,g. the water spouts in Italian Renaissance gardens.

Diarmuid had the desire and the drive, as well as a good helping of Irish charm and luck, but he had to endure several difficult years of hard slog, no money, or even a home at one point, before he was able to hit the big time. It was amusing to hear how innocent he was about the process of being selected to show at the Chelsea Flower Show, but he got there by hook or by crook in 1995. That first Chelsea garden he and his friend made was relatively ‘normal’ and they were awarded a Bronze medal. The following year Diarmuid pushed the boundaries but part way through the build he realised the garden wasn’t a success, and it was not awarded a medal. Although this seemed like failure, after this he was lucky enough to start a parallel career in television.

Diarmuid was back at Chelsea again in 2004 with a garden featuring coloured balls and a steel pod amongst other things (awarded a Silver Gilt medal), the first of several successful show gardens, including a Gold medal for the Irish Sky Garden exhibited in 2011. All of his gardens have been controversial in one way or another, but have certainly made people stop and think and discuss. Surely, that is a success in itself.

I visited Chelsea in 2004 but I can’t say I was bowled over by Diarmuid’s garden at the time. However, I have to admit that now I would like to have a small ‘glade’ of those coloured balls located in an area of the garden hidden out of immediate sight so that when you turn the corner there they are to surprise. Not quite on the same scale as a Chelsea show garden, but an element of fun, and a talking point. I know we are not all cut out to be leading edge garden designers, but over the years Diarmuid has tried to encourage us to be bolder and more adventurous, to put fun things into our gardens and to make them a place that really represents who we are and what we want, not what other people want or expect.

On the whole I’ve never been one for contemporary styles of gardening (although my comment above shows there are signs that I am slowly coming round), so I wasn’t that bothered about going to hear Diarmuid speak, but I’m so glad I did. I found him to be an interesting and informative speaker, there was plenty of humour, and his honesty was refreshing (he is very self-critical as he pushes constantly for perfection, and is not afraid to admit that some of his designs have not worked). Knowing more about his background and what he is trying to achieve put his work into context for me, even though I might not like some of his ideas. Moreover, it has made me start to re-evaluate what it is I want out of my garden, and how to take inspiration from lots of different sources. For me a surprisingly inspiring and enjoyable talk.

Kathryn Elrick Smith

Putting You – and Us - in the Picture….

With any luck, Worcestershire Hardy Plant Society will now have launched its very own Twitter account.

It’s part of our expanding presence on social media – we’ve had a Facebook page for about a year now.

The people who should know say Twitter and Facebook will help us put the Group on the map – and make the most of our presence at next year’s Chelsea Flower Show.

So, we’re giving it a go - and we’d like your help. Twitter allows you 140 characters plus pictures or video. It works best when it’s full of genuine posts from genuine people – not corporately produced pieces of PR perfection. In other words, when it has the real stuff that people like to hear about.

We’d like Twitter to help us get noticed by people who share our love of gardens and gardening. Current pictures of plants in their full glory, alongside the name of the plant, are one thing they love. Or photos of lovely horticultural places or garden projects you might have seen.

We’d like you to become the horticultural version of the BBC Weather Watchers, whose photos we see on the daily forecasts. We have lovely gardens and great plants that look their best for most of the year. Twitter is favoured by younger people – so we’ll be sowing seeds among potential future members.

We’ll also use Twitter to announce other things - details of meetings and group news for example, as well as details of our Chelsea adventure.

So, I’m asking you, from time to time, to remember to get out your cameras, smartphones or iPads, when you see something you like. Take some smashing garden pix, including a few close-ups, and email them to me with a few words of explanation. I’m at And that’s it.

You’d be helping to get us noticed, across Worcestershire and further afield. I look forward to your contributions. I’d be glad to help with any queries– just email me or call me on 07739 944785. Many, many thanks for your help.

Mick Dunstan

Some Future Highlights

Details of our members’ programme for next year are almost complete.

The big event of the year will be in September when our annual Celebrity Day at Pershore College has been expanded to include three speakers.

Heading the list for the day-long event is HPS president Roy Lancaster, who will be talking to us about his new autobiography, which is due out next April. Next year is the 60th anniversary of the national Society and his appearance is one of the few he will be making in the Society during the year.

Also arranged to speak to us on the day are Derry Watkins – who runs Special Plants nursery in Wiltshire and has been named as one of the Daily Telegraph’s new plant gurus – and Julian Sutton, from the small but exquisitely-formed Desirable Plants nursery in Devon. Watch out for more details in coming months.

Kicking off the year in fine style is Tim Richardson, whose subject will be Gardens of the Oxford Colleges, the subject of his latest book.

In May, we’re joined by Jack Willgoss, from the new Wildegoose Nursery in Shropshire, which specializes in perennial violas. They featured in one of the behind-the-scenes excerpts shown during the BBC’s Chelsea Flower Show coverage last year. There’ll be plants on sale from them as well.

And, for now, the final speaker to mention is Marina Christopher, who runs Phoenix Perennial Plants in Hampshire and has a following of committed gardeners including Dan Pearson and Piet Oudolf. She concentrates on unusual and interesting cultivars and varieties and supplies some of the top garden designers with more unusual plants for the Chelsea Flower Show. Her writing includes the book Late Summer Flowers.

In the autumn, colour combinations will be the focus when Julie Ritchie from Hoo House Nursery, near Tewkesbury, calls in to see us. Coincidentally, Roy Lancaster wrote a piece about her business in the RHS magazine, The Garden, in May this year.

And to round off the year, for our Christmas meeting, we’ll be finding out about Plants that changed the Course of History – from author Bill Laws. He’ll be talking about 10 plants from his book Fifty Plants That Changed the Course of History – including poppies and cannabis. Bill contributes to Radio Four’s Ramblings programme.

Mick Dunstan

Notice of Annual General Meeting

Notice of Annual General Meeting
to be held on Saturday 11th March 2017
at Crowle Village Hall at 2.00pm


  1. Apologies for absence
  2. To receive and adopt minutes of the AGM 12th March 2016
  3. Matters arising
  4. Chairman’s report
  5. To receive and adopt the accounts of the preceding financial year.
  6. To transact any other business of which at least 21 days’ notice has been given.
  7. Election of officers
  8. Election of Committee – Please use the slip in this Newsletter to nominate someone as a committee member. Please obtain their permission first and send or give the slip to the Secretary.
  9. Elect an independent examiner of the accounts

Committee Vacancies

Several Committee posts will become vacant by rotation in 2017 and nominations are invited for the following:


The main duties of the Chairman are to lead the monthly meetings and chair the Annual General Meeting, Committee meetings and Extraordinary General Meetings. He or she will further co-ordinate Committee members' work and help and advise them if asked or if considered appropriate.


The Treasurer manages all the Group’s financial affairs and prepares regular reports for the Committee as well as annual accounts for external examination and presentation at the AGM. He is also responsible for collecting membership subscriptions working closely with the Membership Secretary.

Speakers Secretary

The main duty of the Speakers' Secretary is, working within an agreed budget, to select and book speakers while aiming for a broad mix of plant and gardening-related topics. He or she will liaise with other committee members to ensure availability of the hall and provide publicity material. An archive will be maintained for future reference.

Programme Secretary

The Programme Secretary co-ordinates the overall programme which comprises indoor meetings, coffee mornings, garden visits, an annual summer garden party, a plant sale, a biennial garden tour and participation at major garden shows. The job entails forward planning and working closely with other committee members.

He /she also runs the monthly raffle.

Detailed job descriptions can be provided by the Secretary, Lyn Maile.

Data Protection Notice

Under the Data Protection Act you should know that your name, address, e-mail address and telephone number are held as paper records and/or on a computer file for administrative purposes. No personal information will be disclosed to any organisation or person outside the Group without the member's permission, except to compare data with that held by the Hardy Plant Society National Administrator. If you are concerned about the methods used to store your data please contact the Secretary, Lyn Maile.