2020 has certainly been an eventful year and not one that any of us will forget in a hurry!
The Covid virus has highlighted many gaps, inequalities and issues in all our societies around the world. It has also separated us from family friends and many activities we all enjoyed and perhaps previously took for granted. Conversely we have seen a lot of dedication, kindness and consideration - often from unexpected quarters.
What should have been a celebratory ‘Anniversary’ edition of your newsletter with reports of Ireland, trips and parties has become more of a ‘Lockdown’ edition. We will hopefully have had our Spetchley gathering by the time you read this so fingers crossed for a fine evening and thanks to Mick for planning in such changeable times.
During these strange post lockdown times, it is interesting to reflect on the beneficial effects our gardens have brought us this year. Regular gardening has helped many of us with our routines, purpose and brought a sense of normality and tranquillity when so many other activities and contacts have been curtailed. We have several different lockdown stories from members about their experiences over the past few months including those who run a nursery, or are trying to sell a nursery!
There are thoughts about garden visits during the ‘new normal’ providing a welcome relief even if they are a little different to pre-Covid. Easier times are recounted in a trip earlier this year to New Zealand. The regular ‘Five minutes with’ features the town garden of member Primrose Upward. There is a message from the chair, as well as updates on the Irish trip and the HPS conservation scheme. Sadly, we also include an obituary of member Brian Varley by his wife Carol. Some members will have known Brian as both a founder member and first treasurer of our group. It was lovely to read about his interesting life and career.
I hope that everyone has enjoyed their gardens this year and now taking some benefit from the current easing up of restrictions. Stay safe.
These are challenging times for us all; since March we have had to adapt to living in ways we could never have imagined a year ago, our lives have been disrupted and our normal activities curtailed. The Committee of the Worcestershire HPS has faced some difficult decisions over what we could do safely in our planned programme; several meetings and events have had to be postponed until next year. I am pleased that we have been able to hold the outdoor meeting at Spetchley Park and this will give you the opportunity to meet friends and renew acquaintances. I look forward to seeing you there.
Throughout history there have been periods of rapid change but there is also continuity. This crisis has accelerated the use of technology - we have held two committee meetings on Zoom. During the lockdown we all became dependent on our telephones and computers to keep in touch with friends and family.
Our gardens have provided the continuity in our lives. In the spring the bulbs flowered as usual and the trees blossomed, now it is the autumn and we have fruit and vegetables to harvest. The natural world continues regardless of our human disasters. I have enjoyed hearing from you about how your gardens have helped you cope in isolation; gardeners are optimistic people, so let us look forward to better times in 2021.
I usually open my garden for the NGS – or try to.
The first event, a snowdrop day in February, was exceptionally wet. The second was a daffodil day and the forecast was good. It was Sunday March 22. I rose early to a beautiful morning and read my emails. There was one from the National Trust, sent at midnight, informing all volunteers that the popularity of NT gardens on the Saturday had given rise to a feeling that the public may not maintain a social distance as carefully as they should so all gardens would be shut on the Sunday (Mothering Sunday). Would the NGS have made the same decision? I scanned their website carefully but nothing had changed. Much relief! I went out to put up road signs. Extra chairs were put around the garden (well-spaced) and the necessary yellow signs (Private, Please be careful, etc.). The tea-things were set out and cakes ready as I had devised a plan for serving teas at a ‘social distance’.
Then, at 9.30, I had a phone-call from NGS – they had decided to cancel the day’s openings and the insurance. I had just needed a few more hours; the weather was lovely and Old Hills Common filled up with visitors (far more than usual). I went out to remove all the road signs. When opening time came, I had one visitor, Jan Vaughan, unaware of the cancellation. We walked around the garden and I was pleased to have someone to relax with and talk about plants; we were both convinced that opening could have been safe.
The following day ‘lockdown’ was declared. Initially, it had little impact on me, although I was disappointed that all my usual meetings had been axed. The weather was so good that I could not be miserable. I would wander around the garden admiring each new flower and taking lots of photographs. After a few days I felt the desire to go further and wandered out onto the common. Years ago I used to walk there frequently but had not done so recently. The views were magnificent, everything was fresh (a succession of blossoms, fern croziers, new leaves on oaks and chestnuts, bluebells) and often I saw no one else on the hill. For some time I enjoyed a daily walk but rain finally came and then restrictions were eased and the public returned in increasing numbers so I became lazy.
Early in lockdown I was tidying and propagating Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, of which I have a Plant Heritage National Collection. I potted up dozens and then had to water them throughout the drought. They grew quickly and were thirsty!
I made a real effort to tidy my collection of Geranium sanguineum, which was becoming engulfed by invading plants, and then started photographing them. Sadly, I did not get good images of them all and did not get around to the Geranium macrorrhizums (the weather got too hot for me and then there was rain) so I have unfinished business for 2021. I enjoy collecting different varieties of one species and the succession of collections marks the seasons in the garden.
It has been an excellent year for flowers, including roses and phlox. I spent many evenings last winter working on a new edition of Jennifer Harmer’s HPS Phlox book, adding more plants and introducing photographs; it is now Border Phlox. Work continued into lockdown and the first proofs came at the beginning of May. I had no spring holidays and no Malvern Spring Festival to stop me from checking them and it was just as well because there was a lot to check!
As I write, there is no knowing how coronavirus restrictions will affect the remainder of the gardening year. I should have had an open day in June but cancelled it. The next is set for September 22 but will that happen? I shall aim to open again next year with similar dates, again dictated by the seasons of the garden – one thing I know will continue.
Last year Rob wrote an article for the HPS Worcestershire Group Newsletter telling the story of Meadow Farm Garden and Nursery - how we started the nursery, made a garden and ran the business for 30 years before deciding to run things down with a view to retiring. Since then things have moved on a bit further, especially since the Covid-19 lockdown.
Last autumn we finally decided that the time was right to move house and start a new, smaller and more easily managed garden whilst we still had the strength, energy and enthusiasm. We instructed an agent and arranged for our house, garden and nursery to be put on the market in the spring. We anticipated being here at least for this summer so we merrily took over 30 bookings for groups to visit the garden between May and August. We were in mid flow propagating and potting plants for sale to our visitors when lockdown happened in late March. That took the wind from our sails completely and we wondered what to do next. The house sale was put on hold, all the garden visits were eventually cancelled and we had a significant number of plants with nowhere to sell them.
It took me a couple of weeks to get motivated but I made a list of the plants I had available and emailed it out to the members of our local garden club. The response was fantastic and I spent the next two weeks preparing and delivering orders around the local area. One customer was so pleased with his plants that he posted a photo of them on the Feckenham Facebook page which resulted in lots more orders. We have continued to have steady plant sales since then to locals and to HPS members from further afield, and the nursery is starting to empty.
When lockdown eased and the estate agents were allowed to restart operations we finally put the house on the market in mid-June. There was a frantic flurry of viewings in the first week which resulted in two offers which didn’t actually lead to anything. So we are still hoping to find someone who would love to buy a house with a readymade show garden.
In the meantime we have been thoroughly enjoying the extra time we have had to play in the garden, and it is showing the benefits of this extra attention by looking the best it has ever looked. It is going to be a huge wrench to leave Meadow Farm and the beautiful garden we have created but we are trying to be sensible and planning for our old age!
The difficulty is going to be finding another house in such a beautiful location.
Brian was a founder member of the Hardy Plant Society, Worcestershire and the group's first Treasurer.
He was born in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire. During his working career in the civil service, when living in the Lake District, he was involved in helping companies either setting up new factories or moving from one area of the country to another. When he moved to the East Midlands and finally to the West Midlands as Regional Director and Director (Exports) of the British Overseas Trade Board he was involved in in advising and helping companies in exporting their goods.
His work took him to all the North of England's Regional Offices, which meant a new home and garden in each of the five areas. He always looked for and found property with plenty of land. Gardening (especially fruit and vegetables) and visiting gardens was always one of his interests. When he retired in 1988 he was able to give more time to his garden in Pedmore, Stourbridge. It was his first ex-farmland garden and it needed designing with trees, shrubs and plants. Many of his ideas came from talks and visits he arranged initially for HPS.
His first wife was not able to attend meetings and died in 1998. Brian found a suitable memorial for her in naming a geranium after her (Fran's Star).
After our marriage in 2001, we spent most of our spare time travelling around the country playing bridge in congresses. This included Scotland, Wales, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and overseas venues. We drifted away and didn't attend HPS meetings. However, when Brian's memory started to go and he had difficulty in remembering our complex system, bridge congresses ended and we were able to attend Saturday's meetings, which we both enjoyed.
Somehow he caught coronavirus and died on 31st March 2020 after a week in hospital.
• Morning, Primrose. Great to see you again after months of lockdown. Your garden is a real surprise, I’ll confess.
Well, thank you. I’ve been here since December 2001 after moving from a cottage we’d had for 10 years in Eckington. My husband Michael, who died about five years ago, saw this place in the Evesham Journal, thought it was a bargain and a move in to the town seemed sensible. Michael worked for the Alpine Garden Society at their office at Pershore College.
• What was the garden like when you first moved in?
We started with a straight concrete path down the centre of garden, grass either side. There were two large shrubs – a garrya, which is still here, a buddleia and not much else.
• So what was the first priority?
Well, the house is a Grade 2 listed property with the oldest part dating back to 1590 and we are in a conservation area as well, so you can’t do anything without permission. While we waited for permission to change a few things in the house, we got on with the garden. A young man, Dominic, and Michael stripped all the ivy from the brick walls around the garden, took up the concrete path and broke it up to lay underneath the engineering bricks for the meandering path as it is now. You get different aspects as you walk down it. The lower garden used to be an overflow car park for the pub next door and we collected trailers of council compost to make island beds. They were edged with cord wood bought at Tiddesley Wood and when they rotted, we replaced them with bricks. We redid the original rough bark paths with pebbles.
• And planting took a bit longer?
No, not really. Michael was keen to get going and liked planting everything close together so that the weeds didn’t have a chance. There was no real plan, just a mixture of shrubs, herbaceous and hellebores, which have seeded everywhere. Come February, it’s lovely.
• I hear you’re quite the propagator, Primrose.
That’s one of my main interests. I’ve been doing it for years and it’s difficult to stop. If I see things in seed, I have to collect them. Usually, in March, around the start of ‘lockdown' this year, I get plants ready to sell at the Pershore Open Gardens event held the first weekend in June. I go through all my possible plants, potting on, dividing and so on. I often supply 50 plants, sometimes more, but this year it was cancelled. I thought I’d have to look after all these extra plants for another 12 months but then a sale was organised in an outdoor area and we made over £200 for the National Garden Scheme. It started at half past 10 and they’d sold out by lunch - very gratifying. We have a small lean-to greenhouse in the garden and an alpine glasshouse as well.
• How difficult have you found lockdown?
Well, I had my little dog, Poppy, to walk every day so that was OK but without the garden, I honestly don’t know what I would have done – I don’t really sew or bake particularly. I suppose I’ve mostly done what I would do in a normal year, maybe a bit of extra weeding. If Michael was still around though, I think he’d be horrified. The gravel paths he kept were really neat and tidy, unlike me, I’m afraid. But gravel paths are a bit like seed beds. The plants do seem to love it, don’t they?
• You both seem to have a genuine love of plants.
Michael was quite a well-known horticulturist. We met at Notcutts in Woodbridge, where I was working before going to Writtle to do a horticulture diploma and he was working before training at Wisley, via Plumpton College and Brighton parks. Originally, he was an accountant but he hated it and after his National Service he retrained. He became secretary of the Alpine Garden Society when we married in September, 1961, a post he held for about 35 years. We married on the Saturday and he started with the AGS on the Monday. First, he was based at their London offices in Vauxhall Bridge Road and then they asked if he could work from home – St John ‘s near Woking in Surrey. So, we had the house extended for all the office equipment. The society was doing well – in 1987, for example, they had 10,970 members and the following year 500 more than that. Out of the blue, a member left £250,000 in his will and the society decided they ought to have their own HQ. They looked everywhere, decided Pershore was the place and the college offered them land. So, we moved and brought a lot of things with us – one great lorry for the house and another for the garden. We took the alpine house to pieces and brought that. Michael had it at Chelsea Flower Show one year. They won 10 gold medals at Chelsea over the years and they had a wonderful team. One year, we went down to the Forest of Dean to choose the rocks for the stand, ahead of time, so they had time to grow moss and whatnot on them. Some of the plants in the garden are from those days.
• Were you working for the AGS as well?
I was a general dogsbody sometimes – he did have a proper secretary – but after I got the diploma, I applied for all sorts of jobs. Because I was a Miss at that time, you either got ignored or they didn’t want you. So, I stopped putting Miss and got into Sunningdale Nurseries. That was really interesting because Graham Thomas, the rose expert, was manager there in those days. He was very upright, quite formal. I also worked for a time at Fisons on pot trials – growing things like maize using different doses of fertiliser. I never wanted to do anything else but horticulture. Michael and I spoke the same language. When we moved here, I got a job at Beacons Nursery in Eckington – it’s not there any more – and I met up again with Bob Brown, from Cotswold Garden Flowers. He had been in charge of rural studies at a school in Surrey and we’d met at Hardy Plants events I think. I worked for him for more than 15 years, mostly three days a week at Badsey – Bob was always propagating. Later, I moved to the Offenham site and finally stopped when Michael started getting Alzheimer’s. It was a difficult time. We’ve had a busy life – he had a lot to do with the college during his time there and he took parties abroad to look at alpines. I’d often go with him. His favourite place was the Bernese Overland in Switzerland but we visited South Africa several times - the plants are simply fantastic – the French Alps and the heel of Italy, where the orchids were wonderful. He loved travelling and meeting people. We were lucky, getting around as we did.
• Are alpines your favourite plants, Primrose?
Paeonies are my favourites to be honest - I’m a member of the Paeony Group in HPS - but I still retain an interest in alpines, perhaps to a lesser degree. I’ve kept Michael’s collection of cyclamen, Primula allionii, there’s a big Ramonda that flowers every year too. And there’s Verbascum Letitia from which I take cuttings. I’ve got quite a few of my propagated plants in there at the moment, the overflow from the other greenhouse, which is smaller and very shady. Ferns do well there.
• And what do you make of the Hardy Plant Society?
I enjoy being part of the Worcestershire group, people are very friendly. I’ve been reading The Story of Bressingham by Alan Bloom, who helped to set up the national society in the Fifties. It’s fascinating and I have some early copies of the national newsletter as well. We lived near the famous Miss Pole, who helped to run the society for many years in its early years, when we were in Surrey. Michael was also national HPS treasurer for a while. I’ve grown up with it all, I suppose, and we’ve been surrounded by plants the whole time.
• It’s been a genuine pleasure to talk with you and to see your garden, Primrose. Thank you.
What a hugely challenging year 2020 has so far proved to be, whether due to the Covid-19 pandemic which has touched every aspect of our lives in some way or other, or the extreme weather patterns that we gardeners have had to contend with.
The HPS Conservation Scheme has been affected in that, at the time of writing, we will be unable to hold our normal annual meeting at the beginning of October when the Conservation Group Coordinators all meet up to swap the conservation plants that have been propagated and grown on by members in the scheme. This is the means by which plants are supplied to those people who have requested specific plants, but also to distribute any spare plants that can be taken back to the regional groups and passed on to anyone interested in growing them. There is also discussion about the plants within the Scheme based on growers’ feedback (see below), and whether new plants are to be added to the list or taken off. In 2019 there were 12 new introductions to the scheme.
Taking part in the Conservation Scheme is not onerous. In exchange for having a plant to grow on and propagate, all we ask is that once a year you report back to your local Coordinator on how the plant has performed and any other comments. What we really want to know is if your plant grows significantly differently e.g. in size, habit, location etc., to the information that is held on the Conservation Plant database, which is available to view on the HPS national website (together with full details of the scheme).
Normally, any requests for Conservation plants are forwarded to the National Coordinator by the end of April and then collated so that we have an idea of what is in particular demand. Due to the pandemic and not holding our regular meetings I have not had any requests this year. However, I do hope that growers have been able to propagate new plants which will hopefully be distributed in due course. If anyone would like to make a request then please let me know and I can see if anyone within our group grows that plant and hopefully the request can be met.
Please do take a few minutes to look at the Conservation pages on the national website. Each month there is usually a feature on one of the plants. If you would like to grow any of the plants, or you have a suggestion for a plant that could be considered for inclusion on the list, then please let me know.
Our 2020 silver anniversary trip to Dublin and County Wicklow has been rearranged for next year.
A total of 44 people have again signed up for the postponed six-day break – and there are four people on the reserve list. The dates are confirmed as Wednesday, June 23 to Monday, June 28. The same 12 gardens are on the itinerary. A confirmation email with all the details has been sent to everyone on the trip.
A new hotel has been reserved for 2021 – the four-star Glenview Hotel in the village of Newtown Mount Kennedy, about 30 miles south of Dublin. It’s set in 30 acres of woodland walks and gardens with panoramic views of the Glen of Downs. It has 70 individually-designed rooms and a ‘very good’ rating on Booking.com. Its location will significantly reduce distances travelled between the gardens.
Organiser Mick Dunstan said “It’s great that everyone who booked for this year has confirmed their interest for next year. The coach and ferry companies we’re using have also confirmed very strict adherence to Government regulations. All we have to do is hope the coronavirus situation improves sufficiently for everyone to feel safe enough to enjoy the visit.”
There’ve been highs. There’ve been lows. There’s been peace and there’s been a bit of chaos.
• Spotted on one of my daily walks – a Worcester front garden near the Heinz factory entirely made out of plants in pots!
• August disaster – my big apple tree fell over due, we think, to its age and the weight from this year’s harvest. Age and weight, eh? How appropriate!
Lockdown’s been fine for us – garden to play in, family and friends on Facetime sometimes and a few phone chats with Worcestershire HPS colleagues as well. In those early days, I loved the lack of traffic, the fresher air and what seemed to be louder birdsong.
Of course, more time in the garden has reduced the weed count, upped the sore back count and allowed me, finally, to sort out a couple of small areas that really did need sorting out. Plus, more veg has been grown as well – and my tomatoes have been truly delicious. By the way, does anyone want any courgettes or damsons?
One of the lovely bits has been my new flower bed. About 100ft long and shaped like a kidney bean, it was planted about 18 months ago with things I’d bought at our meetings, at the plant sale, on our trips and grown from my annual HPS seed order. At the start, I thought I’d got maybe a dozen or 18 plants in pots around the place. So, I got them all together in one spot and it was actually 85! More growing space was needed and this new bed was carved out of some of the rougher grass in the back garden. Last year, it was OK, pleasing to see things grow. This year though, they’ve filled out, they’ve been glorious and, at times, a bit overwhelming.
Aside from that, during lockdown we finally collected a new car we’d ordered in February but not been delivered because of the virus – collected from a virtually deserted car showroom in Cheltenham! I also started a new job as national HPS newsletter editor at a time when there was virtually no content – no stress at all! I’ve also rearranged our six-day trip to Ireland for next June albeit with no guarantee it will actually happen.
In the last month, we decided to sell our house after Rishi Sunak announced stamp duty changes. So far, we’ve had seven viewings in the first fortnight, with another one tomorrow for a cash buyer from Cheshire! Fingers crossed. I’m sure we’ll miss the garden if we do sell – and we might be a bit relieved if we don’t – but it is genuinely getting a bit big for us to look after properly, slightly more of a burden than a pleasure. Covid has meant we’ve not had the usual help from a couple of guys we’ve come to rely on in recent years.
I’ve been a bit surprised by how cautious many people I know have become. I understand the need to feel safe but we’ve been unable to resist the chance to get out again in recent weeks. We took advantage of Rishi’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme several times. It made us feel, at times, slightly normal – but probably never going to be the old normal again. So, you worry a bit about that – and what it means for HPS. Fingers crossed…
My spiritual journey is different from most. I can work with God readily when I am out with the animals and the countryside. That is not to say that I didn’t miss church every Sunday because I did, it was a weekly milestone that I had become so used to before my Sunday roast.
From the pictures, you can see, for instance that my youngest grandchild was given a new puppy. Three other grandchildren clapped every Thursday for the NHS. I found that very powerful, everyone coming together on the street thanking the key workers of this country getting it up and running again.
John, my son-in-law found the first three months extremely busy with the dry spell, his horticultural crops required continuous irrigation. In addition to our own cattle, my husband took over responsibility for John’s 150 head of Hereford cattle that were also calving during this period
The dry sunny weather was very kind to us, and we did have the huge benefit of a garden to sit in. Had the weather been wet and miserable, I’m sure I would’ve been as well.
Literally the day before lockdown, my husband and I converted a Wendy house into a chicken hut and run. With five newly acquired chickens, this provided an ample supply of eggs for us and the neighbours throughout lockdown.
We wrote out a very daunting list of all the things that needed attention. Like everybody, we tackled the garage. That took some doing!! The contents were all laid out on the driveway and the family claimed what they wanted, saws, boxes, a pressure washer, sheep shearers, mouse and rat traps, bottle feeders for lambs that had not been used for over nine years, and much more! Including for instance Dave’s old para rucksack which in the bottom had a one-man day food pack that was 40 years out of date! Dave said it was a bit like the way he feels nowadays.
The white van man seemed to be ringing the doorbell about three times a day with Sarah Raven packages. With the purchases my daughter and I have made, she should be doing quite well by now!
Lockdown worked for us, but once is challenging enough!!
One Sunday morning in early August I was in my kitchen when I saw a silver-grey car at the end of the drive. The gate was closed. The name of the property is on the gate plus a sign “Beware of the dog”. Thinking I had unexpected visitors I began to walk out of the house when the passenger door opened and a smartly dressed woman got out. She opened the back-passenger’s door, removed something, turned and bent down near my gate post. She hastily returned to the car and drove off in a hurry. This seemed very odd, so I started to walk down the drive when I spied a little black creature moving across the drive-A MOLE!!!
I was horrified because there are no moles in this area and I certainly don’t want them in my garden. Who would ever deposit a mole anywhere near anyone’s garden particularly in a very rural area where I live?,
Many years ago, when I first joined Worcestershire HPS I heard some members discussing taking moles from their gardens and depositing them in the countryside. Are people aware that every field, hedge and wood is owned by someone and those owners do not want moles deposited near their land? *
I went down my drive proceeded by my little Border Terrier and needless to say he dealt swiftly with the mole - thank goodness!
*After a quick search on the internet about controlling and trapping moles, the overall conclusion for gardeners or non-farmers is to ’deter’ or ignore the animals. Neither Natural England nor the RSPCA endorse humane ‘tube’ traps due to the problems of stressing animals and the difficulties of then re-locating them. The RHS terms their use ‘impractical’ due to the problems of re-locating. A captured mole is subject to the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 under which its needs must be met –both food and suitable environment. To re-locate a mole in another area the landowners’ consent must be sought as well as determining whether the release site is suitable-particularly that no other mole is using the territory…
It is legal to trap moles at any time of the year though the recommendation appears to be April-May. The males are most active extending tunnels (so more likely to be seen) in October to April whilst those seen June to August are likely to be young moles ‘dispersing’ from their burrows. Editor
Our trip to New Zealand in February and the first half of March wasn’t a garden tour but, of course, several gardens crept into the journey. This is a little about three of them.
Christchurch is still recovering from the earthquakes in 2011 and 2012, but the Botanic Garden is in good shape. The formal pond and Peacock fountain where we went in are very Edwardian in feel, which seems odd in such an open and spacious garden. Hydrangeas were doing well, as was the large herbaceous border. The plants were familiar, but plants from what would be two or even three seasons in the UK were flowering all at the same time, the first week of February, effectively the first week of August.
The New Zealand Gardens were fascinating: less ‘garden’ and more ‘bush’, so mostly shrubs and trees. We knew we’d forget most of the names then, but over the holiday learned some of them and also that there are more types of tree fern than an interested visitor to Cornish gardens would have thought. Another complication is that many native trees have three names: a Latin name, a Maori name in general use and an English name. For example, Kahikatea (Dacrycarpus dacrydioides, White Pine) and NZ’s tallest tree and Ponga (Cyathea dealbata, Silver Fern) and the national emblem. Hebes are New Zealand’s largest group of plants, so they were very well represented and, again, very varied.
The Garden also boasts a magnificent cast iron tropical house built in 1923, with a staircase to a gallery around the edges, so that the visitor can look down on or be at eye level with the taller plants downstairs while being among those upstairs.
Three weeks later, enthused by the report from a recipient of a Kenneth Black Bursary, Colin thought we should visit the Otari-Wilton’s Bush, just outside the centre of Wellington. The Wilton’s Bush is ancient and regenerating native forest, which was outside our time and scope, but the Otari native botanic garden proved a beautiful and informative introduction to New Zealand’s native plants. From the trees and bush, not to mention yet more tree ferns, on the self-guided Treasure Trail (labels to help us!) to a rock garden, distinct collections such as plants from North Auckland, and an alpine garden via a Canopy Walkway.
The ‘Treasures Trail’ also let us finally track down a Tui bird!
As we’d now spent three weeks on the South Island before crossing to Wellington and the North Island, we’d seen more native forest generally and native plants in the Southern Alps. The summer had been dry, almost drought in the North Island, so the rock garden and the alpines were suffering a bit, but the Treasures seemed to be very happy.
The Hamilton Botanic Garden is completely different, a series of enclosed gardens with native plants mainly in Te Parapara, the Maori garden in the Productive Collection. There are also the Paradise Gardens: among them gardens from Italy, India, England and Japan; the Cultivar Collection where the roses are; and the Fantasy Collection. Some of this works quite well, but the first one we went into, the Italian Garden, seemed a bit out of kilter, which went for quite a lot of them. The drought hadn’t helped a few of them either.
But I liked the Mansfield Garden, representing Katherine Mansfield’s short story, ‘The Garden Party’, which I thought captured the story well, and contained NZ plants which gardeners had begun to use at that period. We ended with the Surrealist Garden: huge gently moving foliage figures, topiary reminiscent of Levens Hall, everything out of scale, but it made us laugh. Then in true NZ style coffee called!
We did visit Ayrlies on the morning of our flight back, but Monty Don and others have written about it in far more informative and thorough fashion than I can.
We now realise that gardening in NZ is probably more difficult than we’d thought, given that during last summer there had been torrential rain in some parts, especially on the South Island, and a drought in others, mainly on the North Island. We enjoyed all the gardens, but trees like ‘The Father of the Forest’ and the Waiau Kauri Grove are our real stars.
If we thought there were challenges gardening during lockdown and variable weather conditions…….
There was a degree of uncertainty before lockdown as to how to continue with production on the wholesale nursery, with rumours of a London lockdown and such like doing the rounds, and full lockdowns being implemented in other countries across Europe. This left us in a predicament. How long would we be closed for? Would we be stopped from coming to work to maintain the crops? Would the College be commissioned as a temporary hospital for COVID patients? Would suppliers still force us to take plants we had agreed to purchase? Could we move our business entirely online?
We reduced our staff down to half days, two - three people at a time and then increased to full days when the dust settled a few weeks in. Some deliveries came during April, laid out on beds hoping we may be able to pot them, which we finally did nine weeks later. Our own production stopped, however, and although bedding plants arrived, no compost did, so we had hundreds of plug trays of tiny baby bedding plants left to rot, with no simple route to market.
This led us to our next challenge - how could we compete with our competitors who within a week had managed to set up online shops, take calls for deliveries and start servicing the HUGE demand for gardening that had blossomed with the good weather we experienced at the end of March/early April? I advertised that we would do local deliveries on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday, taking time to respond to emails for an hour on those mornings before delivery. How silly was I? Within the first day, we had over 100 emails in our inbox and I'd spent nearly eight hours on the phone trying to process some of those in addition to the phone calls we received. This continued for weeks, with my team watering (the automatic irrigation had broken by this point too!), and picking up orders; no time for potting!
Things are by no means back to normal, and there are many customers who have come in since we re-opened in May, criticising us for not having had bedding plants (despite a major national shortage) or not having Tomorite (again, plenty of the liquid at the suppliers but no bottles to put it in), and for the nursery being weedy. There are however many customers who come in and can see how hard we worked during lockdown to do the very best we could, and understand that things won't be 'normal' for a long time. We regularly have to remind people that we, as with our suppliers, are lucky to be here still, having been closed during our absolute peak season and that luckily for us, our staff are still healthy and well. We're still here and we can't wait to carry on growing lots of lovely plants for you to all enjoy.
Well, having not gone anywhere for over three months we made our first venture out on June 10 to Hanbury Hall, the first week NT gardens opened. With only 20 people per half hour allowed in the garden and parkland, it proved to be so quiet as to be a bit of a surreal experience. The courtyard garden was well tended although no annuals had been planted. The weather was fine and we realised that at least one weekly outing to a garden was good therapy.
Thus, began a weekly ritual of logging on to the NT booking system just after midnight every Friday - the only way of guaranteeing availability. Much like securing an Ocado delivery slot! The longest wait, tapping my phone in bed to stop it (and me!) going into sleep mode, was 50 minutes, the shortest 1 minute.
Our favourite NT visit so far has been to Stowe. A lovely walk around the lakes, no one way system, superb vistas from lots of different points and an ice cream from a delightful mobile van at the end. A little awkward to get to perhaps, but well worth the effort.
In the middle of July, we visited Woollerton Old Hall, with the Historic Houses Association. It was stunning, the owners had worked really hard over lockdown. The planting and garden design was colourful and thought provoking. The layout is basically that of different “rooms” which may be by colour, type of planting or theme. I hope that those who have not visited will be able to on a future trip with HPS. Two plants came home with us: a Salvia “Lemon Pie” and a Lobelia “Starship Deep Rose”.
However, our most enjoyable but longest trip was to RHS Wisley. Leaving home at 8.30 am we arrived dead on 11 am, the beginning of our entrance time slot. Well organised, we parked near to the new entrance and queued for only 5 minutes to get into the gardens. Wow, the gardens were immaculate. The new planting around the new visitor’s centre was stunning, long grasses and big trees. There must have been lots of gardeners beavering away during lockdown. Fantastic, colourful, immaculate lawns and lots of lovely seats to sit on, which we did on many occasions to take in the many vistas. Social distancing was easy. We were even able to enjoy a couple of rocking chairs by the side of the closed conservatories. The new plant centre is enormous and wow what plants! We had a short visit to the new indoor shop which had a superb range of gifts, garden products and art work.
We were reminded on our outings that gardens lift the spirit, and even in present circumstances with a bit of thought and effort, are safe and good places to visit. The NGS has gardens open on a weekly basis. The “new normal” of online booking takes a bit of getting used to, but is worth it. Enjoy!
At the start of lockdown, I, like many others, made a list of things to do and first of the numerous tasks was to clear out and re-organise "The Shed". I bet I wasn't the only one to have that particular task on the list of lockdown garden projects.
Now I have to tell you that my shed is not any old garden shed. It’s a posh shed with French doors and double glazing! That’s because it began life as a garden office. The place was downgraded to "The Shed" when I discovered that I was either boiling inside it in the summer or freezing to death in the winter. So "The Shed" it became and therefore the natural place to deposit just about anything and everything that can't stay outside - and even lots of things that can.
Was my shed like Monty Don's, immaculately clean and well organized? Hardly. To say it was a jumble would be an understatement. Over time stuff had simply accumulated as more and more items, big and small, had been thrown in. You know the sort of thing I mean. There were piles of boxes which “might be useful some day” and bits and pieces that I had put in there because "you never know when they might come in handy”. Then there were the tools. The ones used most were nearest the door but they were strewn at rakish angles just waiting to trip up anyone foolish enough to try and venture inside more than a foot or two. Not that getting in any further was actually feasible. To be honest, I was no longer quite sure exactly what was in there, lurking dismally out of sight in the depths. About the only creatures to find all this clutter conducive were the enormous spiders who were using the shed as an upmarket hotel and whose webs festooned the place like bunting at a village fete. I sighed every time I opened the door. It was not a welcoming sight.
It is my considered opinion that you have to be in the mood to declutter - and I wasn't. So, despite it being top of my ‘to do’ list, nothing happened. Lockdown came and began to be eased and the shed remained untouched. In fact, things were getting worse. All the time spent in the garden during that gorgeous lockdown weather meant that more and more stuff accumulated in the shed’s interior. At least that was the case until last Wednesday.
In the course of moving my wormery to another part of the garden I suddenly remembered that, somewhere deep in the recesses of the shed, were some worm treats. (Yes, believe it or not, you can buy lovely scrumptious treats for your worms to encourage them to keep up the good work). However, to reward my worms and to get to those treats I knew I would have to mountaineer my way to the back of the shed; a task that would have filled even Edmund Hilary with trepidation. If my worms were to get any presents at all there was nothing for it but to take the bull by the horns (or perhaps I should say the spider by the legs) and go for it.
Finding the oldest of clothes and discovering a new use for a face mask, I set to. Why on earth had I kept that piece of fleece that had more holes in it than a slice of Emmental cheese? What possessed me to hoard those plant labels that had already been written on three times? Several bulging rubbish bags later and after many exclamations of, "Oh I've been looking everywhere for that”, I have my worms to thank for the now (almost) arachnid-free zone of today.
So, if you're procrastinating about cleaning out your garden shed, all you need to do is look beyond the sight that greets you when you open the door. Just imagine all those long-lost wonders you may uncover deep within it. Either that or get a wormery.