Worcetershire Group  Issue 54 - Autumn 2021

Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff' and Rudbeckia 'Goldstrum' in the Bishop’s Palace and Gardens Wells. Pictures in this issue are by: the HPS Library, Judy and David Pollitt, Kathryn Elrick Smith, Mick Dunstan, Nigel and Stephanie Reader, Sue Horsnell, Teresa Carroll, Petra Sturgeon and Keith Norrington.


Chairman’s Message

The appearance of the Autumn Crocus always surprises me, as I forget where I have planted them but they remind me that the summer is over and the autumn has begun. My garden looked spectacular at the end of June into early July but with the vagaries of the weather it has been all downhill since then; I have a lot of gardening to do over the next few weeks.

On Saturday 11th September we had our first “real” meeting in eighteen months at our new venue, St Peter’s Baptist Church. It was a pleasure to see so many familiar faces and find everyone looking so well and happy to be there. We also welcomed some new members plus some visitors to our meeting for Rosy Hardy’s talk. The new hall is lovely and comfortable and members told me it was easy to find the church.

Rosy’s talk was excellent; she has such detailed knowledge about the individual hardy perennials that she grows and was able to recommend the best varieties. I learned things I did not know about autumn flowering plants like Michaelmas Daisies, which wait for the “shorter days” before they flower.

We are not printing our Tri-fold programme at present, so please visit our Worcestershire group website for information about meetings. Our Autumn Newsletter will also contain details of our meetings from now until December.

We have all had a difficult time over the last eighteen months but as we cautiously emerge from the pandemic let us go forward with courage and confidence. Some things have changed but we now need to re-connect with the world and get on with our lives; that includes meeting with friends who share our interest in plants.

Lyn Maile

From the Editor

Welcome to the Autumn Issue no. 54 of our group newsletter. Another year of uncertainty and changeable weather but our group kept going through various lockdowns, changing of scheduled events and finally(!) made it to our new meeting venue. It was good to meet and catch up with members in September who could attend. Thanks to all those who have worked behind the scenes over the past year to keep us going and particularly our Chair Lyn (juggling 2 roles) and programme secretary Stephanie (re-jigging speakers and dates).

In this edition we have our usual news and updates from our chairman, treasurer, and programme secretary. Features include ‘5 mins with’ a newer member, Mike Bentley. Triggered by our recent zoom talk on grasses by Jack Wilgoss, Sue Horsnell recollects a visit to Karl Forester’s Garden in Germany and we have a book review on ‘Designing with grasses’. There are 2 accounts of members’ plants both the ‘unusual’ and the ‘invasive’’, tips on growing clematis and bearded iris and even suggestions for naming garden beds! Teresa Carrol describes the making of her ‘green roof’ using sedums while Stephanie Reader reports back on her recent visit to RHS Wisley. For your future reference the group’s remaining events for this year are included on page 15.

I hope for more articles over the next few editions from any members who have recently moved regarding the choices they made when approaching a new garden. It would be fun to hear what you are naming your garden beds inspired by reading Kathryn’s article. Book reviews are welcome as are recommendations for anything garden related. I would also like to hear from anyone happy to be interviewed about their garden-big or small. Just contact me or Anne Bard for a chat if any of the above would interest or inspire you.

Finally, please take time to think about joining our committee as we need 2 new members-one being a key Officer post. Although we have regular volunteers who help, our group needs a full committee. It is vital for both planning and the future functioning of the group.

Pam Norrington

Food for Thought from Your Treasurer

What do you get for an Annual Subscription to HPS Worcestershire Group?...

If posed this question, it is fair to say: -

I’ve heard it said, and I totally agree, that this is fantastic value for the £12.50 fee we currently pay – and have done so since 2008. Yes 2008. Can you think of anything else that has not risen in price in 13 years?

I’ve also heard it said that we have plenty of money in reserve. Well, we do have some put by, but that took a large hit last year when, due to the Covid 19 Pandemic, we were unable to hold our Annual Plant Sale or other fundraisers.

We are heading for a deficit this year as we continue engaging high quality speakers, now in person, hopefully leaving our Zoom Lectures behind as a distant memory. Our new venue is also more expensive than Crowle, which we had outgrown in both the Hall and Car Park.

So, for a £12.50 Subscription, what have we been spending per member per year? The answer to this may surprise you.

2019 Expenditure = £28 per member

2020 Expenditure = £23 per member … we had a few months without speakers once lockdown was introduced in March while we got our heads around hosting Zoom meetings

2021 Projected spend = £36 per member

You may have guessed by now that I am leading you, hopefully gently, into realizing that an increase in Annual Subscription may well be inevitable.

As a committee we have discussed long and hard the merits of spending less on speakers and room hire but are agreed that a quality speaker in a quality venue should be maintained – it is what may set us apart from other local clubs that many of us are a part of. As a committee we will soon be reviewing the group subscription and welcome any feedback you may have on this. Please contact me as soon as possible or before 22nd October.

Ange Burnet or 07788 721707

Stephanie Reader Reports Back on HPS Worcestershire Meeting News

September 2021

Rosie Hardy - Autumn Flowering Perennials

After eighteen months, we finally made it to a ‘real’ meeting at our new venue of St. Peter’s. My thanks to all the helpers who fetched and carried all the plants etc. to the large spacious room upstairs and generally organised things so that the meeting ran smoothly. Thanks also to Andy and her helpers for organising the tea / coffee and biscuits at the new venue which worked well.

Rosie’s huge knowledge of perennial hardy plants was enlightening. The quality and variety of plants brought was excellent and well received by the group.

The meeting was attended by 39 members and 7 guests. The new hall was spacious and airy, with plenty of room for all our members who were asked to wear face masks until seated, so everyone felt safe and socially distanced. We hope that many more members will join us for the next meeting as there is plenty of room for all.

Future Meetings

October Meeting

On Saturday 9th October 2021 at 2pm following a late cancellation by Raz Chisu on 16th September, the slot will be filled by Laura Willgoss from Wildegoose Nursery Shropshire. Raz has a new post, and this involves a clashing commitment at Harlow Carr on the 9th. Laura’s talk is entitled ‘Creating Beautiful Borders’ and should be as interesting and informative. There is an article about Wilgoss Nursery in October’s edition of Country Living Magazine which illustrates some of their fantastic plants and borders.

November Meeting

On Saturday 13th November 2021 at 2pm Katherine Crouch will join us for a talk entitled ‘My life as a garden designer and planting schemes’. Having won BBC gardener of the year in 1999 Katherine has been designing gardens in Somerset and the southwest ever since, particularly gardening in ‘difficult’ conditions.

“Gardens are in my blood and under my fingers nails,”, a quote from her website. You can find more about her at

December Meeting

And finally, Samantha Hopes will join us for our Christmas talk on her favourite plants…. Hepaticas. We hope to have the usual bring and share Christmas lunch at this meeting.

You can find out more about Samantha at

Please keep an eye on the website for more details. An email reminder will be sent to members about this meeting in either October or November.

Fast forward to 2022

I have organised a varied programme for 2022 which I hope you all will like. Some are rearranged speakers from last year but there are some new speakers who haven’t visited the group before. The programme will be online in the next few weeks and a trifold paper copy of speaker dates will be available at the January meeting.

The January meeting on Saturday 8th January will be a talk by Josh Egan-Wyer, the Garden Centre and nursery manager at Pershore College.

Petra Sturgeon shares some notices of other events this autumn:

Houseplant Festival 2021-London’s Garden Museum 23-24th October-£6.00. Includes talks, plant doctor session & other garden related things. For more info

Wildegoose Nursery Shropshire- Xmas Wreath & Swag Making on following dates:

Thursday 25th Nov a.m. session £40.00. Friday 26th or Saturday 27th 10.00-4.00 incl lunch £85.Book at

London College of Garden Design. Subscribe to newsletter on

Growing Tips – Bearded Irises

David and Judy Pollitt share their years of knowledge as iris growers…

Tall bearded iris blooming in mid-September

Dwarf bearded iris 'Little Black Foot'

Bearded irises enjoy a hot sunny position; they will not tolerate waterlogging. They are reasonably tolerant of soil type but favour neutral to alkaline.

When planting out, point the plant in the direction in which you want it to grow away, leaving the rhizomes slightly exposed; they will naturally find their own level. Cut the foliage down to 15-20 cm to avoid wind rock.

As to maintenance, cut out the old rhizomes in mature plants and preferably lift and restart every three years, disposing of the old rhizomes and replanting the healthy new ones. If this seems rather radical, focus on just one half of the plant, leaving the remainder for another year. The best time for lifting is late July/August when the fresh rhizomes will have developed strong new roots.

After flowering, snap or cut off the spent flower stems at the base and remove debris from around the rhizomes. Trimming off the foliage after flowering makes the plant look neat and tidy for a while but the only direct benefit to the plant lies in enabling more sunlight to bake the rhizomes. Bearded irises do not enjoy a mulch of manure. A well-balanced fertiliser with trace elements applied early in the season and again after flowering will encourage growth. Seasoned growers recommend VitaxQ4.

When in competition with other plants, in a busy herbaceous border, for example, it is a good idea to select one or two of the traditional, tried-and-tested varieties such as 'Jane Philips', 'Susan Bliss' or some of the older varieties. A selection of dwarf, intermediate and tall bearded varieties will extend the flowering season and provide more options when planning a border. In general, the dwarf and intermediate types are more tolerant of adverse conditions. In fact one or two iris growers regard some dwarf irises as weeds as they are so prolific. Many of the newer, tall-bearded cultivars, especially the large-flowered and often blousy American ones, require the individual flower stems to be staked.

Rhizome rot can be an issue in a very wet year. The flower stem or foliage will become soft and pulpy at the intersection with the rhizome. A quick smell test will confirm the diagnosis. The affected rhizome should be cut out and destroyed, the remaining rhizomes lifted and washed before dusting with sulphate of potash and replanting. Spotting of the foliage often occurs and, while unsightly, is not harmful.

Nature can sometimes throw up an anomaly. Don’t rush to have it registered should one of your plants produce four standards and four falls instead of the usual three. It is not unknown. Called a ‘remontant’, one of your plants may choose to flower several times in the course of a year, including through winter. Some cultivars seem more prone to this than others.

If you enjoy the beauty of the iris flower why not plant one or two of the beardless types too; these make excellent, robust border plants. A good reference book on all types of iris is Claire Austin’s Irises: A Gardener’s Encyclopaedia. Or if you would like to share your enjoyment with others, think about joining the West and Midlands Group of the British Iris Society who you will probably have seen showing at Malvern.

As a beginner it is advisable to buy from a specialist grower such as the Cayeux Nursery in France or Claire Austin Hardy Plants in Shrewsbury. They both produce well-illustrated catalogues that can be kept for future reference. Our Worcestershire Group’s annual plant sale usually coincides with the iris flowering season so you can see what you are buying if there are irises on offer there.

David and Judy Pollitt

Invasive Plants

Alwyn Stanley advises caution with these attractive but vigorous plants…

Allium Triquetrum


Reading the article by Bob Brown* in the spring edition of the Worcestershire Hardy Plants Magazine I had to smile, because yes, I have also been caught out. Several years ago, I bought a small plant of Allium triquetrum from the HPS plant stall, one year later I filled a wheelbarrow endeavouring to remove it!

There are other plants which delight me but I forgive them their invasiveness:

‘Vinca Major variegata’ or Greater Periwinkle is an interesting plant during winter months. Whatever the weather the green and cream leaves appear fresh and sprightly but needless to say to keep it under control I do the ‘Chelsea Chop’ about three times a year.

Muscari armeniacum’ or Armenian grape hyacinth has such good rich blue flowers, so colourful every spring. After flowering however, I do remove the seed heads and often pull up handfuls and dispose of them.

Arum italicum ‘Picton’ is another plant that seems to be taking over my borders. However, it does die down in summer whilst in winter the leaves droop in frost, but late in the day the leaves appear fresh and sprightly and give me great pleasure.

*‘Knowing Invasive Plants’ -Bob Brown. Newsletter 53 Spring 2021

Alwyn Stanley
Allium triquetrum is an attractive looking Mediterranean plant also known as ‘Three Cornered Garlic’ and is considered an invasive non-native plant and a potential threat to bio-diversity in wild areas. It is still sold at a number of nurseries although the RHS term it a ‘potential nuisance plant’. We would do well to heed Alwyn’s warning as internet ‘solutions’ to its removal are either to keep digging it out or use glyphosate and dispose of it very carefully. Foragers of wild food may disagree, allegedly using it as a flavouring, pesto or garnish... (Editor).

Bordering on the Unnameable…

Member Kathryn Elrick Smith take a light-hearted but considered approach to naming her borders following some major garden renovation work.

Stepping Stone / Obelisk Border

When I read our Spring 2021 Group Newsletter I was amused by a paragraph David Pollitt had written in his article about shrubs - how brilliant to be able to boast of having a ‘Buddleja Boulevard!’ Initially I was a tad envious at not having anything so grand in my own garden, but then a slight feeling of inadequacy crept in at my own lack of imagination in thinking up amusing or interesting border names. But as I read the next sentence relief quickly set in as David admitted to naming another border a much more prosaic name – ‘New Border’. This made me wonder if any other members have amusing, interesting or downright quirky names for their borders?

Of course, such descriptive names do serve the purpose of identifying a particular border, but are they always an accurate description? Until recently I had a ‘Gravel Border’, but it was not what it sounds like. Not actually a gravel border with wonderful plants that thrive in such conditions such as in Beth Chatto’s famous gravel garden. No, my border was simply surrounded by gravel paths. A quick internet search led me to an American website where people had listed their border names, most of which were simply descriptive and rather unimaginative, so this does seem to be the norm, but three did amuse me – ‘Rusty Alley’, ‘The Front Free for All’, and ‘Jesse’s Yard and Pot Ghetto’! Let us know if you can better these.

When the Newsletter was issued, I had been pondering border names in my garden following extensive excavation of rather a large area of the back garden (following a serious escape of heating oil). Works commenced in mid-January and were completed by late April, resulting in slightly altered existing borders and a completely new bed to replace the aforementioned gravel border. The question was what to call this bigger border? My husband, Allister, suggested ‘Lockdown Border 2’, which frankly didn’t appeal. In the spring 2020 lockdown we had finally managed to revamp the overgrown border by the pond (you’ve guessed it – the ‘Pond Border’!) and replanted it with a selection of ‘hot’ coloured plants. Obviously, my intention was to name it the ‘Hot Border’, but Allister thought it would be good to rename it the ‘Lockdown Border’ as testament to our hard work in that strange period, and the name has stuck. Allister’s next suggestion for the new nameless border was the ‘Reinstatement Border’ to reflect the reinstatement works, but I didn’t like that either. I finally settled on the ‘Restoration Border’, which I felt was perhaps too grand a name, until I read David’s article.

Following the reinstatement works I still have a couple of borders with naming issues. The original border on the south side of the shed (former ‘Shed Border’) is now completely open to the sun and is essentially a hot and dry border by a small patio area. ‘Sunny Border’, ‘Dry Border’, ‘Patio Border’ – what to choose? I started using ‘Sun Border’ to complement the border on the north side of the sheds which I had renamed ‘Shade Border’. This used to be the ‘Bog Border’ prior to the oil spill works, but it is now a lot drier due to the installation of better land drainage, and as it is now slightly different in shape and size a larger portion of it is no longer in shade! Then I thought ‘Obelisk Border’ would be a more apt name until I realized there are a couple of obelisks elsewhere in the garden. The contractors had kindly cut up some large stone slabs that would probably have gone in the skip, and laid them as stepping stones in this border, so I think ‘Stepping Stone Border’ will be the most appropriate name, but all suggestions gratefully received!

Kathryn Elrick Smith

My Green Roof

Member Teresa Carroll plants her bee-friendly roof……

When we were looking to extend our house, part of our planning application included the installation of a green roof. The extension is taking serval years to achieve (due to AONB planning requirements, the cost of building on a hill and finding a builder who was interested in our project) but the green roof was a priority.

It’s been just about twelve months since we laid our sedum roof. We didn’t have to go far to find a supplier, only over in Gloucestershire. Green Rooftop Supplies went over the installation requirements and how to maintain it. There was no problem with walking over it, but no dancing! Again, trying to keep costs down, our sedum roof was initially growing in a field, waiting to be cut and rolled up just like turf and that was how it arrived.

We chose to install an extensive green roof. It took a day to collect, install and clean up. First, we laid down a root barrier and separation membrane, then a roof drainage and storage membrane, finishing with a thin layer of specialist sedum compost. Now we were ready to lay the sedum blanket. This comprised of recycled polyester fibre matting, plus a thin layer of specialist green roof substrate, in which the sedum plants grow, all sixteen varieties and here they are:

Sedum acre, Sedum alba, Sedum aizoon, Sedum ellacombianum, Sedum floriferum, Sedum hispanicum, Sedum Hybridum ‘Czars Gold’, Sedum montanum, Sedum ‘Oktoberfest’, Sedum oreganum, Sedum pulchellum, Sedum rupestre, Sedum spurium, Sedum sexangulare, Sedum Telephium ‘Fabaria’ and Sedum stoloniferum.

I cannot highlight enough how happy we both are with the finished look. I know sedum is hardy and good in variable weather because the last twelve months have brought rain, more rain, frost, snow over Christmas, more rain mixed with some dry sunny days. When it started to flower, it was stunning and covered in bees. So far, I have not watered or fed the roof. I had a small problem in late winter with sycamore seeds, which I hand picked off, a few dandelions and two small patches of clover - it had been growing in a field after all!

It truly has been a labour of love and makes me smile every morning

Teresa Carroll

Two of the More Unusual Plants

Earlier in the summer, member Primrose Upward reported on two of the more unusual plants in her garden. She has had both for over 10 years and is still pondering how she can re-pot her very large Mexican Lily…

Arisaema candidissum

Arisaema candidissum

Beschorneria yuccoides

The two most interesting plants in my garden at present (end of June), are hardy perennials not often encountered.

Beschorneria yuccoides* (Mexican Lily) is a succulent evergreen native to Mexico and I grow it in a pot, fleeced in winter. There was frost damage to the longer fibrous leaves but it has thrown up four flowering spikes, seven feet tall and a shiny brick red. The small pendant flowers are tubular, red and green and I can imagine them being pollinated by humming birds. The plant was bought from Bob Brown’s Cotswold Flowers Nursery some years ago and allegedly flowered on a biennial basis. My Beschorneria flowers every year and the striking colour always attracts attention from my visitors. At the end of the season I remove the spikes before fleecing over winter.

Arisaema candidissimum (Chinese Cobra Lily) comes from Western China. This plant was given to my late husband by the curator of Harrogate Botanical Gardens and again, is more than 10 years old. In early June, it emerges as pointed brown shoots which grow 15-24 inches and flower like a wild arum. The spathe is white and pinkish with vertical white and green lines and the spadix greenish white. Large three lobed leaves appear after it flowers and together last a few weeks. This plant has formed a large clump and over the years I have dug up rhizomes to share with friends which have subsequently grown well. The plant retreats underground and survives the British winters.

Primrose Upward
*The Beschorneria succulent can also be found in Birmingham’s Botanical Gardens as well as Primrose’s garden.

The Garden of Karl Foerster

Member Sue Horsnell recalls a visit 18 years ago to the garden of Karl Foerster (1874-1970) the German gardener, nurseryman, garden writer and philosopher.

Marianne Foerster and myself

House built by Karl Foerster in Bornheim

Sunken garden with Marianne

Garden sales area

During one of our HPS Zoom Meetings earlier this year, Karl Foerster was mentioned and in the following chat I mentioned that we had visited Karl Foerster's garden in Potsdam, but, 18 years ago!! So, I was asked to write an article!

In July 2003 my late husband, Paul Chitty, and I were invited to join four German friends in a visit to Berlin. Affectionately known as “The Ladies”, they were studying English with our daughter, Ruth, by then settled in Germany. During earlier visits to us in St Albans we had enjoyed chauffeuring them to a number of places including gardens… great and small!

At the end of our very interesting, extremely hot stay in Berlin, one of our friends had arranged a visit to Karl Foerster's Garden in Bornheim, Potsdam. We were introduced to his daughter, an only child, Marianne (1931-2010) who, judging by photos and descriptions of her father, seemed very much like him in height, stature and gentle temperament. She was quietly weeding a border, but not too busy to chat and answer questions.

My main impression on seeing the garden before us was how like our English Gardens it looked! I was looking at the Sunken Garden built by Karl c1911, reputed to be the first of its kind in Germany. Stone paths, not visible from my view point, divided the geometric shaped beds. The whole impression was of a rolling sea of colour and texture with shrubs and conifers adding height. I have to admit I was surprised to see such a familiar form of "garden tapestry". How ignorant I was, because Karl Foerster, and some like-minded gardening "gurus" had been at the forefront of this style of gardening then and since.

Karl's lifetime contribution to horticulture, later joined by Marianne, was the outcome of his great interest in plant breeding, introducing more than 650 new plants, including grasses. He also researched and bred native perennials growing in other European countries. He preferred to work with nature, e.g. planting two plants together to self-pollinate.

During his long lifetime, he introduced a number of grasses, including Calamagrostis x acutifolia, and also perennials: Rudbeckia var. Sultivante ‘Goldsturm’, Eupatorium maculatum (Atropurpureum Group) ‘Glutball’, Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’, varieties of Phlox and over 15 varieties of Delphinium, aiming for shorter growth with thicker, tougher, self-supporting stems.

Foerster was painstaking and thorough in his practical research and plant breeding methods, always aiming for true garden worthiness. His careful planting was in the attention to the individual plant needs and environments, with particular attention to conditions and soil preparation. Although some of the cultivars he introduced may be lost, or hard to find, he contributed so much to the knowledge, and gardening methods that we appreciate today. He wrote several books and articles, alas many untranslated or out of print!

Karl Foerster died on November 27th 1970, aged 98.

In 1981 both house and garden were designated a "Denkmal", a historic monument, by Potsdam City Council.

Sue Horsnell

Five Minutes with Mike Bentley

Before ... winter 2001

... and after in July 2020

New member Mike Bentley has become a professional gardener in recent years. He’s has been talking to MICK DUNSTAN about a childhood in big rectory gardens, a career in the probation service and a beautiful liquidambar tree in his garden that may have to come down…

Hi, Mike. Many thanks for sparing me time today in your busy schedule and in your lovely back garden.

No problem at all, Mick. Happy to show you around later.

You’ve not been a Worcestershire group member for long, I understand?

No, not at all. I joined – along with my wife Kathryn – not long before lockdown, in fact just in time for the talk Val Bourne, The Living Jigsaw, at Pershore College, which we both enjoyed. I managed two or three meetings before lockdown last year – including a talk on hydrangeas -and I’ve tuned in to a few of the Zoom meetings that have been organised as well.

So, does this indicate a rather late interest in gardens?

No, in fact quite the opposite. Going back a long time, my initial interest was growing up as the son of a vicar in a succession of large country gardens in Somerset. Many of them were a couple of acres in size and so I always had somewhere to play outside, climb and all that stuff. The family moved up to Worcester in 1976, the same year I went to university, to Aberdeen, where I studied for a degree in botany.

And then a career with plants ensued, I assume…

No. I’m afraid not. After Aberdeen, for a variety of reasons, I worked in a completely unrelated career in the probation service in various capacities for almost 35 years. That started in Worcester, then in stages, to Oxfordshire, Shropshire and finally to Worcester again, as manager. Eight years or so ago, I was starting to get thoroughly fed up with the probation service and the way things were going. So, when I first went part-time, I started an RHS diploma course in horticulture at Pershore College and I finished with a Level 2 RHS course at Birmingham Botanic Gardens. I continued part-time with the probation service and part-time as a gardener, which whetted my appetite. I knew a fair bit about gardening but could never quite get the hang of propagating. I found out later that it was because the compost didn’t drain well enough. Once I got that right I got really interested – but I still haven’t been able to propagate roses though.

How did things progress from there?

After a couple of years of that mixed career and finally paying off my mortgage, I decided to say goodbye to probation forever. I enrolled on the two-year, level 4, garden design course at Pershore, while continuing my day-to-day garden business. I’m a jobbing gardener really – started off lawn cutting but now I don’t have any jobs that are just lawn cutting. I avoid hedge cutting if I can, largely because of the difficulty of getting rid of the waste at a reasonable cost. I can’t take it to the tip because it’s trade waste – the local disposal facility at Leigh Sinton charges about £120 a tonne with a £40 minimum charge. I encourage my customers to get brown bins to be honest – it makes it easy all round.

Is the business a full-time job?

I work about six hours a day, four days a week – sometimes a bit longer - which is plenty. I do some garden designing as well. Eighty per cent of my work is looking after 17 gardens, ranging from quite small to a couple of acres. They’re all in the Worcester, Malvern, Pershore triangle, and I’m certainly a lot fitter than I was, though not always I have to admit. I have a big garden I go to once a fortnight in Ombersley and I had a long session cutting back a load of sarcococcas, about 5ft high. Each one had hundreds of stems and my hands were stiff for a few days afterwards! My customer base is varied – retired people who want some help themselves and a few are very experienced gardeners. At the other end of the scale, I do a full day a week for a couple in Pershore with two small children and getting on for an acre of garden. They don’t know a lot about gardening and are happy to give me free rein to develop it as I see fit. I think I’ll just carry on the business for as long as I want to –I have no plans to expand it or take on extra staff or anything like that!

Which brings us on nicely to the subject of your own garden, Mike.

We moved to St John’s in Worcester in 2000. I know I'm a garden designer but the layout hasn’t changed much at all – it works well! There’s now a trellis screen between the patio and the rest of the garden but all that remains from then is a trachelospermum and a buddleia – a big plant that I dug out but came back after a couple of years – and fruit trees. There was a small liquidambar tree at the end which is now looking fantastic. It’s starting to throw up the paving and we talk about whether it has to come out. It overshadows the greenhouse so we don’t grow tomatoes in it now - but it’s OK for getting seeds growing in the spring. The books say they don’t take too well to being pruned so we’re still thinking about it.

On the corner of the drive we had lovely Robinia pseudoacacia – which the neighbours didn’t like because of its size and it was actually flapping on their bedroom windows. We had it taken down and then another one appeared on the other side of the drive, probably from the old roots, and in the end, that had to go too. This is my fifth garden and when we came I knew the basics but not, for example, botanical names of plants – that was something I tackled at college. On the design course, two full days at college and another day for study, I made flash cards for plants – the name, how big they grew, conditions they liked and their use in garden design - and I still have them. One week, we dealt with a dozen different bamboos, which was a real challenge.

What was the first decision about the garden here?

Well, it was actually made for me by my father, who was a chaplain to one of the almshouses in Worcester. While we were away on holiday, he got the two gardeners there do some work – and we arrived home to find the 14ft hedge reduced in height by half and a pile of cuttings on the lawn. There were a lot of trips to the tip that week. We also had a row of Leylandii removed and an ornamental cherry that dominated that part of the garden. We discovered it had been planted on top of a pile of Malvern rockery stone, still in its bags. We’ve also had a greenhouse put in, which I bought for £40 from an advert in the Co-op in Barbourne. I was horrified to find out recently that the equivalent model is now about £3,000. And we’ve put in a wildlife pond.

Any real no-nos when it comes to garden design?

I see a lot of artificial turf on new home sites – and I hate it. People think it’s low maintenance and it’s not. You have to sweep it to keep it clean, weeds and moss grow on it and when the sun shines it can get up to 60 degrees, truly painful for any dog to walk on. I would never use it.

Any plant combinations that appeal to you?

One I have used occasionally, and I have it here, is Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ and Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’, which some say is a bit invasive but I’ve never found it so. It’s a really lovely combination.

What caught your eye about the Hardy Plant Society that helped you decide to join, Mike?

One of my first customers was Audrey Stevens, a very keen member who told me about it and clearly enjoyed the things you organised. Sadly, she died several years ago and at the time I was just too busy to spare the time to join. But I’ve been opening out what I’m involved with and Hardy Plants is part of that. I’m looking forward to hearing another garden designer, Katherine Crouch, in November. She’s a garden designer, based in Somerset, and I’ve followed her on Facebook for several years. She’s apparently an amusing person in the talks she does. So, it’s going well. I think I’ll stick with it.

A Window on My World

In the spring of 2020 when the pervading gloom and uncertainties of the Pandemic dominated the news, I decided to do something life affirming and positive.

I have always loved colour and the jewel tones of stained glass are a particular favourite for me. The opportunity to install a stained-glass window in my home arose when we removed an old French door between the conservatory and sitting room. The conservatory faces West and the sun bleaches colour from upholstery and painted surfaces but it does not have this effect on stained glass as the pigment is sealed inside the glass.

I researched stained glass artists on the internet and came upon the website of Frans Wesselman*. He works from a studio in Worcester. Frans was a painter but he was attracted to the Medieval glass he saw in churches and decided to learn how to create them.

He cycled over to visit us in May 2020 to discuss the commission; I wanted the window to be a celebration of the house and garden in the landscape plus our lives here over the last 30 years. I also asked him to incorporate some of his “signature pieces” into the work like the Quiet Woman.

Frans took his inspiration from the poem by Christopher Marlowe (1564-1594) “The Passionate Shepherd to his Love” hence the cameo faces in the centre of the design and the sheep. The sense of place is reflected in the outline of the Malvern Hills at the top of the window as this is the view from our home. The garden is represented by flowers, ferns and leaves etched onto the glass plus sunflowers and poppies in coloured glass.

Frans and I had to collaborate over the design via the computer during the various lockdowns but eventually in the spring of 2021 I was able to visit his studio to see the window being constructed from lead and pieces of coloured glass. Most of the glass is produced in workshops in Europe with a small amount being produced in the UK.

The window was finally fitted in April 2021. It provides the Conservatory with a bright and colourful focal point but more importantly it gives me moments of joy when the sun illuminates the images and casts rainbows over my desk in the sitting room.

*To see more of Frans’ work visit his website:

Lyn Maile

People And Plants – Alan Hale

The editor recounts advice on growing clematis from her telephone conversations with one of our most senior group members Alan Hale, during lockdowns and beyond…

Clematis 'Perle d'Azur' (LL)

Clematis 'Perle d'Azur' (LL)

Clematis 'Alba Luxurians' (Vt)

Clematis 'Broughton Star'

Clematis 'Pagoda' (Vt)

As part of our committee keeping in touch with members during the past 18 months, I have had the pleasure of keeping in phone contact with Alan Hale who is not ‘on-line’. Alan is now in his ninth decade and has been a member of the Worcestershire group since its earliest days. He and his late wife were active members of the group but stopped attending face to face meetings by 2017 due to advancing age and health issues. In the years prior to this, Alan contributed regular articles to our newsletters (See website archive). He is still a group member and likes to hear of the current developments and successes of the group.

Alan’s favourite plant is clematis, and he has been a keen grower for many years beginning in the nineties. He is a member of the Clematis society and purchases to the National Register. In his opinion Clematis should be a part of every garden-not only a beautiful plant but long-lived if planted in the right place. During the heatwave in May 2020, he did confess to struggling with watering his collection (some 100-plus clematis!). Alan has continued to propagate and garden until relatively recently when an ankle injury curtailed his activities; he now mainly gardens with pots in his courtyard. He is currently developing an interest in growing salvias as they are generally better suited to pot cultivation than clematis.

When talking about clematis I was interested in three things: why do some clematis fail, how to grow them successfully and which varieties would he recommend. Alan has pointed out that clematis can be very fickle, often growing against the odds with minimal care or alternatively failing after very careful cossetting. They have a reputation as ‘tricky’ plants particularly so in the early days. They were popularised in the 1940’s by Christopher Lloyd amongst others. Today there are hundreds of varieties and just to illustrate, Alan said that the copy of the National Register he purchased now has a fifth supplement. Modern varieties are being bred to be more disease resistant although some are only a slight variation on previous types.

Some of the advice I have gleaned from our chats as well as his previous newsletter article** are as follows:

We only touched on diseases but did not discuss in depth and there is much advice on this available elsewhere. I did ask about taking cuttings- Alan thought they were quite tricky.

Finally, I asked Alan for his top clematis recommendations. Number 1 is Clematis ‘Perle d’Azur* (Group 3) others are Clematis ‘Pagoda’ (Vt) (Group 3), Clematis ‘Alba Luxurians’ (Vt) (Group 3), Clematis ‘Broughton Star’* (Montana Group 1) and Clematis ‘Etoile Rose’ (Vt) (Group 3). Alan often buys his plants mail order from Thorncroft Clematis and Climbers as plants which are usually two years old and of good quality. He asked me to mention that there is now a new Thorncroft nursery at Ashton-Under-Hill near Evesham which members can access. They operate a ‘click and collect’ service in addition to the usual mail order.

** ‘Why Clematis’ by Alan Hale HPS Worcestershire Newsletter No.38 Autumn 2013

* Awarded RHS Order of Merit.

A Visit to RHS Wisley

Stephanie and Nigel Reader share thoughts on their recent visit to RHS Wisley in early September describing the new gardens and buildings...

Wisley proved again that it is able to deliver peace and quiet even when playing host to one of its major events-the annual flower show. A long queue to get in on the A3 was quickly dispersed – in our case to overflow car park 5 which was almost on the hard shoulder of the M25 – and a very well organised system of shuttle buses then quickly took us into the garden.

The main attraction was the Flower Show but with so many people apparently keen to participate we headed for quieter parts. Those of you familiar with Wisley will know that it is big enough and varied enough to be able to offer something for everyone. We walked through the national collection of heathers, interestingly interspersed with spiky succulents, and looking very well-tended. We soon reached the glasshouse – surely one of the best there is – and marvelled at the immaculate temperate and tropical specimens.

We then walked the length of the long border towards Hilltop. The borders are a triumph of planning and artistry, making extensive use of grasses to frame and act as backdrops to the summer flowering plants. The new Home of the Gardening Science building at Hilltop is a beautiful new addition to the garden. Clearly the main emphasis has been on quality of design and materials rather than just cost. We were able to watch a free presentation in the lecture theatre on the subject of ‘Wellbeing’ and it certainly assisted ours – even if only by providing us with a seat for 45 minutes whilst we were told (as if we didn’t know) that gardening is good for you. There is also a roof terrace from which there are good views of the garden and open country although sadly a little diminished by the noise, if not the sight, of the nearby A3.

For the first time in more than a century of science at Wisley you can now see the scientists at work and interact with the RHS research. There was even a live presentation about plants flowering in the garden when we visited. The library contains some 28,000 books as well as items of horticultural literature dating back 500 years.

The Matt Keightley Wellbeing Garden outside the building is inspirational and takes the form of a series of rooms devoted to body and soul.

The new Wildlife Garden incorporates the Water Garden and was very quiet and very effectively laid out and seemed to have been there for years. The third new garden is the World Food Garden with attached café. The vegetables had to be seen to be believed … enormous and so healthy. This and the previous Garden were designed by Anne-Marie Powell.

From there we passed through the rose garden, the outdoor tropical garden and back down to the house and the nearby show – by now significantly less crowded allowing us to both buy a coffee and make a few purchases to bring home.

The shuttle buses took us back to the car and it was then time to leave the calm and tranquillity and head out onto the M25 for home. The memory bank still recalling aspects of the day as we sat in six lanes of stationary traffic!

Stephanie and Nigel Reader

Worcestershire HPS Plant Sale 2021

This year’s Annual Plant Sale finally went ahead on the wet Saturday afternoon of August 14th. This was later in the year than originally planned because of Covid restrictions so we were expecting and received, a varied range of plants for sale from the usual July abundance. In fact, members provided a wonderful selection of the usual, and more unusual, plants and this year there was also a connoisseur’s table which attracted interest.

There was a steady trickle of visitors throughout the afternoon but sadly not many members which was disappointing. All who came enjoyed wandering around the stalls and making purchases and members welcomed the opportunity to meet up with old friends and catch up on news. There was a marvellous array of cakes to enjoy with a cup of tea. There were a number of plants unsold at the end of the afternoon and some of these will again be offered for sale at our October meeting-so a second chance to support our group if you couldn’t make it on the 14th.

There are many people to thank for making the plant sale a success. Thanks to those who brought plants to the sale - it really was a magnificent display, members and volunteers who arrived early to set up the tables and who assisted in clearing up at the end. Thank you to the volunteers who offered advice to plant purchasers and also many thanks to the ladies who provided the tea and cake service.

The afternoon was deemed a success, people happy with their purchases and the society healthier financially.

After deducting expenses incurred (Some additional ones this year) we made an overall profit of £735.06.

Anne Bard
Members Representative

Book Corner

Designing with Grasses’ by Neil Lucas 2011 Timber Press Inc.

A couple of years ago I decided I wanted a grass bed in my garden as I had a rather dry area with a gentle slope leading to my small bog garden to include some screening to hide the bog area. Knowing little about grasses or been particularly enthusiastic about them or prairie gardens (Other than a few Stipa tenuissima and Ophiopogon dotted around the garden) I needed advice.

After some research, I bought a second-hand copy of the above book by Neil Lucas. Neil is a grass specialist, owner of Knoll Gardens in Dorset and is a lecturer, speaker, Chelsea gold medal winner as well as an RHS council member and judge.

This book told me all I needed to know to get started-about which grasses to use, how to plant/space and care for them. There are great photos throughout. There is good advice on where to view and buy grasses and a comprehensive ‘directory’. I was inspired to follow Neil’s template for the planting of his famous ‘Decennium Border’ at Knoll. (Well, partly followed as my grass bed is much smaller!). His template included suggestions for several varieties of Miscanthus sinensis, Molina caerulea, Calamagrotis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster” and Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’.

Companion perennials included were Echinacea, Eupatoria maculatum, Euphorbia palustris, Phlomis russelliana, Sanguisorba officicinalis and Veronicastrum virginicumna officinalis. After reading the chapter on ‘Designing with grasses’ I used the idea of forming a transparent grassy ‘screen’ between the new grass bed and the bog garden using Stipa Gigantea.

Two years on I am very pleased as my border is well established and has brought a ‘dead’ area of the garden to life all year round. I’ve also become more adventurous adding more plants to add spots of colour e.g.Echinaceas, Verbena bonariensis and Leucanthamums.

It all started with a second-hand gardening book which has been well-used and also loaned to a gardening friend who used it to help design her own grass bed. I would highly recommend this book if you want to start gardening with grasses.

Pam Norrington

Committee Vacancies

The position of group Secretary remains vacant since Jon Segar’s resignation and in 2020 has been covered by Lyn Maile in addition to her chairing duties. To continue with the smooth administration of the society we urgently require a new volunteer.


The main duties:

Skills required:

If you would like to know more about this role, please speak to Lyn Maile.


The main duties:

This role would be an ideal way of gaining insight into how our group is organised and the different roles of committee members. A great way of getting to know members particularly if you are new to the group, or if you are an established member, it’s a chance to be involved in planning without undertaking a more involved role.

For more information, please contact Lyn Maile or another committee member.