I get so much pleasure from my garden. I can walk round with a pair of secateurs in my hand and a bag for rubbish and be amazed to find that two hours have passed and I have shaped every plant in sight.
I get pleasure too from coming to our monthly meetings and sharing this enthusiasm with like-minded friends. I am constantly aware of how little I know about plants when I listen to our knowledgeable members, but it's lovely to be in the midst of such excellence. We have an interesting program of speakers planned for the year together with trips and coffee mornings. Details can be found under Programme 2007. Do come and join us whenever you can.
This year we celebrate the 50th birthday of the Hardy Plant Society and there will be a variety of opportunities to join in. I hope that you feel a certain pride in belonging to the Society and will join in an event if you get the chance. I wish you all a happy gardening year in 2007.
The £2.50 annual subscription for 2007 is now overdue. Any members who have not yet paid are asked to send a cheque to our Secretary, or better still, try to come to a future meeting and pay on the door. It's important to retain your membership and keep in touch through the Newsletter even if you are unable to attend meetings on a regular basis. Should you have transport difficulties, please let me know; we may be able to help.
A evening of madrigals and champagne, a bat and butterfly watch, a garden party with brass band, a tree-planting, the plans of different HPS Groups for their Anniversary celebrations announced round the table at the 2006 Group Secretary's Meeting ranged from the exotic to the mundane.
The Committee of our Group has viewed the Anniversary as a unique opportunity to offer the membership an activity that would elevate the Group to something more than its present status. Casting round for inspiration, the idea of a garden tour grew out of the success of similar ventures organised over the years by some of the larger HPS groups. The esprit of the group, it was reported, had been enhanced as members with a common interest in plants and gardens had enjoyed a shared experience. In considering possible regions, reports from Staffordshire Group members of their 2005 tour of East Anglia directed our thoughts to that less obvious region.
Some well-known names immediately leapt out from the itinerary - Beth Chatto, the RHS's Hyde Hall garden, Houghton Hall, home of the Marquess of Cholmondeley, and East Ruston Old Vicarage, featured a number of times on television, where a luxuriant 20 acre garden has been created within a stone's throw of the North Sea. But when a Hardy Planter describes some of the smaller private gardens such as Glen Chantry, Sundown and the Old Rectory at Sudborough as lovely, fantastic and amazing, you know they have to be something very special. So, East Anglia it was.
The next decision was whether the `tour' should be a tour in the true sense, stopping off overnight at various points along the route or whether we should base ourselves on a centre and strike out from there on daily excursions. The So, based on Staffs. Group's recommendation, accommodation has been booked at the 3-star Belstead Brook Hotel on the outskirts of Ipswich where the accommodation, food and service were all highly rated.
As to the itinerary, it was felt that one morning and one afternoon garden visit would allow a more leisurely appreciation of the gardens than squeezing in a third visit with one eye constantly on the clock; after all, this should be a holiday, not an endurance test! The chosen dates of 17-21. June avoid the school holidays and public holidays and mid-June is a time when most gardens offer the greatest profusion of flower.
Members have taken to the idea of a tour with enthusiasm, and those going are looking forward to enjoying both the gardens and the company.
When asked 'What is your favourite plant/' I find it very difficult to give a straightforward response. One's favourites tend to change with the seasons, and indeed, a favourite this year can well be regulated the next year for one reason or another. Certainly I could never reply to the question in the singular, I just like too many plants for that to be possible. Looking round the garden and mulling it over I have come up with a list of six. Rather than calling them my favourites I would prefer to say they are plants I wouldn't want to be without.
I. Hepatica nobilis - blue form. One of the delights of the spring garden, not grown as widely as Snowdrops and Crocuses but just as worthy of space. The flowers are not unlike Anemone blanda. When the new leaves follow they make a handsome clump, and unlike most of the other spring flowers they retain them until the following year.
2. Dicentra scandens. We first came across this plant on a visit to Spinners, Peter Chappell's garden in the New Forest in 1987. At the time we didn't know there was such a plant as a climbing Dicentra. Peter Chappell said that he wasn't too conversant with it, as it was a recent acquisition, but invited us to have a look at one growing in a host tree. It looked so attractive that we bought one and haven't been without it since. It does need a substantial host to be fully appreciated. We have it growing into a fastidiate Irish Yew, the sombre foliage providing a perfect foil for the mustard yellow flowers and pale green leaves of the Dicentra.
3. Stipa gigantea. According to the books, also known as Giant Feather grass and the Golden Oat. The latter I can understand but to my mind is not a bit feathery. I am fond of grasses, as they add variety and contrast to the garden. My favourite has to be Stipa gigantea with its tall inflorescences in a pale fawn colour, which flower from May to July, and then hang on until blown over by autumn gales.
4. Clematis viticella `Betty Corning'. I would certainly have to include one of our favourite genus in my top six. But how to choose just one, when all of them are so good? If pushed, it would have to be the cultivar `Betty Corning'. It is a member of the viticella group, known as the 'trouble-free' clematis, flowering on this year's growth from July through to September. It has pale pinky mauve bell shaped flowers with yellow stamens, slightly scented and grows strongly up to 8 ft.
5. Salvia - Indigo Spires. The late Christopher Lloyd in his book `Garden Flowers' says, when writing about Salvias - "the genus of sages is vast and includes a high proportion of rubbish". However he goes on to write that there is still a great deal to preoccupy us. Indigo Spires is one of these. It makes a substantial plant, some 5 feet high by 4 feet wide at maturity. The small deep indigo blue flowers are in whorls of up to 24, close together on long spikes of up to 18 inches from July to November, or even later if mild.
6. Aster frikartii "Monch". Michaelmas daisies are something of an acquired taste, mainly given room in the garden for their flower power, which occurs late in the year. Mildew is a problem with some of them and the foliage is distinctly nondescript, but A. frikartii "Monch" is very much an exception. It has good soft green leaves, which do not die off at the base, large pale mauve flowers and grows to about 3 feet.
Why am I so keen on composting? Well, I grow vegetables and when vegetables grow they take food from the soil. The following year the nutrients in the soil need to be replaced. The easiest way to do this is by applying fertilizers, but I am a Yorkshire man and so resent paying for something I can get for nothing. That is why I started composting. The same reason for using compost also applies to flowers and shrubs although to a lesser extent as they are not as hungry as, for example, brassicas. In addition, compost (or manure if you can get it cheaply) is also an excellent soil conditioner.
So how do you build a compost heap? It can just be a mound at the bottom of the garden. But you will prabab1y prefer a bin. This need not be very sophisticated or expensive! A simple bin can be made from four stakes and some chicken wire, or even better, from four old pallets. It should be at least one cubic yard large. Alternatively you can buy one from your local garden centre or from Worcestershire County Council, which sells heavily subsidised plastic bins. They are currently selling a 220-litre bin for £8 and a 330-litre bin for £10 (with an additional £1 off if you order on-line), delivered free to your door. Go to recyclenow compost for the details. I used such a bin for a couple of years, and, although they are smaller than the one cubic yard guideline, was most impressed by their efficiency. After a while however, my wife and I were producing so much garden waste that I had to replace it with a double bay monster I made myself from planks of wood.
Where do you position your compost bin? Ideally it should be placed on soil, so that the worms can get in and out. However some people have theirs on a solid concrete floor and they work perfectly well.
There are two different methods of composting, hot composting and cold composting. In hot composting enough materials are gathered together to fill the bin at one go. The composting process acts quickly and the heap reaches high temperatures, sufficiently high to kill all weed seeds. These days, for convenience, most people use cold composting, in which the ingredients are put in the compost bin as they come to hand. Not such high temperatures are achieved, but nevertheless you will be amazed at how quickly your garden waste breaks down. The important thing is to get a good mix of different materials, with both `greens' and `browns'. `Greens' include grass cuttings, vegetable peelings, fruit scraps, tea bags, coffee grounds, old flowers, spent bedding plants, annual weeds (before they are in seed) and nettle leaves. `Browns' include garden prunings (preferably shredded), dry leaves, hedge clippings, straw and hay, shredded paper, scrunched up cardboard, crushed egg shells, egg boxes and the cardboard tubes from toilet and kitchen rolls. The idea is not to add too much of any .one thing at any one time.
Toilet rolls, egg boxes and corrugated cardboard are beneficial as they help to aerate the heap. Air is an essential part of the composting process. The pioneers of composting designed complicated air channels into the bottom of the heap. Some people advocate turning a compost heap every couple of weeks. You can also buy cylindrical compost bins that turn on an axle to make aeration easy, but they are quite expensive. However, the most satisfactory solution is to have a second compost bin. When the first bin is full its contents are turned into a second empty bin with the uncomposted material now at the bottom and the partially composted material on the top. This turning process aerates the material. When the first bin is full for a second time, the compost in the second bin should be ready for use, and the cycle continues. The whole composting process takes about six months, slightly shorter in the summer and longer over the winter. A compost heap should never be too dry or too wet. As long as there is a good mixture of materials, this should be no problem.
The beautiful, black, friable compost, which is the result of this process, can be used in a number of ways. It can be dug into the vegetable or flowerbeds or used as a mulch. It can also be used as a fertilizer for lawns, although it will probably need to be sieved first. Finally it can be used as an ingredient for potting compost if you mix your own.
As you have probably guessed, I am very enthusiastic about composting. The first thing I do when I visit somebody else's garden is to go in search of their compost heap. So when I received a letter asking me if I was interested in becoming a Master Composter, I replied by return and was then invited to a two-day training course, which included a tour of the recycling facility at the local Household Waste Site and a visit to Garden Organic at Ryton, Coventry. The general idea of being a Master Composter is to spread the word about the benefits of compost.
We live near to Chipping Campden and on one of our early visits there happened upon the Memorial Garden. This Garden was opened in 1984 to celebrate the birth of E H Wilson in the town. The entrance to the Garden is through a gothic style arch from the Main Street near the road signposted to Shipston on Stour. It is planted with a range of the plants he collected including an Acer griseum, Clematis armandii and Lilium regale. There is also a story-board about his life and work as a plant collector. Over a period of some 20 years he collected over 1000 garden worthy plants a good percentage of which are still in cultivation.
Some time later, on a visit to one of our nieces in Boston, Mass., we decided to visit the Arnold Arboretum. This is part of the campus of Harvard University and was founded in 1872 for "the promotion of agricultural or horticultural improvements." It has the results of the collections of its various plant hunters growing in the open air. Some of the trees and shrubs are those originally collected by Wilson. Inside the Visitor Centre were various displays that included the same story-board as is in the Memorial Garden. There was also the actual large and cumbersome camera that Wilson had used on one of his trips. Our request for permission to photograph the display led to a discussion on our interest and before we knew what was happening we were led upstairs to a private area of the Centre.
The library room where we were taken has the full collection of all the original glass photographic plates and collecting diaries of E.H. Wilson, as well as many more from other collectors. There were over 2000 photographic plates taken by Wilson alone. Examples were extracted for us to see. Each photographic plate was of a tree or shrub, with a person standing beside it so that the scale could be appreciated. Remembering the size of the camera we had just seen, the fact that Wilson may have travelled 1000 miles by foot and horse or donkey to reach the site, and the glass plates had been carried all the way back, we were left speechless. The diaries were equally memorable. At that time the process of digitising all the photographic plates and diaries had just started. They are accessible on the Harvard University website. There is also a list of the woody plants collected by Wilson on the website of the NCCPG.
Mr and Mrs Rawling moved to this area in 1983, coming from Bromley where they gardened - with difficulty - on clay. They brought a number of treasures with them and they form the base of the present garden. 20+ year old reminders of Bromley are, e.g. Camellia "Mary Christian", Sorbus "Joseph Rock" and Genista aetnensis, the Mount Etna broom.
In 1983 the garden was mainly lawned with small areas of bedding plants, but with Mr Rawling's plans the grass disappeared, paths were laid and the whole garden is now covered with trees, shrubs, plants and flowers of many descriptions. A Callistemon, a Hoheria and a Pittosporum, not regarded as hardy, thrive outdoors in the benign conditions of this sheltered garden.
A Catalpha makes a bold statement in the front garden. An original plant, bought at Treasures of Tenbury didn't thrive, possibly because of too much frost and wet conditions. The present 20 year old tree provides shade and shelter for numerous plants at the base. Dead branches are pruned out but otherwise the tree grows happily without assistance.
The garden has a lot of spring attractions to lift the spirit but the basic plan is to provide year round interest. There is Allium caeruleum and "Ivory Queen", Amsonia, Cyclamen, white daffodils, asters, a range of tulips showing the bright green promise of things to come; primroses (something that wouldn't have grown in the Bromley garden), Eucomis and various hardy geraniums. Of those, Mrs Rawling is particularly proud of 'Buxton Blue' that she grew from seed. She first came across Avon Bulbs, a mail order only company based in Somerset at Chelsea Flower Show, and her experience is that they provide a reliable service with good plants. However the 'queen of the garden' is Cornus nuttallii giving a spectacular display.
Our house is situated on a sloping site, which is high at the back down to road level at the front. When we moved in, we inherited a greenhouse which was on the highest level and which dominated the view from every rear window. It was quite attractive in itself, but definitely in the wrong place and it didn't fit in with my plans for the garden. Unfortunately, as we had not had a greenhouse before, my husband was really pleased with it and full of ideas about how he would use it. I realised that it was here to stay and I would have to accept it.
Luckily for me, Mother Nature intervened; the prevailing wind repeatedly blew out some of the windows and my exasperated husband agreed that we should get rid of it. An advertisement was placed in the local paper to the effect that the greenhouse would be free to anyone who would dismantle and remove it. We had no expectation of even one response. To our surprise, early on the morning that the paper came out, a man telephoned to say that he wanted it. He arrived the next morning and I went off to do the weekly shop. I returned to see his pick-up truck with the greenhouse on the back turning out of our lane. I was ecstatic.
My husband chose a small replacement, which I bought for his birthday. It is a sheltered site at the side of the garage in the front of the house. It can only be seen from the utility room window - perfect.
The aim is to preserve older, rarer or lesser-known hardy perennial plants and to maintain records in order to ensure that the knowledge to grow these plants successfully is not lost, and can be of use, interest and enjoyment to HPS members and others.
Basically, any hardy perennial that has only four or fewer holders as registered in the most up-to-date edition of the Plant Finder, is acceptable for inclusion in the Scheme. Someone within the Group is nominated to grow on and then propagate the plant (if it is robust enough) at the end of its first growing season. Then cuttings/divisions are passed on and when more members are growing this plant successfully it can be offered for sale on our own sales table and then to other groups. There are specially produced questionnaires that do have to be filled in by each grower at the end of the year. My task is to collect them up and send them to the national co-ordinator to be put on the national database.] I will then receive follow up forms for the next growing season and will distribute them to the plant holders.
It probably sounds complicated - it isn't. Also, do look out for the plants which some members have already propagated successfully, and take them to grow on yourselves. They will appear on our plant sales table if they are "for general release", and no forms now will be necessary. These plants are just for passing around and boosting our revenue a little.
All the plants being grown for the Scheme have a distinctive specially printed green label. There may be a few held by people that we have no record of. Do let me know if you have such a plant so that I can document it. I hold a supply for labelling new plants to the scheme.
We are hearing so much of Global Warming now that most of us are less sceptical and beginning to accept that it is really happening.
Sadly, it does not appear to simply mean long, hot summers, but also, increasingly, unpredictable onslaughts of too much wind, too much rain at once or too little rain for long periods. What does this mean for our wonderful English herbaceous borders? How can we endeavour to plant for that succession of colour for which English gardening is renowned?
One solution is to consider what plants succeed in the Mediterranean climate There are four Mediterranean-type climates in the world besides that surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. They are the South African Cape, Southern and Western Australia, Central Chile and much of California. What is this "Mediterranean climate"? It is characterized by cool, wet winters and summer drought. Temperatures may vary and some areas have hard frosts in winter and some no frost at all. Summers can be unbearably hot and dry or mild and foggy. Many plants adapting to these conditions have a summer dormancy, this season being the hardest to withstand.
Thus some plants native to these areas, some of which are familiar to us as annuals, may be useful. Clues may be in the Latin names such as "capensis" meaning from the Cape or "australis" from Australia.
Three new members contributed information about their, very differing, gardens. Nick and Mary Sadler were faced in 2005 with a country garden in need of a complete makeover. Their first action has been to replace two cupressus leylandii hedges with yew on one side and a mixture of mainly evergreen shrubs and trees on the other. They are also altering the layout of the beds and introducing a much greater variety of plants. The raised terrace behind the house has some nice perennials and lots of ground elder, which they are clearing. The orchard and veg patch are in dire need of resurrection, but one boundary has been replanted with native hedging. In all they have planted over sixty trees and a similar number of shrubs as well as the hedging. They have a particular interest in early flowering trees, spring bulbs and early perennials, but watching their new mature over the coming years will be a delight.
Judith and Colin Doughty have gardened in their small town garden for a long time. The front is potentially formal with clipped hedges and bay, but the informal plants 'get out' a lot. The soil at the back was so trampled it was unrecognisable until after lots of digging and rubble removal. The high red brick walls give scope for climbers and fairly tender plants, but mean that one side is shady, the other hot and sunny. The wind whistles down the back of their tall house when it's in the 'wrong' direction. They have about met their aim of having something in flower or colour all year by using bulbs, shrubs and pots as well as perennials. Judith finds most joyous those plants that flower at the beginning and end of the year - iris unguicularis and reticulata, hellebores and early narcissi at the beginning and tricyrtris and asters at the end. And Colin loves his summer irises.
Sue Chitty has plans for the garden she has very recently moved to - very soon she will have a greenhouse and intends to dig up a shady north-west facing lawn. She will test Beth Chatto's opinion that plants that won't do well in tree shade often do better in other types of shade. Her spring favourites are snowdrops and hellebores, and has planted bluebells to follow on. She has removed bergenias which she finds unattractive. She intends to use colour, mainly yellow and blue, selectively in borders and to grow vegetables. She is a keen composter.
The next edition of the full Newsletter will be available at the November meeting. The editor needs to have contributions by Monday 15 October.