Welcome to the 49th edition of the Worcestershire HPS newsletter. We have already had some welcome spring sunshine and hopefully members have, like me, started venturing forth into their gardens and preparing for coming months.
This month we have several articles with a wildlife theme, the story of the Coles’ nursery and garden and an insight into flower arranging and growing.
We have a thoughtful contribution on the more therapeutic aspects of gardening – a topic much in the gardening media now and promoted by celebrity gardeners such as Monty Don. Included are regular features including society news and updates– the Five Minutes With interview – when Mick visits a member’s garden. We are given some insight into preparations for the Malvern Spring Festival while other members report back on garden visits, both exotic as well as British.
I am looking forward to the Hampshire Gardens tour, and will be asking for volunteers for brief visit reports for our next newsletter in the autumn. For anyone still contemplating joining us, there are a few places still available – please contact Katherine Elrick Smith or another committee member. I will be looking for a range of other articles for the September edition, so any garden visits or nurseries you can recommend, courses or workshops attended, thoughts on your favourite plant, handy gardening tips – in fact anything gardening or plant related – please get in touch. Your article doesn’t need to be lengthy or technical just of interest to fellow gardeners. I would appreciate feedback from members regarding previous as well as future articles – this is your newsletter and we want it to be of interest to all.
Enjoy the rest of the spring and here’s hoping the summer doesn’t bring another prolonged drought. Keep gardening.
A new booklet has just been added to the list of publications produced by the national HPS and this one has involved one of our Worcestershire members, Margaret Stone.
The new work, an updated booklet on the subject of pulmonarias, was hot off the press at the society’s AGM in March in Beverley and unveiled earlier at the Pulmonaria Day in Powick.
Margaret says “The first was written by Jennifer Hewitt and published in 1998. I have added descriptions of plants introduced since then. Jennifer has helped with proof-reading and comments. Photographs have been used extensively, many of them taken by Worcestershire photographer Adrian James.
“The aim has been to describe as many cultivars as possible and it is the most comprehensive guide available. Pulmonarias are a threatened family: only a few varieties are now sold in garden centres. I hope that the book will encourage HPS members to check their plants to ensure that they are correctly named and then propagate them and pass them around.
“Pulmonarias are excellent garden plants – valued ingredients of the spring garden but also useful for their foliage later in the year, particularly in late autumn. Do not take them for granted but learn more about them and help in their conservation.”
Pulmonarias have a long history in European gardens and are easily recognised in spring by their spotted leaves and pink and blue flowers on the same plant. There are pulmonarias in most gardens, and round about now is when they are at their best – the perfect foil for spring bulbs, neat clumps of foliage and abundant flowers that provide an important food source for pollinating insects.
Ideal garden plants, they are hardy and easy to grow, and one of the few plants with silvery or silver spotted leaves that thrive in shade. Flowers open in succession over several weeks from pink or red buds and as the flowers mature they become violet, blue or purple although some plants bear flowers that remain pink or red and others are almost pure white. The variation in foliage and flower colours range from vibrant electric blue with a foil of plain green leaves to subtle shades of pink and white with softly spotted or blotched leaves.
Copies cost £5.50 for members (£7.50 for nonmembers) and are obtainable via head office (01386 710317) or the website www.hardy-plant.org.uk/publications/booklets
I live just about a mile from the Three Counties Showground in Malvern, so it’s perhaps not surprising that I have been going to the Malvern Spring Festival every year, come rain or shine, to join the crowds soaking up the atmosphere under the backdrop of the magnificent Malvern Hills.
The HPS Worcestershire Group also has a long association with the show. The Group first staged a display of hardy plants there in 1997 and it has been a feature on the calendar during many of the intervening years. It was then that I first experienced the excitement of the ‘build-up’, seeing how those wonderful nursery displays are created in remarkably short time. I was part of the team for several years in the early days and have enjoyed being able to do so again since retiring from work.
This year our display will be the result of collaboration between several HPS local groups, and sharing resources and skills with Lincolnshire who will have an HPS stand at the RHS Chatsworth Show for the first time. Our aim is to tell the gardening public about the Hardy Plant Society, so an attractive display of plants is undoubtedly the best way to start a conversation. Our planting theme will be ‘Hardy Perennials for Sun and Shade’ and we are very fortunate that Cotswold Garden Flowers will be providing us with plants again, as they have done for many years.
You may wonder what is involved in making a display and whether it might be something you would be interested in doing. At Malvern, plant societies are grouped together and the marquee is marked out and equipped with a staging area and backdrop. Plants are chosen that will be in bloom or have attractive foliage and are displayed by grouping pots together in ‘garden-like’ associations. This year we will have shadeloving plants under the delicate leaves of a birch sapling and sun-lovers together on the other side of the stage with a collection of plants enjoying part-shade to link the them. The trick is to make a collection of pots look like natural planting, using empty pots and packing to raise some of the smaller plants and filling the gaps with newspaper before top-dressing with bark mulch. Labelling is important and attention to every detail is essential.
But it’s not all about plants, we need to provide clear information about the society and are also asked to consider the theme chosen by the RHS. This year there will be a series of photographic exhibits around the show to commemorate the 180th anniversary of the discovery of the silverhalide process used to capture photographic images and in keeping with this we will display some of the winning entries from the annual HPS photographic competition. Information needs to be presented clearly and printed on foam boards.
As a reminder of another photographic development, the image of the 1997 display was scanned from a print photograph as digital imaging only became widely used in the last decade.
The RHS judges consider the plant society displays and make awards the day before the show opens. It is wonderful when all the hard work is recognised, but the main reason for taking part is having the opportunity to tell people about the HPS and encourage new members. So, having volunteers on the stand throughout the show ensures that we can take every opportunity to talk to visitors about the benefits of HPS membership. Why not join us for a couple of hours ? You don’t need to be an expert as all the information about plants on the display will be there – in return you have the rest of the day to enjoy the Show.
If, like me, you enjoy raising plants you will get a buzz from selling them to the gardening public and offering growing and maintenance tips based on your own experience. You will also draw satisfaction from contributing to what is now a major source of revenue for the Group. We have welcomed a number of new members in the course of the last year and for their benefit it is worth briefly explaining how the system works.
Members are invited to bring along donated plants between say 12.15 and 1.30 p.m. These may be annuals, perennials, alpines, vegetables or shrubs, in fact anything grown in the garden other than weeds! They should be nicely presented in clean pots and labelled with common and/or botanical names and any other helpful information. If not in bloom it is a good idea to stick a flower in the pot if you have one available.
On arrival, plants will be checked and priced using the coloured-label system before being transferred to the sales tables. (Please contact me if you have plants for the sale but will not be able to attend on the day.) Any unsold plants should be re-claimed after the sale; those left behind will be placed on the sales table at the July meeting. Hot drinks will be available for members throughout and the sale itself opens to the public from 2 to 4 p.m.
We hope to see you there, whether as a grower, helper, buyer or all three!
I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hills, when all at once I saw a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils; beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
I recently gave a talk on loneliness to a U3A group to open a discussion of this subject. People are now seeing loneliness an increasingly important matter in this age of technology and individualism which seem to have had a big part to play in increasing levels of loneliness. Many people of all ages are suffering from anxiety and depression, unable to make genuine, direct and warm human contacts. Sources of help are becoming scarcer. Loneliness and isolation seem to be major factors in poor mental health. Being alone, however, as opposed to being lonely, can have many positive aspects. People welcome time spent alone in peaceful surroundings: walkers, mountaineers, sailors and (do I hear you say it?) gardeners.
Contemplating nature is appreciated by many as a calming and healing experience, a relief from the strains and stresses of everyday life in a world becoming ever more hectic. I am sure that this will come as no surprise to people who value their gardening activity. The physical activity linked with times of relaxation to enjoy the results, to say nothing of feeling the benefit of fresh air, are surely of great importance to every HPS member. Being in close touch with the cycle of the gardening year, of annual growth and regeneration after the winter, must count very highly in our lives. Even if you have found an afternoon’s gardening physically tiring, have you not felt refreshed in spirit?
The benefits of a garden are being offered to more people now, even those who cannot easily participate actively. There has been a movement for the establishment of community gardens in public spaces, especially where green areas are scarce. There are developments such as Horatio’s Garden in hospitals and hospices. The members of HPS can take a leaf out of church hymn-books and say, “We have a gospel to proclaim.” We can encourage people to explore the joys of gardening, and its therapeutic power, and to discover the friendship to be found within the HPS. There are people out there who are still wandering lonely as a cloud and who with your help might well learn to join the dance of the daffodils.
Morning, Selwyn. Thanks very much for inviting me today. Can I start by asking about your garden?
I’ve lived in this Victorian house since late 2002. The back garden is about 100 foot long and 50ft wide. It’s not a bad space, although the slope and the aspect are limitations, and there’s also a small garden at the front. I moved house because I’d run out of space at my last place – as you can see I have a problem with all my books and pottery. I’d hoped to find a garden of about half an acre but ended up with not much more than a quarter of that.
How’s it working out?
To be honest, I like both the house and the garden, although the garden has its challenges. The soil is very heavy clay and poorly drained. Over the last few years I’ve spent a lot of time digging out the topsoil in different beds, which is only Worcestershire member Selwyn Lane has, for most of the last 16 years, been getting to grips with a north-facing, sloping garden with heavy alkaline clay in Redditch. MICK DUNSTAN had a guided tour… about four to six inches deep, taking out the subsoil down to 12 or 15 inches and taking it to the tip. Then, I put the topsoil back with spent compost, manure and so on. It’s been hard work but it’s made a big difference – particularly to the drainage – and I’m a bit fitter than I used to be! The upside is that, being clay, once you improve it, it’s good stuff.
And how much time do you devote to all this?
When I moved in, after an initial few months assessing what I had, I embarked on a gradual process of change. New beds were dug, others enlarged and replanted and I put in a larger greenhouse. In late 2010, this came to a halt. My parents in Herefordshire both fell ill, and subsequently died. Almost all my spare time went on visiting them and, subsequently, in maintaining the cottage and its garden until it finally sold in 2014. It was a big garden and it took two hours just to mow the grass. When the cottage finally sold, work went mad and I was again busy until shortly before my redundancy/retirement in August 2015. So, my garden was rather neglected and I had time for little more than essential maintenance. Since then, I’ve been making up for lost time. The day after I retired, I ordered a cement mixer and building material and carried on from there! I’ve built or rebuilt retaining walls, laid a paved sandstone area, extended and remodelled beds and done a lot of soil improvement. I’ve also put in a second greenhouse, a gravel bed, a small pond and a bog garden, entirely replacing the bottom lawn. In summer, I’d be surprised if I’m not spending 20 to 25 hours a week in the garden, more when working on a construction project. Even in the winter it can be more than 10 hours a week. Most of the physical construction is done now, so I can concentrate more on the plants. I have spent a lot of time but I don’t begrudge it at all.
Clearly, you love your gardening. What’s its special appeal?
Part of it is that I’ve always done it. My parents gave me a little patch and a little spade when I was three, apparently, and I was hooked from then on. Initially, it was just vegetables but I’ve branched out a lot. I’ve also an interest in natural history and enjoy being outdoors, and once I started work I’m sure part of it was a reaction to, and release from, being stuck in an office all day.
What was your work?
I worked as a database specialist. I started with Austin Morris/British Leyland and after a management buy-out they changed the name to ISTEL, which sounded very modern but some wag said stood for I Stand To Earn Less. Eventually, the bit I worked for was sold off to Cap Gemini. If you’ve got a Boots Advantage card, I did the original database and hardware design for the operational database and ran the database for 11 years.
And, in retirement, gardening is one of your main interests, I suppose.
Very much so, although it has to compete with all my other interests. Until I came here I’d not felt able to put my stamp on a garden. My previous house had a very small and narrow garden which limited what was possible. My primary interest is definitely in plants themselves; what I’m not very good at is the design side. I do admire people who can do that but find my efforts tend to be undermined by the need to make space for the latest plant – or six. Hopefully, the hard landscaping I have been doing will impose structure and discipline. I am also bad at throwing away plants. Of course, you get some that grow well FIVE MINUTES WITH… but you have to be careful not to get swamped – Knautia macedonica and Allium triquetrum are cases in point here. However, I am learning to be more ruthless.
Any plants that you particularly like?
I like hardy perennials and bulbs in particular. I also like annuals for their colour but I don’t have room for them. I have less of an interest in trees or shrubs, perhaps fortunately given the limited space available, although I do have some. I still like to grow my own vegetables and some soft fruit as well. I get enthusiasms for different groups of plants – and hedychiums are certainly an example. They are spectacular and a lot hardier than some might think. Gardnerianum will take five degrees of frost and others go down to minus 20. I’m also fond of species tulips and reticulata irises and have accumulated a fair number. Some things I love won’t grow here at all – meconopsis for example. However, I’ve recently discovered composted bark, which brings down the alkalinity and does make a lot of difference to what will grow.
What are your other interests?
From my shelves, you can tell I’m interested in natural history. I’m addicted to books and always have been – there are probably 4,500 in the house. I’m keen on pottery and collect it – I did evening classes for years and I have a kiln and wheel, bought 10 years ago, that have been sitting in the garage uninstalled, making me feel guilty ever since. Cooking is another passion and I was on MasterChef on the BBC two years ago. I got to the second round when I got into terrible time trouble and had problems with the oven. It was car-crash TV and my worst day’s cooking in 15 years or more. But I did enjoy the experience and still watch. Travel is something else that I enjoy and I’ve just been to Northern Cyprus. The carpets of spring flowers were stunning and I found eight species of bee orchids in the hotel grounds alone. I’m looking forward to a trip to the Kamchatka peninsula in eastern Russia in August. I’ve never been but it has a lot of volcanoes, superb bird life and lots of plants. I’ve been to Kazakhstan four times now and another of my retirement projects is to write a field guide to the plants of South East Kazakhstan. It might get finished someday!
Do you belong to other gardening societies besides the HPS?
I joined Worcestershire group three years ago after I retired but I’ve been going to Western Counties since 1999. My mother and I joined at the same time and would meet up there. I love the all-day format of their meeting and I’m amazed by the depth of knowledge of many HPS members. I’m also in the Alpine Garden Society and the RHS and I must join the British Iris Society.
I can see, Selwyn, hundreds and hundreds of pots in your back garden. Maybe a thousand…
I’m afraid so but I’ve no idea really how many there are. I love sowing seeds and I also have lots of crocuses, fritillaries, alliums and other things which don’t like the soil.
Any tips on growing from seed?
It can be a bit erratic but I’d recommend patience. I have some cyclamen that came up after two and a half years. I leave perennials for a couple of years at least, hence the vast numbers of small pots. Just give it time and don’t give up. I’ve planted over 100 varieties of seed this winter and I’ve still got 30 or 40 lots of South African and tender bulbs which I’ll plant in May when I’ve got some propagator space.
Selwyn, it’s been a genuine pleasure. Thank you.
I am a novice when it comes to growing galanthus.
I have previously tried bulbs with patchy success but this year I took on board the idea of purchasing snowdrops ’in the green’ which, I understand are easier to establish. I purchased 75 on the internet and started planting…
When I saw a visit to Colesbourne offered by my husband’s camera club I decided to tag along. In the event, the visit was cancelled due to the snow but on checking their website I found another afternoon open to RHS members.
Colesbourne Park – between Cheltenham and Cirencester – is considered to be England’s greatest snowdrop garden. It’s an ideal venue to enjoy and photograph snowdrops and is part of a large estate owned by the Elwes family since 1789. Current owners John and Caroline Elwes open their gardens on a limited basis at weekends or by arrangement during the spring. The sheer scale and varieties of snowdrops on display at the park are impressive, all labelled and set in naturalistic woodland gardens together with a picturesque lake. The snowdrops are in drifts amongst other woodland plants such as anemones, hellebores, shrubs and aconites.
Of particular interest was the plant stall displaying a wide variety of snowdrops for sale-ranging from the more modestly priced to the rarer hybrids and varieties to be found in the gardens. Fortunately, I was easily able to resist the small pot priced at £124 but did purchase four other pots to add to my existing collection of the more mundane species of Galanthus nivalis and G. ‘Flore Pleno’. My purchases included G. ‘Straffan’ AGM, G. ‘S Arnott’ a mid-season and flagship variety of Colesbourne and G. elwesii var elwesii. Although galanthus are unlikely to spread via pollination I was unsure whether my new species would be engulfed by my existing varieties so I have planted them in small beds on my terrace. Here they can be seen and enjoyed more easily and hopefully, smelled as one variety G. ‘S. Arnott’ is allegedly scented. The plants were in pots and appear to have settled in to their new homes, some gardeners suggesting that this is the best way to establish snowdrops, even better than ‘in the green’. Testimony to this being my lone G. ‘Straffan’ which has flowered already, despite the upheaval. Time will tell if they multiply and spread more quickly than my cheaper internet purchases.
This was the third in a series of HPS workshops led by Duncan Coombs the first 2 covered planting seeds and soft wood cuttings. Duncan is well known for his in-depth knowledge of plants and wry humour. Member Sue Dryden shares her feedback on the afternoon workshop.
My attempts at propagating in the past have been a matter of breaking something off a plant I liked, sticking it in a pot and hoping it will grow. Usually it doesn’t grow or I have a very low rate of success at best so I signed up for the propagating afternoon arranged by Mick Dunstan at Spetchley Gardens.
We met Duncan Coombs, who was going to teach us the correct way to take and grow hardwood cuttings. Duncan gave us a mountain of paperwork which he patiently went through in detail answering many questions along the way. We then followed him out into the gardens stopping at plants to see who would like to take cuttings from them.
We continued into the garden, the following growing less as folks made their choices from Duncan’s recommendations and stopped to take their cuttings; six to eight being the number he suggested. At last we came to the rose beds and I saw my chance and put my hand up for a climbing rose covering an arch, called Etoile de Hollande. It was with some trepidation I chose my eight cuttings, trying to remember where the cut should be in relation to the buds etc without of course, Duncan’s paperwork which we had left inside.
Back indoors the tables were ready for us to pot up our precious cuttings with Duncan giving advice where needed. Deep pots are required as the cuttings will stay there up to two years until well rooted. I only asked one question and that was how long before I knew IF the cuttings had taken. Duncan’s reply was there would be no IF but only WHEN. I have my answer as all eight have now got healthy green shoots. A brilliant afternoon.
When Mick contacted me to write an article on flower arranging, I jumped at the idea. But now, faced with it, I’m not so sure.
My love of flower arranging really stems from the joy of putting flowers together in order to adorn a corner in the house, create spectacle for a church wedding or flower festival or to provide a posy as a gift. More pleasurable than anything is picking a bunch of flowers in season from the garden and plonking them on the kitchen table.
I was fortunate in 2001 to move house and create a new garden housing all the invaluable evergreens and foliage which, basically, fills over half of my arrangements. My real stand-bys are all the pittosporums, rhamnus alaternus ‘Argentovariegata’, Stephanandra tanakae, Prunus laurocerasus ‘Castlewellan’, a silver and green laurel that is just marvellous for big arrangements. Continual picking keeps it under control.
Shrubs of any kind are wonderful, particularly the viburnums, which I pick either early morning or late evening, shave the bark off the stems and soak them for 24 hours.
I tend to grow hardy annuals, starting them off in the greenhouse in late autumn or early spring. Ammi majus (Bishop’s Flower) is gorgeous and long-lasting as is Orlaya grandiflora, now seeding itself all over the garden.
Cerinthe major also seeds itself but I notice my Peking hens have suddenly taken a liking to it. Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’ is a must, as are the sweet peas, salpiglossis and Scabiosa atropurpurea ‘Black Cat’.
For bulking up, I grow euphorbias but you must seal the ends for a few seconds in boiling water and then they will behave. Alchemilla mollis is a real stand-by as are the honeysuckles, although they tend not to last long but the perfume always adds something.
As the year progresses, the dahlias come into their own. I now tend to grow them in the vegetable patch so I can pick them freely. I love the very deep reds and oranges that Sarah Raven sells at extortionate prices.
Berries and seed heads come into their own later in the season but with spring emerging, I can’t bear to look that far ahead and will just enjoy going into the garden and finding a bunch of violets to put in an egg cup. It gives as much pleasure as a vast display of roses.
I first became acquainted with moles in 1976 when we moved to Inkberrow. I sought the advice of bird mimic Percy Edwards who said that pouring paraffin down the holes would send the moles to our neighbour’s. That seemed to work for a while. Over the years we co-habited with moles until about 12 months ago, when everything changed. A long line of molehills heading up the field appeared almost overnight. Were they trying to take over the world? I threw in the towel and called in a mole man.
If only it was just moles. Soon after moving in we created a vegetable area, but then rabbits appeared. Surprisingly, lettuce did not prove popular with the invaders. Did Beatrix Potter meet a different kind of rabbit I wonder? Rabbit fencing was installed and the issue forgotten about. A couple of years ago things started to disappear. But it couldn’t be rabbits, we were fenced. A camera was placed on a post, and an overnight photo, revealed nothing. Then, much excitement, 50 shots had been recorded. Sadly, those proved to be of my backside as I weeded and planted. But shortly after, underneath a blackcurrant bush in the middle of the patch, I spotted a tell-tale hole. The bunnies were back, with the attack coming from under a nearby outbuilding. So, last summer we had to co-exist with rabbits. All the climbing French beans were eaten, whereas a few runner bean plants survived. Potatoes were untouched as were courgettes and butternut squash. Over the winter Myxomatosis has affected the rabbit population. Time will tell whether any remain.
We are constantly being exhorted to garden for wildlife. I like to think that ours is a wildlife-friendly garden, not by virtue of any special measures we have taken (yes, we do put out feeders for the birds, have a bat box and one or two nesting boxes) but as a natural consequence of our location and the fact that we are enthusiastic gardeners. Not all God’s creatures are welcome, however, but it is impossible to be selective. The squirrels, woodpigeons, rabbits and voles are not encouraged but proliferate regardless.
Our motives in erecting a birdfeeder outside the kitchen window were largely selfish. It is a delight, particularly in winter, to watch the frenzied activity of the birds as they Smelling of roses… space above. Ratty had made a nest in the glass fibre insulation and collected a cache of peanuts, stolen from the birdfeeder, before settling down for a long winter. There he died. He had even thought to make his nest above the light for added warmth which only compounded the nuisance. So gardening for wildlife isn’t all about smelling of roses. commute feverishly between the feeders and the refuge of the nearby hedge. Would they find sufficient food without our hospitality? There are plenty of berries and haws for them in the surrounding field hedges as witnessed by the many hawthorn and bramble seedlings that appear in the borders under popular perching places. In the garden itself, the pyracantha and windfall fruits must be a rich source of nutrients. The woodpeckers, too, frequent the bird feeder but I prefer to see them stabbing at the lawn for the ants whose nests form raised mounds for you to trip over.
The resourcefulness of some birds in finding nesting places has to be admired. For two consecutive years a blackbird has built its nest perched on a purling under the eaves of the roof. The most bizarre case, though, was that of a robin who built a nest in an open-topped bag of garden compost, completely exposed to the elements and predators. Surprisingly, the five eggs all hatched and the young fully fledged. As Hardy Planters, our garden is full of flowers and a paradise for bees and other pollinators for most of the year. We don’t need to plan for bee-friendly plants; they are part of our natural palette. Even out of season there are the nectar-rich flowers of the ivy climbing through the hedges, not to mention the winter-flowering jasmines, honeysuckles and Christmas box. Even the bluebottles are catered for by the Dracunculus vulgaris which we really grow for its short-lived but spectacular spathe-like blooms rather than for its overpowering smell of rotting flesh.
A further welcome guest in the garden is the hedgehog. Some four years ago the whole garden was fenced off against rabbits and we feared we might shut out any hedgehogs. Thankfully we are still home to a hedgehog as confirmed by a recent sighting and the discovery of upturned plant pots, tipped over by our friend in search of the slugs to be found on the underside.
Some creatures clearly like to be alternative. A yard broom, leaning against the tool shed wall on its handle, was discovered to have been converted to a high-rise home by a small quadruped. Covering the stiff bristles was a thatch of dried vegetation in the centre of which was a perfect nest constructed of the finest and softest grasses and fibres you could find.
Not all such discoveries warm the heart. A while ago we became aware of an unpleasant odour in the ‘smallest room’. With time this became so overwhelming that a thorough investigation was called for. The source of the smell was eventually traced to the corpse of a dead rat in the roof space above. Ratty had made a nest in the glass fibre insulation and collected a cache of peanuts, stolen from the birdfeeder, before settling down for a long winter. There he died. He had even thought to make his nest above the light for added warmth which only compounded the nuisance. So gardening for wildlife isn’t all about smelling of roses.
Silver jubilees are important occasions in the life of any organisation.
Believe it or not, the Worcestershire group of the Hardy Plant Society celebrates its 25th birthday next year. The actual date of our first meeting was November 11, 1995 – and it was held in Lecture Room 10 at the Frank Parkinson Centre at Pershore College. Those who were there tell me the subject of Bob Brown’s talk was Unusual Hardy Perennials. It seems somehow fitting that we still hold some of our meetings at the place of our birth.
That first meeting drew an audience of 120 people – which is around the level of membership to which we are now returning, after a lull in recent times. Funny how what goes around, comes around and how wonderful it is to have people who have been members for all, or almost all, of that time.
Five years ago, a day of celebration was held at Pershore College to commemorate our 20th anniversary. Three speakers – John Massey, from Ashwood Nurseries, Fergus Garrett, from Great Dixter, and Alastair Bayford, then parks manager at the Olympic Park in East London – helped create an event that many members still remember.
But what should we do next year – if anything – to mark the silver anniversary? Should we play it low key or should we make a big show of it?
At this stage, we’ve come to no firm decision except, perhaps, to celebrate the event because it’s an event that deserves celebrating. A small group of committee members will be meeting over coming weeks to flesh out our plans and while we already have a few irons in the fire, we’d love to have your thoughts too.
You’ll be aware that we already have a celebrity lecture on the books – speaker secretary Steph Reader has agreed details for Chris Beardshaw to be our special guest, again at Pershore, on Thursday September 3, 2020. Maybe we could build on that to make it another day to remember or identify a separate occasion for a party.
We’ll get back to you with more information as our discussions take shape but please let us know your thoughts – you can email our chairman, Mick Dunstan, at firstname.lastname@example.org or just chat with any of our committee members.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Diane and I have run our garden and nursery in Feckenham since 1998, but our horticultural pursuits stretch much further back.
Although I had a small patch in my parent’s garden, as children often do, my first venture into real gardening came when I bought a newly – built flat in Coventry in 1967 which had a small garden, left as an unkempt wilderness by the builders. I organised a party where I invited my friends to bring a spade and a bottle, and we quickly turned over the small patch. The pile of brick ends and rubble formed the basis of my first rock garden. My Mum gave me some plants, and I took my first tentative steps into the world of seed sowing. I was hooked, but little did I know where it would lead.
Having qualified as an architect in 1971 and then in landscape architecture in 1974 enabled me to secure a post in 1976 in the newly formed Tame Division of Severn Trent Water Authority and I ran their Architecture and Landscape department until my retirement in late 2002. Around this time, I began to freelance too, and designed gardens for anyone who asked. I also started to propagate plants from my garden and New member ROB COLE talks about his nursery and how he feels about downsizing in recent times… from seed, specifically to supplement the design work – new gardens need new plants.
I first married in 1969 and had two sons, Christopher and Andrew. After divorcing in 1982, I eventually met Diane, who was separated but not yet divorced, in 1986 on a beach in Alcudia, Majorca, where we were both holidaying alone, and our lives changed completely. She lived in St. Neots and I lived in Birmingham, but we both sold up in 1987 and bought a house together in Elizabeth Road in Moseley, Birmingham, and married in 1988. It was at this point that Diane, who had two very young children to look after, began to grow plants on our nearby allotment, selling at car boot sales in those early days. We created a garden together at our newly acquired house and began to open once or twice a year for the NGS. The first time we opened, in 1992, we had 575 visitors to our 100ft x 30ft garden – a bit of a squash – and over the next six years we had well over 5,000 visitors. We even made a special badge for our 5,000th visitor, which she wore proudly all afternoon.
Growing plants became more serious and so Diane set up her business as Diane Cole Hardy Plants. Since those early days we have always sold our plants at plant fairs – an allotment is not an ideal place to conduct business anyway – and everyone who attends a plant fair is an enthusiast and potential customer. We rented five allotments eventually for growing our plants, and success led to our abandoning the allotments and setting up a nursery near Shrewley in Warwickshire, where Diane travelled each day whilst the children were at school and I was at work. Our very first serious event was the two-day Kings Heath Show in September 1991 which proved very successful and gave us the confidence to continue growing and selling.
But our dream was always to have a house, garden and nursery all on the same site, and eventually in 1998, after two years of searching, we found and bought our current home, Meadow Farm, in Feckenham where we created a garden, nursery and wildlife area on the three-acre plot. I took early retirement in 2002 and we built up the nursery and the number of plant fairs we attended, peaking at about 30 a year, whilst also extending the number of group visits to the developing garden. I would raise about 20,000 plants each year from seed, and Diane propagated extensively from the increasing range of plants we grow in the garden. We bought a van and travelled to places near and far, from Cheshire to Sussex and from Shropshire to Rutland – some of our plant fairs becoming regular annual events. They were very busy years, but we both loved it.
Now after 30 years, and as the years continue to pass, we have realised that we are not as fit and agile as we once were and so for the last two years we have been downsizing the nursery and reducing the number of plant fairs we attend, all in a conscious effort to reduce our workload and commitments. We are already missing the wonderful camaraderie between the nursery growers at the plant fairs, but we especially miss the regular customers we have come to know over the years and who have supported us and have become our friends.
We are continuing with opening the garden for group visits as it gives us so much pleasure, but more and more it is Diane who does the bulk of the planting and maintenance, though the lawn cutting and edging remain my responsibility. We will continue to propagate and grow on, but on a much smaller scale, as garden visitors often ask for the plants they have seen in the garden. We are trying to plan for an eventual move to somewhere less demanding, but we love what we have created and it will be very hard to find somewhere we actually want to move to.
I first joined the Hardy Plant Society in 1989 having been lent some HPS Journals by a colleague at work who was already a member. Diane and I were eventually encouraged to start attending the Western Counties Group meetings by Sue Londesborough who used to live close to us when we lived in Moseley and who used to help us on our NGS Open Days. We began attending regularly around 13 years ago and found the group and its knowledgeable members much to our liking, learned a lot, and made many new friends. Now that our Saturdays are not taken up with plant fairs, we have also been able to join the HPS Worcestershire Group, meaning that we can attend an HPS meeting every two weeks!
So much has come about as a result of that chance meeting in Majorca!
We all appreciate the tea and cakes our catering team organise for us at the monthly meetings, so first a big ‘Thanks’ to all those involved particularly our organiser Andrea. We appreciate the work of both our Saturday volunteers and members baked donations. Several people have mentioned how much they enjoyed Marilyn Wrightson’s ‘Meringue Cake’ at the February meeting – a real hit judging by the rate it quickly disappeared! For those who would like Marilyn’s recipe please contact her via email when she will be happy to forward to you. email@example.com Anyone who can help on any Saturday or provide a cake please see Andrea at the meeting.
Two years ago, my husband Keith and I decided to take a last-minute autumn break and after receiving an email from Gardeners’ World about their anniversary cruise to Madeira, La Palma, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Agadir (Morocco), we took the opportunity.
We had never visited the Canaries – and cruises are a good way to check out destinations you may wish to visit another day. I was also attracted to the ‘garden’ theme: hosts were Matt Biggs, David Hurrion (guest editor at GW magazine) and Adam Frost; as well as lectures by the aforementioned, there were several planned visits to gardens. The list looked interesting: the Palmetum at Santa Cruz (Tenerife), Botanical Gardens at Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, and the Cactus Garden at Arrecife (Lanzarote).
We sailed from Southampton on the MS Balmoral on October 15 and soon were advised that, due to the tail end of hurricane Ophelia, we were diverting to Honfleur, in France, for 24 hours. By the 16th it was announced that we could no longer dock at La Palma or Gran Canaria – presumably we had missed the boat’s mooring slots.
The garden visits varied considerably. Despite my disappointment at not seeing the Botanical Gardens at Gran Canaria we were able to visit the lovely terraced gardens at Funchal in Madeira, which proved interesting and perched high above the port with great views. They were approached via cable car.
Our next stop at Santa Cruz Tenerife was a guided tour around the Palmetum by its director. This was a fascinating project, an example of reclaimed former industrial land being put to good use, now totally organic using recycled grey water and attracting many birds back to what had been a waste area. The park was divided into ‘biogeographical’ sections including waterfalls, streams and ponds. This is the largest collection of palms in Europe with over 400 species and developments continue. There was also a museum dedicated to palms.
The next tour was Cesar Manrique’s cactus garden in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria – an example of a stone-built, enclosed, terraced cactus garden which the artist Manrique created. This was again a garden built on a site previously used for a semi industrial purpose – in this case stone for building-a natural gravel mine in the middle of a barren landscape. There were over 1,500 cacti from Lanzarote, America and Madagascar – some 100 different species. Although not previously a cactus ‘fan’ this was a beautiful and impressive garden; I also learned from a conversation with Matt Biggs that cacti can be grown in the UK outdoors – but they object to the damp rather than cold weather. On that note, I did overwinter a pot of small cacti in my unheated greenhouse this year but sadly not all appear to have survived!
The cruise was a ‘mixed’ experience for us as the size of the ship meant the gardeners had to ‘share’ lecture space with the rehearsing dancers/singers. This meant that many of the advertised morning talks by Matt, Adam and David (whilst interesting and entertaining) were often shorter than we’d been led to expect. There was also no dedicated space for gardeners to meet and socialise throughout the two weeks. However, due to persistent demands from individuals, the team did arrange a few meeting points in the final week. It was good to meet gardeners from all over the UK (some hardy planters included) even though we, on one occasion together with Matt Biggs spent 10 minutes ‘lost’ on the ship, searching out all the other GW lanyard bearing guests due to vague instructions. The ‘Gardeners World’ title was a bit of a misnomer as this trip was clearly part of a standard/general Fred Olson cruise package and not strictly a gardener’s cruise dedicated to all things gardening – on reflection that would possibly have caused my husband to jump ship.
We became aware that the cruise had been positioned by the Fred Olsen line as “a voyage to the coast of Africa” –the reality being a few hours in the port of Agadir – not the best place to visit in what is the very interesting country of Morocco.
On a positive note the vast majority of passengers were ‘returners’ to Fred Olson and a number of positives highlighted. There were a number of single, older or female passengers who felt comfortable holidaying alone or had met friends on a previous voyage.
The cruise line facilitated a helpful taxi collection service from home to Southampton for those not wishing to travel alone they facilitated meetings and activities for solo travellers and passengers spoke warmly of an inclusive ‘famiiy’ atmosphere for those holidaying alone. Overall, it’s a good bet for the single traveller with opportunities to travel, socialise and feel safe.
We did (even my husband) enjoy all the gardening talks. The ABC of top gardening tips by David Hurrion stands out, as did his amazing floral suit worn in honour of the GW 50th anniversary – although both Matt Biggs and Adam Frost were good speakers they couldn’t compete with ‘that suit’. Other stand-out moments were casual chats with all three hosts and sharing a breakfast table as well as cable car with Adam Frost and his delightful family.
My only advice would be to check the small print if you think you’re going on a gardening holiday or cruise and bear in mind that a hurricane can change the most exciting of itineraries.
We visited the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore in January 2018, while on our way to New Zealand. We had read about this amazing project in an RHS journal and were curious to see what it was all about. Singapore is the greenest city we have ever been to – huge skyscrapers but every road side has planting which mitigates the claustrophobic effect.
However, the Gardens by the Bay are a totally new concept. We spent about five hours there and it was an awesome experience.
This new garden project covers 250 acres and houses the world’s largest greenhouses – leaving Kew standing. Also of enormous interest are the extraordinary metal “trees”, called Super Trees. Huge metal structures, with a variety of plants growing up them, they were fascinating to walk around. Their height ranged from 82 to 160ft. Two of the tallest have an elevated walkway connecting them, which gives a bird’s eye view of the rest of the gardens
We managed to see only a fraction of the area, concentrating on the two huge greenhouses first. The most immediate impression is of the enormous size of the two. The larger one, the Flower Dome, covers four acres, and is 125 feet high. It has a mild, dry climate and contains seven different gardens, with Mediterranean and temperate plantings from around the world. There was a dahlia exhibition while we were there. We found the sheer scale impressive but felt that the planting left something to be desired.
The smaller, taller greenhouse, the Cloud Forest Dome, still covers two acres and contains a 140 ft high artificial mountain. with a 115 ft high waterfall helping to keep it cool. The mountain contains elevators and exhibitions and is surrounded by walkways at all levels. The planting is representative of cloud forests around the world between 1000 and 3000 metres. We found it awesome and fascinating. But what really blew our minds was the message being conveyed throughout, which was a serious warning of what humans are doing to the planet, the plants and animals hounded by homo sapiens into extinction and at the end, the question – will we be next to go? We emerged shaken and deeply worried.
We went up to the high-level walkway, where we could appreciate the sheer size of the gardens, which were agreeable and interesting, well labelled and planted up. But it was the two huge greenhouses that really gripped us.
By now it was mid-afternoon, it was hot and humid, so we returned to our hotel, getting back just before a massive thunderstorm broke and drenched everything.