A bowl filled with floating flowers, courtesy of Ashwood Nurseries

Worcetershire Group  Issue 51 - Spring 2020


From the Editor

Welcome to issue 51 of the Worcestershire HPS newsletter and the first of two anniversary editions in 2020, the 25th anniversary of our group formed in 1995.

Sadly, as I write this we are amidst the coronavirus epidemic and many of the events we planned for our silver anniversary will be subject to review. However, I’m ready to sow more seeds, ordered more dahlias and getting ready to get stuck in with some serious gardening.

For those who were unable to attend the AGM at the last meeting our new chair is now Lyn Maile, treasurer Ange Burnett and secretary Jonathan Segar. I’m sure you would all like to join me in extending our warmest thanks to Mick and Richard for the last three years of hard work on our behalf and to Lyn who continues as chair after five very busy years as our secretary. Our congratulations also go to Mick who will now be editing the HPS national newsletter but will also continue to help on the production of the Worcestershire newsletter.

When I reviewed our newsletters over the past 25 years there have been many changes. Particularly, in the format and length: from a sheet of A4 paper, then a booklet and finally to the glossy magazine format which started in 2015. The newsletter gradually included illustrations, then black and white photos and finally full colour pics from members. What has not changed is the commitment and enthusiasm of our members who contribute some really interesting articles-long may it continue. The speakers and garden tours/visits continue to be of a high standard whilst the plant sales go from strength to strength.

This month there are interviews, firstly with one of the original group members, Jackie Davies, as well as our newest and possibly youngest, Will Sanger. We have tried to include some soundbites from members about their views on the group as well as a longer piece from Becky Dale about the ‘early years’. Claire Constantine feeds back on our first garden visit of the year (hopefully not the last!) and also covers the future events we have organised. Alwyn Stanley and Jenny Constant contribute articles on hellebores and species dahlias respectively whilst Ann Bard records her thoughts on extreme gardening on the slopes of the Malvern Hills. If you do need cheering up, then do bake Jonathan Segar’s delicious cake -recipe in this edition.

I hope our meetings will resume soon and if we are all expected to spend more time at home we should all have immaculate gardens by the end of the summer. Keep safe and stay in touch with one another.

From the Chair

Our new chairman, Lyn Maile, brings you up to date with all the latest developments

After recent Government advice, the Committee has decided to cancel the April meeting at Crowle.

We had an interesting and varied programme of events planned for you this spring and summer to celebrate our 25th anniversary; the current health emergency has derailed our plans and some events may need to be cancelled or postponed – including our important plant sale and, of course, the 25th birthday party at Spetchley in June.

The Irish holiday break has also been postponed – but there is a possibility that we will run that next year, if the situation allows. We will review how the situation is evolving on a monthly basis and keep you informed. There are articles in the newsletter that were written before the present emergency – but we have decided to leave them unchanged.

Our next meeting at Crowle should be in July, so let us hope that we will be over the worst by then.

St Peter’s Baptist Church

At the March committee meeting, we decided to move our meetings to a new venue from September this year. Parking has become a real problem at Crowle plus we can no longer meet there in the month of May, due to the Junior Football League Gala and the 10k run.

The new venue will be St Peter's Baptist Church in Worcester; it is a modern building with a large car park. It is warm and comfortable and has all the necessary features we need for our meetings.

The next few weeks are not going to be easy, as most of us are sociable and enjoy going out and doing things. We must start to develop our self-reliance and keep busy at home doing tasks that may save us time later.

Do remember to keep in contact with HPS friends to exchange news. The weather will be improving so do get out into your garden and enjoy your plants and the fresh air at every opportunity. It will definitely make you feel better. Most of all, please keep safe. We look forward to seeing everyone again as soon as possible.

Lyn Maile

Sterling Silver ...

As we start the celebration of our 25th anniversary, we’ve been talking to one of the original members – our first vice-chairman – and to our newest member, their ages separated by around 50 years!

First up is Jackie Davis, one of about 15 people in the steering group that set up the Worcestershire group and just one of several members who’ve been with us since the start. It followed a letter from head office in the spring of 1995 to all HPS members with a Worcestershire postcode, asking for expressions of interest in forming the group. The rest, as they say, is history.

Here are a few other moments from the last quarter century…

• The first full meeting, attended by more than 120 people – was in November, 1995. Members from the West Midlands and Western Counties group were strong supporters. Bob Brown, from Cotswold Garden Flowers, spoke about Unusual, Easy Perennials. Around 200 other people have since then given talks, some two or three times.

• Newly-elected Lyn Maile is the ninth chairman of the group. Our new secretary, Jonathan Segar, is the seventh to hold the post. Ange Burnet, our new treasurer, is the sixth person in that role.

• The group’s first newsletter was a single side of A4. In November 1996, it changed to the A5 booklet format that’s still used today.

• The group had its first stand at Malvern Spring Show in 1997. Awards galore have been received. The group won a silver-gilt for its stand at Chelsea Flower Show in 2017, when a seven minute and 15 second TV film made about us by the BBC was watched by 1.83 million people. It was hard work but happy memories survive for the 30-strong team involved.

• Our first garden tour was in 2007 – to nine gardens in East Anglia. It was organised by David Pollitt and Pippa Hilton. A total of eight have been organised – it remains to be seen whether coronavirus will allow this summer’s Ireland tour to proceed.

• The group’s website was launched in 2006 – set up by Sue Deakin, a chairman of the group. Colin Doughty took over the following year and continues to this day. The archive section on the website is a voluminous catalogue of events and activities.

• Meetings have been held in five different venues – Pershore College at the start, Norton Parish Hall from November 1996, Drakes Broughton Village Hall from Summer 1999, Peopleton Village Hall from August 2007 and Crowle, where we have been for around 10 years. Plans are afoot to move to St Peter’s Baptist Church in Worcester.

• Our annual membership fee of £12.50, payable in January, was introduced in 2008 and has not increased since, although members pay extra for our big-name Celebrity Lectures.

• We’re planning to celebrate the silver anniversary with a party at Spetchley Gardens on Friday, June 5, 6-8pm, coronavirus permitting. You’re cordially invited to this special occasion – if it goes ahead, which seems unlikely, and to toast the future of our burgeoning group.

Five Minutes with Jackie Davies

In 1995, Jackie Davies was our group’s first vice-chairman. Like several others, she’s remained a member to this day. MICK DUNSTAN talked to her at her home in Blackwell, half way up the Lickey Hills, about her memories of the group, her own garden and her favourite colour …

Afternoon, Jackie. Thanks so much for inviting me. Is your garden as sodden as mine?

It is. What a rotten, wet winter we’ve had – and now we have coronavirus as well.

Indeed, we have. This looks a very well-established garden. How long have you been here?

We moved in in 1987, so 33 years. It’s the fifth garden since we got married – the shortest was a couple of years on the south side of Edinburgh. My husband, Mervyn, and I got rid of all the weeds there, cleared it and begged and borrowed from neighbours. We had some roses from my father on moving south again – they were “Frensham” – which Mervyn put in as a divider. Actually, we nearly divorced once because he pruned them and I went a bit ballistic. Of course, they were gorgeous that year. We’ve had homes in Surrey and, before we moved to Birmingham in the 80s, in Nottingham.

What brought you to this area of the Midlands?

In the mid-80s, Mervyn was offered the chair of exercise science at the University of Birmingham – a professorship to steer the PE department there to become a research department. We met each other while we were doing the same science degree at King’s College, London. Before Birmingham, he’d been heading up a Medical Research Council unit, at Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, for about seven years – having worked for them in London for 14 years at the start of his career while we were living in Surrey. His work with the MRC also took us to Milan for a year – having two blonde, blue-eyed boys there meant I got given more in shops than I bought! We also lived for a time in Tanzania, where Mervyn helped to set up a new medical school in Dar es Salaam. I didn’t actually work from 1965 to 1979 so while we were in Africa, I got to know the wife of the professor of botany and we went together on field trips, looking at these magnificent blue water lilies. We had to be careful of bilharzia, a disease caused by parasitic flatworms.

Have you always been interested in gardening?

Strobilanthes atropurpurea

I remember living with grandparents as a young girl in the New Forest during the Second World War and when I went for walks, I always picked wildflowers. My mother liked flowers but not as much as I do. My father was very good at fruit and veg as well as flowers. At the end of the war, we moved back to my parents’ house in Surbiton and, at the age of 8, after a move to Esher, I had my own little stretch of garden where I grew things, including strawberries. I collected cacti in a little greenhouse we resurrected in the garden. I used to love cutting the grass and edging it – which I did from the age of 13 for pocket money. I knew the names of the plants back then too. Last year I was talking to someone about a plant in the garden and just couldn’t remember its name at that moment – it was an aquilegia. I have a Strobilanthes atropurpurea that I grew from seed from Chiltern’s, lovely blue flowers a bit like a salvia, and I’ve never once forgotten its name. Goodness knows why I remember that.

Were you the gardener in the family?

We both liked working in the garden, to be honest. To give you the picture, the garden was always the first thing I looked at when we got home after holidays, straight into the garden even though everyone else wanted a drink. Mervyn was much the same. We always had curves in our gardens, never straight lines. Because I only ever worked part-time after we had our three children, I had time to garden too. We never had loads of cash but we did buy some plants and I grew a lot from seed, which I’ve always enjoyed doing. I even sold a few plants through a local shop while we were living in Nottingham. I also worked mornings in therapeutics at the Queen’s Medical Centre in the city – mainly on drug trials. We were doing a lot of work on the link between bleeding ulcers and aspirin and other drugs. This would be the early '80s and I would go around the wards looking for suitable patients for the trials. When I retired, Mervyn had been diagnosed with ME and he died, sadly, about three years ago. One of our sons is a trustee of ME Research UK, a charity which purely raises money for proper scientific research into the condition.

Do you consider yourself well informed about plants?

Oh, I’m always learning. The main thing, I suppose, is that I’m still interested. Some say they like this plant and this variety but that’s not really me. I like most things. I’ll confess though that what really upsets me is when I see nurseries misspell the names of plants. Yesterday, a local nursery had the word “Cacti’s” as a plural and that really blew me away. My general flower knowledge is not enormous, don’t get me wrong, but I know there are more than three kinds of snowdrops. While I was working at the QE in Birmingham, in the cancer trials unit at the Queen Elizabeth, I worked with a neighbour of Diane and Rob Cole back when she was growing plants in Moseley in Birmingham. My friend invited me to their NGS open day once and I saw their sloping garden filled with alpines, looking gorgeous. Rob came over here to give me advice on our garden layout. I didn’t want planting advice but he did give us a bit more shape to things.

What do you like about your own garden?

One thing I do love is the colour blue. I’ve got a blue and white flower bed and wrote something about it in Cornucopia magazine. I’ve had two or three pieces in there over the years. The big question is what is true blue – salvias perhaps and delphiniums - some “blue plants” are mauve, for example. I always say I’m not fond of yellow but blues and yellows do actually go well together. I like all the seasons but one thing that doesn’t get me excited is a garden in winter touched by frost. You get up on those days and you really can’t do very much at all when it’s like that. Within an hour, it’s usually dripping and it looks horrible. Having said that, I do like water on plant leaves, like Alchemilla mollis. My grandma left me some money and we bought a tiny 6ft x6ft greenhouse and I still have it in the garden after 60 years. It’s followed us everywhere.

What do you remember about those early days of the Worcestershire group?

All national members with a Worcestershire postcode got a letter asking if they’d be interested in starting a group in Worcestershire. It ended up with about 15 people getting in touch and we had a steering committee meeting with a lady called Jane from head office. Kate Philips was chairman, Emma Stewart was secretary and Brian Varley was treasurer. The first official meeting – at Pershore College - had more than 120 people attending. We got a lot of support from West Midlands and Western Counties groups. Bob Brown, from Cotswold Garden Flowers, was a member and our first speaker. I must say that it’s not all been plain sailing – there have been times when we’ve been quite close to not having a chairman - or other officers.

Looking back over the last 25 years of the group, can you share any of your favourite memories?

I don’t think I’ve ever been to an HPS talk that I haven’t enjoyed – except one awful one. He came to talk about hostas. He was a lovely man but it was all rather dreadful, not at all the HPS standard. The best talks were some the celebrity ones. When we had Anna Pavord, I just loved it. She was wonderful, quite charming and just the right balance between people who wanted to learn even more and those who didn’t know very much. That is so important. When I mention hardy plants to people, often they don’t know what they are. The other really good speaker was Diarmuid Gavin – my opinion of him changed dramatically that day. I’d thought he might be a bumptious Irishman who didn’t know his stuff. But after his talk, I realised he was a really nice guy and not one bit patronising, just terrific. I took to Nick Wray, curator of the Botanic Garden at University of Bristol, immediately. He’s extremely knowledgeable. We have had some really great speakers.

Jackie, it’s been a genuine pleasure talking to you – and seeing your garden. Thank you very much.

Down The Years …

We asked you to let us have your views on the group and your membership. Here’s what some of you said…


Member since our first meeting in 1995

I joined HPS at Chelsea in 1994, was at the original meeting and thought setting up a local group was a great idea. There have been too many memorable moments to pick just one. I think you make lots of like-minded friends at our meetings – lots of hints and advice too.

Favourite book? Well the RHS A-Z of Plants is my bible.


Member since our second meeting

I joined after being encouraged to attend by Wendy Richards - and was immediately hooked. There have been many memorable day trips, organised initially by Barbara Coo. Then David Pollitt took over and, in his meticulous way, arranged many interesting short holidays. My favourite plant? One that is performing well at the time – different plants get my attention in different seasons.


Member since 2018

The best thing about being a Worcestershire member is the brilliant talks. So far, my memorable moments have been vine weevil advice for heuchera and heucherellas and I also enjoy the audience participation and barracking! I think in the future might be all about encouraging all gardeners.


Member since the late 1990s

One thing I remember well was coming to a talk about the rejuvenation of the London Docklands and the planting there – and then going to London to see it. I like the variety of talks that we have and I think in future we’ll be learning all about how to cope with climate change.


Member since 2019

The best things about being a Worcestershire member is the friendliness of the group and the availability of decent speakers on specific subjects, rather than general ones. The Hampshire garden tour last year had a great variety of gardens but my favourite gardens are RHS Harlow Carr in Harrogate and Wollerton Old Hall in Shropshire.


Member since 2014

My most memorable moment has to be when I was involved with the Worcestershire stand at the Chelsea Flower Show. I think the group offers everyone the chance to meet fabulous people. Who knows what the future holds – the world is in the middle of the coronavirus crisis.


Member of HPS since 1984

Memorable moment? The first time we put on a display at Malvern Show – such a buzz around the showground. I hope the Worcestershire group will flourish and that volunteers will continue to help run the group because many hands make light work. We have several members involved at national level and it would be good if that continues and members feel part of a wider organisation, taking advantage of events and activities around the country.


Member since 1998

I met a lady at a drinks party who belonged to HPS and she was saying how the local group sold lots of plants cheaply. As we had recently moved to our present house, which was devoid of any plants, I was keen to attend, although the lady never came to another meeting.

My first memories of meetings at Norton Juxta Kempsey were of lectures to a very small number of people, (quite a few of whom fell asleep); lectures based on travelling round the lecturer’s personal garden; a treasurer who made so much noise settling down to listen that the lecturer could not be heard; and the regular washing up sessions after the tea break.

On one occasion when at the sink with personal rubber gloves on, a fellow washer -up said “No good moaning, get on the committee and do something about it”

So, I did. Not sure the tasks became any more pleasant and now there were chairs to put out and away, tearoom duties, collecting subs and always the raffle. But the society also started to change.

For years, members paid their sub each month when they came to a meeting. On paper, we had over 100 members but on the day 30 to 40 might turn up. This made it difficult to book a speaker, from a cost angle, and the embarrassment of having a half empty hall. As treasurer I suggested we paid our sub up front, £12.50 for the year. This allowed the programme secretary to know how much money was available and it might encourage members to attend. This was taken to the members and grudgingly agreed. I received a telephone call from a disgruntled ex-treasurer who said the new sub was very expensive as they only came twice a year.

However, from that small beginning, members have paid annually and the group has grown and flourished. With regular changes in venue to keep members alert, the society has moved centre stage within the national organisation; we have provided national chairpersons, trustees, and often started the ball rolling for publicizing the group through shows, displays and holding area functions.

Our lecture programme has been brilliant. We’ve been lucky to hear some key gardeners of their time. The visits started by David Pollitt have opened the doors to fabulous private gardens. Numbers and finances are much more secure, allowing such events as practical workshops for the members.

I have learnt a lot from the society and enjoyed the learning. We cannot know the future but the society will grow and change like our gardens. We all love being outside, the excitement of the first snowdrop, or a leaf unfurling leads us forward and our society does that for us. We are all at our best when in the garden working, planning or admiring with a cup of coffee.

A World of Plants

Meet Will Stanger, our newest member and a big fan – some might say an expert – of rhododendrons and magnolias.

Will joined our HPS group back in January this year, just eight weeks after starting work as a gardener/propagator at Kiftsgate garden. It’s his first full-time job in the horticultural industry but it comes after an impressive decade of learning and work experiences.

He’s the son of a farming family in Loughborough and remembers his love of gardening stretching right back to when he was about six years old. “I’d been exposed to the country lifestyle, green space all around me and growing things is in the blood,” he says. “I helped out in the garden with a few pansies and lobelia and it grew from there. The garden kind of became my thing and before long I was getting gardening books and plants for birthday presents!”

After school, he did a two-year diploma at Brooksby College, near Melton Mowbray, and got a first-class degree in green space management from Writtle College, in Essex. Next up was his Masters in historic designed landscapes, again at Writtle. “In horticulture, employers often value experience more than qualifications. In some cases, I was perceived as over-qualified.”

Fortunately, the son of the secretary of his local gardening club at Sutton Bonington was Tom Clarke, then head gardener at Trelissick in Cornwall. Will got a place there as a volunteer for five months with a grant from the Professional Gardeners’ Trust to help cover food and travel. “That placement really got me started –they were a lovely team.”

Along with a six-week internship at Rosemoor that followed, he secured a three-year traineeship with the Professional Gardeners’ Guild, a year each at three gardens. First up was Thenford Arboretum – the home of Lord Heseltine, near Banbury – followed by the Savill Garden at Windsor Great Park, whose national collection of rhododendrons and magnolias further fuelled his interest. The final placement was at the inspirational Garden House, on the edge of Dartmoor, his favourite of the three.

What came next helped him realise a dream he’d had from the age of 16 – a full year working in the gardens in New Zealand.

Grants from five sources – including the Hardy Plant Society – enabled him to fund the adventure. During his time working in Devon, he met Malcolm Pharoah, head gardener at Marwood Hill, who had strong connections with Lady Ann Berry, who passed away in September 2019, aged 99. She was the founder of Rosemoor, which she offered to the RHS in 1988. She and her husband, Bob, ran Hackfalls Arboretum near Gisborne in New Zealand, a charitable trust with more than 3,000 rare trees and shrubs across 125 acres. It was one of several places where he worked during his year away.

“I’d arranged to be a volunteer for three months at Dunedin Botanic Garden on the South Island,” said Will. “I worked at Otari Botanic Garden, near Wellington, which is dedicated to NZ native plants, and Ayrlies, an hour from Auckland. Pukheiti on the west coast of the North Island, one of the best rhododendron gardens, especially big leaf rhododendrons, was also on the list.”

He also attended a major rhododendron conference and visits to two main breeders, Mark and Abbie Jury at Tiokorangi and Vance Hooper at Magnolia Grove near New Plymouth. “During that year, I ticked the rhodo and magnolia boxes and got into the whole history of rhododendrons from the first species introduced for planting.”

On his return to England in September, 2018, he spent time as a freelance, working on the family farm and writing articles for a range of organisations, including his five sponsors. He has appeared several times in The Hardy Plant, the HPS journal.

Since starting with the small team of gardeners at Kiftsgate, he’s been working in the garden but moves to his propagator role full time for the spring and summer seasons. “After seed sowing, mostly perennials, I’ll take cuttings from shrubs because doing it from seed takes too long. There are many rare plants in the garden that can prove tricky to propagate but I like a challenge! It also gives visitors the opportunity to buy plants they’ve seen in the garden.”

“I’d like to dabble in a bit of breeding work and come up with a Kiftsgate magnolia. One of the big advantages is that magnolia hybrids flower at a much younger age – a species magnolia can take up to 20 years. If I’m lucky that might be down to three or four years, possibly even a year. If I could breed a really nice magnolia that would be really good.”

Which sounds like it would make an interesting talk for Worcestershire HPS members at some point.

Welcome, Will.

Have you seen a hairy-footed flower bee?

In early spring, we notice the bumblebees as they emerge from hibernation to feed, but there is another bee that is present in large numbers in my garden and seems to favour clumps of Symphytum ‘Hidcote Blue’ and Pulmonaria ‘Lewis Palmer’ (both plants belong to the Boraginaceae and flowers are a good source of nectar).

Anthophora plumipes is the hairy-footed flower bee, and has an unusual darting flight and aggressive nature. They are quite territorial and hover over or ‘patrol’ patches of flowers chasing off other insects

The cream hairs on the face of the male distinguish it from any other bee and they approach flowers with their long tongue extended

The females look different from the males, smaller and covered in black hairs apart from a patch of orange hair on their hind legs, they resemble a small black bumblebee. And that is what I thought they were when I first noticed them and worried that the they were being chased away from their food source and attacked. The males tend to hover in front of a flower when they are looking for a mate - and if two or three males are following a single female they do look very aggressive.

Hairy-footed flower bees often nest in the soft mortar of old walls and occasionally in the ground, preferring bare compacted clay soils. Common and widespread in much of England and Wales, they can be seen in towns and villages, most often from late February to mid-June.

Jan Vaughan

Extreme Gardening

I garden on a slope, well a near vertical incline to be nearer the truth. The garden is east facing on the side of the Malvern Hills.

It is long and narrow, with two thirds ‘under cultivation’ and three flattish terraces. The second and largest terrace now has a brick ‘patio’ to hold a table and chairs and a flower bed, and the third terrace is about to be seeded as a wildflower patch. I have two other beds and a large rocky bank which also has flowers and shrubs. The final top third of the garden has been designated by me as a wilderness (I can’t face trying to reclaim any more land!). My soil is neutral.

For most of the years I have lived with this garden, I have worked full time and so my gardening time was limited to weekends. I have now retired and get up there as often as possible. I have loved the quirkiness and challenges that the garden presents - which is just as well as limited funds and a reluctance by people to work under such conditions, has meant it has fundamentally remained in its original state. At some time in the past, the garden was properly worked but when I took it over it must have lain dormant for at least 20 years.

My attitude towards the garden is that it dictates to me what it will allow. Each spring, I clear as much of the bramble, ivy and alkanet as I can; I plant and experiment with plants and shrubs and by autumn, the garden has been reclaimed, to a lesser extent now, by the Hill.

I have yew, rowan, holly, hawthorn trees and clumps of dryopteris that were here when I arrived 30-plus years ago. Plants that do well and can hold their own against the bramble and alkanet are hellebores, foxgloves, lavender, erysimum, pyracantha, spirea and aquilegia. I do leave some alkanet because the blue flowers are quite pretty and the bees are attracted to it.

So what does gardening on an extreme slope require? Being careful on the banks so that I don’t lose my footing and fall; carrying watering cans up the 29 steps to the start of the garden in summer so planting after late spring is rare; avoiding the garden completely when there has been a frost because the steps are slippery; making sure I have everything I need when I’m having a session up in the garden because having to go back down the steps is a real pain. I do have two storage units where I keep the essential tools.

I always take my mobile phone with me when gardening. One summer I disturbed a wasp’s nest. Having been stung several times, I realised that to try and go down the steps quickly could prove fatal so I headed for the wilderness at the top. Once the wasps had left me alone, I made my wary way down the other side of the garden and to safety where I could count my eleven stings. I didn’t need my phone then but I could have done!

And of course there is the view!

Anne Bard

Money Maker

Plants are what our society is all about – and selling them at our annual sale in Peopleton has become an important part of our activities in the last few years.

Figures from our accounts show that over the last five years, the annual plant sale has produced a total profit for our funds of £4,887 – that’s about three quarters of the money we have in the bank! We seem to have built up an excellent reputation for the sale and we’re keen to build on that.

To help us to continue to raise money towards providing a strong programme for members, we’d like your help to do it all again this year. We have planned to hold the event at Peopleton Village Hall on Saturday, June 13 this year – coronavirus permitting, of course.

However, as we go to press, It’s looking unlikely that the sale will go ahead at this stage but keep an eye on the communications from Lyn in coming months that will keep you abreast of any developments.

A Grand Morning Out at Colesbourne Gardens

This was my first trip to Colesbourne which lies in the Churn valley between Cirencester and Cheltenham and is famously the home of an extensive collection of snowdrops.

It is where Henry John Elwes introduced Galanthus elwesii from western Turkey in the 1870s. His great grandson Henry and wife Carolyn have re-established and rediscovered many of the original species and cultivars and extended the collection with many new strains including several created there.

The gardens are open for six weeks only in February and we were visiting on a day set aside especially for gardening societies.

Fortunately, the rain stopped for our visit and at one point some low sun made the white flowers sing out and beautifully back-lit some of the drifts. Many of us made the most of the opportunity to talk to the gardeners and the family not just about their impressive knowledge of all things snowdrop-related, but also about the extensive tree and shrub collection, many recently planted.

There are now around 350 varieties of snowdrops spread in collections around the house (clearly labelled) and naturalising in spectacular drifts in the ten acres of gardens. The woodland walks are complimented by groups of hellebores, cyclamen, crocus, iris, scilla and early-flowering shrubs. Foils of ferns and a beautiful bronze-foliaged Pavaveraceae corydalis tenulifolia “Chocolate Stars” show off the masses of pure white to great effect: inspiring planting.

There are great drifts of G. elwesii, and G. nivalis as well as Greatorex Doubles among the trees and down to the blue lake, a bank with magnificent displays of G. “S. Arnott” and areas of more formal planting of galanthus with winter aconites, cyclamen and daffodils. In an old ice house hollow, Galanthus plicatus ssp. byzantinus has been encouraged to naturalise to beautiful effect with Fritillaria meleagris ‘Alba’ and the pale trumpet daffodil ‘W.P. Milner’.

It felt like a special treat to be able to stroll around these beautiful gardens in the company of other gardening enthusiasts, with plenty of space to enjoy the vistas in all directions. And of course, our visit was suitably rounded off by the opportunity to buy some of the varieties seen in the garden to take home! Altogether a very grand morning out.

Claire Constantine

A Cornucopia of Events to Celebrate Worcestershire’s Silver Anniversary

As well as a fantastic programme of speakers at our monthly meetings throughout the year (described elsewhere by our Speaker Secretary, Stephanie Reader) we have some real treats in store for members this year: an “abundance of plenty indeed”!

Our year has already begun with a trip to Colesbourne Park (reported in this newsletter). We were fortunate that they were opening on some extra days especially for garden societies and 30 of us took up that offer to view the snowdrop display.

On Friday, 5 June, we are expecting to hold a special Silver Anniversary Birthday Party at Spetchley Park complete with bubbly and canapés. I hope as many of you as possible will come and join us and enjoy the chance of an evening stroll around these beautiful gardens.

Our Silver Anniversary Garden Tour 17-22 June to the spectacular gardens of Dublin and County Wicklow is already fully subscribed and, unfortunately, has been postponed until 2021 because of Government restrictions, both here and in the Republic. We are pleased to welcome some members from outside Worcestershire on this trip.

Hodnet Hall

On July 8th we have a day trip to two beautiful Shropshire gardens planned for you: Wollerton Old Hall and Hodnet Hall. Wollerton Old Hall garden consists of a series of gardens with differing colour schemes, a beautiful water feature and a small area of surrounding woodland planting. They have lots of salvias for sale and also, of course, Rosa “Wollerton Old Hall”. It has been described by Chris Beardshaw as “a world-class example of an English garden” and proved inspirational for Sir Roy Strong. Hodnet Hall, which is only a few minutes away, is also a fine, less formal garden and should prove something of a contrast.

A busy summer schedule is then beautifully rounded off on Friday, 24 July by the treat of afternoon tea and the chance to explore the gardens of Leslie and John Bryant in Stoulton near Worcester (WR7 4RE); a lovely way to end the summer programme reminding us of the pleasure we get both from our own gardens and from seeing those of our fellow enthusiasts who are generous enough to open their gates to us.

Claire Constantine

Speaker Programme 2020

On 11th April Dr Andrew Ward will talk about ‘Shade loving plants’. He trained as a plant breeder and started Norwell Nurseries and Garden 24 years ago with his wife Helen. Their garden holds over 2500 different varieties of plant. It has been featured in many magazines including Country Living, Country Life and The English Gardener.

His talk will show pictures from this garden and include some of the most outstanding plants that we can grow in our garden and that are happy in shade. He will include rarer and more unusual plants as well. To find out more visit norwellnurseries.co.uk.

A visit to Rob and Diane Cole’s garden on May 16th replaces our normal meeting as Crowle is unavailable any Saturday in May 2020. This will take place in two groups, (10.30-12.30 or 2.30-4.30) as numbers are limited and is for HPS Worcestershire members only. Please buy a £2 ticket for the morning or afternoon slot. Rob will give a short introductory talk and then you can wander around their delightful one-acre garden and two-acre wildlife reserve, returning to their barn for tea/coffee and homemade cake. To find out more visit their website, meadowfarm33.co.uk.

Katherine Swift is our speaker on July 11th. She will talk about ‘The Making of the Dower House Garden’ after our Summer Social which begins at 12.30pm and is an opportunity to chat over a shared lunch. Please remember to bring a plate of food to share and a plant to swap.

Katherine’s talk will be a potted history of English Gardening, showing the sources she used to make her own garden at Morville Hall in Shropshire. Katherine has been a gardening columnist for 'The Times' and has written widely in the gardening press. She is also author of 'The Morville Hours' which became a best seller. 'A Rose for Morville', her new book, is due to be published in June this year.

The September (12th) meeting will be a practical look at plants and planting. Members are asked to bring plants in pots, stems or branches to accompany questions for Bob Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers.

Our October (10th) meeting will be a practical demonstration by Paul Green. His talk ‘Choice Plants for Seasonal Interest’ will showcase what is looking good in October. He will explain the merits and vices of various plants and show propagation and pruning techniques. Paul has worked in commercial horticulture for over 25 years in the UK and briefly in the USA. He owns his own nursery (Green’s Leaves) in Newent in Gloucestershire where he grows a range of choice and unusual plants.

His website is greensleavesnursery.co.uk and is well worth a look. He will have lots of plants to sell at the end of his talk so bring your purses!

In November (14th) we have Nick Wray who is a professional horticulturalist and educator and has worked at the University of Bristol Botanical garden for 31 years. In 1992 he became co-presenter of Gardener’s World and worked alongside Nick Hamilton. He is currently responsible for developing and curating the University of Bristol’s Botanic Garden, the first new university botanical garden in Britain for over 40 years. His talk will explain the development of this garden.

To round off the year we have our Christmas social on December 12th from 12.30pm. This will be another opportunity to socialise with fellow members.

There is a very Christmassy feel to the talk that follows the shared lunch this year - ‘The Story of Mistletoe’ from an expert in this field, Jonathan Briggs.

What’s not to like?

Following a number of requests, we include Jonathan Segar’s recipe:

Beetroot and chocolate velvet bundt with yogurt icing

50g bunch fresh beetroot, trimmed and quartered

225g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing

250g Light Brown Soft Sugar, plus 2 tbsp for dusting

100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped

275g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

60g cocoa powder

¼ tsp fine salt

4 Eggs, beaten

250g Greek Yogurt


125g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped

50g Greek Yogurt

2 tbsp icing sugar

3-4 tbsp milk


1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C, gas mark 4. Put the beetroot in a microwave-safe dish. Add 3 tbsp water, cover and cook for 10 minutes on full power until tender, stirring halfway. Or you can wrap the beets in foil, add the water and bake for 45 minutes, until tender. Drain in a sieve over a bowl; set aside until warm. Meanwhile, generously grease a 25cm bundt tin. Dust inside with 2 tbsp flour; tap out the excess.

2. Whizz 300g of the beetroot in a blender (or a food processor) with 5-6 tbsp water until thick and smooth. (Use any remaining beetroot for salads or soups.) In a pan, melt the butter, then remove from the heat and add the chocolate; leave to melt, then stir until smooth.

3. Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder into a large bowl, then add the salt and sugar. Make a well in the middle and add the beetroot purée, the melted chocolate mixture, eggs and yogurt. Beat briefly with a wooden spoon until smooth. Pour into the bundt tin, level out, then bake for 30 minutes. Turn down the oven to 160˚C, gas mark 3, and bake for 15 minutes more until the cake has risen and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

4. Leave to cool in the tin for 30 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. For the topping, melt 100g chocolate in a microwave or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Stir until smooth, leave to cool a little, then mix in the yogurt and icing sugar. Add the milk until it reaches a spoonable consistency. Lift the cake onto a serving plate, spoon over the icing, then scatter with the remaining chopped dark chocolate.

In Praise of Species Dahlias

In Spring 2017 we replanted our tired front border to mark its 25th Birthday! This was a ‘spotty dotty’ mixture of too many different species in ones and twos, so this time I disciplined myself and used a limited range of plants to get a more flowing effect. For height at the back I used Stipa gigantea, which together with one or two shrubs salvaged from the old garden was a good start. As a middle layer I planted Aster frikartii ‘Mönch’ and Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii, with a front edging of dark Ophiopogon along the drive.

By the late summer and well into autumn this was looking really good but I decided I still needed more height. However, I could see that once the planting filled out there wasn’t going to be much space between my middle layer and the grasses. What I needed was something tall but with a very small footprint and not too much foliage. Then right on cue a catalogue* arrived with a description of Dahlia coccinea var. palmeri, which sounded perfect. Could a dahlia really reach a height of 7 feet from a standing start?

I decided to find out for myself and sowed the seeds the following spring. Germination was nearly 100% and the seedlings grew at a spectacular rate, so that by late summer the plants were in flower and taller than me. I love the single orange flowers which appear to be suspended in space above the dissected foliage (best hidden behind something else) and being simple they are attractive to insects.

Over-wintering advice was to mulch (or lift in cold gardens), although it was said that the species form ‘seems hardier than the hybrids’. So of course, I covered the majority with a deep dry mulch and lifted a couple as an insurance policy. We didn’t get much of a winter in 2018/9 so I was very surprised and disappointed in spring when, long after the ‘insurance’ plants were heading skywards, there was nothing doing with the ones I had left in situ. I need to explain here that as they were such strong growers, I hadn’t bothered to clear the mulch, thinking they would punch straight through it. What an elementary mistake! When I eventually cleared the mulch to find out what was going on, I could immediately see that they had made multiple attempts to shoot but all the shoots were slimy and had been grazed off at ground level. Over the following nights armed with a head torch I removed industrial quantities of snails and slugs and before too long these plants had caught up with and overtaken those overwintered in pots. By autumn they were all taller than in year one with ‘pingy’ orange flowers at head height which, if dead headed regularly, keep on flowering until the frost gets them.

So, if you are looking for something tall but with a small footprint for a late summer border, I can thoroughly recommend this species dahlia.

* from Avon Bulbs www.avonbulbs.co.uk

Jenny Constant

Celebrity Lecture

We are so pleased that Chris Beardshaw is coming to talk to us on Thursday 3rd September 2020 in The Frank Parkinson Centre at Pershore College. Booked nearly three years ago, it has been a long time coming!

At the Malvern Spring Show last year Jayne and I heard him speak and he was charming so I think we are in for a treat. He is a very natural and fluent speaker famously never needing to refer to a note. His talk 'Painting with Plants' is an inspiring title in itself.

Tickets were available for HPS Worcestershire members (£12) from March, after which it is open to other HPS members, friends and others (£15) to buy tickets. See website for further details. The talk by Chris will begin at 2pm. Please arrive in good time.

There will be free serve yourself coffee/tea before and after the talk. Please bring a re-useable cup to help with waste if you can.

Stephanie Reader

Watch This Space

National Garden Scheme

In 2019 the National Garden Scheme donated £3 million to nursing and health charities including £500,000 to Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie and Hospice UK.

In Worcestershire for 2020, over 50 gardens planned to open, including nine brand new ones.

Due to the coronavirus, some gardens are no longer opening; updated details are constantly being posted on the website

For garden details: ngs.org.uk/find-a-garden/?postcode=Worcestershire.

Helleborus niger

I know I am not alone when describing the difficulties of growing Helleborus niger. Even Bob Brown, plantsman and owner of Cotswold Garden Flowers in Badsey, mentioned in one of his lectures that he also had problems.

Over the years I was given, or purchased, several plants, only to find they eventually expired. So, when visiting a coffee morning and seeing a poor pathetic plant called ‘Christmas Rose’ on the Bring and Buy stall, I bought it. My thoughts were ‘well at least the £2 purchase price is going to a good cause’.

The plant was bunged into my garden with no hope or expectation. Imagine my surprise when some weeks later I was rewarded with 7 or 8 beautiful white flowers. The plant survived and has continued to flower around Christmas time.

Imagine my amazement when I then spotted a seedling about 1 metre from the parent plant….

Never, ever give up hope!

Alwyn Stanley

And Another Hellebore – Helleborus argutifolius

Whilst on holiday in Corsica some years ago, my husband and I were climbing through a glade of silver birches when suddenly there, growing about 3 feet tall was a Helleborus argutifolius. I was so excited to see it with its apple-green flowers and looking so majestic.

Looking around I realised it was growing in shade on a steep slope with shale on the ground. This set me thinking, as in my garden I have always grown this plant in full sun, with one exception being grown in shade. This one in contrast with the others is a much larger healthier looking plant with large trusses of green flowers.

Needless to say, having seen this plant growing in Corsica I now always refer to it as the Helleborus ‘Corsicas’.

Alwyn Stanley