I am writing this during our latest lockdown but with signs of hope that with the passing months we may be in a more favourable situation. Zoom has served many of us well but I’m sure we’re all longing for some real face to face contact and meetings. The Spring bulbs, flowering shrubs and tree blossom in the garden are signs of both renewal and optimism as we move forward into the next phase of the gardening year.
In this newsletter we have an interesting and eclectic range of articles as well as updates and notices about our group - not least our annual plant sale. Articles include: Bob Brown leading us through some hardy plants to be used with extreme caution, some members’ experiences: what works in the garden, planting a new hedge and the role of shrubs in the hardy planter’s garden. Jan writes about the Malvern Show and Robin Pearce talks about his experiences on RHS plant trials. Mick’s regular ‘5 minutes with’ feature is conducted ‘virtually’ (a first!) with treasurer Ange Burnet. So, in many ways this is less of a purist ‘Hardy Plant’ edition (Not one account of a garden visit!) but a look at some of the broader aspects of gardening as well as the usual focus on individual plants.
If you enjoy reading this edition please let me know - if not, please contact me anyway with ideas of what you would like to read. You will notice I include a book review and I’m hoping to run this on a regular basis. Please send me any recommendations for gardening books, or if you prefer, your favourite go-to web sites for gardening advice and tips.
Finally, and on a sadder note, we send our condolences to member Hilda Watts and family as husband John recently passed away. As can be seen from his obituary John was one of our longest standing founder members and in addition to his gardening interests was involved in so many other projects. We also lost another long-term member during 2020. Linda Penhallow sadly passed away after a lengthy illness. Some of our members will recall Linda’s participation in, and enjoyment of our group garden tours.
I was pleased to see several of our members at the Zoom meeting with Adam Pascoe in February and I hope more of you were able to attend the Zoom meeting with Tim Walker at 7pm on 17th March. We had hoped to be meeting in person again this Spring but for now we have to abide by the Government restrictions which forbid large numbers of people meeting indoors. At present, our new venue St Peter’s Baptist Church on the outskirts of Worcester, is being used as a Vaccination Centre by the NHS. I must thank our Speaker Secretary, Stephanie, who has had to do a lot of extra work to convert live speaker appearances to Zoom presentations. In April we have Howard Drury speaking to us via Zoom. Please look at the HPS group website for information about the events we have planned for this year.
I would like to thank all those who have renewed their membership subscription for your loyalty and steadfast support over the last year.
Looking ahead, we have booked Peopleton Hall for our Plant Sale; we hope it will take place on Saturday July 3rd from 2pm-4pm. Most of us will have been vaccinated twice by then and the sun will be shining, so we should feel more confident about meeting people. There is a notice about the Sale in this Newsletter. We will be taking cash not cards, so please bring money to the sale to pay for your plants. This is always a good opportunity to acquire plants from our members’ gardens at reasonable prices; I have a small army of plants waiting to find new homes amongst you.
Sadly, our new Secretary, Jon Segar will be standing down at the AGM on Thursday 18th March. Jon took up the role last March 2020. His expertise with computers has been invaluable to the group and has enabled us to convert our live meetings to Zoom meetings. Unlike many of us, Jon has a demanding “day job” and he anticipates being even busier in 2021, therefore he cannot continue as our Secretary. I would like to thank him for his hard work and contribution to our group and wish him well for the future. I will temporarily take back the role of Secretary until we can find a replacement.
In this Newsletter you will find an update from Mick Dunstan about the Ireland Tour. We may also postpone our visit to Wollerton Old Hall, scheduled for July, until September. We will keep you informed as events unfold over the next few months. I hope you are able to enjoy your garden as the weather improves.
Stephanie Reader looks ahead at our revised schedule for 2021
From now on all the meetings will be the second Saturday of the month at 2pm.
There have been some changes to the original programme - available on the website. Zoom meetings will continue for the foreseeable future.
The full programme is on the website and has been sent out to all members by email. Members with no IT will be sent information via mail.
Unfortunately, our planned coach trip to Wollerton Old Hall and Hodnet Hall Gardens, both in Shropshire, on 8th July has had to be postponed until later this year. We hope to book a date in September but we are also awaiting a final decision on whether the Ireland Garden Tour can go ahead as planned on 23-28 June. This decision will be made by mid-April and if this date isn’t possible, an alternative date in September will be reviewed. We will obviously ensure that the two events don’t clash and will contact members directly as soon as we know more details.
A date for your post lockdown diary - spotting the plant you didn’t know you needed for that gap in your garden….
The annual plant sale has become a valuable source of funding for our group enabling us to book excellent speakers as well as provide a varied programme of events. Sadly, due to the Covid situation we were unable to hold the event in 2020 and so we are hoping for a really successful sale this year. You can contribute as either a provider of plants, a helper or as a customer. (All three is even better!)
This year’s plant sale will be held at the usual venue of Peopleton Village Hall and will broadly follow our usual format with a few changes due to Covid. For the benefit of members who have not experienced previous sales it may be helpful to summarise the arrangements:
Please help support this event, it’s a great way of getting involved for both newer and more established members as well as introducing HPS to potential members. If you are unable to attend or deliver your plants, then please contact me and someone will collect. I will also be co-ordinating the list of volunteers willing to help on the day. We will, of course, remain Covid compliant and make any adjustments necessary. Hoping we have a successful and enjoyable day.
It’ll soon be decision time on whether our June tour to 12 Irish gardens, organised as part of the 25th anniversary celebrations of our group last year, will go ahead.
A total of 28 Worcestershire members have booked a place as have 16 other HPS members around England, who read about it in the national newsletter. There is also a waiting list of four others in case someone drops out. There have been three recent cancellations because of health issues.
Arrangements have been made with Pat Cooke of Floral Tours, who is handling much of the admin and logistics for the holiday, to make a decision on the trip in mid-April, a timing driven by a request from the four-star Glenview Hotel, where we’d be staying, for final confirmation by that date. The hotel is confident it will be able to host our visit, albeit with whatever Covid rules may still be in place. It is possible that we could delay that date with the hotel’s agreement. Vaccine treatments in Ireland are sluggish – with a recent call to pause use of the Astra Zeneca vaccine, and Ireland has been slower in lifting restrictions – which might be a good thing.
There has been a suggestion that, if it can’t be June for any reason, we reorganise for September 2021, when things will be much improved and gardens are still good to visit. There would be work to do and at this stage we have no guarantee that everyone would still be interested or available.
We’re committed to making the holiday happen if it is at all possible. It’s something people who have booked say they are looking forward to – ‘a ray of sunshine’ is often used - particularly after the last 12 months.
March saw the taking and execution of a decision we had put off for some time: Colin sawed through most of our apricot tree. This has grown against part of the south-facing wall in the back garden for some years and we were very fond of it. Its leaves were attractive, its flowers dainty and came early for early pollinators. Some years they didn’t seem to find it so Colin used a very small brush to pollinate. Once it was mature enough we always had some fruit, some years only a little, but sometimes what you might call a modest crop.
For a long time we also had a Rosa ‘Sanders White’, growing very close to the apricot. This suffered towards the end from a disease which affected the bark and trunk, and we took it down. However the disease had moved to the apricot and, we also now realise, to the pyracantha which may well be next to lose at least some branches. Much to our surprise, apricots and pyracanthas are Rosaceae, hence their susceptibility.
Feeling, for me, ruthless, I’ve also taken out two or three hellebores which weren’t doing at all well and will dig out my raspberries whose performance has gone downhill. Thankfully, there are still plenty of hellebores, most of them ‘Painswick Road seedlings’, so they should be fine, and I will replace the raspberries at some point.
Last year wasn’t much of a plant-buying one, but we did acquire Agapanthus ‘Poppin’ Purple’ (horrible name, great colour) for the front garden and, in the autumn, some off-white Narcissus ‘Snow Baby’, thanks to my great liking for miniature narcissus. My Shropshire HPS member sister gave us a piece of a pretty white aster: she’d forgotten its name, but it’s a good do-er for her, and it seemed to settle in well
A home-grown ‘Hello’ was the expansion of Cyclamen coum into the front grass: we’d bought and planted some under the hedge along the path, where they’ve so far flourished, but those planted in the grass didn’t seem so enthusiastic, till this year – very welcome.
The stalwart Iris unguicularis has been splendid on and off since November and witchhazel Hamamelis ‘Westerstede’ has cheered the steps up to the front door. They don’t like our soil so this is in a pot and needs a bigger one – a ‘stay local’ outing.
As ever, we’re very glad to see the hellebores again with the snowdrops and now little mauve and purple crocuses, names long forgotten or unknown. But we’re very pleased to give what seems like an early Hello to Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’ at the foot of the rockery with its vivid blue flowers, and especially to Iris cretica. Sometimes the rather long bets pay off and the iris was definitely one of those.
But I am very aware of the space on the wall where the apricot was.
Our group’s new treasurer, Ange Burnet, started gardening as a girl with her Dad in Hanbury. She’s still living in the village– gardening with husband Pete, who took the pictures here. She’s been talking to Mick Dunstan over Zoom – entirely within Covid guidelines…
Morning, Ange. Thanks for agreeing to be grilled today.
My pleasure, Mick. Thanks for asking.
Can I start at the beginning and ask how long you’ve been interested in gardening?
I suppose it must have started when I was about five helping my Dad in the veg garden and putting the garden fork through my wellies! Later on, there was mowing the lawn with a petrol mower – such fun. Tomato care in the greenhouse was Mom’s domain and I was only allowed in the rose garden to weed! It’s nothing to do with Hardy Plants, of course, but I still have a passion for growing tomatoes and cucumbers in my Rhino greenhouse. When I was at school, I used to work in a florist’s on Saturdays, a place called Crump’s in Droitwich. My friend – who recently retired as a head teacher - and I also used to work on their bedding plants, pricking them out in the school holidays.
And after you’d finished school?
I’d always known that I wanted to be a police officer, so that’s what I did. After training, I started as a PC in Telford and 30 odd years later I finished as a Chief Inspector, based at Kidderminster. I’d worked all around West Mercia area during that time, got to full pension and decided to retire early – May 2012 - just in time for the London Olympics and the European football championships.
So, you’re interested in sport?
Oh, yes. I’ve always been. I played hockey – goalkeeper - for most of my life and met Pete through a friend from hockey. I gave up playing a year or so before retiring as my ageing body started to catch up with me! I’ve been doing quite a lot of long walks during lockdown, like a lot of people I suspect. My friends got me up to seven miles three times a week now.
So, early retirement and the rest of your life stretching ahead, what next?
After I retired, I immediately started working as a volunteer gardener at Hanbury Hall – where I met Claire Constantine who’s on the Worcestershire HPS committee and who I have to thank for becoming treasurer last year! After a year or so, one of the seasonal gardeners, working from March to the end of November, left for a permanent job somewhere. When I retired, I didn’t want to work or need to work, apart from perhaps starting my own business, but I loved working at Hanbury so much I applied, got the job and stayed for two and a half years. Several years ago, I had completed a garden design course one night a week for a year at Pershore College. I was fascinated with all the plants but wasn’t too keen on things like how much aggregate to put under a patio. So I thought, I tell you what, my second career is going to be in garden design and did a few other courses such as propagation and water and rock gardening. A while later after a back injury my physio was horrified when I said I was still gardening – and suggested exercises after every 20 minutes of gardening. Fortunately, with careful management, the back is no longer a problem. I didn’t want to be sitting around all the time after finishing at Hanbury so I decided I’d set up on my own as a gardener. I didn’t want a massive business or to take people on but I put a few ads in local magazines. People told me I’d be busy with people crying out for me. I thought ‘Is that really going to happen?’ But they were right. Straightaway people called and I was very busy. Over the years, I’ve scaled it right down and I’m now doing two or three mornings a week. I tend to do the ones with big gardens and big borders who know their plants a bit or who are interested in getting to be proper gardeners.
And all of this helps of course with your own garden…
We’ve been working a lot on the garden in the last few years - hard work, completely redesigned and rebuilt. The back garden isn’t huge - about 20 metres by 10 metres, and the front garden is smaller. There’s not much left of the original garden except a laburnum tree and two great paeonies, which are glorious. We’ve been here for 24 years –we actually moved from the house next door. We’ve got rural views front and rear and a brook at the bottom of the garden where we have decking– it’s a great seating and eating area. When we got here, it was plain, traditional rectangle with a concrete patio and very mature and boring shrub border. But now we have my 10ft by 8ft Rhino greenhouse, sadly the largest I can reasonably have without it totally dominating things. I have a passion for cucumbers and tomatoes I grow in the greenhouse, together with lots of seed sowing and propagation in the Spring. There are borders, a pond with a waterfall and large stone water feature. There’s an ivy-clad trellis area at the back of the decking over the end of the pond, which is a favourite tea spot. I use a lot of pots around my small estate, most underplanted with bulbs and with a few small shrubs or evergreens of interest, including a Nandina domestica ‘Fire Power’, one of my favourites with its bright red leaves. I think a garden isn’t just a place to work– it’s to sit in and enjoy as well.
Did your Pershore course help with the design?
One of the tutors was absolutely right when he said that designing our own garden would be the most difficult thing we’d do. I tend to like neat and tidy – my business is called Tidy Gardens. The back garden needs a bit of a restock now, a few decent sized shrubs and so on, which we are beginning to do – especially as we’ve not spent much during lockdown. I confess – and this is not very Hardy Plants - that I’ll use annuals to fill the gaps and for colour.
Your favourite gardens and favourite plants?
Alnwick Castle in Northumberland – just because of the sheer magnitude of what they have done to build such a lovely place - and, locally, Stockton Bury, which has been lovingly built by the family over the years – a sheer pleasure. On plants, the first thing that comes to mind are freesias. They were my Mum’s favourite and we used to sell them at the florists’s – beautiful smelling. And fuchsias– Mum had a huge bush near the lounge window and I never registered what it was at the time. I wish I had, and taken notice how she cared for it. I know it’s not fashionable but I like grape hyacinths because they lined both sides of the path at home. But you like what you like, don’t you? I’m keen on lots of others as well – delphiniums, echinacea, alstromeria and asters, azaleas and I’m learning to love roses – including Young Lycidas, Gabriel Oak and Mortimer Sackler, our latest purchases from David Austin.
Okey doke, thanks for that. Before we finish, tell me how you got involved with HPS.
One day, I just thought I’d really like to find out if there’s a decent garden club so I did a bit of research, came across HPS, and saw there was a talk coming up on clematis by Glenis Dyer. So I went along and also to one on roses from Simon White from Peter Beale Roses. Later, I went to the talk on heucheras from Plantagogo in Cheshire. Anyway, at one of the AGMs, there was talk of a garden trip to Hampshire, the talk was very good and everyone was friendly towards me – I’m not saying just polite but really friendly, coming up chatting to me. So I joined and the trip to Hampshire was excellent, I thoroughly enjoyed it and spent a load of money on plants.
How’s being treasurer?
I took over from Richard and he kindly created a cash book for me on the computer that has columns for income and expenditure and when I do anything connected with the bank account, it all adds up. Without the cash book, it would have been much more difficult. It’s been a strange year though – we haven’t seen each other much although there was the evening we had at Spetchley in September and some good Zoom talks since. We had 116 members at the AGM last year and so far we’ve got 104 who’ve paid their subs– including two new members. I’m ringing the final few to make their payments, and I anticipate we’ll be in the region of 110 members this year. There were a few worries about how Covid might affect us but we’re OK.
Pleasure talking to you, Ange. Good luck with everything - and the accounts.
Long-standing group member John Watts has died at the age of 92.
His death, in the Alexandra Hospital, Redditch, followed a fall in his home the previous weekend.
Born at Great Ellingham, in Norfolk, he moved to Coventry at the age of 12. John and Hilda - also from Norfolk - were married in 1959 and moved to Coventry and then to Alcester in 1961.
John’s father was a gardener and his love of plants and the natural world clearly runs in the genes. John, a passionate gardener himself, initially worked as an industrial chemist but retrained to become a member of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries and Administrators. Most of his career was working with Morris Motors, later British Leyland, and for his final years with the company, he was manager of their staff college at Haseley Manor in Hatton.
John was a keen cyclist and, later, walker. One of his greatest achievements was his involvement in the committee that created the 100-mile Heart of England Way in 1975, which runs from Cannock Chase, north of Birmingham, to Bourton in the Water. He later single-handedly created the 26-mile Arden Walk from Henley, involved negotiations over five years to create rights for paths across private land and building stiles along the way.
He and Hilda joined Worcestershire Hardy Plant Society from its early beginnings in 1995 – when meetings were held in a hut at Pershore College, without speakers. They enjoyed many of its activities, including holiday breaks around the UK. Three daughters were born during the 1960s, Susan, Patricia and Sheila. John was blessed with six grandchildren. He was very proud of them and they all adored him.
His funeral is planned for April 13 at Fladbury Crematorium – and donations can be made to Warwickshire Vision Support, which last year won the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.
I reckon that we’ve all done it – that is, knowingly planted something that’ll take over the neighbourhood if left to its own devices. At the time we were probably faced with a seemingly enormous garden which we reckoned needed filling up. Or, saw the beauty of the flowers and reckoned that despite the plant’s well-known propensities we’d be able to control it. Sadly, ignorance and unprincipled nurserymen are usually the reason it happens. You’ll expend a lot of time and energy controlling the froward plant. You need to know before it happens.
Flowered demons: – This is the longest list. Willowherb springs to mind. I’ve planted Epilobium angustifolium ‘Album’, ‘Stahl Rose’ and ‘Isobel’ because I love the flowers. I garden on clay. If you have a more open soil the rhizomes travel further and faster. ‘Album’ is virtually sterile, so self-seeding isn’t a problem. ‘Stahl Rose’ is incredibly travelsome. ‘Isobel’ barely moves. Control them by waiting for soft moist soil conditions and pull up the finished stems (preferably before they seed). The rhizome will stay down there but this practice gives the plants an awful headache and limits their spread.
Never plant Allium triquetum. Its spring flowers – a symphony of white and green, are stunning but you’ll never limit its spread.
Currently in late February, I’m waiting for enough top growth to spray Roundup on Symphyotrichon (Aster) ‘White Climax’ which is so good in October and November but my efforts to remove it have failed twice before.
My father used to run the mower over Alstroemeria aurea (Peruvian lily) to control it and I do the equivalent for Campanula rapunculoides. I have two kinds of the giant creamy-yellow scabious - Cephalaria gigantea. One never seeds, the other puts seedlings in places where it’s impossible to extract them. There’s a stand of this one on a roadside outside Winchester. The moral is roadside weeds are not garden plants.
There are lots more but finally I must mention Tropaeolum ciliatum. In clay it wanders a little but is not much trouble but, hey, on good soils stand back. Richard Nutt’s 3 bay house in the Chilterns was covered – all three bays and it went over the roof and down the other side.
OK, you think you can cope but what happens when you’re under the weather and you lose concentration?
Tolerated for unique foliage effects: Every year customers ask for Euphorbia cyparissias, usually when it’s in flower and giving off a suffocating scent of honey. I warn them and end by digging up a lump of clay with the plant contained inside and give them instructions to drop the intact lump into a hole and stand back. I have three different clones - all equally invasive. They have adorable fluffy foliage at less than 30cm high and would make excellent ground cover in a remote little-visited shrubbery.
Elymus arenarius, a grass, has bold spikey blue foliage and occurs as a native on arctic sand dunes. The foliage effects are very good, and it’s usually planted with the foreknowledge about its invasiveness. However, there’s another Elymus, E.cinerarius which has the same characteristics but stays put.
Any advice about bamboo’s spreadyness is usually not to be trusted. This quality depends very much on soil conditions and someone gardening on dry clay might claim one kind behaves itself whereas someone gardening on more ordinary soil will throw up their hands in horror at its mention. My experience says only two kinds behave – any kind of the genus Bolinda and Chusquea culeou. This latter one has tufts of foliage and reminds me of 1950’s miniature poodles.
Horses for courses: - These are ornamental plants with leaping propensities. Vinca major and V. sardoa despite their evergreen foliage and winter flowers end by making the garden scruffy. Vinca minor is much neater. Geranium procurrens is a leaper too. It has lovely dark-centred violet flowers but in the wilder parts of the Saville Garden in Surrey it’s leapt onto azaleas, then over them depriving them of light and beginning their decline to death.
Allowances for difficult places, hot dry places: This would be the only place I’d plant Cerastium tomentosum (snow-in-summer).
Allowances for difficult places, dry shade: – Everyone has this site somewhere – maybe where next door’s sycamore shadows your border. It’s a challenging place to furnish but firstly think about dense British woodland which almost always has a ground layer even if it’s only bluebells. Evergreen dry shade is even more of a challenge but here in Worcestershire, variegated ground elder carpets the gloom under a yew walk by the church in Bretforton Manor and at Elton Hall, Herefordshire the same job is done by Symphytum caucasicum ‘Eminence’ with its amazing blue flowers.
Seeders: I’ve allowed four aggressive self-seeders onto the nursery stock beds. 1. Linaria vulgaris which has long-blooming spires in various colours and is easily removed. 2. Muscari armeniacum whose seedlings have leaves as thin as hair and will themselves seed the following year and have to be extracted by hand excavation – but I love the blue in March and April. 3. Smyrnium perfoliatum which makes a cloud of greenish yellow in April and May and, 4. Collomia grandiflora. The Collomia has apricot flowers in June and apricot is a rare garden colour. I’ve spent 15 years removing it before it seeds which means that there are probably another fifteen years’ of seed left yet.
The effect your soil has on invasiveness: I’ve already touched on this above but it’s worth adding another example. In the past I’ve had two gardens where Achillea millefolium (yarrow) has comprised 50% of the “grass”. But, can I get any Achillea cultivar to survive the winter here on the nursery? No. And, just to add insult to injury, Achillea millefolium is a roadside weed.
The ineradicable: And I mean ineradicable. Acanthus spinosus has to be the best example. Only ever plant it where you want it to stay for ever and never let it self-seed. The foliage and flowers and, frustratingly the dead seed heads, are distinguished and add a lot to gardens. If you try to move one you will never get all the roots up and it will end up like Mickey Mouse’s broomsticks in Fantasia because every root fragment will regrow into a fully-fledged plant. If like me you spray it with systemic weedkiller the poison will be translocated down the root and kill it but never reaches to tip – which will regrow.
Some forms of soapwort, Saponaria officinalis have exquisite flowers. All kinds bloom at a quiet time of the year in August when they’re really appreciated. Foremost must be ‘Betty Arnold’ which is a clean white double. Many years ago, two of us spent three full days (that’s 6 man days) digging up about two square metres including having to manually break open clods of clay to extract the roots. That was 25 years ago. Its still there and every year it gets a dose of Roundup.
Seasonal delights: There are some invasive plants I leave alone like celandines, Bidens integrifolia ‘Moonbeam’ and Cardamine quinquefolia. I might, when weeding, extract and compost some bits but that’s not a campaign. Basically, these are special plants for me – foliage and flower plants in unusual seasons. The celandines and cardamine are up and gone long before anything else has really woken up for the season and the bidens is very effective in November. They can spread and stay.
The innocent: Sometimes good well-behaved garden plants get tarred with the same brush as their problem relatives. This is another occasion when you really need to know. Oxalis articulata (in all colours) is never invasive like some naturalised oxalis weeds and not all michaelmas daisies will take over the border.
To conclude I should say that the only really safe site to plant anything invasive is where they cannot escape. Like roundabouts and islands in lakes.
We moved to this house in 2018 and began sorting out a seriously overgrown garden. The stone wing, facing Badsey High Street, is early eighteenth century and attached to our neighbours, whose formally designed front garden has a long yew hedge fronting the road. Our space is the full width of our frontage but only two and a half meters from house to iron railings curved at one end. It had been gravelled over a permeable mat. Planting consisted of a mix of huge laurels, privet and evergreen viburnum. Initially I hacked these back and had them trimmed three times in a year as growth was enthusiastic. When the neighbours said they were going to extend their yews with a contractor they had used in the past, we joined in to replace our overgrown mix. This meant that the hedge line along the street could be seen as one. Equally important was to have planting appropriate to the age and formal appearance of the house.
I ordered 16 root-balled yews averaging a height of 120 cm in order to get ‘instant’ effect and a little privacy. The contractor started work in early November 2019, removing all the old plants including roots. The new yews went in a 75cm wide bed at 45-50 cm apart plus an extra plant to take the curve into account. They were well grown but not all from the same clone, so there were variations in leaf form and habit though all are yews. I watered them in and fed them with a generous helping of Fish, Blood and Bone. The contractor re-gravelled the area and installed a leak hose with an attachment so I could water automatically should the need arise. I put down an initial layer of cheap mulch about 5 cm thick around the base of the plants and over the hose. Previous experience had been with planting bare root or pot-grown shrubs. It struck me that conditions for new plants could be draconian as the front is east facing onto the street and very exposed to vagaries of the weather.
In early Spring 2020 we edged the gravel with a line of re-used bricks and tucked Pulmonaria officinalis 'Sissinghurst White' and Cyclamen hederifolium under the yews, plus more mulch as the ground had subsided. The leak hose proved essential during hot periods in the summer and everything survived. Our neighbour lost three yews. In July I trimmed the tops in a straight line to 115cm, the height of the smallest bush. Some plants had wide bottoms and others wide tops so using a battery powered trimmer they were evened up into columnar shapes. I am aiming for a dense hedge without gaps that will eventually match the height of that next door. In February 2021 I fed it with National Growmore at recommended dosage and mulched lightly so am looking forward to lots of growth and an elegant and appropriate border. Hitherto we are delighted!
This title encapsulates the ethos of the HPS Conservation Scheme. In this era of ever-increasing mass production, turnover and profit are the main drivers of what is available to the consumer, and sadly the horticultural trade is not immune to this. As a result, many good, garden worthy plants (often older cultivars) are no longer available, or have very few suppliers, as they are uneconomic for larger businesses to grow. The Conservation Scheme aims to try and ensure that some of these plants remain available by growing, assessing and propagating plants that might be lost, and if deemed worthy distributing them among HPS members, nurseries, national plant collection holders, and to the public via plant sales. Full details of how the Scheme operates are set out on the Conservation pages of the HPS national website.
Why not look at the active list of plants in the Scheme (currently just over 50 of them) and see if there is something you would like to grow that is not readily available elsewhere? Each plant record includes a colour photograph together with cultivation details. The list is assessed each year to decide which plants to add, or to remove if they have become easier to source or they are not considered worthy enough to remain in the Scheme. For example, 12 plants were added to the list in 2019 and three were removed in 2020.
Due to the pandemic last year’s annual plant exchange meeting was held via Zoom which meant that plants were not exchanged. Hopefully it will go ahead again later this year although the date has not yet been confirmed. In 2019 there were 24 Worcestershire members taking part in the Conservation Scheme, and many thanks to them all, but more growers are always welcome, particularly as ideally four people within a group should grow and propagate the same plant to get a good assessment of how it grows in different locations. Therefore, please let me know as soon as possible if you would like to grow any of the plants in the Scheme so that the National Co-ordinator, Sally Adams, has an idea of what the demand is, and Group Co-ordinators can liaise with the growers to try and meet this demand. Finally, a gentle reminder to those already involved in the Scheme to get propagating please!
It was only by chance that I became involved in the RHS plant trials. I attended the inaugural meeting to establish an RHS Centre at Pershore College and came away as a member of the Steering Committee. From there, thanks to Bill Simpson*, I was drawn deeper in to the RHS, firstly as a member of the RHS Joint Dahlia Committee and then the Affiliated Societies Committee.
I recall my first dahlia trials meeting at RHS Wisley. The members were drawn from the National Dahlia Society who were all exhibitors and RHS members and were nurserymen or head gardeners. I was a hybrid, an RHS member, an exhibitor and a youngster. The committee I joined consisted of rather elderly gentlemen; I remember feeling alarmed to see one notable nurseryman with a white stick, but fortunately he did not take part in the judging. The trials meetings were leisurely affairs, with an assessment in the morning, a three-course lunch in the restaurant, followed by an afternoon meeting. It is all very different today. In those days, assessments were mainly for the exhibition awards; today the trials are all assessed for the RHS Award of Garden Merit with the emphasis on garden worthiness and not the show bench.
All the Joint Committees, with Plant Societies and the permanent trials of Dahlias, Chrysanthemums, Delphiniums, Sweet Peas, Iris and Carnations, have now ceased, to enable a wider range of herbaceous plants to be trialled. I was very sad to see the permanent dahlia trial come to an end, especially as it happened under my chairmanship. It was one of the oldest trials and had been running for over 80 years. I am delighted that there will be a new dahlia trial starting this year, which will be held in the new Trials Garden at RHS Wisley. The Trials Garden is part of the exciting development plan for RHS Wisley and is situated on the site of the old Plant Centre. It will have the great advantage of being easily accessible to garden visitors, whereas the old trials ground on the Portsmouth Fields was rarely visited and suffered with the loud traffic noise from the busy A3, making it difficult to hear during the assessments.
New dahlias are constantly being introduced to the market and the current Dahlia Trial will assess the garden worthy dahlias released since the last trial and that are readily available in Garden Centres and Specialist Nurseries. It is an exciting project, as dahlias gain in popularity each year, especially the open centre cultivars that are a magnet for butterflies and bees. The dahlia is constantly evolving as breeders create new forms and colour combinations. Today as gardens are becoming smaller and more flowers are being grown in containers, the smaller dahlias are ideal for this purpose, providing colour all summer and into the autumn. The trial will include both plants grown in containers and the open ground.
The trial is assessed by a forum drawn from a diverse range of dahlia enthusiasts. These include dahlia nurseries, cut flower growers and keen amateurs. General gardeners are welcome on these forums as they often look at plants in a different way to the experts.
There are new trials starting every year and the herbaceous trials usually run for three years. Should you wish to become involved you will need to make a commitment to attending the meetings throughout the flowering season for the length of the trial. It will be a very rewarding experience and a great opportunity to learn more about plants.
We are the Hardy Plant Society. We don’t do shrubs! Coming from the lips of a hardened Hardy Planter, wife Judy felt duly reprimanded for having had the temerity to utter the ‘s’ word. Yet, unless you want to grow your perennials on an allotment or in your own private botanical garden, shrubs can play an important part in your garden. I was recently surprised, when listing the shrubs that had found their way into our own garden, just how many there are and felt it might be helpful to share our experiences. Not all have been a success!
To help identify the various areas of the garden when in conversation, we have, tongue in cheek and out of a sense of fun, given them rather pretentious-sounding names such as the Rose Garden, the Woodland Walk and Buddleja Boulevard. Invention has failed to come up with names for two large island beds though, which are still known as the New Bed (NB) and the New New Bed (NNB). These follow the line of the boundary hedge and it is the 20ft strip of grass between them and the hedge that comprises Buddleja Boulevard. No prizes then for guessing that this is where most of our buddlejas are to be found. Two are a variegated form grown from cuttings taken from a friend’s garden. The flower heads are a deep rich purple. As with many variegated plants there is a tendency to revert and the all-green stems have to be removed. Otherwise they are left unpruned.
Next comes a B. x weyeriana, a cross, I believe, between B. davidii and B. globosa. The flowers are a rich golden yellow with an orange centre and, as with all buddlejas, a favourite with bees and butterflies. This is a strong grower which was left to its own devices for many years. Major structural pruning took place last year with more to follow this year but the base is quite gnarled and unsightly; I will take cuttings this year with a view to replacing it.
It was my understanding that B. globosa with its clusters of small, round yellow flowers requires no pruning but ours has over the years grown quite tall and did not flower well last year, so possibly another candidate for replacement. Slightly less hardy than the davidii buddlejas, it has nonetheless withstood everything that nature has thrown at it including the winter of 2010 and the Beast.
Our latest acquisition and still quite small is a B. alternifolia. Tiny blue flowers are produced over the length of the wispy arching branches. For the time being it is being left unpruned but it is recommended to cut back the ‘branches’ after flowering in order to encourage new growth which will bear next year’s flowers. Dead heading is not required.
Two non-buddleja intruders have been allowed at the lower extremity of the ‘boulevard’. One is a pink-flowered ribes, variety unknown, the other a Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’ that, after four years tenancy, has reached the dizzying height of about 2ft. It clearly wants to be a bonsai.
The ‘new’ beds are also home to one or two shrubs which are grown at the rear of the beds, viewed from the house. The first is yet another buddleja, this time a davidii with fine white flowers at the end of each arching branch. Like most buddlejas it is effectively evergreen but gets cut hard back in March after the most severe frosts. A general problem with white-flowering plants in the garden is that the blooms turn an unsightly brown colour as soon as they start to go over. This shrub is no exception and frequent dead heading is essential.
Adjacent to the buddleja is my favourite shrub, a Ribes speciosum. An evergreen with small, shiny green leaves tinged with bronze, its red flowers, borne in late spring along the length of the branches, can easily be mistaken for those of a fuchsia. As a protective measure it may temporarily lose its leaves during periods of severe drought which can be disconcerting the first time it occurs. With a spread and height of around 7-8ft it requires no pruning.
At the far and lower end of the NNB is a group of three shrubs. A purple-leafed cotinus, not normally grown in a border, is cut right back each spring and remains a manageable size. The superb foliage complements the symphiotrichum and heleniums and forms a backdrop to a statuesque Cynara cardunculus or cardoon. The only drawback to this regime is that it fails to flower and produce the ‘smoke’ from which it derives its common name, the smoke bush. The nearby Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ works in the same way. It too is cut hard back each spring. The third ‘shrub’, The Big Mistake, is a Euonymus europaeus or spindle tree which demands a high price for its meagre show of red and orange berries in autumn. More a tree than a shrub, it belongs in a native hedgerow. In the border, its dense shallow roots throw up suckers and make underplanting impossible. The only other Big Mistake has been a Viburnum rhytidophyllum with its leathery textured leaves, a gift from a friend’s garden many years ago. (Beware gifts borne by friends!) The powdery coating on the leaves and leaf stems was a skin irritant which led to its demise.
Most gardens sport a philadelphus and spirea and ours is no exception, where both earn their places. Other scented shrubs include a Ribes odoratum with its yellow flowers and heavy, almost resinous scent and a vigorous Sarcococca confusa or Christmas Box with its shiny all-year-round leaves; it thrives against a north-facing wall, overshadowed by a huge bird cherry Prunus avium. The tiny white flowers fill the air with their fragrance in the depths of winter and the fat black berries add later interest. A treasured Pittosporum ‘Tom Thumb’ succumbed to the winter of 2010.
Valuable structure and interest is lent to the garden by a number of low box hedges (Buxus sempervirens) which also provide shelter for potted plants standing in the ‘nursery’ area. The box ‘candle flames’ in the formal garden stand out in an otherwise bare winter landscape. A further useful evergreen is, of course, yew (Taxus baccata) which I have used to create a topiary peacock and a penguin. I believe that a garden should include an element of surprise and a touch of humour.
Our shrub manifesto would not be complete without listing one or two sub-shrubs which include the hardy Fuchsia magellanica, Cerratostigma willmottianum with its striking blue flowers and Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Pershore’, bred at Pershore College.
So, agreed, our shrubs do not qualify as hardy perennials but as Hardy Planters we should acknowledge them and not declare the ‘s’ word taboo.
Early in February the RHS announced that the Chelsea Flower Show would be postponed until the autumn and that same afternoon we learnt that the Malvern Spring Festival was cancelled for a second year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
You may be surprised to learn that plans for the HPS display had already been discussed and we were on the point of submitting an application for Spring 2021, although this was a scaled back version already anticipating possible restrictions.
Worcestershire Group has a long association with the Malvern Shows which I hope will continue because it is such a good way to tell the gardening public about the HPS. If you’ve ever taken a turn at being there on the stand you will know how easy it is to get people talking once the plants have attracted their attention.
Over the years the displays have had different themes reflecting the various aims and activities within the Society and plants are chosen accordingly. We have been very fortunate to have the support of Bob and Ed Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers who have generously allowed us to choose plants from nursery stock. Even so, the weather in early May can be unpredictable and there is always a different mix of plants. It can be hard to have a display of showy flowering perennials without bringing plants on so a range of good foliage is essential.
Many gardeners find shady areas the most challenging and are surprised at the variety of plants that they could consider growing. Podophyllum versipelle ‘Spotty Dotty’ AGM is almost always included because its large leaves with chocolate blotches are eye-catching and with those dark red flowers hanging underneath it is irresistible. It is a hybrid podophyllum related to North American species, needing a rich, moist soil in shade.
A plant at the top of my wish list was Disporum longystylum ‘Night Heron’, a Dan Hinckley introduction from China. Deep burgundy-purple shoots resembling Solomon’s Seal emerge in spring and elongate, producing terminal clusters of creamy bell-shaped flowers tinged with green in May and June. The foliage fades to dark green during the summer and stems may remain throughout the winter although they should be cut back to the ground in spring before the new growth is visible. Grow in humus-rich soil in part-shade.
Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’ also attracted many admirers. A pretty form of cow parsley with delicate umbels of creamy flowers held on long stems above lacy, dark purple-brown ferny foliage, it is a short-lived perennial that can seed around.
Sometimes it’s the little gems that steal the show such as the small woodland plants; Anemone nemorosa ‘Vestal’ AGM was first discovered in 1830 and has double white flowers, whilst a new introduction from Bob Brown, Anemone nemorosa ‘Frenzy’ has bizarre green and white flowers with purple splashes.
It’s not all shade lovers and Camassia leitchlinii ‘Maybelle’ is gorgeous. With shorter stems and flowering later than the type, it has vivid blue starry flowers with contrasting golden stamens. It looks good in a border or grown in long grass for naturalising.
This could be a very long list and I almost always buy at least one of the plants that have featured in the display. Perhaps it has inspired you to find out more about helping at Malvern and volunteers are always needed both with creating the display and being on hand to talk to the visitors. Why not join in and see which are the stars of Spring 2022.
My gardening book recommendations
When I want to know more about how to grow a flowering bulb, I reach for two books, Anna Pavord’s ‘’Bulb”, or Christine Skelmersdale’s “A Gardener’s Guide to Bulbs.”
Many of you will remember Anna Pavord coming to speak to us at our Celebrity Lecture in 2015. You may already be familiar with her book on tulips. “Bulb” is a lovely book to handle, substantial and beautifully illustrated. Anna’s writing is fluent and accessible as she imparts her knowledge of each type of bulb. She often explains where they originate which helps you to understand what conditions they prefer. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she describes the attributes of a particular flowering bulb or she explains the pitfalls she has encountered and what she has learned.
I recently looked to her for help with growing freesias. I like perfumed flowers, so I have tried to grow freesias in the summer but without success. When our HPS group visited High Glanau Manor in 2018, I noticed that Helena Gerrish had freesias flowering in clay pots in her greenhouse. Anna confesses that she has “only once been able to grow a couple of decent pots of Freesias to bring into the house, but I felt ridiculously proud every time I passed the sitting room”. She then gives advice on when and how to plant them.
For garden flowers, you cannot beat Christine Skelmersdale’s book “A Gardener’s Guide to Bulbs”. The layout and illustrations are superb and it incorporates so much useful information about how to incorporate bulbs into your planting schemes. Christine is the owner of Broadleigh Gardens in Somerset; she has been growing bulbs for forty years, she writes well and passes her expertise on effortlessly to her reader. Her book is divided into the four seasons; there is a very useful table at the back-giving flowering time, planting depth, spacing and planting season. Christine describes the best varieties to grow and how to plan a year-round display.