What, Which, Who…

Our January meeting was the ever-popular quiz session. Divided into teams by drawing cards, we soon settled down to ponder such mysteries as which garden Siouxie and Banshees sang about, what word linked an artichoke and the WI, and the French name for the dandelion.*

Time to try a few. Answers below.

• Which garden in literature was restored by a little girl who came to England from India?

• Ground elder (ugh)

is a huge problem for the gardener but, having dug it up, what could you do with the leaves?

• What word links an antirrhinum and the Welsh emblem?

• Which tree yields the small fruit which can be used to flavour gin?

• Which part of the vanilla orchid is dried for use as a culinary flavouring?

• Hydrangeas are usually described as one of two types. Mophead

and.. what?

• Which terrifying plants were created by John Wyndham in 1951?

• Which grain is used to make semolina?

• A tall tale, joke or excuse too-often repeated is referred to as a what?

• What do lacewings feed upon?

• What three coniferous trees are native to Britain?

• What do laburnum seeds

and mistletoe berries have in common?

We had a great time, what with questions covering everything from Bill and Ben and Madison Square Garden to whether an elephant apple was a real thing (nope) and the percentage of water in a watermelon (92%, incidentally). This was not the, er, quietest of meetings, with our chair forced to emulate John Bercow and attempt to shut us us with much use of the gavel. It didn’t work.


*Hong Kong Garden, Jerusalem and pissenlit – in case you were wondering…
1. The Secret Garden
2. Eat them, apparently – raw, cooked or made into soup. Dim diolch…
3. Dragon
4. Blackthorn or quickthorn
5. The seed pod
6. Lacecap
7. Triffids
8. Wheat
9. An old chestnut
10. Aphids
11. Yew, Scots Pine, Juniper
12. They’re both poisonous…


Bulb time

Our September meeting was timely – a talk on bulbs from Stan Mahom, whose Carno nursery specialses in them. Sepetember is now their busiest time of the year, so it was good to have him come and talk to us. And what is more, he bought some for us to buy.

This year, there’s a shortage, largely down to the weather. And snowdrops are particularly scarce, not just the extraordinarily expensive rare bulbs. In the wild they are now rare, and are classed as endangered (by CITES) in places like Turkey. That’s because of a combination of plunder for cultivation and habitat destruction. But it’s not all doom and gloom, and Stan took us through various bulbs, with lots of interesting snippets about each one.

Did you know, for instance, that crocuses are a member of the iris family, and that the earliest representation of a crocus dates back to the Bronze Age (Minoan frescos on Santorini and Crete)?

Continuing the archaological theme, irises have an association with death, and were planted on graves in Ancient Greece. But these could be planted in our gardens:

Here’s another astonishing bulb fact: over 3 million tulip bulbs are sold each year in the UK. (Some to us, after the talk.)

Queen of Night, the almost-black tulip which is so popular, is an enduring favourite: it was introduced almost 125 years ago, in 1895. Like QoN, most are cultivated varieties, although species tulips are growing in popularity (there are only 75 wild species, apparently).

What about hyacinths? Well, Stan’s nursery no longer sell hyacinths forced for Christmas flowering. The bulbs are temperature-treated so that they think they ‘have’ to flower and get very top heavy (we’ve almost all had ‘floppy-hyacinth’ disorder). He recommends ordinary garden hyacinths – they are stockier and more compact and don’t fall over. For a display, he recommends growing the bulbs separately and then merging those showing the same level of growth (and for the Spring Show, they need to be planted around Christmas and kept cool).

Then Stan gave us a timely tip: Get the biggest bulbs you can afford, as they will give you the best results. Prepack bulbs are usually second quality – smaller bulbs – so be aware of that.

And there were some beauties for us to choose from, too.

Many thanks to Stan Mahom for an interesting evening.

Showing off the summer

Our Summer Show this year was remarkable. Not just because of the quality of the flowers and vegetables or the elegance of the flower arranging, but because all of these were still in play despite it being one of the most peculiar gardening seasons for weather. From the Beast from the East to the July heatwave and drought, it’s not been the easiest time for gardeners.

You’d never know it, looking at the beauties produced by our entrants.

Not a hint of a caterpillar!

The day starts with people bringing in their produce, veg, flowers and arrangements. There’s a bit of tidying:

a few last minute tweaks, and then exhibitors are thrown out of the Hall (gently) and the judging begins. Before the show opens to the public – which includes the exhibitors, all keen to see how they have done – there’s a moment of peace for the judges and stewards, a chance to catch up and have a look around the other sections.

It’s also the time when the various sales stalls are organised – the charity (Arc Nôa), produce and plant stalls.

The plant stall – the first year we have devoted a table specifically to plants – was popular, and we are planning a plant and produce sale next May. Watch this space!

Here are some more photographs from the day. Looking forward to next year already!



A trip to Treborth

Last year we had a great talk at one of our monthly meetings from Dr Shaun Russell, the Director of Treborth Botanic Gardens near Bangor. So, for our day out this year, we decided to pay the gardens a visit in return. And, just like his talk, it was wonderful.

The day was helped by the weather (which was stunning) and by the welcome (which was warm), but the gardens stand by themselves. They are possibly the only botanic gardens in the UK bordering the sea – the Menai Strait – where part, the ancient woodland, runs down to the shore. And the gardens were originally a Paxton design; Sir Joseph P. worked here in the nineteenth century, when the link across the Irish Sea from Anglesey meant the area had many visitors and tourists, and a grand hotel and garden was planned for this site. It came to naught but the bones are still there: a drainage tunnel, a waterfall, specimen trees, even the foundations of the hotel.

We were taken round three glasshouses, the temperate, tropical and orchid houses. And they were stunning. The way in:

and once you get inside…

there are fascinating plants everywhere you turn –

from Lithops to carnivorous plants,

taking in all sorts of wonders in between:

The glasshouses are only part of the story. Treborth is a serious academic institution, part of the University of Bangor, and with flourishing links to the biggest botanical garden in China, Xishuanbanna, as well as those in Lesotho (Katse) and Tierra del Fuego (Omara). All around there were specimens

(Enephalatos villosus’ mature female cone and Encephalalartos laevifolius’ young male cone, and yes, that’s what it says on the sign), and signs of the work being undertaken from moth traps (500 varieties recorded so far) to the rhizotron (for studying roots) in the gardens:

Treborth isn’t just noticeable for its plant life (2500 species of flowering plants, 120 mosses, 100 lichens). Over 400 varieties of fungi have been recorded, as have 26 mammals, 125 birds, 10 reptiles and amphibians, 29 butterflies and all those moths: most impressive.

All in all, we had a wonderful day which left a great impression. Hopefully Treborth will be successful with their fundraising efforts, which will make the gardens accessible for a lot more people. It’s a great place, doing some important work. Huge thanks to everyone at Treborth, and to Val for arranging our visit.

Here’s a selection of some more photographs from the day; just click on an image for a slideshow.


Painting flowers

This month our meeting was to feature a talk and demonstration on painting the flowers we all love. Unfortunately our speaker had to cancel at the last minute … but we still had our talk because Glenys Lawson stepped into the breach. Her enthusiasm (and commentary) was infectious.

She had set out an easel, some paints – including some test pots from Wilko, because, as she said, she will paint with anything. Acrylics in this case, as she had a painting to finish in 45 minutes. And talk about the process at the same time.

She had already prepared an outline of some irises:

Which she then proceeded to fill in, gradually working on the background, building up the layers and working hard at getting the colours of the irises right (difficult in the lighting of the hall),

Here’s the process:

and the (almost) finished painting:



Stop press!

The wonderful Spring Show, which should have been happening in a couple of weeks’ time, has had to be cancelled. This is typical of why:

It’s the dreadful weather we had last week. If people were lucky enough to escape without any damage to their properties, and with all their trees intact, their gardens were not equally fortunate. The snow, the dry, cold wind and then Storm Emma have put paid to our dreams of filling the village hall with the glorious scent of daffodils en masse.

Even tough winter plants didn’t survive:

Poor hellebores.

So, following a ring-round of the most prolific exhibitors – the flower arrangers, too, were having problems: no decent foliage was left – and the committee, we made the unhappy decision to cancel the show this year. So very sorry – but we’ll be back next year, and better than ever.

Wine and gardening (honestly)

For February, we had something different – a wine tasting, led by Dylan of Dylanwad in Dolgellau. There is a link, honestly there is: so much about the final wine is dependent on things we gardeners are quite familiar with: soil, weather, climate… all can have an impact on the end results.

Dylan took us on a tour of some of his favourite vineyards, illustrating the point – the soil here, for instance, hardly fits the word, being mostly stony:

Vine roots can go down as far as 12 to 15 metres in very dry circumstances (such as around Jerez in southern Spain), and the grapes grow low to the ground. But there are other things to consider, like pruning, and here again Dylan illustrated different systems.

Now for the tasting. First came three white wines, fresh and citrussy,

including one Welsh wine, from near Monmouth. They would have been perfect on a summer’s day; the winter night was perhaps more suited to the three reds:

which included an interesting one from Moldova.

Dylan asked a question, one he says he often asks when doing events like this, and to which he never gets a positive response: did anyone grow grapes? Several hands went up. And had anybody made wine from their grapes? Yes, one of us had – a first. Wine and gardening: the link is confirmed. And definite!

Many thanks to Dylan for an entertaining, informative and enjoyable evening.