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.

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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!

 

 

Late summer colour

In gardening, ‘late summer’ traditionally meant August. Nowadays, though, that could be anything up to early October, and there’s little doubt that we are  experiencing a longer growing season. As Karen Hall said in her September talk, ‘it’s important that our gardens don’t run out of steam by July’.

She gave us some wonderful examples of plants which can really help.

(This is Rudbeckia Herbstone.) Rudbeckias and Heleniums are brilliant for this, and Rudbeckias in particular can continue to look good even after their petals have dropped. And both, like this yellow Helenium, are popular with wildlife…

Another favourite is Echinacea, and particularly the old species E. purpurea. They need good drainage, and don’t like being crowded by other plants.

This can be grown from seed; they’ll flower in their first year if sown early enough in the spring.

Karen’s special loves are the Salvias, and when you look at examples like this one,

which is Royal Bumble, it’s easy to understand why. Salvias can flower for months, and one of the secrets, Karen said, is not to cut the shrubby ones down in autumn. Wait until the spring, when they have started into growth, and cut them back to a low green shoot. This is at the top of Karen’s list:

It’s Salvia Hadspen. And as long as Salvias aren’t standing in wet soil over winter, they should cope (unless the winter is unusually cold, that is).

Ornamental grasses look wonderful with many of the late-season plants we were shown. But they also look pretty stunning by themselves:

Now we have no excuses!

Thank you, Karen, for your inspiring talk – and your even more inspiring images, showing us just what can be achieved!

 

Summer show, 2017

Every year it seems that the summer show can’t get more colourful or more inspiring, and every year it does. There were some beautiful blooms,

like this hydrangea (which won best in show for its section, unsurprisingly), some perfect vegetables, amazing flower arrangements, amd mouthwatering cakes, bakes, pickles, jams, wines, fruit spirits…

It was, yet again, impressive just how so many of the entrants in the vegetable, fruit and flowers classes had achieved such good results given the rather peculiar weather we’ve been having.

But it’s still worth entering, even if you think your geranium or dahlia or marrow or garlic is not up to scratch – you might just be expecting impossible levels of perfection. The only thing we would prefer not to see is wildlife – caterpillars, basically, though slugs are also unwelcome. And, of course, there’s always the produce table to tempt!

Here’s a gallery from the day; just click on an image for a slideshow. Huge thanks to everyone who made the day such as success, and congratulations to all the entrants!

The Spring Show, 2017

The Spring Show is always a delight. The hall is filled with the scent of all the daffodils, reminding everyone of the fact that they do have a strong perfume, the colours are a joy after winter.

(This was a prize-winning entry in one of the Flower Arranging classes.)

This year was no exception and, amazingly given some of the strange weather we have had, entries were up. It’s been difficult keeping on top of quality – wind and sudden sharp drops in temperature have taken their toll – but there was a stunning and varied selection.

One of the most spectacular entries was this gorgeous orchid, in the class for flowering pot plants:

and how about this pot of beautiful species tulips, which was judged best in show for the non-Flower-Arranging classes?

But there were some little charmers as well, like this Anemone blanda, one of three – the class demands three identical blooms – which managed to stay presentable (and open) during the show.

Many, many thanks to everyone who entered, everyone who came along, to the judges and the stewards and the committee and the show organisers. Lovely day!

(And apologies for the delay in this post, caused by a mixture of work, computer problems and – hopefully – the last nasty bug of the winter.)

Gardeners’ Questions

A couple of years ago the first meeting of the year was our version of gardeners’ question time, and it was very popular. Since then we’ve all had time to come up with lots more garden problems, so we had another session with three local experts as our panellists.

We had a range of queries. How, for example, can you ensure narcissi, especially the multi-flowered ones, look their best at the spring show?

show bench

Several useful tips emerged. Firstly, do not use jam jars, go for narrow vases instead. Secondly, don’t pick them in the middle of the day – evening is best – and cut the stems at a 45-degree angle, on the green and not the white. Then condition them: put them in deep cold water, by themselves (narcissi sap can affect other things); keep them at the same temperature they are likely to be in the Hall, and use a flower food as a supplement.

Other questions covered fuschias which appeared to be dying (possibly the result of recent weather as the stems were green; give them more air as it could be a form of mildew) and alternatives to box because of the blight issue (Euonymous fortuneii ‘happiness’; Lonicera nitida).

The question of roses got several people involved, as they can be tricky round here.

rose

That’s partly because of our very clean air, which seems paradoxical – but all black-spot diseases are indicators of good-quality air… There are some which do well, however, and the rose which clambers up the front of the Vic in Llanbedr was commented upon. It’s a climber called Cliff Richard, and it receives a really early, heavy, annual prune, right back to the framework (it’s been pruned like this for year after year). It also gets feed and manure at the base, so that’s worth emulating.

A few more. Does scarifying a lawn do any good when it comes to moss? Well, it can spread it, because moss is another thing which flourishes in our warm, wet local climate – and the general conclusion was that scarifying keeps you fit, but is probably unlikely to help a lot. Two of the panel recommended lawn sand, but essentially the feeling was that trying to eliminate moss round here (unless you’re dealing with sports turf) is a way of exercising and little else. Scarifying does, however, break up the thatch that forms.

If you buy plants from a garden centre, is it good practice to pick the flower head out to encourage better growth? Yes, definitely.

It’s just about time for all the Clematis montanas to flower round here, and there are some wonderful ones. So when is the best time to prune one, and how much should you take it down?

montana

Generally, agreed the panel, they shouldn’t be cut but (and the questioner’s C. montana has spread into nearby trees) one can stand a hard prune, and it won’t kill it; it will just break out again. Timing? well, the next couple of months. And newer varieties are not as bonkers as the older ones…

We had a thoroughly informative evening. Huge thanks to our panel, Guy, Reg and Sheena, and enormous thanks to the members who provided such a range of questions – far more than can be covered here.

Gardening by the sea

Our September meeting focused on something which concerns most of us round here to some degree – trying to garden effectively within sight of the sea. Quentin Deakin is from Cambrian Coast Gardens in Tywyn, and himself lives within 150 metres of the coast, so he knows the problems: high winds, salt, sand, intense rain, intense sunshine…

But there are advantages too. By and large, coastal climates are milder, with cleaner air, good levels of sunshine and seaweed available as a fertiliser (only in moderation, see below). He tests various things in his own garden, and is using Rosa rugosa

rosa rugosa

as a hedge, though he is also experimenting with tamarisk, pruned to shape. Windbreaks, as he stressed, are essential – he pointed to the way trees will grow better close to the coast when protected by something like the gable end of a ruined farm building – and density of planting can also help.

When it comes to plant choices that will cope with the demands of a seaside garden, Mr Deakin stressed the value of looking at wild plants that flourish in our environment, whether that’s things like sea pinks,

sea pinks

seen here on the Mawddach Trail, or various sedums and sempervivums,

which can do very well indeed. What other plants are worth thinking about? Well, among others, buddleias and hydrangeas (he suggested some of the more unusual varieties) can cope, as can grasses (Zebra grass generally stays upright, often in the face of high winds) and things like cordylines. He also recommended chokeberry, and pointed out that cotton lavender often thrives as well. He has had success with hollyhocks, somewhat out of fashion at the moment, but spectacular, and with all sorts of sea hollies. He brought along one, E. agavifolium,

which went onto the raffle table and led to more ticket sales! (the photograph is courtesy of Beth Chatto gardens, who have it for sale… just saying, for those who didn’t win the raffle).

Footnote: using seaweed.
The collection of seaweed is illegal, but the laws are really designed to stop commercial, widescale depletion; the key, says Quentin Deakin, is not to be greedy. You have to rinse the salt off or expose it to rain, and then let it rot down, either in the compost bin (in smaller quantities) or in its own bin – he generally keeps seaweed separate. It can be used as a concentrated fertiliser. dug in to the soil in January or February,