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!

 

 

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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.

 

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!

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, 

Back for 2016 – with plants, wildflower seeds and solitary bees

It’s the start of our gardening – and meetings – year. The AGM is over, the new schedule is up and looks fab, but unfortunately our May speaker developed food poisoning the day before and couldn’t make the meeting. So, at very short notice, our President Guy Lloyd stepped in. And we had a fabulous evening.

It started with one of our members introducing Kew’s ‘Grow Wild / Tyfu’n Wyllt’ boxes, part of their ‘flowers to the people’ campaign, which encourages people to plant wild flower patches (seeds included), and create homes for solitary bees (the kit is in the box too):

solitary bee house

Several people took the boxes, and it will be interesting to see what comes up from the free seeds, and whether any solitary bees take up the offer of accommodation.

Then Guy took us through some of his favourite plants for this time of year, and also gave us some great tips. They included tips about vegetables (still time, just, to plant squashes and runner beans), recommendations of some more ordinary plants (narcissus, but a good late variety in a lovely pale lemon, Pipit), and of some rarer ones like Drimys winterii:

Drimys winterii(image courtesy of the RHS)

Another shrub – or small tree – which was new to many of us was Exochorda macracantha ‘The Bride’, which is certainly spectacular.

Exochorda

(image courtesy of Plant World Seeds)

This shrub has a rather loose habit and takes its time to get going; though it can get floppy, it can also be cut back for better shape over the winter (though, like many shrubs, that might involve sacrificing the flowers for the following year). And then there was a recommendation for something rather smaller – Brunnera macrophylla, but not ‘Jack Frost’ which is commonly available. Instead, Guy went for ‘Looking Glass’:

brunnera

Clematis montana can be somewhat rampant round here, and Guy was able to recommend Freda as a variety which was controllable, and had good darker flowers; another member suggested Warwickshire Rose.

Some specimens were passed round the room, and one which caused quite a stir was Euphorbia mellifera, the honey spurge.

honey spurge

Guy said it that this was a very good year for this markedly honey-scented shrub, and indeed it is. This photograph and the one below come from Plas Cadnant, the location for our club’s outing next month. Hopefully the honey spurges will still be in flower, because they are fantastic.

honey spurge again

We were all making notes, and several of us will be trying to track down unusual plants (and sneaking the last squashes into a seed box). What a lovely evening, even if it wasn’t quite as predicted. We look forward to welcome the speaker who should have been with us, Paul O’Byrne from Plas Newydd, next year. And we wish him a speedy recovery!

(Incidentally, those members coming to Plas Cadnant should note that bringing walking boots / sensible non-slippy footwear is a good idea if you want to explore the wooded areas of the garden. It’s possible without, but better with…)

Nettles, cannibals and some lovely plants

Despite truly vile weather, our November meeting was a hugely entertaining success – and it was well attended, too. Mike Dunnett, a retired professional horticulturalist whose garden in Worcestershire is open under the NGS, came to talk to us about ‘plants with attitude, interest and history’.

It was truly fascinating and, occasionally, alarming…

worcester armsWe started with apples and pears, not surprisingly given that Mike gardens in the heartland of British Fruit cultivation. They’re two familiar fruits, but we all learned something, from modern day (that people propagating fruit trees by budding can do 800 to 1000 in a day) to historic events (that the Worcester Black Pear – now on the city’s coat of arms – was apparently taken as provisions to France by the bowmen who fought at Agincourt). We were told that the pear would probably have been more effective as a weapon, though: ‘you have to pick it in October, store it until April, boil, boil, boil and by about July you can eat it’…

We passed through the link between beetroot and the abolition of slavery in the West Indies (breeding a sweeter beet gave Europe a source of sugar and led to the decline of cane plantations) to the strange worlds of competitive carrot growing and (briefly) using vegetables as musical instruments.

Sphagnum mossThen came something rather more serious: the value of sphagnum moss in dressings on the Western Front.  Moss can absorb up to seven times its own weight in fluids; cotton was in short supply, and by 1915/16 wound dressings packed with sphagnum were in use. Most came from Dartmoor; it was dried, picked over to remove things like twigs and packed into muslin bags, 10 x 14 inches in size. They saved thousands of lives.

table settingNettles have been used in some surprising and alarming ways too (encouraging breed bulls, allegedly, and in eating contests) but none were quite as surprising as one use for pineapple: to tenderise human flesh. On a more, er, acceptable level, pineapples were such a status symbol in the eighteenth century that they could be hired out to adorn dinner tables.The hire fee was a guinea, which doubled if – shock, horror – one of your guests had the temerity to actually eat the fruit.

Finally, and as a bit of light relief after cannibalism and encouraging bulls by beating them with stinging nettles, came something we might want to try: a selection of Mike Dunnett’s favourite RHS plants with the AGM (Award of Garden Merit). Here’s a gallery. Click on an image for a caption, and for a slideshow.

Most photographs courtesy of the RHS; others impossible to track down