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.


(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’:


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


Perennially interesting

We had an excellent September meeting, with Christine ffoulkes Jones from Hall Farm Nursery. Many of us have bought from them at various plant fairs, and we had another opportunity to do so (ahem).

Hall Farm sales table

Christine gave us an excellent run-through of her favourite plants in her talk, called ‘Perennials through the Seasons’. The nursery isn’t that far away, on the Shropshire border, and before long we were all writing down names of plants we couldn’t live without. Throughout her talk she stressed collaboration with other specialist growers, which was fascinating and meant that she ranged more widely than perennials – indeed, she started with snowdrops.

Hellebores came up,


and she suggested keeping the seeds from the popular garden hybrids as ‘you never know what you’re going to get’. Then there were wood anemones, Anemonella thalictoides (a wonderfully unusual ‘Green Hurricane’), fritillaries, corydalis (a startlingly blue one, ‘Kingfisher’), and epimediums.


These were described as ‘underrated’, which is a real shame because they are so gorgeous – not only do they have the most lovely flowers, but the foliage also colours up beautifully in autumn (Christine reminded us to cut this off in January / February, before the flowers come up).

Summer led her to emphasise the daisy family: anthemis, erigerons, osteospermums,


and echinaceas (which like sun at the base – don’t crowd them, she noted). Throughout, Christine stressed the importance of the garden to wildlife, and pointed out that the echinaceas, lasting well into autumn, are vital. The same applies to the wonderful Inula hookerii, of which she showed a fantastic example that made most of us resolve to grow it immediately. If, that is, we had a large enough space available.

Heleniums – quite a star in Hall Farm’s range – came next. Christine particularly recommended Moerheim Beauty, Sahin’s Early Flowerer and Ruby Tuesday. The latter is shorter and particularly useful if you hate canes as Christine does: ‘if it needs a cane I probably don’t grow it’, she said. This led naturally onto the grasses, and here she was careful to draw attention to something all gardeners sometimes forget to do in the rush of jobs: the need to really look at your plants. She stressed the importance of light through grasses,


and suggested leaving the heads on the plants through winter, only cutting them back in early spring. Then – cut them down ruthlessly!

The year was rounded off with a few more – penstemons and Japanese anemones, for example – and then Christine told us her very favourite plant. It was a bit surprising to some  of us: Verbena bonarensis. She showed a border with a mass planting, and we understood. Lovely.

An excellent evening – and very well attended, given that it was completely vile weather. Many thanks indeed to Christine, and to Hall Farm Nurseries.



How things have changed!

We were entertained at our May meeting by Frank Hardy – ex-Vice Principle of Pershore -who spoke about the way gardening has changed since the 1950s. I’m not quite sure what most of us expected, but we ended up learning a lot, and laughing a lot too. Gardening has indeed changed enormously – and it’s not something you really think about.

gardening in JuneFor instance, when Mr Hardy started working in horticulture, his first job was making up seed trays. No plastic ones, but ones made from timbers, recycled fish or ammo boxes. His supervisors worked in waistcoats, with gleaming watch chains, and he thought that was how his working life was going to be. Like this illustration from a 1950s gardening manual, essentially.

There were no plastic pots, of course: something most of us take for granted nowadays. Plastic pots were introduced in 1959 and became popular in professional gardening not so much because they were cheaper, but because they absorbed the heat, and you got a bigger plant in a shorter time – commercial reasons driving change, as so often.

Then he described plans of the average garden over time, and it was interesting to see how various areas shifted in importance – with the vegetable patch shrinking and the areas given over to leisure increasing, with formal beds giving way to more informal planting, with greenhouses declining in importance (and number – from over 3 million at the end of the 60s to half that by the end of the 70s).

We all know that plants go in waves of fashionability too, but here again he was extremely interesting – and had brought along examples to illustrate his points. In the 1960s, roses were extremely popular – in fact, by the end of the decade the average garden had 25 different ones – and about half were sold through the News of the World. The first garden centre (as opposed to nursery) opened in 1962.

Bedding plants, grown by amateur gardeners and sold locally, became really popular in the late 60s and early 70s, and by then beds were becoming more informal – but the 1970s was really the era of conifers and heathers. Mr Hardy pointed out that you can easily spot gardens planted then because the conifers – now much, much larger than they were ever intended to be – still dominate.

Of course, we can all think of fashions today: how about grasses or wildflower meadows grown from seed? Or decking and the tendency for form – lots of hard landscaping – over content – plants and other green stuff – in recent years? And we’re coming back to vegetables now.  Wonder how long that will last…

A fascinating evening. Certainly made us not take our seed trays for granted!

(And some lovely plants for sale too – many thanks.)

Here, to end, is the classic hybrid tea rose of the 1960s – though it was actually developed in France before WW2, was sent abroad just in time to avoid the German invasion and had its name formally adopted on the on the day that Berlin fell to the Allies: Peace.


(The original grower, Meilland, wrote to Alanbrooke in early 1945 to thank him for the part he played in liberating France, and offered to name the rose after him. Alanbrooke declined the honour, and said that a better name would be ‘peace’.)

Such a shame that roses do not do particularly well round here. Unless they’re Rosa rugosa, that is.