Our Monthly Meetings

Below we have reviews of our meetings. Details of future meetings are in our Events Calendar.

21/09/2020

On Monday 21st September Peter Thurman gave us a Zoom talk about 'Living and Working with Trees.' Peter is an environment specialist and lecturer and most of his work is as a consultant about trees. Firstly he pointed out how tenacious trees are. There were slides of trees growing through abandoned cars, and heaving up concrete slabs with their roots, holding together tons of soil to help against erosion and growing at peculiar angles in particularly windy sites. They can be huge, sculptural, magical and wondrous! We saw a huge fir tree in Mexico with fifteen children standing in front of it with room for more, and a ancient twisted olive tree in Greece that was thought to be 3000 years old. A red-wood tree in America had become a tourist attraction as a road had been cut through it and tourists could drive inside it, but it has now sadly died. Some trees have colourful bark or beautiful blossom. In Japan the cherry blossom and red acer leaves are left on the ground beneath the trees for a while as a decorative feature, and people have picnics underneath them, while we have the 'blow and go' men to get rid of them!

Compaction is the biggest killer of trees. Often intentions are to retain established trees in new housing developments but they can't cope with weight of the machinery crushing the ground and often show stress and die the following year. Trenches are cut for pipes with little thought for tree roots. We were shown a tree house that should have been a celebration of the tree, but supports had been drilled through the branches ready for fungus and rot to creep in and kill it. Street trees are sometimes vandalised, or even poisoned if someone wants to extend their driveway. After the 1968 hurricane we could see how big tree root systems are. Often like a huge plate spreading out side-ways to a large extent and quite shallow. Contractors can lay pipes underneath the roots if they dig down carefully. Also they should beware about heaping soil up around the base of a tree as the bark has a natural level and it will be killed if this happens. There are new pests and diseases ready to attack too. One designer was shocked when some pine trees that he had ordered from Italy for his Chelsea Garden display arrived covered with pine processionary moth caterpillars, and he had to quickly pick them all off. We have got used to seeing Horse Chestnut leaf miners spoiling conker trees, but there is an Indian variety that is not affected and we could plant instead. Needs a large space, but it looked beautiful with cones of flowers and no leaf damage at all. Also watch out for the Asian Long Horned beetle who hopped off a packing case in London but was caught on that occasion, and the Emerald Ash Borer from America, pretty enough for a brooch, but has already killed 2,500 trees there. Plane trees are dying in the south of France from a new fungus disease called canker stain, hope that doesn't reach London's plane trees.

Newly planted trees sometimes welcome a little support but not two planks nailed directly to them, or a metal frame around their trunk that they will outgrow and bulge through, or a choking washing line that they will have to grow around.

Watch out for unusual trees in London, someone has planted a house plant outside in Hackney and it is now as tall as the roof. Global warming means odd things can survive!

Peter pointed out that people would be much more careful with trees if they gave us some technical advantage, all they do is provide the oxygen we breathe! New York would be unbearable without Central Park. Peter showed us some slides of London with and without trees and we saw that they also frame architecture and disguise bad buildings.

Studies show that people convalesce more quickly in hospital if they have a view of trees rather than a car park.

French Squares are often lined with trees to give shade to the old men playing petanque. Gate way trees are planted for each village too, with different trees for each one. Lovely to see your own village's trees, you know you are nearly home! In the U.K. if we could increase the tree canopy by 6% in towns we could lower the overall temperature by 10%!

There followed slides of lovely trees we could plant such as Cercis, forest pansy, with purple flowers before the leaves come out, Oxydendron arboreum with its wonderful autumn colour, and Nyssa sylvatica which doesn't mind being water-logged. Then followed some to avoid: Ailanthus altissima, mis-named Tree of Heaven, which is banned in America as an actionable nuisance. It suckers, makes masses of seeds and heaves up pavements. Ask your neighbour to trim the roots if it is coming under your fence! Fraxinus angustifolia has weak joints and branches crack away dangerously, and Acer platanoides 'Drummondii' is famous for having variegated leaves that quickly revert to plain green and take over as they are more vigorous. Also watch out for the plastic palm trees at Brighton marina! The plastic is weathering to blue now, but nobody seems to notice.

07/09/2020

Dr Terry Smale gave us an expert talk about 'Success with succulents.' Firstly he explained what a succulent is, basically a plant with stems or leaves modified for storage of water so that the plant can survive periods of drought. Nearly all cacti are succulents and they come from semi-desert areas. An interesting topic was convergent evolution, where plants from different families have evolved the same coping mechanism. In the slide we saw one ridged round ball that was a cactus and another that was a type of Euphorbia, both with ridges from top to bottom that can expand in good times and contract when water is sparse.

We were amazed to see Terry's very long and packed greenhouse! Ventilation is very important or plants can scorch in hot weather. At night cacti open their stoma to absorb Carbon Dioxide. Not during the day or they would lose too much water. Cacti neeed a dry atmosphere, so a concrete floor and position in full sun are ideal. Particularly tender plants live on Terry's south facing windowsill, they need a little water during the winter because of the central heating.

Some people like to move their cacti outside in the summer. They could stay in their pots, or you could take cuttings just in case. Don't let them get water-logged though. Taking cuttings seems quite simple. We were shown a branching cactus where the bottom third had gone brown and looked rather unsightly. Terry merely chopped off the top that was still green, chamfered the base a bit so that it would fit in the pot, let it dry out for a few days and then replanted it in fresh compost. Ten months later he unpotted it to show us all the new roots that had grown. Cacti don't seem to mind the cold as long as you keep your greenhouse above freezing. If you have no heater try moving them down to the floor, that can be warmer than being exposed on a shelf. From mid October until March keep them dry, and during the summer water according to the weather. Allow the compost to partly dry out between waterings. Feed every third watering, Chempak No.8 seems best.

Your potting medium needs to be really well draining with airspaces. Some people are using Muhler clay in cat-litter for this. You will need to supply all the nutrients though. Don't bother putting crocks in the bottom of your pot, maybe just a piece of newspaper to stop compost falling through the holes. A good ploy when re-potting is to wrap a length of newspaper round your cactus to hold it when you are shaking the soil off, particularly for spiky ones. Put fresh compost down the sides of the plant and tap on the bench to settle it in. You could top dress with fine stones to look good in Shows.

 

As you would expect, there are various pests that trouble succulents. Mealy bugs can be controlled with neonicotinoids ending in 'prid' such as Accetamiprid in Vine Weevil killer, or pyrethrins ending in 'thrin' such as Deltamethrin in Provado Ultimate Bug Killer. Ladybirds are good if only they wouldn't keep escaping! Red Spider Mite makes nasty brown marks on your plants. You can buy SB Plant Invigorator and Bug Killer. This will suffocate the little nuisances by blocking their breathing pores, but it only works on the adults, so you will need to re-apply every couple of weeks to catch newly hatched ones. It is a bit expensive but acts as a plant food too, you can get it from Wisley. Vine Weevil like to eat all the roots on Echeveria. You can buy water-on Nematodes for this. At least these will stay in the pot where you have put them!

Then followed lots of slides of particularly nice succulents, some with really bright flowers. If you become really keen on succulents you might like to join The Cactus and Succulent Society. They have four Journals a year, seeds for sale at only 30p a packet, and Zoom meetings every week at the moment.

One thing to beware of - some dutch growers are spraying their plants odd colours and puttting silly straw hats on them or pinning on googly eyes – Terry and his colleagues cringe!

20/07/2020

Our first meeting on Zoom

. Olivia Kirk gave us a talk about 'Late Summer Perennials and their use in Low Allergy Planting.' At first we were so pleased to see each other, and glad that we had all survived the virus! The topic was Olivia's speciality, and has led to design commissions at Hospices and Hospitals as well as her award winning Chelsea Flower Show garden in 2010. This was re-planted at the University of Worcester, where the National Pollen Research and Aerobiology Unit is based. They produce pollen forecasts in partnership with the Met. Office.

The UK has the highest rate of asthma in the world! There is a link between pollen allergy and asthma. Wind pollinated flowers produce masses of male pollen, which has a positive charge, while female trees and flowers produce a negative charge and have large sticky stigmas to receive pollen. Unfortunately our eyes and nose membranes also have a negative charge, and take some of the pollen in.

There are visual clues to identify low allergen plants: Large petals/flowers that attract pollinators, flowers such as Foxgloves with the male parts deep inside, red/orange/blue or pink flowers attract pollinators. Also a short bloom period, sticky or heavy pollen, and the best: sterile cultivars which generate nectar but do not set seed as a result of breeding. Popular plants include 'Bowles mauve wallflower', 'Agastache Blue Boa', 'Nepeta Six Hills Giant', 'Helenium Sahin's Early Flowerer', 'Geum Totally Tangerine' and some of the perennial Geraniums: Rozanne, lovely blue flowers with a white eye, Orion, a darker blue, and Patricia, magenta with a dark eye.

Incidentally, I always thought Agastache was pronounced with the same ending as Moustache, but Olivia said Agastarchy. A seed catalogue tells me that Helenium is pronounced Helen-knee-Um. [Ouch!]

Perhaps just continue confidently, and people will assume you know what you are talking about!

Trees to avoid are Plane and Sycamores, not only do they produce lots of pollen, but also have tiny hairs on their fruits and leaves that cause itching and rashes. Birch pollen affects 25% of hay fever sufferers, pity that silver birch is so beautiful and popular! Lawn grass and most ornamental grasses can upset people, but usually not the oat type of grass such as Stipa gigantea or Briza maxima, you could test if these are O.K. for you by standing next to a planting of them at the next garden you visit before investing in a clump at home? Oak pollen is mildly allergenic, but watch out for Artemisias, Achilleas and Asters. Olivia cuts off the flowers before they open and just enjoys them as foliage plants.

Good trees are Amelanchier, Prunus subhirtella Autumnalis, Pyrus salicifolia pendulla, Liquidamber and Sorbus aucuparia 'Cardinal'. Olivia used a selection of these in a garden she designed for
St. Peter's Hospice in Bristol. First she planted a good foliage background so that it would look good in Winter, then enjoyed adding flowers for Spring and Summer. The first slide showed all the plants newly planted and at ankle height in Spring, but by the September everything had grown like mad and was flowering so well that the Hospice held a fund-raising open day for people to admire the garden!

We all like Verbena Bonariensis, and were interested to see Verbena Hastata, more clumpy than its relative, and with dark stems that add interest before the flowers open. Also interesting was a sunflower, Helianthus salicifolius, that she grew for its tall rounded foliage rather than the small disappointing flowers at the end of the season. Olivia pointed out that they look like green afghan hounds standing in your border! Other good low allergen flowers are Baptisia, false indigo, a lovely blue upright plant from the pea family, if you have clay you will need to add lots of grit for this. Also Angel's fishing rods, Knautia macedonica and giant Scabious, Cephalaria. If you dead-head the flowers you will get masses more.

The talk finished with lovely slides of different low allergy plants growing in combination, and they really looked beautiful. Plenty to think about! Thanks Olivia and Cathy, an excellent Zoom meeting!

 

16/03/2020

A small band of us went to hear Simon Horrill's 'Ideas for Spring' on Monday 16th March and we all sat a long way apart! He was very taken with the Japanese Wabi Sabi Movement, this involves letting moss grow and appreciating it, enjoying little self-seeding plants like violas, and not minding if they decide to do it in cracks in pavements or on top of walls. Also enjoy weeds in lawns, but maybe not too many varieties. The Japanese like a good pot so much that if a crack should appear they fill the gap with waterproof cement and sometimes even inlay the space with gold. Simon tried the same idea with a large garden pot that cracked when he took a root-bound plant out of it, but he does keep the water-proof cement mended side to the back.

Simon likes to keep his eye on current trends – last year the fashion seemed to be for pale orange and peachy coloured flowers, but this year blue or cherry red. Not quite sure which shade of red this is, but I'm sure you are trendy and will know! We are also expected to decorate our fences with painted bird boxes, and grow leafy foliage plants in painted pots. These did look very nice in the Yves St Laurent garden at Chelsea. Simon was very practical though and said he wasn't going for the painted tins in luscious colours fastened to the fence, because he knew he would never get round to watering the plants inside as much as they needed. Luckily next year, apparently, is the year of the climbing rose, so that will be alright!

Bunting is always a jolly way to make your garden special. Simon used to make this by sewing two triangles together with mitred corners and turn the whole thing inside out before sewing them to a cord. At last a friend asked why he didn't just cut triangles and sew them to the cord directly? This has speeded up production no end!

I liked Simon's bird bath idea, which was a plant pot saucer standing on a length of cut tree trunk with a few stones in it to weight it down and give a natural look. We have been doing this, for some time our birds have enjoyed bathing in an upside down dustbin lid balanced on an old chimney pot.

We all liked Simon's home made cushions where he had sewn together strips of old shirts to make the front of the cushion with the button band across the centre of the back so the filling could be taken out for cleaning.

He is very pleased with his 'Hotbin' which produces usable compost in thirty days, and means that he doesn't throw any food scraps away.

This was a lovely talk and full of ideas to think about as promised. The raffle prizes were splendid too as Cathy brought the books that would have been prizes at the Spring Show.

9/12/2019

Steve Bradley gave us a talk about 'Winter in the Garden.' This turned out to be hints and tips from an expert about what to do in the garden. Steve is currently updating the Hessayon expert advice books and wrote the 'Ground Force' book. He points out that winter seems to start after Christmas nowadays and that plants need a period of cold, not necessarily freezing, to encourage flowers to develop for fruit later on. If you dig before the cold weather frost will get in and break up the soil, although Steve is keen on not digging and would rather let worms incorporate his compost. He showed us some lovely views of Wisley in frost and snow. Camellias can suffer browning of petals after frost because their sap has turned to crystal as the temperature drops, then the sun warms them up too quickly and thaws the sap and ruptures the cell structure. Wind chill damage looks like dry brown leaves, caused by the plant being unable to get moisture from the frozen soil while the cold wind dries the top.

Try to keep off your lawn when it is frozen, grass blades will snap. Steve showed us a slide of a line of brown footprints! Your lawn might take until Easter to recover.

Best to leave pruning your roses until threat of frosts are over, branches might die back further than you intended. You used to be able to buy sulphur candles to fumigate your greenhouse. You can't buy them now, and don't make your own, despite how-to-instructions on the internet, or you may end up in the hospital burns unit!

Cold and wet can cause root damage to plants in pots. Don't put crocks in the base of pots or wet will be trapped in and rot roots. The whole business about crocks was invented by gardeners in Victorian times who had to account for the pots that they broke, and hiding them in the base of other pots or explaining that was what they were for saved money deducted from their wages! Wrapping two or three layers of bubble wrap around the pot helps, not over the top as you want rain to get in, or you could put a black plastic bag round them with dry screwed up newspaper around inside for insulation.

If your acer or vine bleeds after trimming fasten a slice of potato against the wound and the starch will act as a band-aid.

Mahonias and Magnolias have orange sap just under their bark instead of green, so don't worry if you are scraping a bit to see if they are alive.

Planting is best done before 10th January as the soil is still warm until then, but not into wet clay. If you want to plant a potted container out in this Steve advises washing off the compost from the roots and planting it as a bare-root plant, otherwise water will move into the compost like a sump and rot the roots.

Different coloured flowers of hyacinths flower at different times, if you want them all out together you could put them in a basket still in their individual pots when they are about to flower.

Did you realise that the best business for Garden Centres apart from the Cafe is selling bird feeders? Steve showed us an ingenious idea for making our own from a lemonade bottle. Grit in the bottom for weight, then a layer of food and a split cane through for the bird to stand on, then a hole for the birds to put their heads in, and hang with some string from the neck of the bottle. Wonderful!

18/11/2019

Our AGM, See the index for the minutes.

22/10/2019

Peter Herring gave us a fascinating talk called 'Fungi- Friends or Foes?'. Peter brought beautiful wicker baskets with him lined with moss and filled with amazing fungi that he had picked from the woods near his house that morning. Some, like the stink caps, he brought in sealed containers, and I realised why when I opened one to have a look! There are 14,000 different species in Britain, some so small that you can't see them, such as yeast. Most have gills underneath the caps where they grow spores. The gills can be different shapes, ridges or small tubes, and hedgehog mushrooms have little teeth. The spores are so small and light that a breeze will move them about. This is the cause of Fairy rings, where the original mushroom has spread it's spores in a circle and new fungi have grown. If you have an apple tree in your garden you might find fairy rings on windfall apples – look for rings of white fungus growing on them. We even have fungus living on us, ringworm skin infections are caused by fungus, also dandruff, farmers lung and thrush!

Amazingly one gramme of soil contains enough hyphae root structures [individual mycelae] to stretch for two kilometres! These are thin, but fungi produce a huge amount of them and they all seem to communicate with each other and the plants that they surround. Strangely, fungi are based on chitin, like shell-fish, rather than wood or cellulose, like plants. Few fungi last longer than a year, and most are quite fussy about where they will grow. Green oak cap likes to grow on oak trees and is used as the green colouring in Tunbridge-ware wood products. Coral fungus will only grow on pine, and wrinkled peach fungus really likes dead elm trees but has managed to move to sycamore trees now. One likes to grow on telephone poles because it enjoys the yummy creosote, and one likes kerosene, and there is a continuous battle to stop it growing in aeroplane engines. A strange one can be found only inside tennis balls, this surely can't be it's natural habitat!

There is a mystery why some fungus are such beautiful colours, we loved the slide of livid purple fungus growing on a bean pole, and some change colour when cut, which can be useful when you are trying to identify them.

Lichen is fungus, but doesn't harm whatever it is growing on, in fact it is beneficial as it wraps its roots around the tree roots like a glove and feeds them while receiving food from photosynthesis in return.

Rather a horrific sight was a poor Asian caterpillar, who can be colonised by a fungus once it has pupated. This has been identified as a delicacy by people in Tibet, and now this is the most expensive food in the world! Other fungus can be eaten too, even honey fungus can be eaten when it is young. Ergot fungus grows on wheat in poor conditions, and can reduce our blood flow and cause insanity, there is some query as whether it was part of the trouble on the ship Marie Celeste. It contains the same chemicals as LSD.

Red Amanitas with their pretty white spots are very poisonous and hallucinogenic to us, but not to reindeer, who can absorb the poison and excrete the hallucinogen. So, if you feel the urge to experiment, reindeer urine is the stuff for you! Death cap kills people every year by causing complete organ failure. A few years ago Nick Evans, the 'Horse Whisperer' author, and his family all suffered kidney failure after eating deadly web-caps, thinking they were ceps. Luckily their children didn't try them. In fishmonger shops in France there is often a 'Venemoso fatalli' poster with pictures of different fungi to help identification.

One peculiar fungi looks like a red star-fish and is found in only two places on earth – Australia and Esher Common!

Only fungus can break down leaf-mould, and without it the piles would just build up, so hooray for fungus busy recycling leaves and feeding tree roots!

16/9/2019

Pamela Holt gave us a lovely talk about 'Italian Lakeside Gardens.' First came a talk about all the lakes and gardens, and then beautiful photos of all the places mentioned followed. This did leave some of us a little confused about which lake or garden we were looking at, but the skies were blue and the sun was shining in each one. Prince Borromeo owned a lot of the islands, and apart from sounding like a character from Narnia, he kindly left some of his palaces and gardens to the Italian equivalent of the National Trust. One palace has been converted to a very grand hotel that Pamela was keen to visit. You have to be staying there to be allowed to look around the garden, so she had lunch, [end of the season so not quite so expensive!] and flashed her Barclaycard when asked for her room number, and that worked perfectly well. The Prince had converted one room into a small theatre for his children to act out plays! The Hotel was so grand that they had staff standing by to hand you your tennis racket or towel! There were statues of unicorns throughout as that was their family's symbol. Some of the lakes have water taxis that you can hop on and off. A lovely talk that left us wishing we were there!

15/7/2019

Russell Bowes gave us a talk about 'Say it with Poison.' Russell pretended that we had inherited a fortune from his Aunt Agatha, and led us through a garden filled with poisonous plants hoping that we would try one and perhaps clear the pitch! First up was tobacco, brought here in the 1560's and named by John Nicco from Portugal. Sailors hid leaves under their shirts to avoid paying duty, but then some absorbed enough nicotine that they died from nicotine poisoning. This was also used by Ed McBain in a story about a murderous dentist who filled a tooth with nicotine under a thin cap. Tomatoes at first had a reputation for being poisonous, and maybe they were when sliced and left on pewter plates. The acid would have dissolved some of the lead in the pewter.

In Agatha Christie's novels more than half of her victims are poisoned, in ingenious ways, usually disguising the flavour with a strong taste. Agatha had trained in a hospital dispensary which gave her lots of ideas for poisons, but she didn't know much about firearms, so they don't feature as often in her stories. Sometimes it's just the amount of dose that's the trouble, a small amount of aspirin cures your headache but a lot dissolves your stomach lining. Some plants have sap that can make your skin blister.

Next Russell speculated on deaths in history. In wet winters wheat would sometimes become infected with ergot, a fungus that duplicates the DNA of the crop it is infesting. Maybe this is what killed the first born sons in Egypt as they were given more bread than their siblings? In 1641 the Witch Trials near Salem followed an unusually warm and wet Summer. The whole thing seemed to fizzle out the next year when the old flour was used up and new wheat was used.

Some plants seem to use poison as a defence mechanism. Nettles inject formic acid between your skin layers - if you were suddenly stung over a large area you could suffer anaphylactic shock. There is an even worse nettle, probably the one that Jim Buttress stung himself on in Tom Hart-Dyke's world garden, called the Dendrocnide moroides plant. This looks fairly pretty with green heart shaped foliage and is found in rainforests in Australia and Indonesia, but it is covered with hollow stinging needles that contain a powerful neuro-toxin, moroidin, that causes excruciating pain. The extreme itching is so painful that it has been known to kill dogs and horses and drive humans mad with agony. If this happens to you apply dilute hydrochloric acid and remove the tiny stinging hairs with wax hair removal strips or they will continue stinging for months.

Hemlock is another famous poison. Socrates was killed with this. It works by affecting your blood cells and freezing them individually so that you know you are dying but remain lucid until the end.

In 'Romeo and Juliet' Friar Lawrence gives Juliet a poison that sounds like Mandrake, which slows down heart-rate and stops your lungs inflating properly. Snow White is given a red apple which puts her into a sleeping death, maybe mandrake again. Alan Turing apparently was very taken with the film of Snow White, and enjoyed cackling around like the wicked Queen and frightening people! [Can't believe this!] He poisoned himself with a cyanide dipped apple and it is said that Apple Computers' symbol is an apple because of this. Many fruit seeds such as apples, cherries and peach stones contain cyanide.

Sometimes plant poisons are used in real murders. Georgi Marcov was killed in London with a ricin pellet injected with a stab from an adapted umbrella in 1978 and died three days later. There was an attempt to kill another dissident a few days later on the French underground, but luckily the weather had got rather chilly so he was wearing several layers and the umbrella stab could not penetrate!

All this and not even mentioning toadstools and rhubarb! An interesting if rather chilling talk.

17/6/2019

Audrey Simpson kindly organised a lovely flower arranging demonstration given by Sheila Stracy titled 'Inexpensive Floral Designs'. Audrey writes: we were delighted to see such a large audience and pleased that nearly a third were ex-members of Epsom Garden Flower Club. Sheila showed us her ideas for using garden and supermarket flowers inexpensively. Her designs included two parallels, a tied bunch, contemporary, horizontal, circular and a traditional triangle. Her colour schemes were really beautiful, especially one with dark green, lime green and rusty red foliage from the garden plus ten purchased orange roses used in the horizontal design. Sheila emphasised the need to arrange flowers with a variety of textures and shapes in each design.

Eight arrangements were raffled at the end of a very enjoyable evening.

20/5/2019

John and June Baker came to talk to us about ‘Heavenly Hostas.’ Their story all began when they bought a hosta at a car boot sale, little did they know there were 2000 varieties of them and that the passion would seize them to try growing just about all of them! They had gone to Keukenhof gardens in Amsterdam to admire the spring bulbs and realised that there was a huge hosta nursery just up the road, thought they would have a quick look and came home with three hundred plants! Prince Charles sponsors the Hosta Society, so John and June have been invited to the Queen’s Garden Party. Also to Highgrove because Prince Charles holds the Large leafed Hosta Collection, and some of the labels were lost and they hoped that June could tell them what each one was called. Luckily June could tell them every one, but she had to tell them again the next Spring as they hadn’t used indelible ink.

Hostas originated in Northern China, Manchuria, and gradually spread down to Tokyo and South China because they grew naturally on river banks and were a popular stir-fry ingredient. Various westerners saw them and they were named after Nicholas Host who was a physician to the Emperor. Phillip von Siebold was the first westerner to teach medicine in Japan and asked for plants instead of fees from his pupils. With these he began his Memorial Botanic Garden. Since then many people have worked on hybridising the hosta. Eric Smith produced the first blue leafed one and Frances Williams produced the first variegated leaf.

At first Hostas were thought to be lilies, but in 1987 Kew realised that they ought to be in a family of their own.

Hostas need a rich well-drained soil and about three hours sun a day, yellow ones more and blue leafed ones a bit more shade. When you plant them remember the first year they sleep, the second year creep, as the roots grow, and the third year leap! ‘Sum and Substance’ used to be the largest Hosta, starting green, turning yellow as the Summer goes on, and finishing an ivory shade by Autumn. However now look out for ‘Empress Wu’! Miniature Hostas have turned out to be very popular for troughs, and the plant breeders have done their best with about fifty variations on mice; Church Mice, Frosted Mice, Holy Mouse etc.!

John and June’s garden is called ‘Hanging Hostas’ and you can see it on the Internet. Nine hours of filming finished up as six minutes! The plants need plenty of water and plant food, lawn food at the end of the season is good as it has lots of nitrogen, but don’t use the one that includes weed-killer! The flowers can be lots of colours, even yellows and peach tones, these mostly from Japan and very expensive. ‘Christmas candy’ is named for its seed pods which have pink stripes.

You can propagate new Hostas from seed. These have wings like tiny sycamores. Keep note of the mother’s name, the father will be known only to the bees! It will be a mystery what you will get, maybe purple stems or stripy leaves, or even streaks! If you just want more of the excellent hostas you have already chop the plants apart in the spring and re-pot.

Then came the information we all wanted to know, after looking at the flawless plants for sale- how to deal with slugs and snails! John starts in October by clearing garden debris and killing any eggs he finds. Scatter slug pellets, while you still can, especially round the base of fences where they hide. Beer traps are useful, also coffee grounds made into a brew rather than left in mouldering heaps. Salt kills slugs but is poisonous to plants too, so try Epsom Salts instead, they are Magnesium Sulphate which slugs hate but feeds plants. Two tablespoonfuls in your watering can does the trick. Copper strip round the edge of pots gives slugs a small electric shock, but once the strip is oxidised it stops working. Also being removed by magpies stops the deterrent effect, although there are probably some very pretty magpie nests about. You can also try watering with an Ammonia solution, one part of Ammonia to nine parts of water. This kills all slugs and snails, but as it is Nitrogen it will make your Hosta’s leaves grow but discourage flowering, so only use in the Spring if you want flowers later. During the Summer change to garlic, bash two cloves and boil in a litre of water for five minutes and then water your plants with two tablespoons in a watering can every two weeks. If you end up totally hooked you could join the Hosta Society and meet fellow enthusiasts! This was a lovely talk and beautiful plants for sale.

15/4/2019

Jim Buttress talked to a packed hall about ‘Sixty-five years in gardening’. Jim’s arrival was a bit of a disappointment for his mother, who had been brought up with a nanny. Jim wouldn’t stop crying, and they were all billeted on the tenth floor of a tower block over-looking the Gorbals and there were no lifts. His poor mother couldn’t understand a word anyone said either. Luckily she met a retired sea Captain who looked after Jim for a while so she could recover a bit, and she was amazed to find Jim fast asleep when she went to collect him. He later became a great friend of the family and Jim’s godfather. Then came a move to Hayward’s Heath, and Jim was schooled by the [misnamed] Sisters of Mercy. Luckily when he was sent off to the walled garden to be out of the way he was enthused about gardening by their kindly gardener. Jim’s father worked on an estate next to Capel Manor, and they both became friends with Mr Bowles from Middleton House who offered Jim an apprenticeship, but his father wouldn’t let him take this up.

Percy Thrower was the great television gardener of the time, and Jim would avidly watch and then practice his own broadcasts out in the greenhouse- ‘I’m worried about that boy!’ At this time Jim had built up a little business cutting people’s lawns with a mower in a trailer on the back of his bike, and selling seedlings. A job with a market garden in Wallington followed, with the owner recognising Jim’s keenness and encouraging him to learn the latin names of the plants they grew.

A move came to a larger Nursery where Jim had to be taken on as a labourer as he didn’t have the paper qualifications that the Union demanded. He didn’t mind that and had seven years of varied experience, even digging graves. Then he was invited to an interview at Wisley. His Dad came with him and they were very pleased to find ‘Bowles’ Corner’ and recognise all the plants they’d known at Middleton House. The interview was absolutely terrifying, with fifteen people lined up the other side of the desk like a firing squad. Luckily kind Christopher Brickell was one of them and asked about Jim’s other interests at the end, and Jim could enthuse about football, cricket and darts. He was surprised to be offered a student place, although he felt a bit odd one out as all the other students were ten years older and rather grand.

His first job was to be in charge of St Helier gardens with eighty staff. At first Jim felt like a bouncer, just trying to get the staff to work, they were sabotaging the mowers with sugar in the petrol tanks.. Jim soon mastered the trade unions and learnt how to strip down the mowers and get them going. His next job was with the Royal Parks, involving maintaining playgrounds and toilets but also the Palace gardens. He was instructed not to hide in the bushes if the Queen or Queen Mother were there, and found that they enjoyed a chat. He had a common interest with the Queen Mother as he was interested in horse racing, and she often invited him to sit on a bench with her while they talked. On one occasion she fumbled about in her handbag and produced a plastic bag of cuttings that she asked him to root for her! ‘We are all at it!’ remarked Jim. He wasn’t quite sure about the drink she offered him one hot day, after ringing a little bell a member of staff appeared with a pair of goblets that turned out to contain pure gin! The Queen Mother was surprised that he would have preferred some water with it as that would ‘spoil the taste!’

A promotion to running parks at the Naval College, Greenwich Park and Dover was tragically brought to an end by Michael Heseltine who decided that everything must be contracted out, and Jim had more training on computers and management sessions, but his heart wasn’t in it, and he took early retirement.

A few happy years followed, lecturing on cruise ships, and becoming Chairman of ‘Britain in Bloom’. Then he became a Judge at Flower Shows up and down the country. For the last few years he has been helping Tim Hart-Dyke with his world garden as Man-Friday and all the other days too, and broadcasting on ‘Dig it’ on the radio on Sunday mornings. We visited the World Garden last year and were careful not to touch the worst stinging plant in the world. We heard about someone who had been stung and still got pins and needle sensations six months later. This was Jim! Strangely Tim seemed jealous rather than sympathetic! The plant is now behind glass. One open day Tim had forgotten to ask anyone to help with the car parking field, so Jim offered, much to the surprise of people who had seen him on television the night before with ‘The Allotment Challenge’!

He has been pleased to have been made an ‘Associate of Honour’ by the RHS, only 100 people have this honour at one time. His father said ‘You wait until I’m nearly dead before you do something useful!’. Lately he has been given a VMH medal, only 36 people are given this at one time!

Jim’s advice after his long and interesting life is ‘Just be yourself, and keep grounded!’

18/3/2019

Mark Saunders talked to a packed hall about ‘Seasonal Pruning.’ He works at Fittleworth House near Petworth House, and has been there for twenty-one years, so you would think everything was settled and sorted by now, but in the last three months they have ripped out the herbaceous borders to replace them with flowers and vegetables in a Villandry effect, and the rose garden has gone, to be replaced with herbaceous plants. Also a new stream is being constructed. All this to be planted and ready when the garden opens to the public in a few weeks time!

Sussex has the most yellow book openings in the country!

We went to visit Fittleworth House a few years ago to admire Mark’s efforts, and chose the wettest day of the year. It was lovely to see him again.

He started his talk with a discussion about secateurs. Anvil secateurs are cheaper, but tricky to sharpen. Mark prefers Felco by-pass secateurs, with bright red handles so you can see them amongst leaf litter. They take apart for sharpening, but do be careful not to lose the little nut! When you sharpen the blade notice that one side stays flat and the other side should be sharpened with either an oilstone or a file all the way along the blade, at the same angle. Occasionally using blunt secateurs is a good idea, if your contorted hazel is sending up rogue straight stems or your plants are suckering, a bit of mangling with blunt secateurs will prevent them sprouting again. For thicker stems use ratchet loppers.

Don’t prune if it is frosty and cold as the plant cells will be swollen and will be damaged. Wear goggles to protect your eyes.

Why are we pruning? To remove dead wood and to make the plant produce more flowers or fruit.

What should we prune? Euphorbia characias needs the old flowers cut off in May, wear gloves as the sap can affect your skin. Buddleias flower on stems made the same year, so you can cut them back in Spring to make a better shape. Hydrangeas need the old flowers cut off now, down to sprouting leaves, don’t worry about the angle of cut. Redcurrants could be re-newal pruned, take out an old shoot from the base and the new shoots will fruit more. Apple trees will feel happier if you leave a few leading shoots not pruned. If you cut them all off it will keep trying to make more. Try not to cut leaves in half when you prune Laurel, they will just die back and look messy. Variegated plants sometimes send out a vigorous green branch, best to cut this off or it will take over. Thanks to Mark for this informative talk.