Yearly Archives: 2012

February 2012 – Cambridgeshire Trees

At their last meeting members of the Gardening Club also needed help when it came to identifying trees when faced with many bare twigs. Luckily Richard Todd, Head Gardener of Anglesey Abbey was at hand to assist us with the answers to his opening quiz! His Powerpoint presentation included beautiful pictures of the same trees in their full splendour. We left the meeting resolved to learn more about Cambridgeshire’s trees.

Do try and visit Anglesey Abbey in March when you will see a spectacular sight as the springtime bulbs, blue scilla and chionodoxa cover the ground beneath the trees in the lime tree avenue. Also at the beginning of April a carpet of shocking pink tulips can be admired beneath those infamous silver birches!

Posted in 2011 - 2012 |

April 2012 – Plants for shade

‘When faced with a tough environment, bring in the tough lads’

Well, such fighting talk is not what we expect at the Gardening Club, but Peter Jackson, Scotsdale’s ‘guru’ went on to explain at our last meeting. Exotic, brightly coloured tender, sunshine-loving plants have no place in the shady border. Gardeners must face up the simple fact that ‘tough places need tough plants’.

Fear not though, Peter mentioned many plants which look good and will survive in shady places. But first, make sure that you plant properly – use moisture retentive gels and Rootgrow which contains mycrorhizal fungi enabling the plants to extract nutrients and hold onto water in difficult soil conditions. Then, choose wisely. Remember the smaller the plant, the quicker it will get established.

Peter recommended the following:- the architectural plant Fatsia Japonica which forms a reliable backdrop, the Choisya White Dazzler which grows well in semi-shade to about a metre high. Smaller leaved plants are good too – try varieties of the Euonymous. Cotoneaster dammerii provides reliable ground cover as does Pachysandra terminalis (Japanese Spurge) with its rosettes of glossy, dark green leaves with serrated edges. In early summer upright clusters of tiny, white flowers contrast beautifully with the dark green foliage. Vinca minor (the lesser periwinkle) would be a good companion
Reliable perennials for the shady border include the lovely alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantle) and the Polygonatum (Solomon’s Seal) susceptible to saw fly so spray early in the season Don’t forget the digitalis (foxglove) – particularly the traditional pink and white ones or the Hellebores – promiscuous plants so do not let them go to seed! Heucheras are better in partial shade – split them every three years. Look out for the beautiful cranesbill, the geranium Rozanne – cut back after flowering and you may be lucky and achieve three bursts of colour in a season!

The list is endless – I haven’t even mentioned the Christmas box, the spotted laurel, ferns, ivies ………………………………………….. all tough lads!

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May 2012 – Penstemons

Roger Skipper is not only a penstemon but also the name of our last speaker who bred his very own flower – recognised firstly in America and then in the UK by the Royal Horticultural Society.

Roger described this lovely bell-like flower with many photographs of countless varieties grown in his own garden which he often opens to the public. Try growing the red Penstemon Southgate gem, P. Garnet or P. Firebird – all are hardy, bushy plants which will produce many flowers towards the end of summer until the first frosts. Also good ‘doers’ but not quite so hardy are Penstemon Blackbird (deep purple), P. Raven (purplish), P. Osprey – white and pink and
P. Flamingo (bright orange-pink). Use penstemons to fill the gaps in the summer border as they come into their own in early autumn. They like sunny positions and will tolerate dry conditions once established so only plant them in the spring not when they are looking their best in the garden centre in late August and September! The darker forms look good when weaving through softly flowing grasses such as Stipa tenuissima.

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June 2012 – Garden visit

The intrepid members of the Gardening Club braved the elements to visit a Cambridge town house garden at 17 Mariners Way, Chesterton CB4 1BN. The rain eased just for us, and the sun shone just long enough for us to look around this plantsman’s garden. Although a small garden Margaret had designed it so that every inch was used – tall pittosporum shrubs formed an evergreen hedge, a fountain played in the centre of a patio with borders containing low-growing flowers and vegetables. A pergola hosted roses and clematis with a raised bed groaning with ferns had found a home on the shady side of the house. Green Men peered out from amongst the beautiful roses, heucheras and hardy geraniums. There were too many unusual plants for us to remember the names. The more hardy members had their note-books at the ready to record their favourites!! We rounded off the visit with Margaret’s fruit punch and cream scones – totally wicked as we then enjoyed a pub supper!

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July 2012 – Colour in the garden

Our last speaker was a consummate professional – of course Hilary Thomas had the edge on us having been the Head of Garden Design at Capel Manor College for many years. Graduates of her courses have won numerous medals at RHS shows and are respected for their excellent plant knowledge and imaginative use of plants. So …….. Hilary arrived early, set up her equipment, tested it (!) and proceeded to talk with enthusiasm and verve whilst sharing with us a splendid digital presentation of colourful plants for every season For inspiration visit Hyde Hall, Essex which has begun to adopt Piet Oudolf’s naturalistic planting in one area of the garden or Holme Hall, Norfolk with its contemporary walled kitchen garden and front garden designed and planted by Chelsea winner Arne Maynard. The garden incorporates large herbaceous borders, trained fruit, vegetables and a traditional greenhouse.

Hilary’s tips for an interesting colourful garden included:-
• Be bold – take out half of what you have in a border and double what you have left! In other words repetition of a plant across different beds gives a flowing continuity.
• No matter how small your garden use a few tall plants – spikes and spires – try Macleaya, the plum poppy with Verbena Bonariensis and poppies.
• Don’t forget grasses (e.g. Stipa tenuissima) but buy a packet of seeds – much cheaper than a plant from the nursery! Plant grasses in well-drained soil and don’t feed them too much.
• Grow loyal, easy plants – Bergenia makes excellent ground cover and is a hit with flower arrangers, Hesperis matronalis (Sweet Rocket) will give you scent in the evening and Geranium macrorhizum will quickly fill a difficult site with its pink or white flowers and virtually evergreen leaves.

As usual this is a mere snapshot of another interesting and enjoyable Gardening Club meeting.

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August 2012 – Making a Garland in Sue’s garden

After a gloomy rainy day the evening brightened up and the number of patches of blue sky increased. Against the background of playful cats and low-flying birds David Holmes entertained us in the garden of Brambledown – home of our genial hosts – Ken and Sue Allsworth.

Did you know that the best garlands are made from hazel, oak, wild cherry and even privet? David brought with him examples of these flexible branches which could be willingly coaxed into perfect hoops ready to be festooned with garden flowers and foliage. A hot glue gun comes in handy if you want to attach cones for a Christmas garland, florist’s wire can be wound around stalks of all kinds of plants before threading them between the slender branches of the garland. You don’t need to go to a lot of trouble – just find some holly, yew or box to form an evergreen background and gradually build up a collection of herbs and flowers. Suddenly you have your own piece of living art which will last for a long time – especially if you regularly replace tired plant material. Sue was our willing volunteer who successfully made her own garland and several members walked away with bunches of branches ready to be woven into perfect examples of David’s art!

The evening ended with wine and nibbles – a lovely way to spend some summer hours with friends.

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October 2012 – AGM and Quiz

What a year! The Golden Jubilee celebrations continue …………………. Even our Social Quiz had a Golden theme thanks to Quiz master, Glen Link. Successful, too, was our Jubilee dinner – Thriplow Village Hall looked a picture with the sparkling white table linen showing off the beautiful yellow flower arrangements put together by Shirley Cooper. Marcia’s splendid catering did us proud – the evening provided us with several entries to our memory-banks! I shall always remember the pleasant atmosphere and the continuous happy buzz of friendly conversations.

At our AGM we voted in Carol Clarke as our Membership Secretary and Sue Pinner as a Committee member. Sue Allsworth is our new Vice Chair (oh yes, I am still the Chair!), Keith Evans moved to the post of Treasurer with Jo Fisher, Barbara Harper, Gwyneth Page, Michael Pollard, Hilary Magnay and Joan Smith remaining on the Committee. One long-standing Committee member has resigned – we will all miss Shirley Cooper whose support and contribution to the Club has been invaluable over so many years. We could not manage without the stalwarts who are always there to lend a hand – Jane & Robin Dring, Liz & Owen Smeeton, Ken Allsworth, Andrew Francis, Jill and Mel Vinton – the list is endless. Indeed a sincere ‘thank you’ must be extended to all our members who make the Club such a happy one. Come and see for yourself – join us for our Christmas buffet on 6 December when we will enjoy our splendid Christmas buffet after listening to Mike Day talking about ‘Vegetable varieties today’

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November 2012 – Bob Flowerdew No Work Gardening

We expected that a highlight of our Jubilee year would be the visit of Bob Flowerdew last month. The audience numbered over a hundred with other gardening clubs well represented. We were not disappointed as Bob delivered his talk ‘No work gardening’ with panache – not that the Committee members and supporters were shrinking violets as they wore with pride splendid yellow buttonholes superbly made by Glen Link.

Bob boldly swept away some long-held views of fellow gardeners who seemingly made unnecessary work for themselves in the garden.

For instance – one message from Bob was to accept the garden conditions you have – why waste time on trying to change things just to grow particular plants. Instead grow the plants which thrive and tolerate your particular soil type and general garden conditions. Some things you cannot change for instance there will always be weeds. Yes, weed killers are useful to e.g. keep an asphalt car park weed-free but as for ordinary gardens, just continually chop off their heads!

Bob’s advice was “Beware of expert advice!” In his view garden books are mostly written by acknowledged experts in their field but most gardeners just want to know the basics so treat advice with care. Be careful of descriptions in seed catalogues – avoid those plants which are described as ‘good for the Show Bench’ – probably taste will be sacrificed for appearance.

Bob had some useful tips:

  • why buy expensive plant labels when ordinary clothes pegs and a simple pencil will suffice (pegs are also useful to hold back brambles/branches when you are gardening nearby)
  • admire Chelsea gardens which are always inspirational, like Impressionist paintings but be realistic over your own capabilities!
  • gardening is mostly maintenance not designing – think of how much time you are prepared to give to maintenance before embarking on a complicated make-over
  • save time and effort – why have a fan-trained peach tree when it will grow naturally into a tree
  • sharpen your hoe – don’t buy stainless steel ones. “Hoe when you don’t see a weed and you won’t get a weed’
  • plant your tomatoes in the soil not in grow bags
  • grow more lettuces than you need, shred the leaves and leave for the slugs – this will deter them from approaching your favourite plants

Space does not permit me to continue with this list but I hope that you now have a flavour of this most interesting, inspiring talk given by a very knowledgeable and courteous speaker. Well done Bob!010

Posted in 2012 - 2013 |

December 2012 – Mike Day – Vegetable Varieties Today

Our last speaker in 2012, Mike Day, brought with him forty two years of agricultural experience. Born on a farm Mike is a country man through and through. Working for NIAB (the National Institute of Agricultural Botany), the independent, not-for-profit plant research and information centre based in Cambridgeshire, He has been conducting vegetable trials for many years and what he doesn’t know about vegetable growing just isn’t worth knowing.

Along with a superb, professional visual presentation Mike gave us many tips on the vegetable varieties to choose. I can only give you a flavour of Mike’s talk here so……………starting with Carrots – Mike reminded us that carrots used to be purple, white and yellow – orange is the newest colour! Choose ‘Chantenay‘ which still has the best flavour – they are perfect for everyone. No need to peel, quick and easy to cook and great for just munching. Try growing from seed ‘Paris Market‘ carrots in containers (32 plants to a 10″ pot is ideal). In just 12 weeks they will produce delicious, short, stubby almost round carrots. Sow your seed now – although they are just as good grown later in the year.

Celery – ‘Victoria‘ needs plenty of moisture for a successful crop, and is a slow grower so sow seeds early

Parsnips – try growing ‘Javelin‘ which produces high yields of long slender roots. It has fantastic flavour making it perfect for roasted parsnips. Its shallow crowns make it easy to wash. The long cropping period means that you can have parsnips all the way through winter and right into late spring. The ‘Countess‘ parsnip provides outstanding quality and good disease resistance with excellent taste and texture.

Lettuce – ‘Little Gem‘ or ‘Cos‘ are still the best but why not try growing mixed salad leaves from seed. – great in pots outside your back door.

Now is the time to buy your seeds and sow in your garden beds or containers or in your allotments.

Wishing you ‘Happy Gardening’ in 2013!

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