Yearly Archives: 2013

March 2013 Plants for all seasons- Ursula Buchan

It was obvious from the start of her lecture that words ran through the veins of our last speaker. Her rich and precise vocabulary enhanced her accompanying presentation of beautiful photographs of plants taken by Cambridge photographer Howard Rice (have a look at his excellent website). Yes, we were privileged to welcome Ursula Buchan to Fowlmere. Descended from John Buchan, the famous author of The Thirty Nine Steps Ursula trained as a gardener at Kew and has written many gardening books and is an award-winning journalist writing regularly for the RHS publication, The Garden and the Daily Telegraph for eighteen years.

In her talk about ‘Plants for all seasons’, Ursula wanted to remind us of the extraordinary capacity of plants to change over the months. This is a welcome feature for us, the owners of smaller gardens, as we need to choose reliable plants which offer structure and interest in more than one season of the year. A flower may be the most fleeting aspect of a plant which has much more to offer such as beautiful leaves or bracts, colour in the autumn and so on.

So take a second look at ferns in your garden as they unfurl their magnificent fronds. Grasses offer interest with foliage throughout most of the year but particularly in the winter with their frosted flowers. For a change try Zebra grass Miscanthus sinensin ‘Zebrinus’ with its leaves striped horizontally. Bring some blue to your borders with the flowers of the small globe thistle, echinops ritro (the seed heads are beloved by butterflies) or the sea holly (Eryngium bourgatii) – the blue bracts and stems will endure our winters so don’t chop them down in the autumn!

Ursula talked about the beauty of certain plants which we may overlook as being commonplace in our gardens. Space does not permit me to elaborate so take a look yourself at these plants every time you walk pass them in your garden:- Mahonia Japonica with its range of colours, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, Rosa Rugosa – especially for the colourful hips in the autumn, Clematis Tangutica with its silky seedheads, the evergreen Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Ingwersen’s variety’ (beware as it can be invasive but worth planting for its lovely soft pink flowers in May) Allium – especially Christophii the romantically named ‘Star of Persia’.

Posted in 2012 - 2013 |

April 2013 Companion Plants-Andrew Sankey

You would be forgiven for thinking that the Gardening Club had changed its image – what were we doing inviting a speaker to tell us about company in the garden? Not that there is anything wrong with sharing your garden with a friend or relative over a cup of tea (or glass of wine!). But no, Derby and Joan were not the subjects of Andrew Sankey’s talk. In an amusing, witty and interesting way Andrew talked about the way in which we could grow plants together in a successful, mutually beneficial way. Quite naturally some plants already choose their neighbours – think of the wild clematis, the Old Man’s Beard, rambling through hedges. Older civilisations discovered the benefits of growing certain plants together – did you know that the Incas grew marigolds between their rows of corn and beans?

So here are some tips from Andrew – let me know if they work for you!

  • Underplant roses with chives (or any member of the onion family) to ward off blackspot and greenfly as would dwarf lavender (try ‘Hidcote’).
  • Grow sage near cabbages – if the sage grows too big then pick off the stems and drop them near the cabbages.
  • Grow tomatoes near your gooseberries
  • Yarrow – a tonic plant will aid all plants in their vicinity. It increases the scent of nearby plants and, fights off pests and attracts ladybirds.


Andrew also described many successful plant combinations for us to consider.

  • Underplant hellebores with snowdrops
  • Try lilies and roses together to increase their scent
  • Plant hardy geraniums near daffodils – their leaves grow and cover the untidy daffodil leaves after they have finished flowering.
  • Similarly the untidy straggly leaves of the Allium Christophii can be hidden if overplanted with Heuchera or Alchemilla mollis

Many more useful ideas can be gleaned from Andrew’s little booklet called ‘Companion Planting’ – well worth a read. Have a look at his website.

Posted in 2012 - 2013 |

May 2013 Planning borders – Helen Riches

We didn’t realise how complicated a task it is to design a border in your garden. Most of us purchase plants which we like and just pop them in a space in the border. Our speaker, Helen Riches sought to change all that and gave us some tried and tested ground rules for designing that perfect border.

Start with big ideas – do you want a favourite tree to be the focal point, do you wish to concentrate on summer-flowering perennials or fragrant plants. Check out the soil type, the direction which the border faces, what about the shade. Don’t forget architectural plants to give your border a backbone. Aim for 30% evergreen and 70% deciduous plants to ensure that the border looks good at all times of the year.

Draw your plan, starting with the shrubs and bearing in mind the eventual size of the mature plants. Add your perennials in groups of three or five and bulbs last of all. Man-made structures add another dimension to your border so look for interesting pots or bricks. Seek inspiration for your plants from magazines, visit other peoples’ gardens and think carefully before buying that impulse plant at the garden centre.

Helen showed us examples of gardens she had designed and described the ‘before and after’ stages. But now it’s up to us – we have to decide how we can transform our borders ……………………….. Good luck!

Posted in 2012 - 2013 |

June 2013 Wrest Park, Kathy’s Garden AND Salvias!

Yes, what a busy month and by the time you read this article the Gardening Club will have also enjoyed a visit to Devon – more of that in the next issue!

Firstly we should tell you about our day trip to Wrest Park, Silsoe and Kathy’s Garden in Stevington – two very different gardens, each with its own character. Wrest Park is an exceptional rarity. Its grounds contain one of the few remaining formal gardens of the early 18th century and the house is a near unique example of English architecture following the style of an 18th century chateau. English Heritage have done well to restore some of its original charm in just two or three years and are trying to restore the house and the amalgam of three centuries of English garden design.

Extremely knowledgeable buggy drivers took us on tours of the gardens describing the history of each area, the statuary and the names of the many trees.

Next we visited Kathy’s garden and the smiles broadened –what a haven! Round every corner was another flower bed brimming with happy plants. So many ideas for us to take back to our own gardens. We were inspired by the edible garden, delighted by the silver leaved eleagnus, herbaceous white honesty, hesperis, geraniums, geums, poppies and aquilegias. The ferns were commencing their fresh wonderful statuesque growth while hostas in hanging baskets were already making a good display. May is such a marvellous time of year. The early growth and fresh leaves of trees, hedging and grasses were magical. We ended the afternoon with delicious home-made cakes on the lawn while some of our number carried on playing with five tiny puppies who were brought out for a breath of fresh air. Then the heavens opened and we endured a magnificent hail storm with huge hailstones falling from an angry sky. Oh how I love English weather…………….

Almost an anti-climax was our June meeting – but no, this wasn’t true. Our speaker Janet Buist is one of those English treasures who carries on developing so many varieties of salvias from her home in Colne with no regard for commercial success. She brought with her many plants which showed her passion for developing salvias. There is a salvia for every type of garden so go on, visit the garden centre and buy a few. Better still –contact Janet at Pennycross Plants, Colne.

Posted in 2012 - 2013 |

Our Long Weekend Break to Devon

Believe it or not some villagers read about our weekend breaks and then follow the routes themselves! We are always flattered to hear this so here is another splendid itinerary to follow!

A few weeks ago thirty six Gardening Club members and friends left the villages full of expectation. They were not disappointed. First stop was a gem of a garden – The Courts Garden. One of Wiltshire’s best-kept secrets, nestling in the village of Holt, near Bradford on Avon, this Courts Garden demonstrated the English garden style at its best, full of charm and variety – a true hidden treasure.

We reached our hotel in Exeter to find it buzzing with different sorts of flowers! Over 300 Exeter College students were celebrating the excellence of fellow students who were being awarded with a stream of Sports Awards. Oh those amazing dresses and huge heels! The young men were suave and well-dressed – a suitable foil for their colourful partners – Oh to be young again!

Next day we ventured out, calm had settled on the hotel again and so we set off for the edge of Dartmoor where the enthusiastic plant collector Lionel Fortescue first developed The Garden House in the 1940s. The pioneering planting style is known as ‘new naturalism’, inspired by natural plant communities in the UK and further afield. It features choice trees and shrubs underplanted with thousands of perennials and bulbs. The new Head Gardener showed us around – so much work for him to do but we could still see ‘the inspirational garden blending seamlessly into a timeless Devon landscape, offering stunning views in all directions’.

Dodging the showers we arrived at Buckland Abbey. Not only the gardens were explored but we also admired the recently-discovered Rembrandt – worth over 20 million and ‘guarded’ with nonchalance by one National Trust volunteer…………………………………..

Sunday saw us visiting two more National Trust properties – time and space does not permit me to describe Killerton or Knights Hayes in detail – just go and have a look for yourselves! (I’m not even going to describe the Burlesque dancersd at Killerton!) Our final visit en route home was indescribable – the RHS Garden Rosemoor –I’m not often (ever?) lost for words but here is a garden which surpasses all others. At the heart of the site is a flowing succession of ‘garden rooms’ each with an identity and a purpose but together forming the Formal garden. Other highlights are two rose gardens, a Winter Garden, a Cottage Garden, wild flower meadows, the Forest Garden etc etc. It’s enough to make you move to Devon …………………….. Really pleasing to see was the arrival of a group primary aged children eager to learn about the environment at the purpose-built Learning Centre. So, go on – join the RHS today! Better still, join the Gardening Club – we are affiliated to the RHS so we visited this wonderful garden for free!

Next year – North Wales, staying at Caernarfon – watch this space.001

Posted in 2012 - 2013 |

August 2013 Summer Soiree

Another summer, another soirée. It has become customary for the Gardening Club to hold an annual evening get-together in a member’s garden. So on a balmy evening in August nearly 50 gardeners partied in the beautiful garden of Robin and Jane Dring. Over a glass of wine we wandered around the flower beds admiring the superb collection of plants but also trying to identify unusual specimens in an attempt to win the horticultural quiz. Would you know your Polygonatum (Solomon’s Seal) from your Smilacina – often confused with Solomon’s Seal? Could you identify Dictamnus albus – the burning bush or Glaucium flavum – the horned poppy? It was quite a relief to recognise tarragon and oleander! Congratulations to Jill and Mel Vinton who won this tricky quiz.

Jane had also devised an antiques quiz so our imagination was stretched as we tried to identify items collected over the years. A Roman roof tile from a privately-owned Roman villa near Salisbury dating from the 3rd century created the most discussion. A close second was the knitting stick – apparently you could drive your horse and cart whilst knitting with just one stick (needle) under your arm! Equally intriguing was the copper beer warmer – its pointed end was placed into hot coals to achieve a more pleasant drink. Jenny Brew and Freda Spencer, F&TGC members from Foxton won this quiz – well done ladies!

The first meeting of the Club year is on 3 October when we gather around tables in Fowlmere Village Hall to enjoy a quiz devised by Glen Link. Do come along to sample the friendliness of our popular club. Some of the questions will be about plants and gardens but there is always a good sprinkling of general knowledge questions. Accompanied by drinks and nibbles this is always a most enjoyable evening.

Posted in 2012 - 2013 |

October 2013 – AGM/Quiz

This is what I would call a ‘bread and butter’ article – no mention of soirées, visits to lovely gardens or excellent speakers. I make no apologies for this as without our splendid local volunteers no organisation would survive!

So at the AGM the following officers were elected – I retained the position of Chair (and very flattered too at the confidence in me shown by members – of course it has nothing to do with no-one else volunteering for the job! Is that an good example of irony, I ask myself?)

Sue Allsworth did an excellent job as Acting Vice Chair last year but other considerable commitments have forced her to resign this post BUT she is now our Meetings Secretary and we are so relieved to be able to fill this post with such a competent person. So, that left the post of Vice Chair unfilled. Thank goodness for Sue Pinner who was elected Vice Chair. Sue has already been doing the job of 2014 Show Co-ordinator so it made sense that she took over the post of Vice Chair – thank you Sue. Keith Evans has agreed to continue as our Treasurer – special thanks to him for turning around the Annual Accounts so quickly in time for the AGM. Also for the first time we engaged an Independent Examiner and thanks galore go to Martin Arthur who worked extremely speedily to check our accounts …………… you see what I mean by my earlier reference to ‘our splendid local volunteers’? Carole Clarke continues as our super-efficient Membership Secretary, Barbara Harper remains as our Committee Clerk with a hand on history (and the website!) to ensure that we do not err from the straight and narrow. Other Committee members elected were Michael Pollard, Joan Smith and Jo Fisher. There are also so many Club members who help in so many ways – I could fill the News with their efforts but you will be pleased to read that is not my intention today.

I will end with a basket of thanks to Glen Link, a long-standing Club member who has developed a skill in devising Quizzes. (You heard it here first!) Our Annual Quiz baffled many members – it always covers not only gardening knowledge but also general knowledge. Table teams entered with gusto but the winning group was Robin and Jane, Shirley and Mary (not me unfortunately), Kit and Margaret – well done everyone!

Back to normal next month with a talk about the modern herbaceous border form Aubrey Barker, owner of Hopley’s nursery Much Hadham.

Posted in 2013 - 2014 |

November 2013 – The Modern Herbaceous Border – Audrey Barker

Well, what do we know about the ‘modern herbaceous border?’ You could say that the origins can be traced back to the borders of ‘old fashioned’ hardy herbaceous plants that made the country cottage gardens so attractive. Admittedly Gertrude Jekyll was an important proponent in the late nineteenth century with her plant groupings of particular colours but more about her after our lecture in February! If you ‘Google’ modern herbaceous border, you will find a bewildering 20+ pages of hundreds of pictures of beautiful borders with even more available at the click of a mouse’. Have a look ……………….

To find out more, we asked Aubrey Barker from Hopley’s nursery in Much Hadham to come and tell us about the phenomenon.

Aubrey started by describing Arley Hall in Cheshire which boasts the first ever (twin) herbaceous borders – planted in the 1840s. With a nod to Gertrude’s contribution in the 1880’s Aubrey reminded us of Alan Bloom’s significant contribution to garden design in the twentieth century – his island beds at Bressingham were a revolution in their day because unlike in a traditional herbaceous border, the plants can be seen from all directions. More recently Piet Oudolf has introduced grasses to the herbaceous border – Trentham has acres of them and Pensthorpe is renowned for its prairie planting of grasses and perennials. Many members will have seen several of these important gardens on day visits or during weekend breaks with the Club.

Where next for the herbaceous border?

Aubrey then started showing us countless lovely pictures of plants for herbaceous borders, ranging alphabetically, starting with the achillea ptarmica (pearl white), alcea rosea the pinkish hollyhock grown at Powys castle, Aruncus dioicus – the goats beard beloved by flower arrangers – growing 2m high but with tiny creamy white flowers, Campanula ‘octopus’ with its long, nodding, rose-pink flowers in the shape of Japanese lanterns on upright stems in summer through to Gaura ‘Rosy Jane’ – beautiful with grasses – its tiny flowers looking like stars etc. etc……………….

We stopped at the letter ‘i’ as it was tea time !

Hope to see you at our Splendid Christmas Buffet on 7 December!

Posted in 2013 - 2014 |

December – Growing Vegetables in Containers/Geoff Hodge

Now is the time to think about vegetables for the summer! Hopefully the following article will inspire you…….

A return visit by Geoff Hodge ended the Gardening Club’s year. Geoff is extremly knowledgeable and what he doesn’t know about growing vegetables really isn’t worth knowing! He has managed a Garden Centre, wrote for the RHS for years, contributes regularly to Garden News, has several books under his belt, and has an excellent website –

“Grow your vegetables for flavour” Geoff said – “they will taste far better than those you purchase in a supermarket. You will also be ‘doing your bit’ by involving fewer airmiles! Add vegetables to your flower garden, raised beds, window boxes (excellent for cut ‘n come again salad crops) – you will not be disappointed.”

An 8″ pot will be fine for 5/6 French bean plants or peppers (6/7 plants in a 15″ pot), use a 12″ pot for cucumbers, an 18 – 24″ pot for 5 runner bean plants. Beware of using grow bags unless you top them up with more compost or lie then on the open ground. NOW is the time to buy your seed potatoes, chit them for better results and they will be ready for planting out in April.

Use good quality compost to fill your pots – you will need to start feeding in about 5 to 6 weeks – every 7 to 10 days in the growing period. High potash fertilisers like Tomorite are good for flowers and fruiting. But – don’t feed your tomatoes until the first truss has set! In fact – keep the tomato plant in a small pot until the first truss of flowers begins to open (didn’t know that, did you?).

Do keep this information for your future use and then let us all know about the wonderful crop of vegetables you have grown in your containers!

Thinking of food – we enjoyed probably the best-ever Splendid Christmas Buffet in December – thanks to our generous members who brought all kinds of goodies. Can’t wait for next year…

Happy Gardening in 2014

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