Category Archives: 2010 – 2011
Margaret Nimmo-Smith was our erudite speaker at the first meeting of the Club year. She is an acknowledged local expert on ‘ferns’ and we were not disappointed. Rather than describe the many varieties of ferns that you can grow in this area I will concentrate on one aspect of her talk – growing ferns from spores – you can attempt this yourself or with your children!
Ferns belong to a group of non-flowering plants that reproduce themselves from spores – look on the underneath side of mature fronds (leaves) which have clusters of cases (sporangia) filled with spores. Collect some pieces of the fertile frond pieces, place in an envelope and allow to dry in a warm room. After several days remove the frond debris and a fine brown, black, yellow or green dust will be found in the envelope. The colour depends on the species of fern. Fill a small clean pot with fresh compost such as Arthur Bowers. Cover the compost with tissue and scald with boiling water to sterilise (Be careful – don’t allow the children to help this stage!) When cool sow the spores from the envelope and cover with a clean polythene bag. Label the pot and stand it in a warm shady position such as a kitchen window sill and do not allow the compost to dry out. After about a month a film of green will appear – from this the young sporelings will develop and eventually can be pricked out and hardened to a drier environment.
Of course this narrative has greatly simplified the process but it’s worth a try – it may result in your children becoming interested in plants for life! I can recommend many books for reference – just call 01763 208479!
Oh yes, we had an AGM recently! Mary Duff (moi!) and Judy Chamberlain were elected Chair and Vice Chair respectively, Gwyneth Page – Treasurer, Keith Evans – Membership Secretary, Hilary Magnay – Show Organiser and Shirley Cooper, Barbara Harper, Michael Pollard and Joan Smith – Committee members. Special thanks were given to Chief Steward – Colin Green, Jane and Robin Dring, Show Stewards – Shirley Wittering, Claire Worship and Pam Coombs, auctioneer – Cath Brooksbank and all helpers in the kitchen, at the door, at the raffle tables, erecting display boards and posters – thank you all!
After a lengthy wait for the speaker (!) John Drake eventually appeared at our November meeting and now holds the record for the length of time to get to Fowlmere from Fen Ditton! Never mind, we eventually settled down to learn a few tricks from Ottoman Turks!
When creating their gardens they sought practical solutions that would suit the particular topography, dimensions of the garden and the climate rather than adhering to a particular set of fixed rules. They would embellish upon what nature had already provided – for instance instead of building water courses they would create gardens where water already existed.
Ottoman gardens were functional as well as beautiful planted not only with flowers but also with fruit and vegetables. Gardens were for enjoyment and relaxation – not for ‘show’, places where the sultans could spend a few pleasurable hours and even days in privacy. Maybe we should pause for reflection today before we purchase the latest gardening ‘fad’ – be it decking or masses and masses of modern bedding plants totally out-of-keeping with, say, the garden of a period property.
So impressed with the flora of Turkey were the travellers of long ago that they started to bring back to Europe many of the flowers we grow in our gardens today. Early pictures, drawings and tiles show tulips – think of tulipa sprengeri – blooming still at Great Dixter and available from Parkers bulbs. Then there are snowdrops – drifts of galanthus Elwessii will welcome you at Colesbourne Park, home of the Victorian plant hunter. H J Elwess. Imperial Fritillaries, double white daffodils, hyacinths, gladioli Byzantium, Turks cap lilies, allium, lilium svitziana – the list is endless.
Even today new plants are regularly found in Turkey so if you spend your holidays in that wonderful country next year, keep your eyes open wide for that unusual plant that no-one has ever identified before – admire it, photograph it but please don’t bring it home like the Victorian plant hunters – they weren’t always right!
The February meeting did make us feel that at last the winter was early over. We welcomed back Joe Sharman of Monksilver Nursery, Cottenham, and his subject was ‘Snowdrops’,on which he is a well-known expert. Anyone who thought a snowdrop was just a snowdrop soon learnt otherwise. There are hundreds of different shapes and variations in the green and white of their flowers, and they grow all over Western Europe, even to the Crimea. People get so passionate about them that, as you may have seen lately in the press, they will even pay £357 for a single bulb, and £30-£40 is not unusual for a rare one. I certainly did not realise that snowdrops can be found in flower from September to April. The best places to see them round here are at Wandlebury, Anglesey Abbey and the churchyards at Newton and Granchester. Further afield there are wonderful masses at Benington Lordship, near Stevenage.
Joe brought a magnificent collection of named snowdrops and small cyclamen for sale, all in flower, and members were very interested.
Our next meeting is on Thursday 3 March at 7.45 pm in Fowlmere Village Hall when the speaker will be Julie Dore on ‘Hedgerow Herbs. The competition is for five daffodils/narcissi. Visitors will be most welcome.
Our talk in March by Dr William Block of Cambridgeshire Bee Keepers was entitled ‘Why Keep Bees?’ It was very well attended –deservedly so, as it was a fascinating evening covering every side of bee keeping. It is an absorbing hobby but is also worth £165 million a year to the British economy. Many people don’t realise that without bees and other pollinating and nectar-collecting insects we would be without a large part of the food we take for granted – it wouldn’t just be the lack of a pot of honey!
Dr Block demonstrated the various parts of a beehive and showed us how the bees used it. The hive is not only constructed for the production of honey but also to keep out pests – badgers, woodpeckers and even field mice which like to nest in them. In a good year in Cambridgeshire a hive will produce 100 lbs of honey. Lately colonies have suffered particularly from disease – Varroa mite and the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder can kill all the bees in a hive. We were told there are some non-stinging bees, but they are in Australia! Altogether a most interesting talk.
Our March meeting was well attended and members enjoyed the talk by Julie Dore on Hedgerow Herbs. Julie is a medical herbalist with clinics in Girton, Royston and St Ives. Her illustrated lecture gave us a most interesting insight into the many ways plants can keep us healthy, and have done for generations – poor people in the past did not have prescriptions! She said it was extremely important when using herbs as medicine that people only self treat for very simple things, and that they make sure any herbalist they consult is properly qualified – it takes four years of study. Hedgerow plants should be picked from eye level, leaving higher leaves and berries for birds and ignoring those at ground level and beside roads which could be contaminated.
Also check for signs of farming sprays and do not take anything which might be rare or endangered. Among the plants which can be used in different ways are hawthorn, nettle, viburnum, dog rose, elderflower, self heal, cleavers and dandelion. Julie brought samples to try of herbal teas, a delicious rose hip syrup and one made of elderberries.
The competition for five daffodils/narcissi was won by Brenda Wood. Next month (7 April) the competition is for a vase of spring flowers. Our speaker will be Roy Nunn on Hardy Geraniums, and our Easter Raffle in aid of “Perennial”, the garden charity we support.
By the time you read these words the splendid display of spring flowers in your garden will be a distant memory. But spare a thought for the lovely Hellebores which brought promises of a summer to follow. But, what do we do about the areas where they are planted which will not come to life again until next winter and spring? Well, Roy Nunn, who spoke to the Gardening Club at their last meeting, had the answer. Plant hardy geraniums next to the hellebores. These reliable perennials are not demanding plants and grow enthusiastically throughout the summer months bearing endless flowers. Cut some of their stems back after flowering and they will oblige with another flush in the early autumn. The hellebores snooze safe and secure under the geranium leaves all summer awaiting their turn in the limelight in the colder weather when the geraniums ‘hibernate’.
Fergus Garrett, Head Gardener at Great Dixter once said “It is hard to imagine gardening without hardy geraniums. They are plants that are totally indispensable – resilient, versatile, and offer something for every garden situation. Rich in colour and generous in display, the best hardy geraniums are deserving of any mixed border.”
As British natives their cultivation must date back many hundreds of years. In the late 16th century the first hardy geraniums from continental Europe arrived on British shores and over the next four centuries species were introduced from Asia, the Americas, South Africa and the antipodes. Go along to the Gardening Centre and you will be surprised at the variety of hardy geraniums on sale.
In the next few months the Gardening Club has arranged several interesting garden visits and events – make sure you secure your place by coming to the next meeting and ‘signing up!
Well, we know all about pond and river life following our absorbing talk from Barry Kauffman-Wright. Every pond, river or reservoir was mentioned – OK, that must be an exaggeration but if you attended the last meeting of the Gardening Club you will know that Barry’s enthusiasm is infectious!
Our speaker’s account of his life was as interesting as his descriptions of pond and river life. Barry was born on a small mixed farm in the Chilterns, where he developed an early interest in wildlife and nature. On leaving school he was fortunate enough to work for six years with the late TV naturalist and author Gerald Durrell at the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust (Jersey Zoo). It was here that he gained valuable knowledge and experience in International Conservation and the breeding of endangered species. It was also here that Barry developed his interest in photography. For 32 years he served as a Police Officer with Essex Police, including 22 years as a Wildlife Crime Officer with the force. In his role he dealt with many wildlife issues, from wild bird trapping to badger baiting, illegal shooting of wildlife to the multi-million pound international trade in endangered species and products from them. Now Barry is a Fellow of the British Naturalists Association (BNA), which is the premier association of professional and amateur naturalists in the UK.
Barry illustrated his talk with excellent slides of not only water scenes but also plants, animals and birds – some taken after waiting hours for that ‘special’ moment’.
The garden-visiting season has started in earnest. This last month saw the Gardening Club visiting two very different gardens.
Firstly we visited the Savill & Valley Gardens in Windsor Great Park. Barbara Harper writes “A lovely day – such a lot to see! Azaleas and spring planting in herbaceous borders were very colourful. The temperate house had some brilliant colouring. Roses were not out but the landscaping of the new beds was much admired. The alpine garden was looking particularly good with many interesting plants. Of particular interest was the bog planting by the stream. The huge gunnera provided a very good photo opportunity for the relevant Annual Show photography section. After lunch we were taken by coach over to the Valley Gardens. The ride itself was exciting as we passed the Polo Grounds and we all looked to see if there were any well-known figures there! Again the azaleas were in full bloom and there were many interesting trees, including the handkerchief tree. The more hardy of us walked down to the lake.”
Then we went to Hardwick House in Fen Ditton. Sadly the strange weather we have endured over the past few months had taken its toll on the garden here but the knowledgeable owner showed us around with great enthusiasm! We rounded off our visit to the local hostelry where it was good to chat to fellow gardeners in a relaxed atmosphere.
Last month a coach full of Gardening Club members made their way to the Isle of Wight to spend a long weekend looking at gardens. Our first stop was on the way to the coast and we all enjoyed the magnificent gardens at Mottisfont Abbey. Home to over 300 old fashioned roses plus numerous rose varieties chosen by plantsman Graham Stuart Thomas, this garden has matured beautifully since it was created in 1972. We will never forget the fragrance which hit us as we entered the walled garden. Do visit this garden, preferably in June when the roses are at their best.
Eventually we arrived in the Isle of Wight and stayed in a very good hotel in Shanklin. Nothing was too much trouble for the staff who made us very welcome. From here we set off each day to explore the island’s gardens. Our programme was varied – we enjoyed the formality of the Victorian parterre gardens and terraces (and the cream teas!) at Osborne House, the eccentricity of the Colonel and his lovely family who showed us round Nunwell House with its equally eccentric garden. Then there were the donkeys at Carisbrooke Castle who attracted almost as much attention as the Princess Beatrice garden designed by Chris Beardshaw and full of Edwardian-style plants.
Sunshine lit up the magical gardens of Mottistone Manor which are full of surprises – shrub-filled banks, hidden pathways and colourful herbaceous borders. As it is the most southerly National Trust garden a Mediterranean-style planting scheme has been adopted. Another much-appreciated treat was the tradional teagarden!
All too soon we were crossing the water to wend our way home. One final garden to visit – West Dean, near Chichester. Here we saw an exquisitely restored walled garden – probably the foremost example in the UK. There were wonderfully-restored Victorian glasshouses full of well-presented treasures, immaculate row upon row of vegetables, splendid obedient fruit trees and bushes grown on single stems against walls or along imaginative frameworks. Then there was a magnificent pergola with roses, honeysuckle and clematis scrambling with gay abandon over the many pillars, designed by Harold Peto for crinolined ladies to wander along whilst bathed in the heady scents!
A truly wonderful weekend – but don’t take my word for it – speak to anyone who accompanied us on our weekend and you will hear the same …. clearly there is only one action to take – join the Gardening Club and enjoy the many different experiences on offer!
Despite the summer holidays with families still enjoying themselves in exotic destinations and the Duxford Airshow mopping up many residents, the Annual Show progressed with re-assuring dependability. High standards set by the RHS and WI guidelines are always followed to the letter – so, congratulations to the following for their successes.
Much praise to Robin Dring who walked away with the prestigious RHS Banksian medal for winning the highest total prize money in the horticultural classes as well as the Club Vase, Fisons Tankard for vegetables and Van der Straeten Bowl for his fruit exhibits. Hilary Magnay was awarded the Fowlmere Cup and the Cranwell Cup for her legendary Home Produce. Michael Pollard excelled in the Flowers section winning the Chambers Cup and Gwyneth Page romped home with her specimen rose to be awarded the Green Cup. A good day for Sue Allsworth whose Begonia won the Farley Cup for the most outstanding exhibit in the horticultural classes as well as winning the monthly competitions.
Congratulations to Jo Fisher for winning the Webster Cup and the Earnshaw Cup for Pot Plants. Katherine Martin won the Chambers Shield for her vegetable collection and daughter Georgia Martin won the coveted Fry Cup for her Miniature Garden.
The Schuster Cup for the most outstanding handicrafts exhibit went to Christine Harley for her exquisite, inspirational printed book cover and Chris also won the Talbot Trophy for the most points in the Handicrafts Section. Pam Coombs won the Thriplow Cup for floral art with her stunning floral displays.
All these trophies were presented by Geoff Link, Chairman of the Daffodil Weekend Trust whose continued support is much-appreciated by Club members.