Category Archives: 2016

November 2016 – Gardens and the National Trust – Veronica Bennett

Kenneth Clarke, the renowned art historian once commented that ‘gardens are the greatest gift to culture’ and by the end of Veronica Bennet’s lecture we all agreed. We are fortunate that we have the National Trust to care for over 300 splendid gardens – the most diverse collection in Europe and possibly the world.

Way back in 1907 Barrington Court was given to the National Trust – one of its first properties, and very expensive to repair and maintain. Hopefully the filming there of Wolf Hall has helped with the on-going maintenance. It is noted for its Arts and Crafts style gardens for which Gertrude Jekyll provided planting plans in 1920.

By way of background, the NT was helped greatly in 1937 when parliament enabled it to take money from its properties by accepting additional property, cash or securities to provide income producing endowments. By the end of WW11 the NT owned 23 houses – many of which came with generous endowments. For many within the National Trust the thinking is now that they have enough houses and perhaps they should protect the landscape more. The readers can decide for themselves – for me, I wonder if that includes providing cycle trails in parkland……

Back to the subject… Veronica described many National Trust gardens and their idiosyncrasies. Visit Blicking Hall with its formal garden – the result of three generations of inspired planting, all keen to maintain the historical elements of the gardens. Then there is Hidcote designed by Major Laurence Johnston, influenced by Gertrude Jekyll – is this the most influential gardens of the 20th century? Bodnant provides a gardeners’ paradise with Italianate terraces and that wonderful laburnum arch.

The NT tries to preserve the individuality of the gardens but there is certainly not a corporate view. Surveys are undertaken to ensure statuary is recorded, archaeological remains and historical features noted, parks advisers monitor standards and visit regularly to monitor projects. At Wimpole trees are replanted strictly in accordance with Capability Brown’s original plan. Garden conservation plans are handed on to new Head Gardeners ensuring continuity of approach.

Biddulph Grange has been restored to its original fine Victorian garden. All the mature trees at Emmetts Garden were blown down in the great storm of 1987 – the Trust immaculately took cuttings, propagated them at Nymans with a 97% success rate so that you can again enjoy the bluebells!

Too many gardens to mention now but how can I omit the wonderful Sissinghurst with its series of garden rooms inspired by the Arts and Craft movement. Finally, be assured – the NT gardeners are very well trained; the Trust has an Academy to ensure this and over 3,000 volunteers help them in the gardens. New projects appear frequently- some gardens now allow the public including schools to tend their own plot growing fruit and vegetables. Trust gardens send their produce to Trust restaurants as a matter of course. NO-peat based compost is the norm in the Trust gardens, I could go on and on…

Join the National Trust and visit more of their houses and whatever you do, don’t forget to walk around the gardens!

Posted in 2016 |

29 November 2016 – BBC Radio4 – Gardeners’ Question Time – Fowlmere VH

With short notice Fowlmere & Thriplow Gardening Club had to get into gear quickly to prepare for a live recording of GQT. Such a visit had been requested some five years ago – ‘better late than never’ was the general feeling!

So – much co-operation from the outset: several local groups including the Bowlers, the Budding Beaders and the Brownies kindly gave up their slots at the hall for us. With the Committee at the helm Team Bernard(Meggitt) was created to lead the ushers, Team Barry(Jones) organised the traffic marshals and Team Jill(Vinton) co-ordinated the provision and serving of refreshments.

Mention must also be made of Sue Pinner who ran the raffle, Judy Murch who handled the cash and Jenny Brew & Sue Allsworth who were doorkeepers. Many other members, relatives and friends were also drafted in to ensure that all went well. Ashley(Meggitt) became official photographer for the night and two young men came from St John’s Ambulance in case of mishaps – they were more accustomed to coping with Cambridge City Centre on a Saturday night and both sat bemused watching the evening progress. There was no medical emergency so they passed the time munching biscuits!

The Radio 4 staff Hannah Newton, the producer and Lawrence her deputy were suitably impressed with the organisation and offered no alterations to our plans. The Committee had followed their advice to the letter – who knew that we would become experts at writing Risk Assessments, but here again we relied on local professional help – thank you Brian and Hanna!

The day arrived – fine weather thank goodness – which made car parking on the football field a certainty! All systems go from midday with the village hall full of activity – chairs set out, display boards erected, tea prepared for the panelists etc. etc. Paul and Paul, the sound engineers arrived and spent hours preparing the stage. The first VIP to appear was the Chairman Eric Robson followed by the three panelists – Pippa Greenwood, Matt Biggs and Bob Flowerdew who remembered coming to talk to the Club members four years ago.

All too soon the door were opened and 200 people were seated in the hall before you could count to ten. We were entertained by gentle music – all the tunes had a horticultural theme. Most were well known but surely former Club Chair, Peter Lake was the only one in the room to recognise the jazz riff “Green Onions.!” Many questions were handed in and the producers sifted through them all putting together a varied selection for the panelists to answer.

The evening began with Mary Duff, the Club Chair welcoming the audience and thanking members for their contributions to the organisation of the event. This was followed by Hannah Newton’s brief description of the programme to follow. A short warm-up session from Eric Robson to test the sound and it was ‘anchors away’. The lucky questioners were called and walked nervously to their reserved seats in the front row. Sadly only three ‘locals’ from our villages – two from Fowlmere and one from Thriplow.

Sarah Brock wanted advice for growing white flowers for her daughter’s June wedding, Robin Cox asked for advice about pruning a wayward, overgrown, woody clematis. This drew three different answers from the panelists – one said prune it back to near the base, another recommended that drastic pruning was not appropriate and a third recommend no action, merely plant another clematis to twine around it! This would leave a comfortable habitat for wildlife. Well Robin, take your pick of these choices! Bernard Meggitt produced a sample of his parsnips with multiple curly roots – the panel loved the sample which was carefully passed around. Bernard – your soil was too rich!

Other questioners came from neighbouring villages – David from Barley, worried about his radishes, Sophie from Duxford with her surfeit of beech leaves, Roger from St Neots wanting to persuade his courgettes to climb, Richard from Haslingfield seeking advice on grafting on to crab apple tree, Chris with rusty geraniums, Susan with her asparagus and finally Kathleen from Ickleton fretting over her horseradish.

The evening came to an end too quickly and all was cleared away in the twinkling on an eye. A victory toast in the kitchen for the workers(!) was a suitable finale to this very special evening.

Posted in 2016 |

December 2016 – Pests and disease control – Geoff Hodge

Geoff Hodges’s good advice was to avoid pests and diseases in the first place! Always walk around the garden, especially at dusk, try to find those bugs, look underneath the leaves …… Never buy a plant in a garden centre without inspecting it. Pick up the plant by the stem (careful!) and see if there are grubs on the roots and if the compost falls off – if so, leave it alone, you don’t want to buy a plant with an inferior root system. Garden Centre managers will not be happy but maybe they will learn. Only Geoff could advise this as he was such a manager!

We have to take responsibility for our own actions. Buy the right plant for the right place! Look at the conditions which the plant will like – full sun, light shade and so on. Then, look at your soil – add organic matter before planting new plants then feed them as they grow. Water the soil not the plant, remembering that roots will grow up to the water if you just water the surface instead of growing down into the soil. Follow the instructions on the labels of plant food and try to remember the attributes of the products e.g. Tomorite will encourage flowers. Apply granules to moist soil otherwise the roots will burn. Remember that slow release fertiliser works as the temperature rises – best apply in March onwards. Did you know that aphids do not like the colour blue? I just throw that in for effect… use that gem as you wish.

Horticultural fleece is invaluable for keeping pests off plants in the vegetable plot. For more useful tips purchase a copy of the RHS Allotment handbook which Geoff wrote!

Geoff favoured biological control of controlling pests and plant diseases and gave as an example: nematodes which can be introduced to the soil where they naturally live,. For instance they enter the slug, infect it with bacteria, the slug stops eating the plants within days and dies within a week. The nematodes feed off the decomposing slug and reproduce, creating a new generation to move on and infect more slugs. A more attractive solution is to use self adhesive copper tape around containers for plants beloved by slugs – as the wee one crosses the barrier a chemical re-action with its slime produces a small electric shock, enough to persuade it to seek less well defended dinner! This and many more tips are found on the website www.slugoff.co.uk – an amusing, informative website.

Similarly Whitefly can be controlled by using a tiny parasitic wasp (encarsia formosa) which is supplied (conveniently on line) as pupae on cards which are hung in a shady position throughout the crop (or in a green/alpine house) and have been used to control whitefly since 1926.

Finally, occasionally chemicals available to gardeners are withdrawn from sale or use. it is good practice to check in your shed on a regular basis to ensure such products are disposed of safely. They should not be placed in household waste or down the drain.

An excellent speaker and generous to a fault – Geoff provided very expensive items for our Perennial raffle.

Mary Duff December 2016

Posted in 2016 |
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