Category Archives: 2019

7 February 2019 – AGM & Group Fun Quiz – Glen Link

Such an enjoyable evening!  Members patiently sat through the AGM of the Gardening Club (more about that later) and then seven teams enthusiastically joined in the Annual Quiz.  Heads down, pencils at the ready, thinking caps on and away we went!  Photographs of famous people to identify, cryptic ‘horticultural’ clues to work out, general knowledge questions to answer and that was only the beginning!  The most thought-provoking and the most challenging, teasing round of all was the identification of plants!  Our quiz master Glen Link gently but gleefully reminded us that we were Gardening Club members -. what was she implying?  Seriously we do thank Glen for devising such an interesting quiz which was enjoyed by everyone.

Now the AGM – how do you make that an interesting occasion?  Well, our Vice Chair, Sue Pinner gave an excellent summary of the 2018 Annual Show, Judy Murch, our Treasurer explained in welcome layman’s terms the financial state of the Club, Margaret Jackson, our Membership Secretary reminded us that there were only 35 members in 2000 but we now have 84 on our books!  Quite an achievement.  Needless to say, we were not surprised when these worthies were re-elected to their positions as were Ken Allsworth, Joan Smith and Jill Vinton.  We said farewell to Bernard Meggitt, Michael Pollard and Jenny Brew who were presented with gifts to mark their retirement from the Committee although they will still be assisting the Club – there’s no escape!  We welcomed Rosemary Jones and Glen Link to the Committee and look forward to another successful happy Club Year.

Oh yes, the who won the Quiz? It was the team consisting of the Vintons, the Wildings and the Duffs (!) who went home clutching their prizes – superb pots of beautiful primulas.  Thank you, Glen for a lovely time.

Don’t mis the next meeting.  Robert Brett, the Curator of Hyde Hall was not able to come and talk to us last year because of the snow!  Remember that?  We are hoping for good weather this March!  See you on 7 March at Fowlmere Village Hall.

Mary Duff (re-elected as Chair for another year!)

Posted in 2019 |

7 March 2019 – Royal Horticultural Society’s Hyde Hall Garden – Robert Brett

At our last meeting Robert Brett came to talk to us about Hyde Hall, a garden well-known to us as we had visited last summer.  Robert is the Curator of Hyde Hall and started his career in landscaping before moving to Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where he assisted in the management of the orchid collections. He became supervisor of glasshouses at Cambridge University Botanic Garden, then moved to The Eden Project and joined the RHS after working at The Sainsbury Laboratory in Cambridge.

With such a pedigree it is not surprising that he has already made many worthwhile changes at Hyde Hall including developing a Winter walk, a Wild Wood with more than 60,000 trees, a Rose Weekend every June, an October Food Festival, and the creation of a Global Growth Vegetable Garden where the four continents have their own space to show the plants that come from that particular part of the world.  New buildings are springing up to accommodate learning areas, a welcome building and a restaurant – all designed with a Dutch influence – much light, many windows and wonderful views of the surrounding countryside.  Already 4,500 children have visited!  Robert still has much to do with his vision of a large dry garden and the encouragement of wild life, working closely with the Essex Wildlife Trust. Already more native species of plants and birds have appeared.  Robert even has views on the beloved Rose Walk – remember those lovely swags of wonderful roses?  The last time we visited, my friend and I wished that we had brought secateurs to prune them as they were so overgrown and neglected.  Much effort had been put into the new areas but not into the well-loved ones.  And Shock horror, Robert intends to move the Rose Walk altogether as it is not facing the right way!  He is a brave man……

Robert also told us about the changes at RHS Wisley and also the RHS plan to create a stunning new garden in Salford –  the RHS garden Bridgewater is currently the largest gardening project in Europe and will be open to the public in 2020.  Well worth a visit.

Mary Duff

Posted in 2019 |

4 April 2019 – ‘Never a Dull Moment’ – Simon White

We were in Thriplow Village Hall to hear our speaker Simon White, an experienced horticulturalist who has worked for Peter Beales Roses for 38 years!  To prove his point Simon brought with him many products for sale including greatly reduced bare-rooted roses, clematis, other shrubs and perennials along with plant tonics, secateurs etc. etc.  It took him more than 10 minutes to describe his wares so we were all relieved when he turned at last to his talk!  Although I have to say that we all enjoyed browsing through these bargains and most left the meeting with bulging bags of plants!  You really never know what to expect at our meetings!

The subject was ‘Never a dull moment” – Simon’s choice of plants which gave him colour and interest throughout the year despite the fact that he has a very small garden.  A keen and obviously talented photographer Simon showed spectacular views of the plants in his garden.

His advice to people like me who have a small garden is to be bold, for instance try growing roses in the shade – they will still bloom just not giving you huge flowers.  Make good use of walls and fences but let clematis also grow through plants , climbing roses and shrub roses will span the seasons.  Always remember to water copiously and then some……… also with plant tonics and feeds – little and often especially with your baskets.  Grow potatoes, cucumbers and tomatoes in pots, grow sweet peas with runner beans in the same container, use a piece of guttering for growing lettuce.  So many pearls of wisdom but not enough space to record them so here is a summary of plants for all seasons!

Winter to Spring – Hellebores, Snowdrops, Aconites, Chionodoxa, Crocus, muscari, Aconites Amanagowa – the beautiful cherry tree, Magnolia – loves ericaceous compost (Simon grows them in cardboard boxes!)

Spring to Summer – Peonies – with rhizomes above soil level please, Clematis – check the flowering period and the pruning advice, Rosa Glauca for its foliage, tiny pink flowers and glorious bright hips (do not debud), all  annuals, Cosmos, Echinacea, Lilies – in pots, Geraniums etc. etc.

Summer – Winter – Dahlias, Hibiscus, Nerines, Chrysanthemums, Abutilon, autumn crocus, Mahonia, sedum and so many more.

Mary Duff

Posted in 2019 |

6th June – Sunflowers in art and culture – Twigs Way


“Sunflowers?”  I hear you say, “Oh yes it was Van Gogh who painted all those paintings of sunflowers, wasn’t it?”  Well, yes, this is true but there is so much more to the story of the sunflower and our speaker Twigs Way was keen to tell us about its place across the years  in many cultures.

But first, a word or two about Vincent Van Gogh.  Sunflowers had a special significance for him – yellow was an emblem  of happiness and in Dutch literature the sunflower was a symbol of devotion and loyalty but also represented decay.  Van Gogh painted two series of sunflowers (in French ‘Tournesols’, the first shows them lying on the ground while the second shows the beautiful flowers in a vase, painted when Van Gogh was awaiting the arrival of his friend Paul Gauguin.  One account of Van Gogh’s death tells us that he died beside a stack of his sunflower paintings but another says that he died while painting in wheat fields!  Who knows?

Twigs reminded us that that the Aztecs revered this flower and their nobility wore jewel-laden sunflower symbols.  Renaissance Europe acknowledged the sunflower’s importance –  an 18ft specimen was recorded in Madrid and it became a prized specimen of  the Italian Medici court.  The 16th century English botanist John Gerarde grew sunflowers in his London garden though he was not sure about the flower’s ability to turn towards the sun!  Twigs’ view was that perhaps 16th century London summers were ‘sunless’….

If you have read Ovid you will remember the water nymph Clytie who is abandoned by the sun god Helios (Apollo) and follows his movements so much so that the Greek gods take pity on her and turn her into a sunflower.  Somehow Apollo’s association with the great flower ensured that the sunflower became a symbol of divine right and the rule of kings which is why Van Dyck’s painting of  Charles1 contains large yellow-gold petals.

Who has read Samuel Richardson’s book ‘Pamela” and remembers that  Pamela and Mr Williams agree to communicate by putting letters under a sunflower in the garden?  You can only admire the extent of Twig Way’s research!  Another gem is the fact that Mrs Beeton remarked that sunflowers are good for children…… I couldn’t find the reference myself  but if Twigs mentions it then it must be true!

In the late 19th century  we were told that the Arts and Crafts movements, Impressionists and the Aesthetes almost simultaneously  suddenly became in awe of the sunflower!  Oscar Wilde adopted it as an emblem and stage prop.  When touring America sunflower-shaped fans were available in case the audience became overheated!  Let’s not forget Monet’s painting of gold flowers in a Japanese vase which probably reminded him of his garden at Vetheuil where they lined  the path in blue and white ceramic pots and of course there are still sunflowers at Giverny.  Monet’s friend and fellow horticulturist and painter Cailebotte grew and painted sunflowers.  Later Gustav Klimt produced several beautiful paintings of sunflowers in gardens.

My résumé is unashamedly based on Twig’s remarkable lecture and beautiful  visual representations.

Mary Duff

Posted in 2019 |

4th July 2019 – Linden House Soirée

One balmy summer evening terror struck the hearts of Fowlmere residents! Why were the ‘gilets jaunes’ walking the streets of this usually peaceful village?  Fears were soon allayed when the locals realised that it was the noble men of the Gardening Club wearing their high vis yellow jackets to ensure that members reached their destination safely by directing drivers to safe parking areas!  Yes, it was the night of the soirée. Once a year a plucky family opens their garden for the Club and members enjoy a buffet and a drink or two in lovely surroundings.  This year Maureen and Robin Cox hosted the evening.  Their beautiful garden was a picture – we loved the way that  the plants seemed to nestle happily together. The planting was superb, the rose garden and the pond completed the picture.  Robin had even put together an excellent quiz about birds which challenged us all!  A splendid occasion.

Mary Duff

Posted in 2019 |

1st August 2019 – The restoration of Ramsey walled garden


Now, a change of pace – Rosemary Jones arranged for Jane Sills to come and talk to us at our last meeting – here is her account of the evening –


Approximately 35 miles north of Fowlmere & Thriplow lies the historical market town of Ramsey. Our speaker, Jane Sills, came to talk to us about the Victorian walled kitchen garden that is situated on the site of a Medieval Abbey in the town. The only part of the Abbey visible today is the ancient gatehouse. The walled garden is believed to have been created in the 17th Century when one of the large ecclesiastical buildings was converted into a home. For more than 100 years, the garden, of which the walled garden was a part, produced all the fruit, vegetables, herbs and cut flowers for the various owners of the house. In 1938, the house was bequeathed to Cambridgeshire Education Authority by Diana Broughton, (mother of the present Lord Fairhaven of Anglesey Abbey) and the property became a school.

During the 50’s the gardens were taken over by a commercial market gardener. The walled garden was mainly used for the cultivation of scabious and other flowers which were transported by train for sale at Leeds Market. From the 70’s, the garden fell into disrepair.

Fortunately, the walled garden was rediscovered and surveyed in 1996 by the Cambridgeshire Gardens Trust. By 2004, ownership issues were resolved and a locally based group of keen volunteers set up the Ramsay Abbey Kitchen Garden Trust to restore the garden.

Jane’s “before photos” showed the enormity of the task that lay ahead. The 10 foot brick walls enclosing the acre of garden were largely intact, but the area was entirely overgrown with shrubs, nettles, weeds and the remains of old garden structures. With the aid of lottery funding and other grants, volunteers slowly cleared the ground and laid paths, dividing the plot into four areas in the traditional Victorian style. Eventually planting began. The Trust decided to specialise in growing Cambridgeshire species of plants. The garden, now fully cultivated, boasts an apple tunnel with local varieties such as Histon Favourites and Huntingdon Codlin. There are Cambridge strawberries, gages and plums, and Maris and King Edward potatoes, all which were all first bred in the county. More recently, a splendid greenhouse has been constructed to replicate the original on the north wall. This was thanks to a gift from John Drake – a favourite speaker at our Club in days gone by, a distinguished RHS judge and one time holder of the national collection of acquilegias –  some time ago John enthusiastically showed Club members around his Fen Ditton garden. Jane’s talk certainly brought back fond memories and whetted the appetite for a visit.  The garden is open on Sunday afternoons 2pm to 5pm until October.  Produce from the garden is available for purchase.

Mary Duff

Posted in 2019 |

9 September 2019 – Visit to the Cambridge Botanic Garden

As we did not have a Show this September Glen Link arranged a visit to the Cambridge University Botanic garden.  The tour with a knowledgeable guide certainly broadened the pleasure and value of the walk.  

Here is Glen’s account of the visit.

One of our guides on the 10th September had a special interest in trees and highlighted some of the exotic specimens the University had been encouraged to establish when it opened in 1846. The lime tree, Tilia Europaea, planted beside the original entrance in Trumpington Road, became the Garden’s logo. Related trees, in family groups, were planted on the perimeter. Juglandaceae, near the entrance, include Walnuts, Hickories and the Caucasian Wingnut. At the edge of Brookside Lawn is Isaac Newton’s apple tree, a selection called “Flower of Kent”, a scion of the original tree at Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire (Newton’s family home). It was this original tree which inspired his theory of gravity.

Who could fail to be impressed by the giant redwood, Sequoiadendron giganteum? The two and a half feet thick, spongey, reddish bark acts as insulating fire protection, although the cones need encouragement from heat to release seeds. In their native California, a dance floor was created on the stump of a felled specimen; apparently it could accommodate 8 sets of 4 couples!

Growing on West Walk, the Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) is one of the most unusual members of the mulberry family, Moraceae. The tree bears orange-size fruit high up in the branches, but the autumn winds often bring them down to litter the grass beneath. They have the appearance of large, deeply fissured, lurid neon green tennis balls or, as the horticultural staff call them, “pickled gardeners’ brains”.

The “Systematic Beds” are a Grade II listed feature of the Garden, designed in a “gardenesque style” by the first curator, Andrew Murray. They are used for teaching plant taxonomy, the science of naming and classifying organisms. Related species of plants are grown together in family beds. We tend to shy away from using Latin names for plants, but the binomial system developed by Linnaeus, where you have the genus (family name) and the species (first name), ensures there is no confusion with the identity of a plant.

Many other famous historical names are associated with the Botanic Garden. John Stevens Henslow, professor of Botany at Cambridge from 1825-1861 and his most famous student, Charles Darwin (often described as the man who walked with Henslow) studied how species vary according to their environment. Reginald Cory was another, whose magnificent legacy enabled 20 acres of land on the eastern side of the Garden to be developed in 1934; a philanthropist, a writer on horticulture, a researcher and liveryman of the Ancient Guild of Gardeners. The former residence of the Director, the construction of which he funded in 1924, is named Cory Lodge.

I can only encourage you to visit and discover the ways in which the Botanic garden fulfils its mantra of CARE: conservation, amenity, research and education. There is so much for all the family to see and learn throughout the year.

Glen Link

Posted in 2019 |

3rd October 2019 – Conservation and farming in the local area

After our trip to Cambridge Botanic Garden in September, we were back in Fowlmere Village Hall for our October meeting, when we welcomed well-known Thriplow farmer – David Walston as our speaker. David was born at Thriplow Farm where he now lives with his wife and 2 young daughters. He is the 3rd – or even 4th – generation of Walstons’ at Thriplow farms.
The title of his talk was ‘Conservation and Farming in the Local Area’ and his audience of members and visitors enjoyed his informative and well-presented account of how farming methods have changed over the years.
David told us that he had very little interest in farming when he finished his degree, and indeed started his career in London as a wedding photographer! However, his interest in farming began to develop when he came back to live in the Thriplow area and started to breed Japanese Wagyu beef cattle on a small scale! However, Thriplow Farms – in common with most farms in the area – specialised in growing crops – and David became interested in how yields of wheat, beans, peas etc differed in sometimes adjoining fields. This led to him studying the soil, and he was awarded a Nuffield Farming Scholarship to explore this topic, having the opportunity to travel and expand his knowledge and understanding.
Crop yields were affected by the type of soil in different areas of the farm, and were not necessarily increased by the addition of fertilisers. In fact production costs were increasing with the increase of additives, but yields were dropping!
Over the years David has moved away from the traditional ploughing, and he gave us a fascinating overview of modern farming. He explained how leaving the roots of the old crop in the ground, and sowing the next crop directly after harvesting, leaves the nutrients in the roots to ‘feed’ and nurture successive crops. He showed some amazing pictures demonstrating how this method increases productivity as well as maintaining good soil.
We will now look at the Thriplow Farm fields with new understanding!
Sue Pinner

Posted in 2019 |

7th November 2019 – Gardening by the moon

I have nostalgic memories of my Welsh grandfather waiting for the right phase of the moon before he planted his potatoes. Little did I realise that he was demonstrating the biodynamic method of gardening!

Our speaker, Nigel Start has been gardening in this way for thirty years and he proceeded to describe how working with the ‘forces of nature’ had helped him to produce better plants.

You need a lunar calendar to work out the best times for starting seeds based on the phases of the moon and astrological signs. This will show you the recommended days for planting vegetables and flowers. For instance did you know that there is more moisture in the soil at the time of the new and full moon which would encourage germination and growth of your plants? Of course you did – of course you remembered Isaac Newton’s laws of gravity which proved that tides are affected by the gravitional pull of the moon which creates more moisture in the soil.

Well done if you are still with me! There is more to come………

As you can imagine our speaker was a fan of organic gardening. These days gardeners are much more aware of the need to feed the soil and mycorrhizal fungi form a symbiotic relationship with plants, extending the root area so plants grow faster and stronger with far less fertiliser. Firms such as David Austen roses have been using such products for years. So consider buying Rootgrow or Vitax Q4.

Finally I leave you with a recipe – how about making your own fertilizer from nettle leaves? Steep some leaves of nettles in boiling water for an hour or so, then strain out the leaves and stems then toss these in the compost bin. Dilute the fertilizer and it’s ready for use. Good luck!

Mary Duff

* a footnote on a related but relevant subject – In a recent newspaper article Richard Gregory of the RSPB lamented the rapid decline of the turtle dove. We were reminded that “the way we manage land must change so that farming can deliver the food we need but also deliver more for nature” He urged farmers not to cultivate field margins and to plant crops that provide birds with winter feed. I say ‘Hooray” to that!

Posted in 2019 |


“Capture the Mediterranean in your garden with a greenhouse”, Rodney Tibbs opened by saying. Then added “whether you have one or not, there’s something in tonight’s talk for you”. Then he gave an illustrated presentation: greenhouses – a history, their usage and invaluable tips. Having a greenhouse facilitates a longer growing season, protects tender plants and kick starts propagation. Being under glass means optimising growing conditions which can save money. Our predecessors realised this too. Long ago, the Roman emperor Tiberius grew cucumbers under glass. The first officially recorded greenhouse was created in Leiden in 1599. For Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition of 1831, Joseph Paxton developed a system of prefabricated glazing panels. The resulting Crystal Palace became the model for our modern greenhouse. The Victorians loved the trend, manufacturing techniques, reduced prices and greenhouse ownership grew rapidly.
Rodney explained the variety of sizes and styles in commercial and hobby greenhouses. Then focusing on domestic gardening, he described the optimum location, orientation and base construction for a small standalone greenhouse. He owns an aluminium framed one, which is cheaper and more durable than wood. He said whether for growing vegetables or flowers, he thought a suitable size was about 2.5m by 3m (8ft x 10ft). He explained open and closed shelving and how capillary matting was revolutionising irrigation. He described ways of controlling heating, ventilation and shade. He considered that irrespective of the power source, low-cost heating could be achieved. He warned against the use of shade washes, instead promoting screening materials such as meshes, blinds and plastic sheets. He described the ranges of temperature needed for growing exotic plants and for effective temperature measurement he advised buying both ambient and soil thermometers.
Rodney’s tips included using quality compost (John Innes No 1 and Jack’s Magic), larger 12-pocket seed trays and a labelling machine (buy one from an office equipment shop – it’s cheaper than one from a garden centre). Finally, when pricking out seedlings hold them by a leaf not the stem. Rodney discussed other greenhouses such as orangeries, conservatories, cold frames, lean-tos, poly tunnels and propagators. He finished by listing his favourite world-famous glasshouses: San Francisco’s Park, Brussel’s Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, Adelaide’s Botanic Garden, Singapore’s spectacular Gardens by the Bay and Cornwall’s Eden Project.
We thanked Rodney, for a very informative talk which, with its reference to hothouse plants, created a warming prelude to our splendid Christmas Buffet which followed.
Rosemary Jones
We especially welcomed Rodney as he had been giving talks to our Club for more than ten years and had now decided to retire. We wished him a long, happy and healthy retirement – he will be greatly missed by the Gardening Club fraternity!
Mary Duff

Posted in 2019 |