Talk by Fiona Warin (February 2024)
Our February meeting was held on a wet and windy evening, so we were very pleased to welcome our speaker Fiona Warin and her talk on Dig For Victory to escape from the winter chill. Fiona’s talk was extremely entertaining and informative, transporting us back to 1939 when Horticultural Gardening Clubs were first set up to help the war effort in sustained food production. The Government of the day urged allotment holders to join together to form a society to share their knowledge in order to ‘grow more food’.During the first world war there had been shipping blockades and as two thirds of our food was being imported a change was necessary to prevent shortages. The government encouraged farmers to grow cereals and sugar beet and home owners to grow vegetables. The Ministry of Agriculture produced leaflets and posters on how to grow a year round planting plan and a very detailed leaflet entitled 'How to dig your plot in 24 steps'! Many home owners were not best pleased to dig up their lawns or flower beds - but were urged to make the small sacrifice knowing that afterwards the beds or lawns could be restored and the soil would be much improved. Pests such as blackfly, carrot fly and slugs were to be severely dealt with using Jeyes Fluid, a nicotine insecticide spray or fumigating the greenhouse! People were encouraged to follow the horse and cart deliveries to get the best garden fertiliser – horses being urged to poo for victory! Seed was carefully shared out and later collected for the following year. New vegetables such as sweetcorn were tried, although some did not realise that the niblets needed to be cooked first. An article by Michael Foot in the Evening Standard gave a rallying call for growers and the term 'Dig for Victory' was coined. Recipes, such as Woolton pie, were introduced to use surplus vegetables. The pie involved boiling a mix of vegetables, adding stock, covering with pastry or potato and then baking in the oven. Many uses for carrots were promoted, such as to sweeten cakes or as a juice or jam. Restrictions were lifted on which animals were allowed to be kept on an allotment. The following were recommended: rabbits were to be kept for meat (but not to be named for obvious reasons!), pigs, bees and hens - but not cockerels. The need to produce food after the war ended in 1945 was still present as shortages were ongoing until the 1950’s and vegetable growing continues to this day from lessons learnt. It was a very interesting insight as to how the country coped at such a time and how the government swung into action to organise this Land Army.
Talk by Andrew Holman (January 2024)
Our first meeting of the year set a lively standard with a very entertaining talk by Andrew Holman entitled 'Stumperies, Ferns and Shady Friends'. Andrew has been a gardener for 40 years and is passionate about ferns and snowdrops. He has visited many wonderful woodland gardens and stumperies of which some of his favourites are: Picton Castle Garden, Kilver Court in Shepton Mallet, John Massey's garden and nursery Ashwood Nursery, Highgrove (designed by Julian Bannerman) and Julian and Isabel Bannerman's own garden at Hanham Court near Bristol.The first known stumpery was created in 1856 by John Bateman at Biddulph Grange and they then became very popular for 40 years or so. They are now having a renaissance! Andrew has also been involved in creating stumperies, both large, such as Golders Hill Park in London and small e.g. a 6'x3' stumpery in a friends garden. It was fascinating to see how stumperies are landscaped with features to show off their weird and wonderful shapes by placing them on mounds to raise them up to eye level, creating sunken paths and stumpery arches. The stumps themselves have to be weathered and worked on by lichen, moss and minibeasts to achieve a skeletal state. This takes many years but if you are in a hurry you may be able to obtain them from forestry contractors or specialist garden centres but beware as some of them exceed a ton in weight!
We saw many photographs of beautiful ferns, particular recommendations being: Polystichum x Dycei, Athyrium fillix femina 'Frizillae', variegated Arachniodes, Shuttlecock fern, Polystichum setiferum 'Chatto', and Dryopteris erythrosora which shows autumn colouring in Spring! Many bulbs suit the dappled shade of stumperies, especially the spring flowering snowdrops, narcissi and wonderfully bright yellow eranthis 'Winterzauber' as these perform before the canopy of ferns, foxgloves and hostas take over. Hosta 'June' was a beautiful, slug-proof recommendation and the huge-leaved Podophylum pleianthum – like a smaller version of gunnera. Andrew also stressed the importance of providing a light canopy of trees, recommending unusual birches from Stone Lane Gardens and Nursery, the Handkerchief tree and Ceridiphulum Japonicum (the Candy Floss tree).
Talk by Margie Hoffnung (December 2023)
Our last meeting for the year, was held on a suitably chilly evening but at least dry after days of rain showers. Our speaker was Margie Hoffnung and her talk was about Westonbirt School Gardens. Margie has been able to research a detailed history of the gardens from the Holford Trust and archive material. The instigator of the current gardens was Robert Staynor Holford 1808-1892 and followed by his son Sir George Lindsay Holford 1860-1926. Robert was obsessed by trees and planned his garden for 20 years before building his house alongside the gardens.At 21 with garden designer William Gilpin, he laid out his aims and plans to create informal and picturesque gardens. Being keen on technology and the arts, he kept a detailed notebook on the plants he purchased, where he got them from, how much they cost together with building costs for the various archways, pavilions, and stables, which for any historian has been a goldmine of information.
The original flower garden was transformed into an Italian Garden with the said archways and pavilions in the four corners and a rockery using tufa locally from Daglingworth, planted with ferns. A lake and grotto were commissioned. The main entrance to the school with two lodges built in 1853 was opposite the original entrance to the arboretum and 2 wellingtonia trees were planted in 1854, which are still standing to this day as grand trees. One of Robert's enduring designs is to plant one or two big trees and to surround them with smaller ones and shrubs with varied colour foliage for all year interest. Having received monies from the Heritage Lottery, the Trust has undertaken the restoration of various buildings, such as the greenhouses, grotto and pavilions which were recently in need of repair. The school gardens continue to be cared for and are open to the public by a pre-booked guided tour on selected Wednesdays from April to October. In spring there is a carpet of historically planted Anemone Apennine and well worth a visit. It was a well-illustrated and interesting talk which we all enjoyed.
Talk by Mary Tidmarsh (October 2023)
We were very pleased to welcome Mary Tidmarsh for our October meeting, who has been a guide at Highgrove Gardens for 8 years. Highgrove is the private home of Their Majesties, King Charles and Queen Camilla. Mary came with a set of beautiful A4 sized photographs, and gave us a walk through different rooms in the garden as though we were on tour. The estate was purchased in 1980, with a neglected kitchen garden, an overgrown copse, some pastureland and a few hollow oaks and has since been the subject of many thoughtful and innovative changes by King Charles.To start, we were led through Shand Gate, a stone and oak gate with reclaimed Indian doors, named after the late brother of Queen Camilla. Being on acid soil, the garden is suitable for acid loving rhododendrons and azaleas, which are planted throughout with a succession of spring and autumn colour in the cottage garden.
The thyme walk features an avenue of clipped golden yew which were nearly taken out at the start, but subsequently clipped in to shapes on either side of a flagstone path. The path is not set in concrete but laid loose and King Charles was on his hands and knees planting the thyme. The sundial garden, planted with high yew hedges are clipped with windows which hold busts of King Charles at various stages of his life and were gifts from sculptors. To one side there is a four acre ever-changing wildflower meadow which comes alive with a myriad of insects at the height of summer giving a seed-rich green hay. The walled kitchen garden is set with box hedges in triangles and squares, grown entirely organically, meeting the high standards of the Soil Association, with a mixture of fruit trees, vegetables and flowers. The stumpery is based on the Victorian concept of growing ferns amongst tree stumps, the majority of which are sweet chestnut and oak. A Turkish carpet at Highgrove House inspired King Charles to design the carpet garden and it was exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2001, winning a Silver-Gilt medal.
It was lovely to walk through the garden and Mary's talk has inspired many of us to make a visit next year.
Talk by Johnny Bruce (September 2023)
Johnny Bruce presented his plans for a new organic nursery based on wildlife friendly and sustainable practises at our September meeting. Johnny spoke with passion about the need to cultivate our wonderful plant heritage and offer a diverse selection of plants. The UK trails behind other countries scoring in the bottom 10% of countries for biodiversity. He champions the need for local nurseries offering plants grown in the local soil conditions rather than the current offerings in commercial nurseries that are grown with the aid of chemicals and highly controlled conditions.Such plants are often bred to size specifications simply to make them easy to transport and to flower vigorously in their first year, leaving them exhausted. This formula can lead to disappointing results when planted in our own gardens.
Johnny talked of his experiences working in wonderful gardens such as Aberglasney, Great Dixter and Prospect Cottage (Derek Jarman's coastal garden) and also for an organic nursery in the Nederlands. These experiences have introduced him to some unusual plants such as Polygonatum Betburg, a kind of Solomon's Seal with dusky purple foliage which can cope in deep, dry shade. He showed us a wide range of hardy plants that provide colour and interest throughout the seasons and are draught tolerant e.g. variagated lunaria, ompholoides nitidia and delphinium elatum and delphinium trollifolium for spring and salvias, verbena Bampton, baptista, and amsonia for their summer flowering and autumn foliage and seed heads.
Johnny hopes to start planting and developing 'The Field', his site in Siddington in Spring 2024. We look forward to visiting, becoming involved in some of his community projects and attending the interesting courses he is planning to launch.
Visit to Trustrams in September 2023
On Thursday 6th September twenty members enjoyed a wonderful, flower-filled evening at Trustrams in Duntisbourne Leer. Trustrams is a large established garden with lawns, borders and a stream wending its way through the valley. The owners, Lisa and Richard Crabb, have recently converted the vegetable garden into the hub of Lisa's cut flower business. From here, Lisa has started a floristry company providing flower arrangements, flower subscriptions and seasonal workshops. She champions locally grown flowers and explained how she grows with minimal watering and using organic methods to encourage wildlife into the garden.Lisa led a tour around the garden, taking in the intriguing array of flowers and foliage packed into every nook, after which we were free to wander. The dahlias dazzled and were definitely the stars of the show. A delicious tea was served on the lawn and we were able to sit and soak up the atmosphere in the late summer warmth. A real treat!
For more details about Trustrams, visit www.flowersattrustrams.co.uk
Talk by Lord Bathurst (May 2023)
Our meeting in May was about the Bathurst Estates and we were delighted and privileged to welcome Lord Bathurst and the Estate Manager, Mr Peter Clegg to do so. Lord Bathurst advised that this was not a history talk but what is happening at this time, the reasons behind the estate development, with plans to improve and restore, including Ivy Lodge and Alfred’s Hall buildings.The estate was purchased by Sir Benjamin Bathurst in 1695, for his eldest son Allen and subsequently laid out by Allen. It is believed that the horse chestnut trees framing the avenue from Cecily Hill were planted in 1815 to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo, and unfortunately these trees have been suffering from age, squirrels and disease so are being replaced. The newly planted trees are a small leaf lime which will give a slender, elegant profile in the years to come. The estate is home to a rare colony of Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterfly, a threatened species which like an area where dog violets grow and they are working with the Butterfly Conservation Group, to encourage them. Some other residents include one of the smallest birds, a firecrest and goshawks who luckily enjoy a tasty squirrel of which there are numerous and unfortunately do a lot of damage. Other nibblers are roe, fallow and muntjac deer. The estate has suffered with ash die back, with their removal, nearly 6000 new trees of different species have been planted. Bio-diversity is top on the agenda, with hedgerow plantings and seeing the benefits of butterfly orchids growing. Lord Bathurst is keen for visitors to discover new ways to enjoy the park, with the opening of the visitor centre at the old kennels, which includes a dog wash area and café. Ongoing events continue and recently a sculptured horses head at the top of the avenue, standing at 16 foot high and weighing half a ton, which they hope will be on display for several months. The talk was a very entertaining and very interesting to hear of the challenges faced with the estate management in this environmentally aware age, a lovely talk to finish our programme.