Teabags, bras & tights Part 2!

Our April meeting welcomed the return of Darren Rudge who lived up to his reputation as the Laughing Gardener with part 2 of his talk on using common household items for a more environmentally sustainable approach to gardening whilst saving money, & we agreed that fewer chemicals in the world can only be a good thing! He started with quotes including Mark Twain’s “A cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education” and interspersed his hints & tips with fascinating facts about architects using plant structures as the basis of design - who imagined that the hollow square stem of a nettle could have inspired Robert Stephenson's Britannia Bridge over the Menai Straits? He also brought along some unusual alcoholic drink for a few brave (but enthusiastic!) souls to sample & they assured us that the Giant Hogweed Liqueur was very tasty!  It was another informative & lively evening, with fact sheets available at the end. Here's a link to his website: https://www.darrenrudge.co.uk/ 

Before having his cup of tea & chat to members & visitors, Darren drew the raffle & but didn't have to judge the monthly competition as there was unusually only one entry for a decorated hen's egg, a deserving win in any event by Brenda Brittle who had obviously put a lot of thought into it, as you can see! Invitations were distributed for our AGM in May and fuchsia plug plants were handed out to be grown on for the members'-only class in our annual show in August (maximum pot size 5"/13cm). Anybody who was unable to attend the meeting will have their AGM papers delivered & Brenda has the plugs available for collection. We also reminded members to save their spare plant divisions etc for the plant stall at our Open Gardens weekend on 15th/16th June (now with 11 gardens to view!). 

A Garden Year at Wollerton Old Hall

Hot on the heels of our hellebore trip came our regular monthly meeting when a packed village hall welcomed Phil Smith Head Gardener at Wollerton to talk us through a year in the garden. He had some “before & after” photographs dating back to its creation in 1983 & explained how it has evolved since. He also had many beautiful shots of individual plants & groups emphasising the colour combinations, with a very useful plant list handout to save everybody scribbling notes. Photographs taken out of season & at times of day when the garden is closed such as the very early morning were particularly interesting.  

Phil chatting after the presentation

We’ve had 2 previous visits to Wollerton in 2016 & 2017, first in spring then in summer, and a 3rd one in autumn now sounds very tempting, especially as the hot garden would be at its best. We learnt about all the hard behind-the-scenes work that keeps the garden looking at its best, done by surprisingly few (but dedicated & skilled) staff & volunteers 

We also discovered that Lesley Jenkins (joint owner with her husband John) does most of the cooking in the super tea room, starting at crazy o’clock in the mornings! After his talk Phil drew our raffle & judged a well-supported monthly competition which was won by Maureen Brearley, 2nd Anne Wallbank, 3rd Ros Hallifax.   


Hellebores Spring Trip

After an unseasonably warm February we set off on our first coach trip of the year on Wednesday 6th March in pouring rain! Our destination was the Staffordshire Moorlands home of Mike Byford, our speaker from last September, to see his National Collection of Hellebores at Hazles Cross Farm Nursery. Our coach driver negotiated narrow lanes & stray peacocks (!) to deposit us safely then we split into two groups to view the amazing collection, enjoy warming hot drinks & cakes then during a brief gap in the relentless rain look at the views across the countryside.

As was clear from his previous talk, Mike is passionate about growing, selecting & breeding hellebores, & he is internationally renowned for his skill.  The collection is mainly housed in a large polytunnel so luckily we didn’t get wet, & the plants are on staging which makes viewing the flowers easy.  The species are in one area and hybrids in another with posters describing the biology of hellebores, their habitats, geology, climate, forms and distribution. The photo below is of Mike explaining the set-up to one group in between tours with his tea & cake on the hoof!

There was such a wide range of colours and forms, and there should shortly be more photos on our gallery page (gremlins willing). Some crosses are still in the early stages of breeding so not officially named yet. After we’d all looked round & had refreshments there was an opportunity to buy a variety of plants including Mike’s favourite semi-doubles, before we set off home after a very enjoyable – and different – afternoon. Many thanks to Mike & Tricia for their warm welcome. 

The Four Seasons

We welcomed several visitors as well as members to our February meeting to enjoy Anita Wright’s talk using photographs of her garden at The Garth, Milford, which opens under the NGS scheme, to show how colour & interest can be achieved all year round. She is a NAFAS area demonstrator & guest gardening expert on BBC Radio Stoke with a dry sense of humour confirming that gardening should be fun – she has a keen eye for economy too & recycles other people’s horticultural cast-offs such as this greenhouse which is now the perfect home for her succulents.  

Anita’s half-acre garden contains a wealth of interesting and unusual shrubs, plants & bulbs carefully selected to provide colour and interest throughout the year as well as raw materials for her flower arranging. She gave us some good planting suggestions, growing hints & tips, plus buying new plants such as witch hazel after they’ve finished flowering when they will be cheaper! She also reminded us not to forget creating places to relax & enjoy it all.

After her presentation Anita judged our monthly competition of winter flowers & foliage from members’ gardens, which was won by Sylvia Nunn with Pam Collins a close second. We also announced that we currently have 9 gardens opening for our weekend in June, with Anne Wallbank kindly offering to host the event’s plant stall in her garden, so hopefully everybody will be potting up their treasures between now & then! 

The Living Churchyard

We started our 2019 programme with a fascinating talk from Ruth Williams who was until recently a judge in the Lichfield Diocese Churchyard Awards scheme.  We learnt about the wide variety of plants including wildflower meadows, ancient trees & fungi as well as the insects and animals that flourish in these sheltered environments. We also laughed at some of the more unexpected activities that have been held  in them over the years such as gambling & ale festivals!

Ruth showed us photographs taken in churchyards all around the country, as well as our local area, to illustrate her presentation and explained the role of the charity Caring for God’s Acre which works nationally to help protect the biodiversity & heritage of these havens and keep them accessible & connected to their local communities, with some including libraries, tea rooms & village shops alongside their parish activities https://www.caringforgodsacre.org.uk/  .

The winner of our monthly competition was Pam Collins with her Begonia Rex (the only entry as it happens but an excellent specimen!) and we announced our first coach trip of the year to Hazles Cross Farm Nursery to see Mike Byford’s National Collection of Hellebores in March, with a good take-up of seats.    

Pam’s Begonia Rex

Christmas Social Evening

This year we were lucky with the weather & able to enjoy fabulous live jazz & blues with the excellent Nick Dewhurst Band. The music was a good mix of standards, originals & Christmas specials to keep everybody’s feet tapping. There were vocals too, including a stunning solo of In The Bleak Midwinter by Beth, and a very upbeat Fly Me to The Moon by Tom. Nick had included in the set list some vegetable & fruit related tunes suitable for a gardening club such as Tangerine and Roasted Chestnut Vendor (which was a combined reworking of the Peanut Vendor & the Nat King Cole Christmas Song)! Check out Nick’s website via our Links page. Anna & Shelley made us some lovely table decorations again and we had a festive raffle halfway through, with a buffet before the music started. So now it’s Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to all our members & we look forward to meeting up again in January!     

General Principles of Garden Design

Well the title of the talk might look dry & stuffy but the evening was far from that! Joyce Bullock, a local garden designer, dispensed with a formal presentation & instead divided us into groups to consider the various problems that we come across in our gardens such as the need for more privacy, making them easier to deal with as we grow older, more suitable for children/grandchildren plus the more unusual - how to disguise a structure that looks like a grave! Then we had a general & lively discussion about how we might solve these challenges, with Joyce encouraging all our members to contribute, and adding ideas of her own. She also brought a selection of useful plants from Lichfield Garden Centre & talked us through their advantages, before she drew the raffle & judged our monthly competition of Christmas table decorations. This was well supported again with some good entries but sadly the pesky gremlins were at it so no photos. Well done though to the winner Pam Collins, 2nd Sylvia Nunn & 3rd Anita Harper. Our Christmas social evening for members & guests next month looks to be a sell-out - "Made with Love" buffet followed by live jazz & blues with the Nick Dewhurst Band. We're all keeping our fingers crossed for no snow!

The Pleasures of Autumn

David & Valerie Chant brought a generous supply of produce to our October meeting to demonstrate what we can make from fruit & vegetables that grow in our gardens - one of the pleasures of autumn. They talked briefly about how their original hobby was keeping & flying birds of prey then how they moved into growing food to eat, particularly preserving produce for the winter in the traditional ways. They invited everybody to sample the wide range of preserves accompanied by their delicious home-made soda bread & flatbread, plus a variety of wines, liqueurs & ciders in suitably thimble-sized tasting glasses! They are clearly both dab hands in the garden & kitchen, and make the most of any seasonal gluts (courgettes this year), experimenting with flavours & unusual recipes – one of our members was the lucky winner of a jar of sweet & sour pickled crab apples (some of their recipes are at the bottom of our Links page). They judged our monthly competition of a vase of autumn foliage which was won by Sylvia Nunn, with Judith Daniels 2nd & Pam Collins 3rd.

Hellebores – a passion or addiction?!?

At our regular meeting on the Tuesday after our show, our speaker was Mike Byford of Hazles Cross Farm Nursery whose original hobby of growing hellebores that started 30 years ago became a passion then a self-confessed addiction! He spent considerable time and money travelling Europe to see the dainty forms and stunning foliage of the species in their native habitats. This led to his collecting seed and growing the plants in the UK, and he now holds the National Collection of hellebores. He shared with us his extensive knowledge of growing & breeding different species & hybrids, and gave us an alternative perspective of the Balkans which are the native habitat of these beautiful plants. He sells plants from the nursery but hadn't brought any with him as he explained that it's not the best time of year to buy them, but he has invited us to visit the collection next spring - a number of members seemed very interested in this so it could be our first coach trip of 2019! There is a photo of Mike with our programme secretary Val Lewis on the left plus the winning entry of our monthly competition for a vase of cottage garden perennials, won by new member Debbie Robertson.

Annual Show 8th September

We held our annual Garden & Home Produce Show in the village hall on Saturday 8th September & were delighted that we had even more exhibits than last year (269!) despite rain all day after the summer drought which has been a challenge to all gardeners! The judges & the visitors who came along in the afternoon were impressed with the display & high standards so thank you to everybody who entered & helped. June Morris won the Tom Ethelstone Memorial Trophy for the highest number of points overall, which was presented by Sue Ethelstone who had travelled down from Yorkshire for the event (top photograph). Ivy Evans won the Lewis Cup, presented by Val Lewis, for the most points in the vegetable classes. Congratulations to them both & to all the individual class winners, & well done everybody for making it such a super day! We all enjoyed looking round in the afternoon & the opportunity to have some homemade cake with their cup of tea or coffee. Please check out all the photographs on our gallery page.