Ruth in her garden with dierama

At our July meeting we welcomed Ruth Plant who holds one of only 3 UK National Collections of Dierama or ‘Angel’s Fishing Rods’, and her garden at Haughton near Stafford is open under the NGS ‘Yellow Book’ Scheme. She explained how these graceful plants which originate from KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa were introduced to this country and can grow well here. There are many different types and colours, not just pink, some of which self-seed happily although others can be a challenge – but always worth it! She gave us advice on how to look after and propagate them whilst enjoying their delights.

After Ruth’s talk she drew our raffle then members and guests purchased young specimens that she had brought along to grow at home. We also had a separate table with more kindly donated books, magazines, seeds and a few plants for everybody to browse as they enjoyed their refreshments. Although it was a warm evening, it wasn’t as hot as the subsequent heatwave which has been a challenge to everybody. Some indoor vegetables even spent a few days outside in the shade where it was fractionally cooler!

Chillies ready for harvesting
Plum tomatoes reluctant to ripen
Midi cucumber

A different evening….

Rosa Phyllis Bide galloping along a trellis

Mick Poultney with a new subject of Gladioli was booked as the speaker for our June meeting but he tested positive for Covid on the day and was unable to attend. Fortunately we had a table of spare plants donated by club members and another table of donated books, magazines and seeds so nobody had to go away empty handed! We also held a rather amusing impromptu Q&A session with everybody chipping in if they had answers to the questions, plus a few anecdotes, then we had our refreshments and drew the raffle. Different from the planned programme but nobody was in a rush to go home and it was an enjoyable evening.

3 ‘A’s – Astrantia, alstroemeria and alchemilla

Members had another opportunity to renew their annual subscriptions which are £20 for the whole year to include free entry to all meetings and free refreshments. We were also pleased to announce that we have a new committee member who will also be our secretary so onwards and upwards! It was the start of a 3 day mini heatwave but luckily we have cooler conditions and some much needed rain today.

Erigeron karvinskianus (Mexican fleabane)
Hydrangea petiolaris with campanula and geranium, humming with bees

AGM 2022

In May we held our AGM which ran very smoothly thanks to the sterling efforts of several committee members in the Chairman’s unexpected absence at short notice. Official reports were received then all the committee who were standing for one more year were re-elected and members endorsed a proposed annual membership fee of £20 for the 2022/23 year to cover increased costs. Our one retiring member has received a card and gift voucher as thanks for her many contributions.

The official business was followed by a quiz which was apparently considered rather hard and the winning table received a well-deserved bag of assorted gardening goodies. Members brought their own drinks and nibbles to enjoy whilst participating. We have more tea rota volunteers so we can enjoy refreshments and a chat after future presentations! Thank you to Rosalie for her lovely spring photos of Bodnant Gardens from her recent visit, such vibrant colours!

The Laughing Gardener

For our April meeting we had the welcome return of Darren Rudge, who lived up to his well-deserved radio & TV reputation as the Laughing Gardener for Part 3 of ‘Tea bags, Bras and Tights’. He included some plant history with their various uses over the centuries such as shipbuilding with oaks, and medicinal like willow bark. There was amusing plant trivia too as well as all sorts of ideas to help us save money in the garden (and house) whilst being as environmentally friendly as possible.

Darren chatting to members

These included tips like keeping the cooled water from our boiled potatoes or pasta, which is full of nutrients, to use as plant food, various uses for banana skins plus random storecupboard ingredients for pest control. After the talk he drew our raffle with several donated prizes then we all had the opportunity to pick up his fact sheets and chat over refreshments made by our first volunteers on the reinstated tea rota. There was also a plant swap table full of surplus goodies that several members had kindly brought in from their gardens for us to share, ranging from sedums through various herbs to geums, geranium magnificum, cephalaria and penstemons.

We had already issued online notifications to members for our AGM next month and paper copies of that email were given to those without internet access. Existing and potential new members are invited to bring their own drinks and nibbles to enjoy during a fun gardening quiz (with prizes) which will follow the official business, and there will be raffle tickets for sale (no charge for entry).

Rosalie’s beautiful Camellia ‘Donation’
Hellebore and hyacinths
Spring colours of Forsythia,
Bergenia, Muscari & Leucojum

Plant Showcase

Our March meeting brought us another welcome pandemic-postponed speaker, Byron Lewis of Lichfield Garden Centre at Curborough with a whole range of plants to show us from climbers such as Trachelospermum jasminoides variegatum, shrubs like Loropetalum ‘Fire Dance’, dwarf non-spiky Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’, lime-tolerant Easydendrons and scented Sarcococcas, perennials, spring bedding, summer bulbs and wildflower seed bombs!

His informative talk in his charismatic Welsh accent covered the cultivation of the plants as well as how the pandemic had affected the garden centre and what it now offers in addition to the sales area. All the choice specimens which you can see in the photos were available to purchase after he’d drawn the raffle, with members and visitors giving new homes to many of them.

We were very lucky to secure this presentation as the centre is now so busy (and fortunately handy to visit) that Byron is winding down his talks, just honouring those already booked. Members were also able to help themselves to a selection of gardening books kindly donated to the club by Joan and Bob, together with magazines brought in by other members to share. From next month we hope that we will be able to offer everybody refreshments again after the talks too.

Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’
Cornus before its annual pruning!

Gentleshaw Common

Bog asphodels

On the 8th February we welcomed Charlotte Forrest and Jeff Sim of the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust to talk to us about our very own Gentleshaw Common. Charlotte is now looking after the Common as the previous officer is on maternity leave, and Jeff is the SWT’s Senior Conservation Manager. Quite a few visitors joined our members to hear all about the restoration work currently being undertaken by staff and volunteers (some of whom had come along) and to appreciate more fully why it was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)  – not that we take it for granted!

Charlotte and Jeff chatting after their talk

Whilst many of us are lucky enough to see the sundews and other beautiful plants in the three different types of heathland – the photos above were taken on an SWT guided walk – some creatures such as the nightjar and Welsh clearwing moth are harder to spot. Charlotte encouraged us to report sightings of less common birds & invertebrates on the Common, and also talked about Bleak House and Cuckoo Bank, which come under her remit. Jeff shared useful information on other local SWT reserves, plans for the future and the importance of involving the local community in these, also in the reporting of fires and other antisocial behaviour that damage this precious environment.

Before drawing the raffle, they gave helpful & informative answers to questions covering a range of issues, and chatted to members & visitors afterwards. For anybody who is interested in more information please have a look at www.staffs-wildlife.org.uk/gentleshaw common from where you can explore their wider website. The super kingfisher and blue tit photos below were taken by Maurice at the SWT’s Wolseley Visitor Centre.

Happy New Year!

We started our 2022 programme on January 11th with an excellent talk from Peter Thomas of Keele University on the “Internal Clock of Plants – Keeping Track of the Seasons”. It sounds a rather dry topic but he really made it come alive, like having our own David Attenborough in the room, with his easily understood explanations of how plants function and measure the length of the nights to determine when they should start to re-grow in spring. Temperature is a factor and also the reason behind the folklore “oak before ash we’re in for a splash, ash before oak we’re in for a soak” as oaks respond to warmer spring temperatures, which we are seeing more often as a result of climate change. He helped us to understand how the practical effect of global warming will impact the survival of so many things from food crops to bluebells. As gardeners we are aware of the practical results and it was fascinating to explore the science behind them in a very relatable way.

Peter chatting with Mandy & Roy after his talk

After his talk Peter drew the raffle then chatted with members and answered more questions. He gives talks on other subjects and we hope that he will be back in the future to share his knowledge with us. The opportunity for members to join Zoom meetings either directly or via YouTube continues and details are on our programme page. But we are really looking forward to seeing Hayley Dorrington of Staffordshire Wildlife Trust at the Village Hall next month talking to us about our very own Gentleshaw Common!

New Year’s Day Viburnum Tinus
New Year’s Day gorse on Hednesford Hills

Christmas Social Evening 2021

One of the beautiful table decorations

It was beginning to look touch and go but with some extra precautions we finally made it on Tuesday 14th December! Our members and guests enjoyed a delicious hot and cold buffet by John of Coach House Catering, with beautiful table decorations by Ann and Brenda. This was followed by festive entertainment from the Cherrywood Singing Duo with a selection of traditional and more unusual Christmas songs, some performed a capella, plus amusing poems and anecdotes. We drew the raffle during a short break with a good selection of prizes, several kindly donated by members, and concluded with season’s greetings.

We were delighted to have good feedback afterwards, with many saying they were so pleased that we went ahead and they had found it a relaxing antidote to all the stresses and strains since March 2020. We’re not sure what 2022 will bring but we wish everybody a safe peaceful hopefully Merry Christmas and a Happy Healthy New Year!  

A very small part of John’s cold buffet
Cherrywood Singing Duo

November meeting – Dahlias

Art Deco Dahlias from our 2016 annual show

To brighten a dark autumn evening, Jason Smith, a National Dahlia Society judge and champion, shared his knowledge of how best to grow the wide range of dahlias available which are often seen as a ‘marmite’ plant. His photos showed us that they’re not just bedding pompoms and included some of his prize-winning displays. He had some unusual tips on organic solutions to any pest and disease problems that might arise, such as treating mildew with a milk and water solution. He was passionate about his hobby which he started as a boy helping his father, and made us laugh when he explained that he’s usually asked to judge at an event after he’s won it several times. Looking at the pictures of his show entries, we weren’t surprised. Looking back through old photos afterwards, we found a selection of Dahlia ‘Art Deco’ that members grew for our annual show in 2016 – on our July blog there’s also a shot of the one that Judy has kept going for five years!

Jason chatting to Anita after his talk

Jason drew our raffle and Blodwen passed on the WI’s thanks for our members’ contributions to the village poppy displays. We also announced our 2022 programme with a good variety of speakers and topics; details are on the programme page. But before that we are very much looking forward to our members and guests Christmas Social evening with a buffet by Coach House Catering and entertainment by Cherrywood Singing Duo, something to celebrate after everybody’s long hard slog since March 2020!

Rhus typina with yucca spotted locally
Cornus stolonifera ‘Flaviramea’

October Meeting

This month we welcomed Justin Harrison who was last with us a couple of years ago. He brought a good supply of plants to show how we can achieve year-round colour in our gardens with different types of compact evergreen shrubs and perennials that work well together, very much a “hands-on” demonstration also explaining which conditions each plant preferred. Justin is an enthusiastic advocate of complementary foliage and flower colours, for example compact new variety of Phormium ‘Back to Black’ with Coprosma ‘Lemon and lime’, not forgetting Gaura ‘Butterfly white’ and a new compact wallflower ‘Sugar Rush’. Osmanthus, Nandina domestica and dwarf Myrtle were included amongst others. After his talk he drew our reinstated raffle then we were able to browse and make purchases – for anybody who missed the opportunity Justin can be found at Burton outdoor market every Thursday to Saturday

Phormium ‘Back in Black’, Coprosma ‘Lemon & lime’, Leucothoe Scarlettta
Justin with hesperantha, helenium, sarcococca and asters

Members also brought along poppies that they had made to contribute to the village collection for remembrance day, and we congratulated Anna on her excellent performance in the London Marathon raising funds for the Saxon Hill Academy School Pond Project. Ticket sales for our Christmas Social Evening continued apace too! The last two photos are of Judy’s Selinum wallichianum grown from seed given to her by Sylvia and one from Rosalie’s recent visit to RHS Bridgewater – perhaps a future coach trip?!?

Autumn border RHS Bridgewater
Selinum wallichianum (milk parsley)