A spring visit to Japan

Duncan after judging the competition

At our April meeting we welcomed Duncan Coombs standing in for Howard Drury who hopes to be with us later this year when he is fully recovered. Duncan’s very engaging talk took us on a beautifully illustrated Spring Trip to Japan away from our dreary British rain, visiting the main island Honshu with wild volcanic areas as well as botanic and cultivated gardens. Some of the plants were familiar to us although in completely different settings, and others would be defeated by our climate.

Rosalie’s camellia

The trip covered both modern and historic settings, from cultivated cherry blossoms in Tokyo to wild magnolias and azaleas, via tranquil gardens of Zen Buddhism in Kyoto and temples set in carefully landscaped gardens, with reflections in the still water of lakes and pines trained like huge bonsai. Plus an imperial villa and totally unexpected mass tulip and muscari plantings!

After he drew the raffle Duncan judged the monthly competition which is proving very popular in its new format with high quality entries, Sylvia in first place this time with Rosalie second and Sue third. We took bookings for our trip to Bridgemere Gardens in May and talked about the forthcoming SAGG AGM and our own, then members and visitors enjoyed refreshments chatting and browsing the magazines to take home. It was lovely to arrive in the daylight and at least it was dry when we left.

Sue’s tulip
Sylvia’s azalea
Some of the other lovely entries

March meeting

Some of Samantha’s other plants

As our planned March speaker unfortunately had an accident two days beforehand, we were so lucky that our April speaker could come a month early! With less than 24hours’ notice, Samantha Hopes of Hopes Garden Plants gave a very professional and enthusiastic talk, introducing us to one of her favourite plants, the little-known Roscoea, a hardy member of the ginger family. She shared her passion for this greatly underused tuberous perennial that has so much to offer, with a great range of colours from white to deep purple. By planting different varieties we can also have flowers from early summer till late autumn.

Anita’s camellia

Samantha explained how best to grow and propagate them, accompanied by excellent photos with a very good video of division and repotting. She’d also brought two varieties for us to buy, R. ‘Harvington Summer Deep Purple’ and R. ‘Harvington Evening Star’ which weren’t showing in their pots just yet but checked for growth under the compost, plus some other lovely indoor and outdoor plants. Then she drew our raffle and judged our monthly competition, which is attracting good entries with its new format, a dozen this time, well done to everybody who entered. Anita took first place with Sue second and Rosalie third, all shown here. There’s also a pic of Chris’s cymbidium on her table at home, which we thought you’d like to see.

Sue’s fritillary

We displayed the photos we’d chosen for the SAGG photo competition from the excellent selection provided, not easy as they were all so good and it’s a real team effort again, with photos from four members in the entry. Fingers crossed we do well again! Another thoroughly enjoyable evening with members and guests also able to choose free books and magazines to take home as well as chat over refreshments.  

Rosalie’s hyacinth
Chris’s Cymbidium (boat orchid)

The dark months; not just snowdrops!

Diane after her talk

We had a good turnout of members and guests on a miserable February night to hear Diane Clement’s excellent talk on bringing colour and perfume into our gardens in winter. It was beautifully illustrated with a wide selection of plant choices, from bulbs through perennials to shrubs, including well known varieties and the more unusual, all able to withstand tough conditions. She will kindly provide us with a plant list to share with members, and brought some small pots from her own garden for sale.

Joan receiving the beautiful Trudi Brearley Challenge Trophy

We also presented the Trudi Brearley Challenge Trophy for the most points earned in the monthly competitions to our 2023 winner Joan Brookes, who was surprised to have won in a close-fought year, and then took first place with her Sarcococca in the February round of 2024! Rosalie’s Hellebore was 2nd and Anita’s Iris 3rd, with some lovely entries being received in the new format of the competition, where members can bring a single seasonal home-grown stem, rather than being restricted to a certain type of plant which they might not grow or has been affected by the vagaries of the weather.

Joan’s sarcococca

Diane had judged the competition after her talk and drawing our raffle, and was able to chat to everybody over refreshments. The usual free books and magazines were available for members to take home. Luckily by then the rain had stopped and it was an unseasonally mild 10deg C.  

Some of the other lovely competition entries
Some of Diane’s plants for sale by honesty box

Successful Clematis Growing

Pam’s lovely Skimmia with three branches on a single stem

Our new season’s programme started on a chilly but dry evening with a good turnout of members & guests enjoying Mark Smith’s talk. His engaging and refreshing approach blew away some of the old techniques and myths, with a simple “mean method” of care and pruning that he learnt some years ago from renowned Clematis breeder Raymond Evison. He gave details of some good new varieties and had a range of suggestions for more unusual uses too, such as in hanging baskets and as ground cover.

Mark chatting to members after his stalk

After his talk he drew our raffle and judged the first of the new round of competitions for the Trudi Brearley Challenge Trophy, which will be the same each month so less restrictive and encouraging members to bring whatever’s looking good in their gardens: “A single seasonal stem, home-grown”. Points are awarded each month and the highest total over the whole period wind the Trophy. This time the winner was Pam, with Sylvia 2nd and Rosalie 3rd.

Sylvia’s Mahonia and Rosalie’s Sarcococca

Our usual refreshments followed the raffle, with free books and magazines to take home as well as catching up with friends after the festive season. A very good start to 2024 with several new members joining too, onwards and upwards!

2023 Christmas social evening

At the end of another dreary wet day our members & guests enjoyed a festive evening with cheese, biscuits, pickles & mince pies and some very jolly entertainment by “Lichfield Ukulele Massive”. These four chaps had a very different fun slant on all sorts of traditional and modern music, with Christmas carols and songs to match their jumpers, and much audience participation along the way! They had some unusual medleys and even sang in four different languages (five if you include a Yorkshire dialect) including the original German version of Silent Night.

We drew our special Christmas raffle in the interval, including several kindly donated prizes and the newly printed Staffordshire Association of Garden Guilds (SAGG) Calendar, with some photos from our club. We were all grateful that the rain had finally stopped by the time we had to wend our ways home. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  

Have three of the committee spotted Santa?!?

Gladioli in October

The last few corms from a whole trayful that disappeared
Mick’s composting book

An unusual subject for this time of year perhaps but Mick Poultney’s much-postponed talk finally took place, sharing his interest in growing and showing different varieties of gladioli, with tips and techniques. A bonus was that he kindly brought with him a good selection of his freshly prepared excellent quality corms and cormlets to give away to our members and guests ready for next spring. He was also selling an assortment of fertilisers and his own compost book at discounted prices, and generously gave several prizes for our raffle.

Joan’s chrysanthemums

There was only one entry for this month’s monthly competition, a lovely vase of chrysanthemums from Joan. The competition is now closed for the year so the points will be calculated and the Trudi Brearley Challenge Trophy will be awarded to the member who has won the most points during the year. Our printed programme of talks for 2024 was available with an excellent range of speakers and topics thanks to Sue’s hard work, full details on our programme page. There were free hardback books for members to browse over refreshments then take home, these had been kindly donated by the library at St. Stephen’s Church, Cannock, and shared with our friends at Burntwood.

Mick’s sales display

Vegetables for small gardens

Rosalie’s 2nd placed entry

At our monthly meeting on 10th October we welcomed back Jeff Bates whose topic of “Vegetables for Small Gardens” shared useful well illustrated information on different ways of growing our own supplies as well as more quirky ones such as carrots grown at height in the frame of an old bunk bed to avoid the dreaded carrot fly, with onions in the ground below as a belt and braces! He also explored how commercial vegetable production and our expectations have changed over the years and answered our questions on specific problems.

Ivy’s winning entry with nigella seedheads and blackberries

After his talk he drew our raffle then had the challenge of judging our monthly competition of an arrangement of plant material depicting autumn, with Ivy winning and Rosalie a close second as you can see from the photos, although the colour of the background curtain doesn’t do them justice. We also presented our newly-engraved Produce Show trophies and started selling tickets for our Christmas social evening, something to look forward to as the weather finally changes to autumn and the evenings draw in.

Anita happily reading her name on the Tom Ethelstone Memorial Trophy
Martin with the Lewis Cup

2023 Garden & Home Produce Show 16th September

Sue and Anita with the Tom Ethelstone Memorial Trophy

It was great to have our Show back, our first since Covid interrupted what used to be an annual event. We were delighted with the support from exhibitors which provided a wonderful display in the hall that was enjoyed by members and visitors alike. Despite the vagaries of this summer’s weather, there were over 200 exhibits of excellent quality across all the classes.

Deborah and Martin with the Lewis Cup

Scoring was very close and our chairman Deborah Jackson was honoured to present the Lewis Cup, on behalf of the Lewis family, to Martin Plater for the highest number of points in the vegetable classes. Sue Ethelstone was down from Yorkshire to award the Tom Ethelstone Memorial Trophy, this time to club member Anita Harper, for the highest number of points won across all sections and classes. To celebrate the return of the show, both trophies were accompanied by donated gardening gift tokens, and Brenda Brettell won the members-only class of Pelargoniums. Our judge had also commented on one outstanding individual exhibit so a special award of a donated gift token was given to Clive Hancock for his Eucomis.

Clive’s Eucomis

We were pleased that several first time exhibitors had a go and enjoyed it, as well as taking home some of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd places cards for all classes – well done to all entrants! After the presentations Sue drew our raffle which included some kindly donated prizes, and there were afternoon refreshments of hot and soft drinks with delicious homemade cake. There are some photos on our gallery page which give a flavour of the day.  Many thanks to all the committee, judges, helpers, exhibitors and visitors for putting this show back onto the calendar as a wonderful village event. Happy gardening!

“What have trees ever done for us?”

Pam’s winning competition entry

At our September meeting we welcomed back Dr Peter Thomas, Emeritus Reader in Plant Ecology at Keele University, to provide a surprisingly wide range of answers! He started with common words in our language (such as bachelor, Poet Laureate & baccalaureate all from the bay tree) then fruit including unusual tropical varieties, not just those we know and love. Next came nuts (we have new respect for cashews!) before he moved onto medicines such as aspirin and our general wellbeing, with hospital studies showing improved recovery rates in patients who can see trees and other fascinating medical facts, not forgetting poisons such as strychnine.

Then we had the benefits of how trees help combat climate change when they are mature – but being aware that planting them is not an instant fix – and not forgetting timber, with how forests are (or should be) managed to keep them carbon neutral. Peter is a very engaging speaker who shared his knowledge and passion for trees with a well-illustrated talk, and we discussed the possibility of a spring trip to see the Keele University collection of flowering cherries.  

Peter answering questions

Afterwards Peter drew the raffle and answered individual questions over refreshments. Recent weather affected the number of entries in the monthly competition for a vase of asters but Pam was a worthy winner as you can see from the photo. We’re now looking forward to our Garden and Home Produce Show on Saturday 16th which will have a post of its own, and we’re hoping for plenty of support for this which is our first one since 2019, normally an annual event until a certain pandemic intervened….

“Love and War”

1st place – Ros

An eye-catching title for our August meeting! This was a fascinating talk by Kevin Reynolds on how our relationship with garden birds has developed over the years, a very different perspective on something we all take for granted. We might remember singing “four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie” as children but been unaware that many years ago our main relationship with birds was eating them and using their plumage for decoration.

2nd place – Anita

Kevin took us on this changing journey through the ages, including the formation of what became the RSPB in the late 19th century by a little-known woman Emily Williamson, to our current understanding of how birds contribute to our ecosystem and bring delight to our gardens.

3rd place – Sarah

After his talk Kevin drew our raffle and judged our monthly competition “a display of sensory plants” with the winner Ros, 2nd place Anita and 3rd place Sarah, well done all. Members and guests enjoyed our usual refreshments, shared out free plant divisions donated by Sylvia and took home free magazines. We also gave out schedules for our Produce Show on Saturday 16th September which is free and open to all amateur gardeners, bakers and flower arrangers, more details on our annual show page.