The Garth Summer Evening Visit


On 18th July sandwiched in between two wet days we were lucky to have lovely weather for 40 of us to visit Anita Wright’s beautiful garden on Cannock Chase. We really enjoyed her talk in February & our expectations were met with this visit! It is difficult to describe or photograph to do full justice to this half acre garden which surrounds the house built on a sandstone ridge, containing a wealth of interesting and unusual shrubs &  herbaceous plants. Many hidden seating areas, rock-hewn caves & quirky touches add to its delights. After exploring the garden we were made most welcome in the house with hot drinks and cakes, which rounded off a lovely evening. Please do have a look at the rest of the pictures on our gallery page!    

Walking down to the lower gravel garden


Salvias & ornamental grasses

Gordon Malt from Shropshire gave an illustrated presentation to our July meeting on these two types of plant which go so well together. Salvias flower over a long period and there are many to choose from with a wide range of colours from the unusual peachy-orange Salvia x jamensis  ‘California Sunset’, through the deep blues such as S. patens ‘Guanajuato’, to the intensely red S. ‘blepharophylla.’ Gordon explained how the coloured calyces that protect the buds are retained after the flower petals have fallen, giving an extended display, and all aspects of the plant contrasting with the fluffy flower heads of the grasses. He had brought varieties of both for us to browse & buy, & several were sold before the meeting started – Anna was the lucky purchaser of the one in the photo, a really electric blue!     

Gordon with Salvia cacaliaefolia

After drawing the raffle, Gordon judged  the competition which was won by Ivy Evans with Pam Collins second, both beautiful arrangements in wine glasses as you can see. Members & visitors collected schedules for our annual show which has been brought forward to Saturday 10th August & we announced a special prize for the members-only class, definitely worth mollycoddling those fuchsias! There will be new entries for discounts & growing advice on our links page shortly, and we’re all looking forward to our summer evening trip to The Garth next week too.  

Open Gardens Weekend

So much for “flaming June”!! The heavy showers on Saturday afternoon & gloomy skies on Sunday morning impacted on the number of casual visitors but despite this we raised £1600 from programme sales, refreshments donations & the plant stall, which will be divided between the village hall and gardening club.

Eileen & Stan’s cheerful pot of violas 

 We are delighted with this figure and also that everybody seemed to have such a good time as summed up by this feedback received via our contact page: “We thoroughly enjoyed touring the open gardens. Whether large or small, formal or with an element of randomness, all were a credit to the gardeners and their ‘helpers’. Whatever your tastes in gardens there was something for everyone and we particularly liked the ingenuity demonstrated dealing with the differing shapes and contours. And the abundance of wild flower areas for bees and butterflies was noteworthy. Well done!”

Ros’s striking elephant by her famous pond!

Visitors commented too on the warm welcome that they received as they walked round, and many thanks go to all our garden owners & everybody who helped or supported the event in any way. Cannock Chase MP Amanda Milling enjoyed a couple of hours between showers visiting several of the gardens and made some purchases at the plant stall to take home.  

Admiring the surroundings of Bill’s wildlife pond in between the showers

There are additional pictures on the gallery page but as we didn’t have an official photographer and  everybody was rather busy (!!) doing other things please do let us know if you have any snaps that you would be willing to share. We hope that other garden owners living in Cannock Wood & Gentleshaw will be inspired to join in what we aim to make a biennial event, with the next in summer 2021. 

Secrets of growing & showing

Ken (in red) talking to members

Toni (in blue) with plants brought for sale

At our June meeting  we were entertained by Ken Whittaker with his “Secrets of Growing & Showing”, to help us prepare for our annual show in August. Ken,who is a show judge, clearly had a possible alternative career as a comedian and much laughter accompanied his useful advice. He explained why the presentations of exhibits is important & ways of achieving this. His wife Toni describes herself as his Executive Logistics Facilitator (ELF) and kept him from straying too far from the point. He also covered basic aspects of growing from seed, and we were all impressed with his dibber boards made using recycled silicone gun nozzles. 

Rosalie Allden had a walkover in our monthly competition with her charming display of wild flowers from her garden (maybe the rain deterred other competitors!) & we sold programmes for our Open Gardens this coming weekend 15th & 16th June, all hoping that the weather improves. members were asked to deliver their cuttings & divisions to the plant stall this week. There are a few spaces left on our summer evening trip to The Garth on Thursday 18th July. 

2019 AGM

At our very well-supported AGM in May, our Chair & Treasurer gave their annual reports & the club members endorsed an increased membership fee of £15 to cover basic costs for the 2019/20 year. The seven committee members who were willing to stand again were re-elected & we then appointed our retiring secretary Mrs. Maureen Hemmingsley as our Honorary President to reflect her contribution to the club since its inception in 2007. Maureen gave a short speech of gratitude and was also presented with a wrapped gift which she opened at home to reveal the vase below. We also thanked our other retiring committee members Anna Stanley & Shelley Tunnicliffe with cards & gifts (Anna is away so hers will be delivered). 

Maureen’s vase

After the official business was concluded we all enjoyed complimentary cheese & wine whilst listening to John Spire’s interesting talk and demonstration debunking many of the myths about growing Orchids. He explained about the different types, growing conditions, feeding and general care including practical demonstrations of when & how to re-pot. Who knew about the secret properties of cinnamon?! He had also brought along some beautiful examples of plants and finished his talk with a screen show of other varieties. We don’t hold a monthly competition on AGM night but we were pleased with the immediate response to our summer evening outing in July (only a few spaces left on the coach!) and we reminded everybody about saving spare divisions & cuttings for the plant stall at our Open Gardens Weekend in June (see events page for more information).      

John re-potting! 
John finishing his presentation 
We had over 60 people attending including previous guests now joining the club!

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: 

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  .

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