Creepy crawlies, friend or foe?

Ken chatting to Pat over refreshments

Our speaker for June, Ken Whittaker, recalled that he was last with us exactly five years ago to the day on 11th June 2019, one of those strange coincidences. This time he gave an amusing talk on the change of approach in the gardening world to what we once considered as “pests”, a wide range including next door’s cat, slugs and aphids amongst others. He shared his thoughts on how to live alongside them, create the right environment to deter them and control problems without chemical intervention, welcoming audience participation as he went along.

Christie’s rose

Ken was accompanied as before by his wife Toni, his Executive Logistics Facilitator (ELF) whose helpful interventions added to the enjoyment of the evening. After his talk he drew the raffle whilst Toni had the difficult task of judging the monthly competition which was again well supported with beautiful entries. Our club photographer was in the kitchen doing refreshments this month so apologies for the quality of the pictures which don’t do them all justice especially against the brown curtain. Christie’s deliciously perfumed rose took 1st place with Audrey’s peony 2nd and Pia’s foxglove 3rd. There was a lot of member interest in Rosalie’s Deutzia ‘Strawberry Fields’ too.

Audrey’s peony

Members chatted to Ken and Toni over refreshments as well as collecting plants and seedlings for a small donation to the club, brought in this month by Brenda & Christie. We had earlier discussed replacing our monthly book and magazine stall with gardening paraphernalia as well as spare plants, and that will start next month. We even talked about Christmas!

Some of the competition entries.
Pia’s foxglove
And more competition entries

Rosalie’s Deutzia ‘Strawberry fields’

AGM & Spring Trip

Rhododenrdons at the end of the 2nd (wet!) tour

At our AGM on Tuesday 14th May the usual 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 2024/25 year. The official business was followed by a quiz with two tables sharing the seed prizes then we had our usual raffle. Members collected their free Tigridia bulbs to grow on for the members’ only class at our August produce show, plus SAGG membership discount cards for some nurseries.

Calycanthus x raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’

Then two days later we enjoyed a spring trip to RHS partner BridgemereShowGardens near Nantwich, with the first guided tour being luckier with the weather than the second one! There was some beautiful colour to enjoy with rhododendrons, cornus kousa and calycanthus as you can see from the photos, with more on our Gallery page.

Cornus kousa ‘Moonbeam’

There are 13 individual gardens set in 6 acres, including 8 Gold and Silver Medal award-winning gardens from RHS Flower Shows plus 3 more recent Silver Gilt winners such as the ‘Down Memory Lane’ dementia garden. Wildlife is also actively encouraged and there’s a blend of formal and informal planting to great effect, with something to admire in every season.

The peaceful pond
Topiary in the Victorian Garden

Importantly there are also two restaurants (with highly recommended cake mezze!) plus a large garden centre with good quality plants, and a myriad of retail therapy options with a large indoor shopping village. The coach luggage area certainly had quite a few large purchases in it….

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

“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….