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.  

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. 

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

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.