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2012 meeting reports

Reports appear each month in Village News, sometimes in shortened form. The full reports are published below. 

Scroll down to go backwards through the year

NOVEMBER: Chris Beardshaw at The Blake Theatre, Monmouth

The Garden Society was delighted to promote this visit to Monmouth’s Blake Theatre by Chris Beardshaw, Gold Medal winner at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show. 

Chris has been gardening since he was 4 years old. He is also a keen cyclist, who has just completed a gruelling race across the Alps. So it was not really surprising that he was able to hold the audience at the Blake Theatre on 15th November, enraptured for almost 2 hours, barely pausing for breath. The two main influences on his early gardening career were his grandmother, for whom gardening was art: devoid of theory and even devoid of plant names, but with an eye for beauty; and his father, who was an engineer, and instilled in Chris the desire to know how everything works.
His main message for the evening was that, in order to produce a work of art in a garden, you need a plan, in fact a vision, of your own personal paradise. He urged us to wander round our gardens and interrogate our plants, asking “Do I want to live with you for eternity?”  He told us that we are the conductors of this orchestra of plants and structures, and it is our job to model them so that they work in harmony throughout the year. He took us through some key influences in the history of garden making, planting and designing, including Lawrence Johnson at Hidcote Manor, Gertrude Jekyll, Thomas Mawson, and Edwin Lutyens, demonstrating the touchstones of garden design: density of planting, succession through the seasons, overlaying plant species, creating vistas and focal points, contrasting and harmonising colour. His well-chosen photographs demonstrated the important points that he was making and enabled him to name plants that were being used to create the various effects of height, depth, distance, and symmetry. There was erudition, humour and inspiration aplenty and the audience headed back to their personal paradises with renewed determination. 

                                                                                                                                                   Judy Craven
Read more about Chris at http://www.chrisbeardshaw.com/ 

OCTOBER: Our AGM in Mackenzie Hall, Brockweir

This year we made the AGM more informal and sociable by having a number of activities to give members a chance to socialise and relax as the gardening year draws to a close. So, after the formalities of the AGM have been concluded, there were refreshments, some light-hearted activities and a seed and cutting swap. Members brought along surplus seeds bulbs or cuttings and then took away something they liked that others had brought in.

Over the past year we have enjoyed the great variety of talks organised by our Programme Secretary – Christine Haines – who has now produced her second yearly programme. Christine has captured the committee’s thoughts on which events to include as well as consulting with as many members as possible. However,ideas for future events aare always welcome - please contact Christine at wyegardensociety@gmail.com. Something we are already considering adding to the 2013 programme is a coach trip to a more distant garden – we will have more details on this early next year. .

The new beekeepers we supported over the past year have been busy training and kitting themselves up. We will ask them to provide the membership with an update in due course. Alan Robertson, after initiating and running the bee project, has handed over the reins to David Broadbent. David has already created a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/WyeGardenBeeProject, to make more people outside the Society aware of the work we are doing. He is now gearing up to begin the process of allocating another grant to a budding beekeeper in 2013.

Financially, the Society is still in a reasonably healthy state. This is again largely due to the sale of plants at our Spring plant sale in St. Briavels. Many thanks are therefore due to Sue Davis and Sue Shaw for organising the event, for those who donated plants and to the band of volunteers who helped to set up and run the plant sale. Sue Davis, as Treasurer (as well as being Vice Chairman) presented the full accounts at the AGM. Our aim is to continue to fund raise so that we can maintain a good standard of speaker. To this end, we want to encourage more people to provide plants for the plant sale, especially as we have always run out within minutes of opening the doors!

There are a few changes to your committee this year. At the AGM, Alan and Sharyn Robertson stepped down, as they are moving to Cheltenham. I would like to offer my personal thanks as well as yours, I’m sure, for the great contribution they have made to the successful running of the Society over the past few years. Administration of the website, which Sharyn Robertson has managed so effectively since its inception, has now passed to Christine Haines. John Gooder has taken up the role of Secretary to replace Alan. In addition, Paul Williams has joined the committee.

                                                                                                                         Mike Weeks (Chairman)

SEPTEMBER: Gardening in the Shade 

The speaker at our September meeting was John Millington, from Hillview Hardy Plants, near Bridgenorth, where they hold the national collections of Acanthus and Albuca. John engaged the audience at the beginning by passing round two plants to see if anyone could recognise them. They were rarities: Nicotiana Glauca and Acanthus Stribiliansis. He then began his talk with emphasis on the importance of mulching dry gardens. He illustrated the use of stone as a mulch, but said that the best mulch to use is bark. 

There followed a series of inspiring photographs of a large variety of plants that can be grown in dry conditions, many of them tolerating or even thriving in shade, including grasses, particularly Herdium jubatum, Miscanthus sinensis and Melica celiatra. Allium cernuum, much loved by bees, will tolerate wind as well as dry shade, but will appreciate being fed early in the year. Cyclamen hederifolium, rampant in Corfu olive groves in October, will also grace the dark areas under conifers. John suggested that it is always better to buy them in a pot, when they are flowering, rather than as dry corms. Chinodoxa luciliae speads and is cheap. Corydalis solida looks good en masse, carpeting an area and flowering March-April. It smells lovely, but is not for bad knees! Leucojum vernum is an expensive bulb which sulks for 12 months after it is planted and then comes back to form a dense clump. Lily of the Valley is highly recommended for shady areas and the pinkish Convollaria majallis Rosa makes a change from the usual white variety. Other spring flowers John suggested included Ixia ‘Hollands Glory’, Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brambling’ and Lathyrus vernus ‘Rosenelfe’, the spring sweet pea. For a dash of colour, try Acquilegia ‘Red Hobbit’. 

John then moved on to summer herbaceous plants and showed us photographs of a wide range of summer flowering perennials, including Kalimeris pinnatfida Hortensis, from Japan, which flowers in midsummer. For late summer and autumn John Millington suggested Rudbeckia sulivanti ‘Goldsturm’, Helenium hoopesii and ‘Crimson Beauty’, and Helianthus salicifolius, which will grow 6 feet high. Michaelmas Daisies figured, with advice about combating mildew with potassium bicarbonate. Aster amellus ‘Grunder’, ‘Kylie’ and ‘Silver Queen’ were particularly recommended. Below is a list of other plants John illustrated for dry conditions. You never know: dryness may come again to the Wye Valley! 

                                                                                                                                                         Judy Craven 

JUNE: The Bad-tempered Gardener and her garden 

On 22 June, our speaker for the evening was Anne Wareham, designer and creator of Veddw House garden, Devauden, and a writer and broadcaster. She published The Bad-tempered Gardener last year, so it was interesting to see that she came over as rather a good-natured speaker. She gave a refreshingly frank and honest description of the context in which she started, 25 years ago, to create her garden: she and her husband, Charles Hawes, had no money, and he had to work full-time, so she had to do most of the work on the two acres of sloping land which was to be the garden. She didn’t minimize the struggles, the hard work, the frustrations, nor the agonies of indecision that we gardeners have to face if we are not extremely well-off, and hands-off.

Anne was also an enthusiast for local history and keen to understand who had lived in the Veddw, and how, in the centuries before she came there. She has developed areas of her garden as a reminder of the hard lives that people had lived there in the past. The garden is an echo of the patchwork of fields with parterre hedges filled with ornamental grasses. he curving hedges remind her of the gentle rolling Monmouthshire hills. She is a writer, and an avid reader, so there are words to be enjoyed around the garden. Her first slide was of a large gate into the woods on which she has inscribed two extracts about the population of the Veddw in the early 19th century, from memoirs by James Davies, the local headmaster of Devauden school. 

Although she admitted to using slug pellets, her gardening is done with great respect for nature and she has allowed a wild flower meadow to bloom, not cutting the grass until the end of July each year, except for a path between the Turkish Hazel trees. We saw photographs of the meadow in Spring with daffodils, then cowslips and blue Camassias; and the woodland, at the same time of year, with Erythroniums, of which she plants another 50 each year. Ground Elder, the variegated variety, is used shamelessly for ground cover as are huge swathes of ornamental grasses. How else could she cope with weeding a 2 acre garden? 

Anne Wareham has a reputation for being quite a controversial figure in the gardening world, partly I suspect because she is really honest, and also critical. I really liked it, but that was because I agreed with her!

                                                                                                                        Judy Craven

JULY: We visit Veddw House Garden

It was with great anticipation that Garden Society members and friends assembled on the sunny early evening of July 9th. Anne likes honest responses, rather than general compliments, so we have said what we think did not work, as well as what we admired – though we didn’t all agree on everything!

‘Everywhere smelt and looked wonderful. The strength of the sculpted structures of this garden was that all the rain had made the hedges even more beautiful.’

‘I liked the peace and tranquility, partly just being in the midst of such full, loosely structured planting. I liked the wavy hedges and the structure and contrast they provided, also the natural flow of the paths round the sloping areas and the fact that you could get a view of the whole thing by walking up to the edges of the 'bowl' and the interesting seats there.  One thing that surprised me was the attractiveness of the ground elder bed with the old rusty churns.’

‘I came to appreciate the wild flowers (weeds) how attractive they can look, I have been throwing them away for years.’

‘Most memorable - being able to view various parts of the garden from different elevations - particularly the hedges also the reflecting pool.’ 

‘The foliage is such a strong element, both for its shape and its hot colours contrasted with the acid yellows and greens of Alchemilla mollis and the silvers and golds of the grasses and cardoons. There were relatively few flowers, but they leapt out with their sharp contrasts: deep yellow Hemerocallis, red, orange, and yellow Alstromeria, Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ and Lysimachia against dark green red foliage. When Anne Wareham likes a plant she likes a lot of it. The Campanula lactiflora is there in sufficient quantities to evoke the sky over the patchwork fields.’

‘Anne Wareham is obviously not afraid of dramatic effect or using colour. My favourite effect was the 2 doves at the end of axes - one at the top and one at the bottom of the garden.’

‘The hedges were very effective and although some were quite tall they didn't seem to dominate the garden and also didn't make it too formal.’ 

‘I enjoyed the contrast between the formal hedging and the mass planting of rampant perennials and grasses. It's a real mixture of tidiness and untidiness.’

‘I think the height of the plants growing within the hedges was too tall.’

‘The curved and swooping beech hedges were lovely.’ 

‘I didn't think the relatively new area of interplanted squares of box hedging was quite so successful.’ 

‘I didn't quite get the grass parterre from a visual point of view though I appreciate the symbolism of the old tithe boundaries.’ 

‘The dyed black pond was great. I loved the reflective pool - it was wonderfully tranquil and very Zen.’

‘The reflective pool area is very well designed but left me cold really - too sterile and I was especially not keen on the pink! ‘ 

‘The pool garden with the wonderful reflections was so calm and peaceful, if I had that I'm afraid the remainder would become a jungle.’ 

‘I particularly like the way she has spouting grasses at the edge of beds near paths so you have to walk round / through them.’ 

‘Anne believes that gardens should be considered an art form, especially if they evoke strong feelings, make us think, and possess formal beauty. This garden is definitely art, if those are the criteria. Reducing all my responses is an impossible task. I need more time to think and feel. To create a garden like that, with very little money, is going to take me (and him) 25 years of hard graft - plenty of time to think and feel.’ 

Read more about the garden at Veddw House at www.veddw.com

You'll also find our garden review there. Anne liked it so much, she put it on her website with some wonderful photos!

JUNE: A Morning in the Moat

On Saturday 9 June, during a miraculous break from the rain, Garden Society members enjoyed coffee and cake and a very pleasant stroll around the Moat Garden at St Briavels Castle. Sue Davis and Jill Bufford were on hand to tell us about the Moat Society’s work and share exciting plans for future development of this wonderful space at the centre of the village. The moat is a small park, open to visitors and villagers and has been cared for by parishioners since it was reclaimed from being waste ground in 1961. It had been used as a rubbish dump and was overgrown with brambles and brush. During March and April 1961, volunteer working parties spent 140 hours clearing, cutting and removing rubbish, including 72 empty whisky bottles! Today, a small band of Moat Society members works from April to October on the second Saturday of the month, strimming, planting and maintaining benches and gates. New volunteers are always very welcome!

The Garden Society is extremely grateful to the YHA for allowing us to make use of King John’s Room in the castle.

                                                                                                                               Christine Haines