Home‎ > ‎

Meeting Reports - 2017

2017 Meetings

                                                                                                         Earlier Reports: 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012

OCTOBER: Hardy Geraniums - Julie Ritchie

What plant was listed with 130 varieties in the 1987 issue of Plant Finder and over 800 varieties in the most recent issue?  Answer - the hardy geranium.  With so many cultivars and a type for every situation, where do you start? 

At our October meeting, Julie Ritchie started with Geranium pratense, the native species geranium, which grows beneath the hedges where Mork road climbs towards Clearwell, and is certain to grow in many more spots across our locality.  With its beautiful lilac blue flowers and upright tall habit, it has many progeny, including one named Hoo House that was raised by Julie in her nursery, just south of Tewkesbury.  Audience members were given a handout listing 82 varieties and were introduced to each with photos and detailed information of habit, soil preferences and flowering times.  Through her eyes, we started to appreciate the fine veining on the petals of oxonianum varieties, to become discerning about the deep crimson-purple of psilostemon cultivars, to appreciate the ability of macrozzhizum varieties to grow in the driest of conditions and the beauty of purple leaved, pale flowered Espresso, self-seeding in a friend’s gravel drive – and to nod in agreement that some of the new varieties look really quite silly, with top-heavy flowers or strange twisted petals.  

You might think a talk focussing on one single flower species, and a long list of 82, might suit only the most enthusiastic hardy geranium grower – but given by an expert with encyclopaedic knowledge of her topic  – the talk was highly absorbing in its depth of detail.  

Sue Young

SEPTEMBER: Making Meadows: Stephanie Tyler

Our September speaker was Stephanie Tyler, from Monmouthshire Meadows Group www.monmouthshiremeadows.org.uk She was leaving for Australia to visit her son next day, so we were immensely grateful to her for fitting us in! She began her talk by acknowledging the pioneering work of the Parish Grasslands Project www.parishgrasslandsproject.org.uk on our side of the river and also by telling us that she wasn’t really a gardener. But, of course, as her talk revealed, creating flower rich meadows really involves as much management of the land as conventional gardening. The difference is that, instead of preparing the ground so that imported plants from around the world will grow well, the meadow developer prepares the ground to create conditions in which wild flower plants will thrive. 

Once land is cleared of dominant plants like bracken and brambles, regular mowing and thorough raking (or grazing) between July and late autumn will produce the low nutrient soil that wild flowers enjoy. Re-creating a meadow involves a lot of initial clearing work, followed by patience, waiting for wild flowers to germinate. But what flowers! Butterfly Orchids, Spotted Orchids, Southern Marsh Orchids, Knapweed, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Harebells, Devils’-bit Scabious, Tormentil and more. Stephanie showed us inspiring photographs of beautiful meadows created on neglected land but also on lawns, left uncut until July, after which they became lawns again for the rest of the year. Everyone can indeed have a meadow! 

What were once flower rich meadows have been destroyed in two main ways: by the monoculture of modern agriculture and by the neglect of those who leave the land unmanaged. Wildflower meadows and pastures are certainly beautiful but they are also vitally important habitats for a wide range of flora, fauna and fungi and a first line of defence for the bio-diversity that we increasingly understand is so important for the future of life on our planet.

Christine Haines

JUNE: Creating a Country Garden:  Jo Ward-Ellison

Garden society members have listened to inspiring talks by garden designers on previous occasions, but silently think to ourselves this sounds wonderful but - - - -   But she doesn’t have to cope with a sloping site, with brambles, intractable weeds or encroaching bracken, nor deer and rabbits that would munch the plants or moles that would burrow under them.  But Jo Ward-Ellison has coped with all these gardening challenges and more, having created a two-acre garden near Goodrich, on the slopes of Coppett Hill. Her aim was ‘to create a modern, country garden in keeping with the natural local landscape’.     

Jo’s aim was to produce a low maintenance garden, with places to sit, an area for vegetables and fruit, an orchard, large borders planted with a natural style of grasses and herbaceous plants, and areas of grass, some mown and some left to grow as meadow.  Jo explained how her design creates some lines of sight across the garden. An ‘avenue’ of trees provides a vista from the windows of the house. Another aim was to divide the garden into areas, in scale with the surrounding landscape.  The first task, however, was to erect lots of deer fencing and plant 400 hedging plants and 50 trees, each with individual rabbit proofing.  

She had welcome words of advice: to have an overall plan that ensures focus, to have areas of long grass in order to reduce maintenance and increase plant diversity.  It’s good to embrace some ‘weeds’ (that advice was very well received) but learn to recognise seedlings of the ones you don’t want – and always tell yourself, ‘there will be less to do next year’.   

Jo Ward-Ellison’s garden will be open for the NGS on September 9th and 10th


Sue Young

MARCH: Desert Island Vegetables:  Pauline Pears  

If you had to choose your top 5, ‘desert island vegetables’ what would they be?  Pauline Pears wants to eat home-grown vegetables for as much of the year as possible and cannot get to her allotment every week.  So the vegetables she grows need to be trouble free, have a long cropping (or storage) period, don’t need to be picked regularly, stand well and store well after harvest – and, finally of course, be good to eat.  Her 5 ‘Desert Island Vegetables’ meet these exacting requirements: swiss chard, beans, leeks, potatoes and pumpkins.  The humble potato, Pauline reminded us, offers a fantastic choice of varieties, is rich in vitamin C, provides a high yield from a small area, and can be planted and harvested at flexible times.  While blight is a nuisance, resistant varieties are increasingly available.  Chard doesn’t bolt like spinach, the rainbow varieties look good and it can be sown in succession. Leeks can be sown once and eaten all through the Winter months.  They are unfortunately prone to some nasty little bugs, but cover with Enviromesh if the bugs make an unwelcome appearance.  Pumpkins, or squash, raised from seed in pots, need little attention except slug defences when planted out and enough space for their exuberant growth.     

Haricot, or shelling beans, can be eaten as pods, shelled fresh or dried for storage.  They are an excellent source of protein and when home-dried for storage, cook much quicker than shop-bought dried beans.  Lots of old varieties of beans are still available – many via the heritage seed library, and they have wonderful names such as Robin’s Egg, Tiger Eye and Top of the Pole.  2016 was ‘International Year of the Pulse’ – a reminder that pulse crops should be more valued as an economical source of protein.  Hogmedod’s (I recommend you visit and read their website) is a company sourcing British pulses, including the humble fava bean, and encouraging their local production and consumption.         

Sue Young

MARCH: Spring Bulb & Bloom Show

The colour and scent of Spring filled the Mackenzie Hall on Friday 31 March at the Annual Spring Bulb and Bloom Show. The number of entries continues to increase year on year with the popular heads of hellebore class attracting the most entries.  In total there were 58 entries from 21 exhibitors - thank you all for taking part.   

And thank you in particular to Sylvia Neale for bringing her expertise and for being our judge this year.

Bob Broughton won the single and multihead daffodil classes along with the Spring bloom class and came away with the most points in show. The Judge’s choice for the Best in Show Trophy was deservedly awarded to Christine Haines for her entry of five exquisite miniature white daffodils.

As I always say, the main aim of this event is to make a wonderful display of Spring flowers, which indeed it was.  The winners in each class are below.

Sally Secrett

5 Single Daffodils:  Bob Broughton

5 Double Daffodils:   Annie Williams

5 Multi-head Daffodils:  Bob Broughton

5 Miniature Daffodils:  Christine Haines

A pot of Spring Flowering Bulbs:  Sue Burrows

1 stem of a Flowering Shrub:  Mike Weeks

5 Different Spring Blooms:  Bob Broughton

3 Heads of Hellebore:  Janet Broughton

Primula in a Pot:  Anne Downes

The Novelty Class:  Mary Harris

JANUARY: Christopher Lloyd - His Life at Great Dixter

Stephen Anderton

If ever a house, garden and family were intertwined, then the Lloyd family at Great Dixter must be the prime example.  The Lutyens designed house, created out of two 15th century Sussex houses with additions, merges into a garden also laid out by Lutyens.  It was Christopher Lloyd, the youngest son of the family who lived there all his life and made the garden what it is today.  Stephen Anderton has written the biography of Christopher Lloyd and told his story to the garden society.  Christoper, or Christo as he was always known, became undoubtedly one of the great English gardeners.  Dominated by his mother, a stern Edwardian matriarch, he finally had new-found freedom when she died in 1972.  Christo became a generous host, inviting many people to stay in this large house, began to write a column for Country Life which he continued for 25 years and wrote some of his most well known books on gardening.  In 1993, Fergus Garrett arrived as head gardener and the garden entered a new phase.  Originally an Arts and Crafts garden with long borders, pergola, sunken gardens, topiary and traditional rose garden, Christopher Lloyd with Fergus Garrett made contemporary changes.  The rose garden became an exotic garden, planted with a profusion of fantastic foliage and sharp coloured tender flowers.  The long border was densely planted, famous too for its striking colours.  The topiary garden was allowed to become a wild flower meadow surrounding the clipped yew topiary (which at one stage had had all their heads chopped off after a dispute with a neighbour).  Dixter is a fine house, a beautiful garden – but it did not house a happy family.   

Sue Young