Meeting Reports

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2018 Meetings


Our last meeting of the year began with our AGM*, followed by mulled wine and mince pies - first of the season for most of us. Then we settled down to listen to author, Bill Laws, talk about plants that changed the course of history, the subject of his book, ‘Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History.’  In a lively survey of plants as diverse as the English Oak, the poppy, hemp, tobacco, sugar cane, cotton and corn, Bill showed us how their cultivation impacted on societies across the world, weaving together economic, political and agricultural history. For example, the opium poppy has been utilised in medicine, as the drug morphine but has caused immense harm in another form, as heroin. It was also the cause of two wars between China and the British Empire over the opium trade in the nineteenth century. It was a fascinating look at some of the most influential plants known to mankind
Christine Haines
*Read the minutes of our AGM on 16 November here



We welcomed Pauline Pears to talk to us in October about growing fruit organically. This was her second visit to the society and she continued to promote a common sense, time-saving approach to gardening. Pauline, a founder member of what later became Garden Organic, brought a great deal of knowledge and experience to share with us.

 Her talk covered different ways of growing fruit, with an emphasis on making the most of small spaces by training plants on walls and fences. For the organic grower, who does not use pesticides or artificial fertilisers, building and maintaining a healthy, nutrient rich soil is key to producing healthy plants that can withstand disease and pests. So regular mulching, preferably with homemade compost (another of Pauline’s specialties) is essential. Pauline has a moveable compost bin permanently in her fruit cage, which she places near the roots of plants in turn, allowing the rich liquid that seeps away at the bottom of the bin to feed the plants directly. A great labour and time saving idea!

 Two of her recommendations stand out: the relatively new Cassissma varieties of blackcurrant, exceptionally sweet, with individual fruits in bunches ripening at the same time, making picking a lot easier time; and Raspberry ‘Autumn Bliss’ – the very best variety for autumn in Pauline’s experience. Both now on my Christmas list!

Christine Haines


Victoria Logue, the speaker at our October meeting, dispensed practical advice and wry humour, as she took us skilfully through different methods of propagation, making it all look simple and eminently do-able in our own greenhouses. 

There may well have been a rush on purchases of vermiculite in the following days, after Victoria showed us a foolproof method of avoiding seedlings damping off, by sowing them directly into it.  She advised sowing into very small pots and then pricking out seedlings into modules as soon as they germinate. 

Cuttings made simple followed and then there was some myth-busting about dividing perennials. Forget the two-fork method - just saw the root ball in half! We all over-water our young plants, she said and, also on the subject of water, she was sceptical of the common advice that rainwater should not be used on seedlings. 

Victoria’s clear explanations and demonstration, her obvious knowledge and experience and her undogmatic approach, made for a most informative and entertaining evening.

Christine Haines

Have you ever been to the Chelsea Flower Show?  If you’ve visited, seen it on the television, or perhaps only heard about it, Sally Nex works as a journalist for the BBC at Chelsea and so has a stock of ‘behind the scenes’ stories into how the gardens and displays are created.  Chelsea is renowned the world over for its extravagant, original show gardens, filled with perfect plants and amazing sculptures and landscaping. 

 Most of the nurseries that display in the Pavilion will stage their displays as late as possible.  The plants are under canvas, in muted light and in still air - quite impossible conditions for plants to stay looking their best.  So to get exhibits at perfection, the plants need to be there for as short a time as possible.  One grower, Walkers, specialise in daffodils.  Even to have daffodils in flower at the end of May requires a lot of tricks with cold storage to delay flowering.  So they stage their display at the absolute last minute, working through the small hours of the night so that the daffodils are at the peak of perfection when the judges see them.   

 Rose breeders try to use Chelsea as a launch pad for their new varieties.  The process of breeding a new rose takes about 10 years.  They start with 2 roses that they think will work well together, hand pollinate and raise about 250,000 seedlings.  These are grown on for about 7-8 years and during that time, each individual cross is assessed on all its features.  From this laborious process, about 4 or 5 new breeds may make it to Chelsea in any one year.   

 Growers from Caribbean Islands and South East Asia bring tropical plants and flowers to create fantastic displays.  The little island of Grenada charters a plane to bring their wonderful display of orchids and other exotic flowers to Chelsea, winning a gold medal every year. 

The gardens themselves are built in 19 days, and many designers rely on an army of friends and relatives to help.  The show gardens cost, on average, £250,000.  Some involve huge constructions.  Dan Pearson’s recreation of the rockery at Chatsworth in 2015 required very big rocks and pollarded trees to be craned in to create a naturalistic landscape.  The design was agreed with the RHS - except that as the rocks were being lowered into place it was discovered that a sewer pipe ran beneath his site and the rocks were too heavy.  The original design had to be drastically modified on the spot.

And when it’s all over?  In 5 days the whole show must be dismantled and disappear without trace.  

Sue Young


No-one in the audience for Laura Wilgos’ talk, ‘A New Take on Bedding’, at our May meeting, would have guessed that she was actually something of a beginner as a speaker. She was confident, well-informed, well-organised and entertaining.  

Laura began with a brief history of the use of bedding out in large private gardens, to create the ordered and colourful schemes beloved of Victorians. Such schemes continue to influence much public gardening in the UK today. For most of us, however, the formality of traditional bedding is at odds with contemporary taste for a more naturalistic look to our borders. Laura asked us to re-think the concept of bedding to include a wide range of annuals and tender plants that are immensely useful in our gardens. Hardy annuals bring colour early in the year, before perennials get going, and tender plants prolong the season into autumn, flowering until the frost cuts them down. 

We were inspired by beautiful images and by Laura’s enthusiasm for her subject. If you want to produce plants for your 2019 garden at minimum expense, the best time to sow hardy annuals is in the autumn, allowing them to develop good roots before you overwinter them somewhere frost free. Cuttings can be taken from tender plants through the summer months, to grow on for the following year. Worth a try!

Christine Haines


I write this at the start of Spring (according to the meteorological calendar), with freezing Winter weather to report on a garden society speaker whose focus was Autumn flowering plants.  Only Summer doesn’t get a look in! 

Graham Gough is the owner of Marchants Hardy Plants, one of the leading small nurseries in the country, where he propagates all the plants sold in the nursery.  The plants he sells, he also grows in his beautiful garden on the South Downs.  

Graham started his talk with sage advice.  Do not be tempted, in the Spring, to fill the flower border gaps with Summer flowering plants and then have little that flowers later in the year.  We were introduced to a long list of Autumn flowering plants accompanied by beautiful photos.  Graham has a sharp eye for colour and detail.  Yellow is surely yellow?  But no, we were asked to appreciate the beautiful clear quality of yellow in Helianthus salicifolius or the rich yellow glow of the more familiar Rudbekia Goldstürm. Dark flowers may be in fashion at the moment, but too dark, such as the navy blue agapanthus or dark hued hellebores and the flowers simply disappear in the border.  Blue, particularly a pale, china blue is a rare colour in the garden but agapanthus offers wonderful pale blues or the uncommon Amsonia has darker, Spode blue flowers.  

Graham drew particular attention to the form, foliage and texture of plants.  Kniphofia may have striking flowers, but its foliage is a disappointment.  Asters come in wonderful colours but they have ‘bare legs’ that need covering.  How plants combine and how one plant ‘registers’ in a border among others was often a point he raised.  Everyone who attended his talk appreciated his extensive knowledge, presented to us in a style that was engaging and entertaining.   

Sue Young
JANUARY - Anne Wareham: In Conversation

We started the new year with a change from the usual format of our meetings, when we welcomed Anne Wareham, ‘in conversation’ with garden society members. We talked about the creation of the garden on the four acres encircling Veddw House, which stands above Tintern on the other side of the Wye Valley. Anne and her husband, Charles, began work thirty years ago, with little gardening knowledge and a small budget. We also discussed Anne’s approach to garden making (as opposed to simply gardening) and her often intentionally provocative views on contemporary gardening, garden design and television gardening programmes! We ended with Anne sharing her view that much traditional gardening lore can be safely ignored and offering to share a remedy for box blight.

Much of the garden at Veddw was made on ancient grassland, some of it conserved as meadow. Anne has a particular interest in local history and the surrounding local landscape of smallholdings and has traced the former occupants of the house for over 200 years.  The locality is made up of small homesteads dotted about, rather than houses clustered into defined villages and on her website ( I found this from the Diocese of Llandaff in 1763, describing the cottages many of us now live in and their former occupants:

That population consists principally of small farmers, quarrymen, woodcutters and labourers, many of whom have reared their cottages amidst the woods, or upon the commons; and by great toil and perseverance, have cleared the ground from stones, furze and heath. These men hold their cottages and the small enclosures by which they are surrounded, of the Duke of Beaufort, as lord of the manor, at moderate rents, usually on life leases. Accustomed to scanty fare, inured to poverty, suffering occasionally from cold and hunger, and exposed to peculiar temptations, they have been accused of dishonest practices, and of those acts of petty fraud, which often prevail amidst such a population.  

Special thanks to Corinna Arnold, for her contribution to preparing and conducting the interview.

Sue Young

Subpages (1): Meeting reports 2019