Some of the structural plants – and more – in my winter garden

by Brian Denison

I missed the First of January Picture show, obviously not brave enough to face the cold of New Year’s Day, unlike so many of our enthusiastic, fearless members. Having picked a more amenable day, here are my offerings.

This combination of Yew, Phormium cookianum subsp. hookeri ‘Cream Delight’, Hebe and Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’ is a pleasant structural combination in Winter (fig 1).

Fig. 1 Yew, Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’, Phormium and Hebe

In Christopher Lloyd’s book ‘The ‘Well Chosen Garden’ the latter was described as having the inelegant habit of side shoots that grow at every sort of awkward angle from its main branches. Perhaps that’s why it seems to have been replaced with new varieties such as Elaeagnus x submacrophylla ‘Gilt Edge’ and ‘Limelight’, but I like it.

Fig. 2 Front border Jan 2021

Repetition of the Phormium in Fig 2 adds further winter interest.

Fig. 3 Helleborus argutifolius ‘Silver Lace’

Fig 3 is Helleborus argutifolius ‘Silver Lace’.

Fig. 4 Phyllostachys nigra

 Fig 4 is Phyllostachys nigra which I think is looking good but does need the stems clearing again.

Fig. 5 Polystichum polybretharum

Fig. 5 is Polystichum polyblepharum, one of my favourite evergreen ferns.

Fig. 6 Photinia serratifolia ‘Pink Crispy’

Fig. 6 is Photinia serratifolia ‘Pink Crispy’

Fig. 7 Equisetum hyemale

Fig 7 is Equisetum hyemale. I am including this plant because I like it as an architectural feature but not its habit of sprouting lots of small offshoots from the tips and sides of the stems. Last year I had a large pot bound specimen which I thought of discarding but instead I divided it and potted up a couple of divisions.Some time later I cut the potted plants down to the ground and the picture shows the resulting new growth. I am pleased with this result and now wished I had saved a third specimen.

Fig. 8 Ilex aquifolium ‘Golden Queen’

Fig. 8. This is the stem of a large standard Ilex aquifolium ‘Golden Queen’ which I planted as a shrub over 25 years ago. I trained it as a standard to add height and to indicate the extremity of the garden. I really like the new cream shoots that have appeared near the base of the trunk, presumably due to lack of light – a bonus.

Fig. 9 Underplanted conifer

Fig 9 I underplanted the conifer Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Plumosa Aurea Nana’ with Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’ since it is tough and tolerates shade. It has survived amongst the roots of the conifer where other plants have failed. It is accompanied by Chiastophyllum oppositifolium ‘Jim’s Pride’.

Brian Denison

New Year’s Day Gallery

To celebrate the passing of that most unloved of years, 2020, Sue Gray suggested that we should start off the new year by going and out and seeing what was looking good in our gardens.

I’m delighted to say that over twenty members were able to find some flowers or foliage worthy of inclusion, so here they are. I’ve arranged them in first name order

Weather: Very cold and cloudy with lying snow for many of us. A slight thaw during New Year’s Day itself gave bold photographers a chance to find some blooms peeping through the icy blanket. Lucky we chose the 1st January, because the 2nd brought lots more snow!

Alan Wilson leads the way

Amanda Fincham comes next – she says, “All un-named I’m afraid as they were already in the garden when I got here.”

Ann Fritchley was a regular contributor to the Lockdown Gallery. She says, “I said only about 10 days ago I listed 20 plants flowering,  like the new Snowdrops, Hellebores, and one Ipheon flower, or things hanging on like the Hesperantha and Campanula, Chrysanthemum, Erysimum, Primulas,  etc.  A bit of sunshine would have brightened them up”. It looks like there’s still something to see there thoughincluding some hardy wildlife!

The Hackett garden is more like a ski slope with trees this week, but some pictures were taken without injury either to the plants or me

Carine Carson’s new garden is beginning to take shape

Denise Dyson was keen to take part in the New Year’s Day project. She said it’s all part of making the best of a difficult situation. Hear, hear.

Diane Rawnsley has a Pheasant Berry that’s still looking splendid

Glenda Wray says she doesn’t understand how her camera works – I beg to differ!

Jenny Williamson has sent in some winter vignettes. She says “Have not been suffering long from White Fever but think it has set in now!”

Jill Lister has plenty to show in her garden but also wants to give an honorable mention to Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ (not included) – it continues to flower prolifically, but the photo’s not great!

Judith Edmonds comments “Thankfully less frozen today or I would have been risking life & limb to go out and take photos!

Judith Ladley says there’s nothing in flower in her garden, but these two excellent pot more than make up for it, I think!

And Kate van Heel was in a similar frame of mind – she says “A dismal day for photos but I’ve tried!

Lesley Woledge’s winter piece de resistance is a superb Melianthus which has come into its own after unpromising beginnings

Last time I saw Liz Hall’s garden was in midsummer and we were enjoying a heatwave. Nice to see that it still offers treasures in chilly midwinter

Maggie Sugden loves Hellebores. even when they don’t behave…

Margaret Frosztega comments “Together with the odds and ends that the frost has hit a bit, I was surprised how much was looking ok.   This has been an exercise to do regularly in future!”

Nigel Lees sent us these views “from our garden in Leeds, taken on a rather gloomy New Year’s Day….

Pat Gore says “I have tried to rise to the challenge of garden photos despite lots emerging. but little in bloom in my garden!”

Looks like there’s plenty going on in Pat Hunter’s winter garden

A warm welcome on a chilly day to Rena Guttridge with her first gallery picture

And it’s a first time welcome for Ruth Baumberg too, with what she describes as her ‘tatty’ plants, following the cold snap

Our final photographic contribution comes from the person who inspired the New Year’s Day Gallery – our Chair Person, Sue Gray. Great idea.

Not everyone is comfortable with a camera, so I’m delighted that two members opted to send in their NYD plant lists.

And finally, Carine Carson suggested this poem as the perfect sentiment for this time of year

A Winter Poem

This winter tree

Resembles me

Whose sap lies in its root.

The spring draws nigh

As it so I

May bud, perhaps, and shoot.

Thomas Ellwood (1639-1714)

Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’

by Peter Williams

Timing is everything and plants that flower in the short dark days of mid-winter are always welcome in my garden.  Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’, the pink winter-flowering cherry, does not always get its festive timing exactly right, but in most years including 2020, it is in flower on Christmas Day.  Buds are produced in early autumn and flowers appear during mild spells from October until April. 

Fig.1 – Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’ at Christmas 2020

The origins of this and many other flowering cherry cultivars is not really known.  There is a story that it was discovered in the late 1600’s when a Japanese emperor noticed a single specimen flowering in a courtyard in Kyoto late autumn. Grafting material was taken to propagate more plants and the tree became known as Prunus ‘Jugatsu-zakura’ which translates as cherry of the tenth month – a reference to the time at which its first flowers can open. In most years the main flowering period is April and in very cold years like 2010-11, this is the only time that the tree flowers.

Fig.2 – Main flowering period in April

Winter-flowering cherries occur in pink and white flowered forms and are small, round-headed trees suitable for even the smallest gardens. Both white and pink forms are freely available but some nurseries still offer ‘top-worked’ specimens where the winter cherry is grafted onto a more vigorous rootstock at about chest height.   The rootstock always grows faster than the scion and the result is usually a rather ugly specimen with a disproportionately thick main stem.  Bottom worked cherries will have the graft union at the base of the plant and this results in a far better proportioned young tree and the graft union can easily be hidden by associated planting.

Like most ornamental cherries the winter-flowering sorts will grow happily in both acid and alkaline soils but they do not thrive in soils that become waterlogged over winter.  

The only negative features of the winter-flowering cherries are that the bark and autumn leaf colouration are not very striking. 

Peter Williams

December 2020

Obsessed with Aeoniums?

by Brian Denison

Aeoniums are natives of Madeira, the Canary Islands and North Africa, climates that do not experience sub-zero temperatures, consequently plants need protection in the UK during winter.

Fig 1: Greenhouse ready for winter

I insulated my greenhouse in November to accommodate them. I had to remove everything in the greenhouse to install the bubble wrap.

In Fig 1, I have just started to return the plants.

In the video below all the plants have been returned to the greenhouse and as you can see I have quite a few Aeoniums.

Many of them are the black  Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ but I also have several of the bright green species A. arboreum. The display in Fig 2 highlights the contrast in colour of the two Aeoniums.

Fig 2

Another species I have is called A. ‘Blushing Beauty’ given to me by our late much esteemed member Roberto Renzi. This plant normally has pink tinges to the leaf tips, but it needs sun to develop the colour so the leaves are plain green in winter. My fourth and final species is A. ‘Sunburst’ purchased at Harrogate show last Spring (fig 3).

I have recently put together an arrangement of this Aeonium with Echeveria Peacockii (fig 4) . This is a succulent from the same family Crassulaceae and has similar cultural requirements.The display should look better when some growth occurs. The Echeveria was purchased from Merriments in East Sussex a couple of years ago. They had a superb display of several of them planted outdoors.  I have already propagated my plant from offsets which were used for the Fig 4 display. The original plant and remaining offshoots can be seen in Fig 5.

Fig 5: New Echeveria and babies

One of the problems with Aeoniums is their quick vertical growth but they may still look stunning, as seen in the examples in figures 6 and 7.

When Aeoniums get leggy the tops may be cut off with say 50 to 100 mm of stem and rooted easily in a cutting mixture. The cutting must be allowed to dry for a few days until the wound has calloused before potting up. I like to use an upturned plant pot to ensure the stem remains upright – see this video .

 Aeoniums are monocarpic, meaning they die after blooming. When Aeoniums form branches, not all the stems necessarily flower at once; the flowering stem(s) may be removed giving a good chance for the plant to survive. Out of interest Fig 8 shows an Aeonium in flower and fig 9 shows a flower on one stem which may be removed if desired.

It is also interesting to try to get Aeoniums to branch out. You can simply chop off the top (the removed stem can then be use as a cutting) and then ideally cut the stem down again leaving perhaps 50 to 100 mm of remaining stem which is then  allowed to regrow (Fig 10). Another technique is to carve out the growing point but this it is not easy as the leaves are tightly packed. If successful, the plant produces new shoots as illustrated in Fig 11.

Fig 12: Corner fuchsia display

I have several tender succulents, so my greenhouse is maintained at minimum 5°C (see Appendix 1). To justify the equipment and cost, I try and use the facility as much as possible to overwinter tender perennials, cuttings, Pelargoniums, and some half hardy Fuchsias. Some of the latter are now up to 4 years old, so are of decent size and give a wonderful display in summer. I use Fuchsias quite a lot for summer displays because I have lots of shade. Fig 12 shows Fuchsia ‘Voodoo’ in a shady north facing position in early August. I trim and defoliate all my fuchsias for winter storage.

Now my greenhouse is fully utilised for a variety of functions, perhaps I am not so fixated about Aeoniums after all.


Fig 13: Novatec Thermostat

To maintain the greenhouse temperature at not less than 5°C, I use an electric fan heater. Although it has an anti-frost setting it does not control the temperature well enough. The Novatec thermostat in Fig 13 works incredibly well. The fan is set on the heat setting and is connected to the thermostat unit. It will only come on when the thermostat detects the temperature falling below 6°C. It will control temperature to an accuracy of +/- 1°C so will switch off the heater when appropriate.

In late spring the thermostat can be switched to cooling mode when required. The fan heater element is now switched off, but the fan remains operational. The thermostat is now set to an upper temperature limit which when exceeded automatically starts the fan to cool the greenhouse.

Fig 14: Weather Station

I can also monitor the greenhouse temperature in the house using a weather station (fig 14). I have two remote sensors one in the garden and one inside the greenhouse. I check every morning to see what maximum and minimum temperatures have been recorded.

Perhaps the most important implement however is the greenhouse door which is opened and closed as appropriate to hopefully minimise mildew etc as well as helping to control temperature.

Brian Denison

The Colour of Plants at Twilight

by Brian Denison

Some time ago Judi (Barton) asked me why plants look different at Twilight, so here is my definitive answer which I thought I would share with you. It’s all about the composition of light and light scattering.

Fig 1

Light is simply a collection of electromagnetic waves in the visible spectrum. Violet/blue light have the shortest wavelengths and red light the longest. Green, yellow, and orange are in the middle. These rainbow colours are shown in Fig 1.

When a ray of light travels through the atmosphere some of the colours are scattered out of the beam by air molecules and airborne particles, changing the final colour of the beam. At sunset when the path through the atmosphere is much longer, the violet, blue and green components are removed almost completely leaving the longer wavelength orange and red hues (fig 2).

Fig 2

In other words, light may be white or yellow at midday, gradually turning redder as it approaches sunset due to light scattering.

Evening sun is lovely, but twilight turns a garden into a place of enchantment. Colours that dazzled disappear and paler tones come to life. This is the time when white, pale yellow and light pink create really pleasing effects.

We also owe some more of our most spectacular phenomena to light scattering – not just the red of sunset, but also the blue of the sky, the white of clouds and not forgetting rainbows.

The sky is blue: we all know that, but why? Air molecules, like oxygen and nitrogen for example, are small and thus more effective at scattering shorter wavelengths of light (blue and violet). The selective scattering by air molecules is responsible for producing our blue skies on a clear sunny day (Fig 3).

Fig 3

But why is the sky not indigo or violet (shorter wavelengths than blue). This is because the sun emits a higher concentration of blue light waves in comparison to violet or indigo. Furthermore, our eyes are more sensitive to blue rather than violet hence to us the sky appears blue.

So why are clouds white? Cloud droplets have diameters of 20 microns or so (larger than gas molecules) and are able to scatter all visible wavelengths more or less equally. This means that almost all the light which enters clouds will be scattered. Because all wavelengths are scattered, clouds appear to be white. When clouds become very deep, less and less of the incoming light makes it through to the bottom of the cloud, giving these clouds a darker appearance.

Lastly rainbows (Fig 4), but refraction rather than scattering is the mechanism. Most raindrops are spherical, and it is this spherical shape and their size that provides the conditions for a rainbow to be seen.  Light passing from air to a raindrop at an angle slows and changes direction, in a process called refraction (fig 5). Refraction splits the light into the colours of a rainbow just like a prism. The sun’s position (angle) and that of the observer are particularly important, which is why rainbows are not seen so often.

I hope you have enjoyed the science!

Brian Denison

Plant of the Month: November

Saxifraga fortunei

by Sue Gray

Saxifraga fortunei

Had Covid19 not forced the cancellation of the AGS event, originally scheduled to take place at Harlow Carr on October 14th, I am sure that during the past couple of weeks I would have been planting some of these little jewels which I would have been unable to resist buying.  I say ‘little jewels’, and they are usually sold by nurseries specialising in alpine and woodland plants, but although some are grown as ‘specimen’ plants, largely for foliage effect, many are robust, very good garden plants which are extremely useful at this time of year.

Saxifraga fortunei was first introduced to Great Britain from China by the English Botanist William Jackson Hooker, and named for the Scottish Plant Hunter Robert Fortune, in the mid 19th century, and is native to China, Japan & Korea.  Whilst the species form has white flowers, there are now many named forms in colours from white, through various shades of pink, to darkest red.  I would describe them as ‘quiet plants’, almost the Autumn equivalent of hepaticas; you hardy notice the foliage emerging but when it becomes crowned with the delicate flowers, they are such a welcome sight at this time of year.

They are herbaceous perennials and, according to the official advice, prefer a shady, or part shady spot with the usual ‘moist but well drained’ soil. However, I find that by October, when the sun has lost much of its strength, few gardens can really be said to be in ‘full sun’ so S. fortunei can withstand a more open position, and this, now sadly unlabelled, plant (right)

performs beautifully in my garden in a relatively open spot.   From my experience, and this may just be me, I find that the white and pale pink varieties are more floriferous. 

S. fortunei ‘Reica’

The deep pink and red varieties are more dramatic with the flowers set against often dark foliage, but I find the flowers can be rather more sparse, as shown on this plant of S. fortunei ‘Reica’.   

When I started thinking about writing this, I got out my copy of ‘Plant Finder’ to check on some of the named varieties.  I expected to find them all recorded, in alphabetical order under the heading ‘fortunei’, but instead I discovered them all, in common with all other named varieties of other Saxifraga species, in alphabetical order, spread throughout the full list of Saxifraga entries, followed by (fortunei) and (5) so, for example the  entry for one of the best known varieties ‘Wada’ reads ‘Wada’ (fortunei) (5). Turning to the front of ‘Plant Finder’ I discovered that there are 15 classifications of Saxifraga; class 5 is entitled ‘Irregulares’ and describes plants in this class as ‘shade-tolerant, usually herbaceous perennials forming rosettes of broad, palmately lobed leaves, with leafless stems bearing lax panicles of small flowers with short upper, and longer lower petals, in summer or autumn’.

Shortly after discovering all this, I was in the company of a very knowledgeable friend and said to him, ‘explain to me, in words of one syllable that even I will understand, about Saxifraga classifications’.  He gazed into space, as if thinking ‘where do I begin?’, but then said, ‘I shouldn’t worry about it’, so I won’t, but just enjoy these lovely plants for what they are.  I am indebted to our Secretary Pat who has sent me some images taken at Holehird recently, and to a friend with whom I was visiting Harlow Carr and who photographed various examples on display in the Alpine House.  Their images appear below.

You may not be surprised to hear that, having spent some time thinking about these lovely plants, I think I can accommodate several more in the garden, and an order has been sent off to one of my favourite nurseries!

Yorkshire Arboretum

An Autumn visit – 20th October

by Sue Gray

On a gloriously sunny, balmy, afternoon today, I was privileged to visit the Yorkshire Arboretum at Castle Howard.  There are big changes afoot with a new building under construction which will accommodate the UK’s first purpose built ‘Tree Health Centre’ and, like many other places, due to Covid19, the Arboretum was closed for a period earlier in the year but it is now making up for lost time with pre-booked visitors enjoying the glorious Autumn colours.

If you have never visited the Arboretum, now and in the coming weeks is a wonderful time to do so; the café is open from 11am serving delicious drinks and light meals.

Below are a few images of the sights that await you.

And here are some of the individual plants that caught my eye

The aptly named Acer rubrum ‘October Glory’
Prunus incisa – the Fuji Cherry

Sorbus ulleungensis ‘Olympic Flame’
Carya tomentosa

Sue Gray

October 20th, 2020

Plant Forum – October

We missed our Plant Forum in August, like so many other events in this year of Covid-19, so it is proposed that we have some virtual ones! For October, please send your nominations, suitably illustrated, for the best Autumn colour, be it tree, shrub or perennial to

Sue Gray has started the ball rolling with her nomination for Euonymus alatus – the Burning Bush

Euonymus alatus

Acers are always reliable purveyors of autumn colour, but this one in the Hackett garden, is better known for its winter bark – Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’

Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ – the Coral-bark maple

Pat Gore says: “What a difficult choice! I have some lovely Acers, a Rhys typhina dissecta, a butter yellow Morus nigra – all of which give a great autumnal display.

However, I would like to nominate Viburnum plicatum ‘Mariesii’ as providing my favourite Autumn colour. It starts to turn in late Summer and goes an increasingly dark wine red over the succeeding months. It also has a second small flush of flowers which look lovely against the dark foliage. The leaves are held until late Autumn and I would not expect them to fall until mid- late November.

I have a bird’s eye view of it when I open my bedroom curtains every morning so it gives me a lot of pleasure throughout much of the year.”

Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum ‘Mariesii’

Terry Benton of Westbury, Wiltshire was a regular contributor to our lockdown gallery. Here’s his nomination: “The choice from my garden is Hesperantha coccinea ‘Major’. It’s not an unusual plant but the flowers provide a strong colour among the garden’s fading hues. I find them still standing proud and blooming long after the leaves have fallen from the trees.”

Hesperantha coccinea’Major’

Ann Fritchley offers the Crimson Bromeliad – Fascicularia bicolor.  “Unfortunately”, she says, “the pale blue flowers in the centre have gone over”. Still pretty exotic for October!

Fascicularia bicolor

Judith Ladley gives us an old and trusted favourite. “I would have sent a picture of Parthenocissus tricuspidata which has been superb but is now nearly finished.  Therefore I nominate Verbena bonariensis which self-seeds freely in my gravelled area.  In the background is Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’ which has done very well this year.  I cut it back in Spring.

Verbena bonariensis

Judith Edmonds picks an Acer: “Here’s my vote for autumn colour: Acer Palmatum ‘Chitose-yama’. Seen at the Himalayan Garden & Sculpture Park, Grewelthorpe, last week. As well as the dramatic colour, I thought the leaves were also a very beautiful shape. It’s definitely on my wish list now! Having checked it out on the RHS website I see it has an AGM and the leaf colour earlier in the year looks good too.”

Acer palmatum ‘Chitose-yama’

Kate van Heel’s nomination is Polypodium cambricum ‘Richard Kayse’. She says “It’s a winter growing fern that is a fabulous lime green at the moment”

Polypodium cambricum ‘Richard Kayse’

Katherine Hill offers two contrasting takes on autumn colour

Holehird Gardens

An Autumn visit – 16th October

by Pat Hunter

This is a garden I regularly visited up to my teenage years as my Mother loved a visit and the May plant sale was a definite date on the calendar.

The view over Windermere

The setting is superb, a sloping site looking down to Lake Windermere and across to the Lakeland Hills; put the Autumn tree colours in the foreground and the views are stunning.

Distant fells

A visit usually starts by going into the walled garden next to the car park. This is full of Autumn classics, Rudbekias, Dahlias, Hesperantha, Leucanthemella serotina, Symphyotricums in abundance as the herbaceous perennials.

The walled garden

Display house – succulents

There is a display greenhouse now against one wall, this has not been there that long in the great scheme of things. It contained a cacti/succulent display, a beautiful Lapageria rosea on the back wall and an A4 piece on the problems that the Lakeland horticultural society has had with whitefly control in the display house and how they have changed the plants and the whitefly regimes to cope.

Lapageria rosea

After the walled garden, a walk through the alpine and Tufa houses to the superb limestone rockery area. I couldn’t help but take some pictures of superb Saxifraga fortunei, as Sue Gray had been talking about these the night before.

The rock garden

The Ponds

After a couple of circuits of this side of the garden, it was down past the ponds to the woodland walk, which takes you down the drive to the Lakeland collection of Hydrangeas.

The Hydrangea Collection

This is the best time to visit. I was blown away by the superb row of Hydrangea paniculata.

Hydrangea paniculata
Hydrangea involucrata ‘Hortensis’

And finally, the seat – how many seats do you see where the arms are snakes, not just any snakes but snakes with ‘pucker up’ lips!!!!

Pat Hunter

October 16th, 2020

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, we’re going to the….

Gardening in the 21st Century – a zoom talk by Timothy Walker

a review by Carine Carson

Well, if it was a Monday or Tuesday and one of my ‘Grandma Carine’ days, it would be to the moon!  However, in this instance it is to the bijou study in my bijou bungalow in Wetherby to hear Timothy Walker, our first Zoom speaker for WYHPS during this time of the Covid pandemic and various social distancing and lockdown measures.

Before I get to Tim’s talk it seems appropriate to say something briefly about Zoom.  I think that, in common with the rest of the population, almost none of us had heard of Zoom before lockdown 2020.However, thanks to the younger members of our families wanting to maintain visual contact and setting up family quizzes etc, we were forced to take the plunge.  It has been a steep learning curve for us all, but, as with the other evening, people are prepared to have a go and those of us who are just one step ahead are happy to chip in with the odd bit of knowledge we have. I feel we all managed incredibly well and I’m confident we will soon be telling other members how straightforward it is to negotiate zoom.

I also thought that Zoom worked really well in the context of a WYHPS evening meeting.  No one had to negotiate the Leeds traffic, come out in the cold and dark (if that is your issue) and some members even managed to make the whole event even more enjoyable with their favourite tipple to hand!  I for one enjoyed being able to sit at the desk in my study and make notes instead of scribbling in the darkness of Paxton Hall.

I was one of the really lucky people who had never heard Tim speak before and so the evening was a wonderful revelation to me and an introduction to a truly inspirational speaker who delivered his talk in an extremely entertaining manner (never known a garden speaker to squeeze in so many naughty words and phrases – more below) and Tim was certainly someone who wore his knowledge lightly.   As most of you know, I am the ELC (early learning centre) branch of the HPS so forgive me if I have missed important technical details of Tim’s talk and I can hear you all saying -we are all learners – well can I just say, some of us have more to learn than others.  Here goes anyway.

Tim led us through his ten pieces of advice for gardening in the 21st Century.  He started with our soil, about which he warned us, although we can improve it, we cannot change it!  He advised on how you might improve the soil, for a herbaceous border this is done in February, and in various ways – notably by adding nutrients such as a general organic NPK fertiliser, such as Growmore.  Tim told us of an infamous border in which he had employed the extreme measure of double digging (historically known as b**tard-trenching) and from the morning after was henceforth known as the b**tard border!

Tim’s second point was to choose plants that like your soil and his motto now is ‘if at first you don’t succeed, sod it!’ There speaks a man of experience. However, Tim did point out that we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss plants that wouldn’t appear to be able to thrive on our soil – the acid/alkaline issue.  Here he spoke most lovingly of the winter-flowing shrub, Hamamelis mollis, whose perfume apparently makes Chanel no 5 smell like Dettol. Also on plants, Tim’s next point was to make use of native plants like Honeysuckle which is great for supporting moths.  He waxed lyrical about Viburnum opulus var. americanum ‘Compactum’ which has gorgeous flowers and the bonus of beautiful berries in winter.   Two further points on plants encouraged us to grow fruit and veg and to raise new plants in loam-based compost.

Tim then addressed his concern about watering and informed us he aims never to water except when planting.  His recipe here is to dig the hole and half fill with soil, firming it well around the roots of the plant and then topping up to the brim with water, which you allow to sink in before back-filling with the rest of the soil but not firming this in as much, to encourage the roots. Some call this puddling!

Tim’s next piece of advice was not surprisingly to avoid using pesticides, favouring alternative means of control – with his Hostas, for example, he goes for copper tape collars on his pots.  As I have no water feature in my garden to help with the slugs, I keep all mine in pots and use sharp grit.  I also use nematodes in the soil in spring but if some of you are feeling really brave you might go for the ‘Scandinavian cannibal slug method’ as recommended in the current issue of Cornucopia.

There were three further pieces of advice from Tim.

First,  that climate and weather is just a great unknown – thank goodness for a clear piece of advice at last!  Whilst he recommends Sir David King’s book: A Hot Topic, Tim’s conclusion, as a respected scientist is that it is impossible to know what will happen and what will grow. Don’t you just love someone who gives an honest answer!

Meanwhile we should join our local Wildlife Trusts and Plant Heritage to support conservation.  Tim suggested we also get involved in planting hedges in our own garden, in a community garden or on our estate (I don’t think he meant the variety that runs to our own personal hundred or so acres!).The best thing we can do is to get young children involved – they are our gardeners of the future.  Although, for those of us who are grandparents, we might want to practise a little more health and safety than Tim apparently did with his children – and I was certainly reassured that he was speaking about them all in the present tense – so ultimately the gardening bug has done them no long lasting harm!

And finally, who didn’t laugh when Tim put up a couple of photos of combinations of rhododendrons in flower and uttered that memorable quote – ‘people who grow rhododendrons are colour blind’! He did qualify this slightly but it did make me laugh.  So, all in all, if the looks on people’s faces and the comments people made at the end of the talk are anything to go by, we all thoroughly enjoyed our first zoom speaker and Tim will be a hard act to follow.

A great start to our Zoom future – hope to see more of you next time with or without the wine!

Carine Carson

October 2020