FROM THE CHAIRMAN

This newsletter has been edited by your Chairman, in the absence so far of a volunteer to replace Mary Slater after her many years of service in this role. You will no doubt miss Mary's familiar format and entertaining insertions, produced, she tells me, on an ancient computer kept specifically for that purpose. You will also miss the erudite and informative articles contributed to each issue by "Organoman". Does anybody not know that this is our past Chairman, Jim Bolton?

The absolute minimum a newsletter must contain is the programme for the forthcoming year, and the names and contact details of the officers and committee. These you will find herein, and articles contributed by three long-time members of our group, as well as myself.

Patience Rewarded, by Jane Skipp

When we moved into our house, twenty-five years ago, my great desire was to have a Wisteria. Not long after we moved in, my husband and I had an afternoon visiting Bicker, in the fens near Boston, where his great grandparents are buried. On the corner of the little lane leading to the side of the Parish church we spotted a rickety stall bearing all sorts of garden plants including a small collection of Wisterias. All cost the princely sum of £1.00, so I in vested in three Wisterias, one for me, one for my sister and one for a friend.

My friend, being a keen and able gardener, planted hers immediately, and within a couple of years had a wonderful display of flowers. This continued for a few years, and then the plant took ill and died.

I planted our specimen outside the patio door, where it stood still for a good five years. Talking to it didn't help, and feeding etc. seemed to help even less. Eventually it decided to put on a growth spurt, and for a few years put on some growth every year, enough for us to put up a trellis in hope.

About seven or eight year ago we were rewarded with one flower! A miracle, but in the autumn, not when it should have occurred. The next year we had about three flowers in May/June, and the following year about ten appeared. Our Wisteria had "happened". Since its humble beginnings it has grown into a magnificent example, and for the last few years has been covered in flowers. It has become very vigorous, and every Sunday morning in summer I lean out of the bedroom window to trim it away from the window and from the newly installed satellite dish and wires. It does not seem to mind this, or the radical "hack" we have given it twice in late summer.

As for my sister, she being of the "I'm not sure where to put it" variety of gardener, her plant has been moved on several occasions, but has now been fairly settled for a couple of years, and has been flowering sparsely but regularly. I'm sure there will be more to come from it, if it is not moved again, and hope it will be as floriferous as ours. Having, in frustration, nearly dug out our plant on several occasions, I am so glad that I stuck with it: patience was rewarded.

The Answer Lies in the Soil,  by Jo Porter

I think I have been aware of this ever since I started gardening. Until recently we have lived on alkaline clay where lots of grit and compost were needed to make it workable. The previous occupants had planted loads of rhododendrons and mulched them heavily with peat. I wasn't sorry that the drought of 1976 killed most of them off so I didn't have to doctor them. Nevertheless 1 did have a little success with the odd Meconopsis and other calcifuges.

The vegetable garden was fairly productive, as long as we didn't sow carrots and peas. Potatoes were a failure because the soil was infected with potato root eelworm.

We have now moved to a more neutral, light, sandy soil on a south facing slope. After one season I have already noticed the difference. I had to use copious amounts of water on the vegetables but didn't feed them enough. The runner beans were very poor and the carrots brilliant!

It is too early to see the affect the new soil had on the many plants that came with us. I intend to try many new shrubs and plants that were off limits in our last garden, and to risk some tender ones that might like our situation. The vegetable garden will need a ''make over" if we are to have any success. Sandy, well drained soil may be a pleasure to dig but any nutrients are quickly washed away, so we need to find a quicker way of making compost or else import it from the council tip!


The Declining Year, by
John Hudson

I once wrote a note in this newsletter about my garden in February, and found quite a lot to write and even enthuse about. Writing in late November, what can I say? The autumn colours that lit up the early part of the month have nearly all gone. It is easy to see why Shakespeare so memorably used this time of year to symbolize age, decay, and absence from the beloved:

"When ye/low leaves, or none, or few do hang,
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold.
Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang"

"What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen
What old December's bareness everywhere!"

I can't try to follow that sad eloquence, but I have looked in my garden to see if anything is defying the encircling gloom. My one plant that is actually at its best in November is Melianthus major, perhaps the finest of all perennials grown for foliage. It makes a slow start in spring, and in early summer looks overwhelmed by its more exuberant neighbours. But those great grey jagged leaves continue to unfold, and by late autumn, when the neighbours have died or been cut down, it towers over its surroundings and is quite the most outstanding plant in the garden. I have a big clump near the house, and I think that is the place for it. It is boringly conventional only to have small plants in the foreground, and besides it means you can see it without having to venture beyond the sun room. The foliage is eventually rendered tatty by continued hard frost or by snow. Then I cut the stems down and lay them criss-cross over the roots to give some protection. In very sheltered gardens, such as Kingston Maurward in Dorset, it does not get cut back and has curious crimson flowers at about 3 metres high. Melianthus used to be thought not reliably hardy, and after a hard winter one fears it has not survived, but my clump has lasted for many years.

I have an equally old clump of the old-fashioned Pampas Grass in a shady position. It always flowers late and tall, and is most welcome silhouetted against trees. Near it is a Viburnum bodnantense ("Dawn" I think), which is entwined in some over-arching lax shrub roses, moyesii and Canary Bird. It is covered in its bunches of pale pink flowers now. Its summer foliage is boring, but hidden by the roses. This excellent piece of'planning' was entirely fortuitous.

As I write, we are threatened with severe weather in a few days, so maybe even these survivors will soon be spoiled.

"And thee away, the very birds are mute;

Or if they sing, 'tis with so dull a cheer
That leaves look pale, dreading the winter's near"

T.V. Gardening, by Brian Cromie. 

For many years, 'Gardeners' World' has been the lynch pin of gardening advice on the television. Many of us go back to Percy Thrower in black and white with his jacket that always started the programme by coming off and going on to the hook on the shed door. Percy used his own garden at "The Magnolias" in Shrewsbury to tell us all how things should be done in his relaxed manner and comfortable voice. Some time later, we went on a gardening week-end which included tea with Percy, his wife and daughter at "The Magnolias"; it was a very pleasant afternoon and we saw where all the programmes had been televised, which was a much smaller area than it ever appeared to be on the box.

Percy Thrower also worked as an adviser to ICI and, when that role became rather too obvious in his TV advice, he left 'Gardeners' World' for others to take on the task of encouraging us to garden while we sat comfortably in our armchairs on a Friday evening.

A number of gardening gurus were involved, including Peter Seabrook, Geoffrey Smith and others but it didn't seem to settle down until Geoff Hamilton made the programme his own. Of course, he was a local boy, so we all knew that his gardening conditions at Barnsdale were much the same as ours and his friendly style appealed to everybody, although his rather puritanical enthusiasm for all things organic did leave us

wondering what to do with our ground elder and bindweed!

Geoff s premature death left a yawning gap that was extremely

difficult to fill and anybody that took it on was bound to suffer in comparison but. in the end Alan Titchmarsh won our hearts and we settled down again to be instructed and reassured by an ace communicator and we enjoyed it. After many years, Alan decided to move on to a wider canvas and we can now see and hear him all over the media: we even heard him giving a humorous talk about his life at the Royal Society of Medicine!

Monty Don followed Alan and his style was appreciated by many people but, personally, I never warmed to him or his view of gardening. Unfortunately, he was not able to develop in the programme and had to withdraw because of illness.

Once again, the BBC had problems in finding a replacement and made matters worse by trying to change the format of the programme, such as extending it to a full hour with inadequate material to maintain interest for so long. There were also public polls on who should take on the task and vocal disappointment when Carol Klein did not get the job. Poor Toby Buckland really did have a baptism of fire, with outspoken criticism in all the papers and journals, when he was given the task, but he soldiered on, despite being a bit short of charisma, and 1 think that he has won through. We can all relax again now and watch 'Gardeners' World" with pleasure and learn a thing or two as well.

Not that I always agree with everything that TV gardeners tell us. One little thing is the treatment of many borderline hardy plants, such as Phormiums and Agaves. With these relatively mild winters, the most that I ever need is a loose sheet of fleece on them with the pots tucked away in a corner out of the wind but they have also survived without even that degree of protection during the winters, when I have been too idle to do anything. On the TV, however, we are urged to wrap them all in straw and sacking and goodness knows what else.

Another problem lies with Dahlias. Until now, they have always recommended lifting dahlias after the first frost and packing them away in peat/peat substitute with sulphur powder until the spring.

which is a pretty fiddly business and they don't always come through the storage unspoiled. One year I was on the clematis society stand, at the RHS show at the NEC, next door to the dahlia society: I got lots of free advice including the recommendation that winter-lifting was only essential for show dahlias and most garden dahlias did not need it. It was advice that I have followed ever since with excellent results. I was, therefore, pleased to hear Tony Buckland modify the standard instruction this autumn and allow either regime but with some protection of the crowns, if they have been left in.

Finally, I object to the clothes worn by the gardening presenters. Quite often the ladies wear loose scarves that droop and drag onto the soil where they are working. Sarah Raven was the worst offender but the regular presenters are not guiltless in this regard.

However, my biggest grumble is on gloves or rather the lack of them. All of them garden in bare hands and suggest that you need to feel the soil crumbling between your fingers to be a real gardener and that it is somehow feeble and non-professional to wear gloves. Perhaps 1 am biased after the need to keep hands clean when working with patients on the wards but I have never seen the virtue of getting one's hands so stained, scratched and dirty that scrubbing them clean becomes a long-winded and difficult chore. Personally, I use Showa standard gloves for rougher work but, increasingly, I use Showa Plantmaster/370 Assembly Grip gloves for gardening, pruning, cuttings, mowing, sweeping, watering and virtually everything else, even including tying knots, and my hands stay clean and uninfected. I was delighted to see that Helen Yemm, one of the most common-sense and down to earth gardening journalists also uses and recommends them.

 

Despite my petty grumbles, I am grateful to 'Gardeners' World' and to the current presenters who continue to give me a warm feeling as I settle down on Friday evenings to be instructed, encouraged and entertained in somebody else's garden: long may it continue.

 

Looking Forward, by John Hudson

Having written a somewhat gloomy piece in this newsletter, let me end it by looking forward to the new year.

Some of my hellebores (H. x hybridus. Lenten Roses) are already showing buds beneath their old leaves. One of the earliest is "Early Purple", usually in bloom before Christmas. The others follow irregularly, and not always in predictable order. They are the stars of the early year.

Snowdrops can be expected to start in January. Galanthus elwesii usually beats the common G. nivalis by a few days in my garden. Single snowdrops were among the few assets of the garden when we moved here in 1976, and have been spreading ever since. There were a few green-tipped ones (viridapice) among them, and I have moved these to more prominent positions.

It is possible to have crocuses flowering in every month from September to April. I have a small clump of C. laevigatus Fontenayi, the most reliable mid-winter species. There was one small flower this year before the snow came. My favourite is C. imperati, which usually flowers in the first days of the year. It is quite large, with a buff exterior bearing deep purple stripes, and a bright violet interior that it needs sunny and (relatively) warm weather to reveal. It persists in the garden but doesn't increase much. C. tommasinianus. on the other hand, increases almost too well, but is nevertheless a welcome sight. C. sieberi, especially 'Albus', usually comes next, ahead of C. chrysanthus.

I have a small patch of the other classic early season "bulb", the winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis). The drive to East Langton Grange in this village is carpeted on either side with winter aconites, one of the sights of the district, and they also colonize the adjacent wood. Mine don't increase to that extent.

We inherited daffodils too. They love my clay soil and increase to an embarrassing extent: but who could be embarrassed by a daffodil? The only real problem is that their presence inhibits me from planting for later display. By daffodil time we are well into spring, and we can all look forward to the warmer weather that brings.