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Click here for topical practical advice from the Royal Horticultural Society.
Gardening Club meetings are held in the Kingston Rooms (Village Hall) at 7.30pm on the first Tuesday of most months.

If the mark of an enthusiast is someone who, without notes, can talk for over an hour on a specific subject then Nick Gilbert, the speaker at our 7 November meeting is certainly an enthusiast.

Although his Romsey-based nursery, begun 13 years ago on a site which had been derelict for eight years, offers a wide range of plants, dahlias are clearly his first love.

He told us he had planted some in a 2.5 acre field next to the nursery when dahlias seemed to be going out of fashion and had opened it to the public.

“We had so much response, that we’ve now expanded to growing over 400 varieties.

“There was a time when some people considered them ‘horrible blousy things’, but over the years we’ve been highlighting that there’s a dahlia for everyone’s garden, and yes you can sneak some in.”

His new varieties are created mainly by hybridisation but also by growing from seed. “You never know what you’re going to get.”

He illustrated his talk with pictures showing the huge range of types and colours which include almost everything “except true blue”. There is even one with red and white petals on the same bloom named, after the War of the Roses, York and Lancaster.

The plant originated in Mexico, where the Aztecs used the tubers as food, and was brought to the UK in the early 1800s, he noted. “There’s even a tree dahlia which grows to 20ft in Mexico.”

In his wide-ranging talk he offered valuable tips on planting, staking, taking cuttings and storing tubers.

Some members realised they had made a mistake by cutting back their recently frosted dahlias to ground level. They are best left untouched for a couple of weeks to allow sugars in the leaves and stems to be transported to the tubers, Nick explained.

Next month's meeting, on 5 Dec, including a quiz, entertainment and refreshments, will be for members only and invited guests.

Jenni Blake

Contrary to expectations, bean plants grown on a wigwam of poles yielded more than those grown vertically on the same area of soil in trials at Sparsholt College where Chris Bird, the speaker for our meeting on 10 October, is a lecturer.

That was among many of his often amusing observations and tips on how best to grow vegetables.

Stressing the need to rotate crops to make the most of the legacy of legumes and to minimise diseases, Chris warned that lime to counter soil acidity should be applied only once in a rotation and then furthest away from any plot growing potatoes.

Potatoes can tolerate reasonably acid conditions, he pointed out. In alkaline conditions, which can be caused by liming, the surface of the tubers can become affected by a disease called scab which he described as “crackling for vegetarians”.

“If you can’t spell broccoli call it kale,” he suggested; and noting the trend towards mini-vegetables, such as served at high prices in London restaurants said to be passionate about food, he added: “If you can’t grow it well make it a passion.”

The introduction of ‘sow by’ dates on seed packets provides a good opportunity to save money by taking advantage of garden centres and supermarkets needing to clear stocks. However, even fresh parsnip seed is only 40% viable, he noted.

Some crop varieties may have received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit, while others will be recommended by the National Institute of Agricultural Botany. “Be careful if you choose those from NIAB,” he advised. “They’re generally more suitable for commercial cropping.”

Noting the planting-to-harvest periods of first early, second early and main crop potatoes Chris was keen to dispel the myth that they need planting in succession. “You can plant all three types on the same day,” he stressed.

His recommendations for the trio were respectively Rocket, Lady Balfour and Picasso. Growers seeking a less knobbly alternative to Pink Fir Apple should try Anya, he suggested.

Next month’s meeting will be on 7 November when Nick Gilbert of Gilbert’s Nursery will talk about dahlias.

Jenni Blake

The speaker for our first meeting this autumn, on 5 September,was Sean Magee of The National Garden Scheme (NGS).

Sean told us that the NGS has a rich and interesting history that is closely connected with nursing in the UK. NGS is the most significant charitable funder of nursing charities in the country, donating over £50 million so far. The main beneficiary charities are: The Queen’s Nursing Institute, Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie, Carers Trust, Hospice UK, Perennial, Parkinson’s UK and other guest charities.

Since 1927 the NGS has been inviting garden owners to open their exceptional gardens to the public for good causes, giving people unique access to some of Britain’s most beautiful, memorable gardens. Over the past 90 years, they have donated £50 million to charities across the UK, a rich blend of generosity that lies at the heart of the NGS. Garden owners are able to share their passion and raise impressive amounts of money through entry fees, teas and most importantly, cake.

Around 3,700 gardens open each year for the NGS, all of which can be found on the website ( or in the Garden Visitor’s Handbook which is published annually.

Mary Berry of cookery fame, who has opened her garden for the National Garden Scheme for over 20 years, has recently become their President.

Ever since its foundation, the NGS has been primarily organised and managed by volunteer teams. Without them, there would be no National Garden Scheme. The teams are organised on a county-by-county basis throughout England and Wales.

Currently there are some 375 volunteers included in these teams. The volunteers find gardens to open in their county and look after the garden owners – who also support the NGS on a voluntary basis. They organise the events and help with the administration and promotion of the gardens at different times of the year.

Each open garden should offer a minimum 45 minutes of interest (difficult for very small gardens to achieve). However,  Sean suggested that Shalbourne might like to organise a local event  with several gardens in close proximity being opened together – food for thought when we have finished all our local fundraising projects?

Our next meeting will be on the 3 October when our speaker will be Chris Bird of Sparsholt College. Chris will be talking about growing good vegetables.

Jenni Blake

In the Weigh-in for the Great Potato competition at our meeting on 4 July, Bill and Kath Withers almost swept the board, their respective entries jointly being the heaviest – at 2lb 13oz.

Bill also won the category for the most tubers (25), but Ruth Truran prevented a Withers clean sweep by growing the largest individual potato which weighed 8oz.

The overall results were somewhat disappointing compared with those of previous years, and several members reported that their plants had died prematurely, some questioning the quality of the supplied seed tubers.
Jane Woodroffe kindly provided a challenging quiz consisting of anagrams, cryptic clues and a straightforward question & answer section. Following a tie-breaking question it was won by a team of Kim Bristow, Judy Chidlow, Ron Hoyes and Andrew Blake.

The speaker at our next meeting, on 5 September will be Sean Magee from the National Gardens Scheme. Visitors welcome at £3/head.

Jenni Blake

Most of the plants used in this country for food and many other purposes come from foreign lands. That was the theme of an illustrated presentation at our 6 June meeting by Marion Dale of Summerdale Garden Designs.

During her talk, entitled ‘Plants that helped change the world (or tried to!)’, Marion showed how so many of the things we take for granted – coffee, tobacco, potatoes, chocolate, rubber and sugar all have their origins in South America.

Although Christopher Columbus discovered the cocoa plant it wasn’t until later that Hernán Cortés was shown by the Aztecs how to make its beans into a drink, she noted.

Sugar cane was known both as “White Gold” but also “White Death” because of the use of slaves to harvest the crop. “The life expectancy of those working on it was only half of those working in tobacco fields,” she said.

Tea was introduced to India only after some plants were smuggled from China, Marion noted.

Other less obvious contributors to materials used in this country include the dog rose, originally a source of perfume, the white mulberry used in silk-making, and Indigofera tinctoria from which indigo dye – the original colouring for jeans – comes.

Jeans were also first made from another import – hemp which was originally used for rope-making.

The Victorians used extracts from the coco plant, Erythroxylon coca, “The super drug of the Incas”, as a remedy for toothache; and the early recipe for Coca-Cola included cocaine and caffeine from the nut of the African Kola tree.

Quinine, made from the bark of another South American species, Chinchona, and found to help treat malaria in the 1860s, wasn’t replaced by a synthetic version until the 1940s.

In a classic case of mistaken identity, King James 1, in trying to challenge the French silk industry, imported 10,000 mulberry trees. Unfortunately he got the wrong species, Morus nigra, a native of Iran. It should have been Morus alba, from China, Marion pointed out.

Next month's meeting, on 4 July will feature the Weigh-in for our Potato Competition and will include a quiz.

Jenni Blake

Conditions in the south of England mean gardeners can grow the widest range of plants in the world, according to Roger Hirons, the speaker at our 4 April meeting.

“It’s a golden space for us to work in,” he said.

Known as ‘The Plant Doctor’, Roger illustrated his talk entitled ‘Unusual Plants Available to the British Gardener linked to ecology’ with a range of potted samples including several hollies.

There are over 650 varieties of holly, some of which can live for more than 500 years, he noted.

An underlying theme of his presentation was the need to encourage wildlife.

One 10-year old message which he believes remains valid is that a quarter of all gardens should be managed specifically for that purpose to compensate for loss of habitats by more building.

Most gardens have areas, for example behind greenhouses and sheds, which can be made into ideal hiding places for small animals, birds and insects, he suggested.

“Tidy and prim is no good for wildlife,” he said. “Garden centres are making a fortune selling us bird seed, but if you can get the right balance of plants that will do it all for you.”

Much valuable information can be gleaned from gardeners working before the advent of garden centres, he added. “The Victorian Garden [TV programme] should be shown again and again.

“You don’t need the latest gizmos to have a good garden.”

One tip from those days is that porous bags containing human hair can help deter birds, he noted. “They were used to keep blackbirds off cherries.”

However, when it comes to encouraging birds, berry colour is important, he explained. “You need a range of colours to feed a lot of birds.”

What he described as ‘water displacement’ – the loss of water by run-off from hard surfaces – is “a serious problem”. Instead of letting your water butt overflow to the drain during winter, fit a long hose to it to water more distant areas and keep that valuable resource on your land, he urged.

The speaker at our next meeting, on 6 June, will be Marion Dale of Summerdale Garden Designs whose subject will be ‘The Perils and Pitfalls of being a Plant Hunter’. Visitors welcome £3/head.

Jenni Blake

Beware of buying “pre-dead” plants from garden centres.

That warning came from Kevin Hughes of Heale Gardens near Salisbury, the speaker at our meeting on 7 March.

His advice was to avoid the attractive spring bulbs grown in cheap compost on offer in plant “supermarkets”. They have a tendency to be already dead, the bulbs often killed by frost, he explained.

“You’re far better off buying bulbs dry in the autumn and plant them out then,” he said. Doing so worked out much cheaper, he added.

An underlying theme throughout his well-illustrated talk on spring garden plants was that it is better to choose smaller species which can naturalise rather highly bred showy types.

Large-flowered daffodils hit by wind and rain tend to fall over, whereas dwarf types, such as Tête-á-tête “get better and better every year”.

Some of the best bulb plants, for example Tulipa sprengeri, are uncommon because they need to be produced from seed and so are commercially unattractive to Dutch producers, he explained.

Many shrubs, for example magnolias, have a reputation for not growing well on alkaline soils, which is generally a myth, Kevin noted.

“In fact they grow very well on alkaline soils as long as they’re fertile. Many plants which are reputed not to grow on alkaline soils have this reputation because of a few people who grew them on very shallow dry chalky soils with hard chalk only a few inches down.

“Most people in this country are rather stupid, and I include myself in this category, because we will not buy anything unless it’s in flower,” he added.

Planting young spring-flowering plants, such as Stachyurus praecox with its pale yellow bell-shaped blooms, too early puts the new leaves at risk of late frosts and the plants are quite likely to die, he warned. “If you plant them in May they will survive and next year’s late frosts won’t affect them.”

The majority of brightly coloured and tempting plants in garden centres are grown hydroponically. Having never experienced overhead watering they tend to disappoint as soon as they are rained on, Kevin pointed out. “And besides, who wants a blue primrose anyway?”

Gardening Club report from March 2017 meeting

Beware of buying “pre-dead” plants from garden centres.

That warning came from Kevin Hughes of Heale Gardens near Salisbury, the speaker at our meeting on 7 March.

His advice was to avoid the attractive spring bulbs grown in cheap compost on offer in plant “supermarkets”. They have a tendency to be already dead, the bulbs often killed by frost, he explained.

“You’re far better off buying bulbs dry in the autumn and plant them out then,” he said. Doing so worked out much cheaper, he added.

An underlying theme throughout his well-illustrated talk on spring garden plants was that it is better to choose smaller species which can naturalise rather highly bred showy types.

Large-flowered daffodils hit by wind and rain tend to fall over, whereas dwarf types, such as Tête-á-tête “get better and better every year”.

Some of the best bulb plants, for example Tulipa sprengeri, are uncommon because they need to be produced from seed and so are commercially unattractive to Dutch producers, he explained.

Many shrubs, for example magnolias, have a reputation for not growing well on alkaline soils, which is generally a myth, Kevin noted.

“In fact they grow very well on alkaline soils as long as they’re fertile. Many plants which are reputed not to grow on alkaline soils have this reputation because of a few people who grew them on very shallow dry chalky soils with hard chalk only a few inches down.

“Most people in this country are rather stupid, and I include myself in this category, because we will not buy anything unless it’s in flower,” he added.

Planting young spring-flowering plants, such as Stachyurus praecox with its pale yellow bell-shaped blooms, too early puts the new leaves at risk of late frosts and the plants are quite likely to die, he warned. “If you plant them in May they will survive and next year’s late frosts won’t affect them.”

The majority of brightly coloured and tempting plants in garden centres are grown hydroponically. Having never experienced overhead watering they tend to disappoint as soon as they are rained on, Kevin pointed out. “And besides, who wants a blue primrose anyway?”

The speaker at our next meeting, on 4 April, will be Roger Hirons, The Plant Doctor, whose subject will be 'Unsusal plants available to the British Gardener linked to ecology'.

Jenni Blake

The quality of your pruning should not depend on the size of your bonfire.

That was amongst several often amusing pieces of advice during a talk on pruning tools and techniques by Chris Bird of Sparsholt College at our meeting on 7 February.

“Remember, growth follows the knife,” was his opening remark. “In other words the harder you prune, the harder it will grow back.”

Highlighting the differences between secateurs and showing how to sharpen them, Chris said he favoured by-pass types over anvils – the latter, unless really sharp, too easily crush stems to allow diseases to enter, he explained.

“Sharp tools are safer than blunt ones,” he added. But relaying a tale about a student’s lost finger, he said “You must look at what you are cutting. When new these tools are like surgical instruments.”

Top quality secateurs, such as those from Felco, cost about £50, but there are plenty of cheaper imitations which he suggested are more appropriate for gardeners who liked to leave a pair “at every station”.

Draw saws are particularly useful for reaching into the centres of shrubs and for cutting larger stems, he noted. “But a lot of people don’t realise that the power stroke is when you pull – which is different to carpentry saws when you push down.”

The blade should be no longer than six inches, he advised. “Twelve inch ones are too flexible.”

Chris also demonstrated how loppers, especially those on extending poles, are further useful pruning weapons.

“My other recommendation is a pair of good leather gloves - and don’t be tempted to try to control growth if you’re in your Sunday best.”

Outlining specific pruning approaches for a range of plants, starting with apples, he said the general aim should be to remove a third of the oldest growth. “The key thing about pruning is knowing when to stop. It’s all about balance.”

The exception is for species such as Salix and the dogwoods, where coppicing, i.e. cutting the stems almost to ground level, ensures the winter colour of young growth is maintained, he noted.

Stone fruits, such as plums and cherries, which suffer from bacterial canker and silver leaf disease should never be pruned in winter to avoid wounds which can allow them in. “Prune them in summer.” Festooning, a relatively new technique which involves bending and tying down long shoots until they set in their new positions, can encourage fruiting, he noted.

Climate change means the traditional timing for summer pruning, mid-July, has also changed. “We now recommend mid-August. We’re trying to age the wood to make a fruiting stock.”

He encouraged “directional pruning” – taking advantage of buds pointing in particular directions to fill in gaps, and advised against cutting back opposing shoots to equal lengths. “Make one longer than the other – it looks more natural.”

Pruned stems should always be “presented” to any training wires and tied in. Tucking them behind the wires causes weak points and breakages and is a sin, he warned one member.

The speaker at our next meeting, on 7 March, will be Kevin Hughes whose subject will be Spring gardens - trees and shrubs suited to any size of garden.
Visitors welcome £3/head.

Jenni Blake

Marcel Floyd of Floyds Climbers and Clematis returned to Shalbourne to talk to us for our opening meeting of 2017 on 3 January. From previous experience we were expecting an interesting and beautifully illustrated talk with lots of practical tips and also some great plants to buy. We were not disappointed.


We learned that Marcel fell in love with clematis at Chelsea Flower Show in 1984 and he used his parent’s garden to develop his skills in growing and propagating before setting up his nursery in 1992. He exhibited at his first show in 2003 and started selling to the general public in 2005. The nursery has open weeks in March and April details are on his website:


Floyds' Japanese Tea House at the 2016 Chelsea Flower Show.


We learned that although there are numerous clematis species, hybrids and cultivars, for pruning purposes they are split into three distinct pruning groups based on the time of flowering and the age of the flowering wood.


Pruning Group 1

This group are the early-blooming clematis that flower on shoots produced the previous season. They require no regular pruning except for the removal of faded flowers.  In subsequent years some training and perhaps thinning may be necessary. If renovation is required, plants can be cut back to 15cm (6in) from the base, after flowering.  This operation will affect flowering and should not be carried out again within three years. Prune mid- to late spring, after flowering and once the risk of frost has passed

Pruning Group 2

This group are the large-flowered cultivars that flower in May to June on short shoots developing from the previous year's growth. Some flower again in late summer on new growth. They require only having the flowers cut off, back to a large growth bud immediately below the flower as soon as flowering is over.  They can, if preferred, be left unpruned other than for the removal of dead shoot ends in spring. Prune in February and after the first flush of flowers in early summer

Pruning Group 3

This group are clematis that flower from mid- to late summer on the terminal 60cm (2ft) or so of the current year’s growth. If this type is left unpruned growth will continue from where it ended the previous season, resulting in a tangled mass of growth, flowering often well above eye level and stems bare at the base.  These late-flowering clematis are best pruned back hard in February each year to the lowest pair of buds. Prune in February

Tips included:

  • Mulch in October not in March,
  • Feed lightly with tomato feed until flowering – start again after flowers have died.
  • Container grown must have good drainage – renew compost every 2nd year.
  • Through trees – plant on shady side and with water pipe into the ground.
  • Porridge oats to discourage slugs

The speaker at the February meeting will be Chris Bird – interactive pruning – bring your own secateurs/pruning saws.

Jenni Blake

Many thanks for all who contributed to making the Christmas meeting such a fun evening. Jane Woodroffe organised an 'easy' (oh yes, that's what she said) Christmas Quiz and Martin Truran who entertained us with Christmas songs and then made us entertain him. A huge variety of food miraculously appeared and copious drinks were available for all to enjoy.
Information for 2017:
The first meeting will be on 3 January 2017 when
Marcel Floyd of Floyds Climbers and Clematis will be the speaker.
Subscriptions will be due (kept to a modest £10 per person) at the first meeting
and you are requested to bring them to the meeting in an envelope with your name
on it or send it to one of the committee.
The Plant Sale is most likely to be on Saturday, 22 April.
This is to avoid a conflict with the opening of the new pavilion and also to give us the opportunity to sell left-over plants at the Mayday Fair.

There will not be a meeting of the Gardening Club in May because of all the events of the preceding weekend and we are having a January meeting in lieu.

Disappointingly,there were no nominations for the committee, and for the time being the current committee will continue to run the club - BUT you need to think seriously if you want the club to continue.

Best wishes and a Happy Christmas and a good growing 2017.
Jenni Blake

Be careful when handling bulbs, corms and rhizomes urged Kelvin Mason the speaker at our 1 November meeting who offered a range of tips to get the best from them.

“Take care not to bruise them – they’re all living food storage organisms,” he explained.

A well-chosen selection can ensure that some will be in flower every week of the year, he added, illustrating the point with a slide show.

Outlining bulbs’ origins  – tulips, for example, being native in free-draining soils in Iraq and other middle-eastern countries – Kelvin noted that UK growers now produce more narcissi than those in Holland. “But the Dutch do grow more bulbs overall.”

Some people are allergic to tulip bulbs, he warned. “Wear gloves.”

When buying bulbs, size matters. “The bigger the better,” he said. “Make sure they still have the outer skin on them or you’re losing food value, and make sure the root circle is intact. Don’t buy anything that’s soft –even if it’s only half price.”

When it came to planting Kelvin saw no benefit in using special tools, even when naturalising bulbs in lawns. It is better to remove an area of turf and replace it after planting, he explained. “It pays to fork over the ground to get some air into it - it’s also much easier than trowelling.”

However, with 10,000 bulbs to plant commercially, the best tool was a JCB!

Planting depth should be at least two and a half times bulb height. “Plant deep and you get better flowers. The deeper the better – three or four times the height means you’re less likely to put a fork through them later.

Only on really poor soil is it necessary to add well-rotted compost or manure. “Bulbs don’t like fresh compost or manure.”

Planting distance “depends on the size of your wallet”. “You’re better off planting a small area quite densely to create a drift of colour than spreading them about singly.”

Never cut, mow off or tie the leaves in knots after flowering, he urged. “They’re needed for photosynthesis to get food back into the bulbs.”

Bulbs in borders are best planted in the middle or towards the back so that dying unsightly foliage is less visible, he added.

Our next meeting, on 6 December, is the members-only Christmas gathering.

Jenni Blake

Delay cutting back garden fuchsias until April to avoid losing the plants over winter. That was one of many tips from the joint speakers at our 4 October meeting.

In an entertaining evening which included plenty of husband/wife banter, Di and Peter Boor noted that there are thought to be over 20,000 different fuchsias but, they are all derived from just100 species.

Fuchsias grow wild mainly in Central and Southern America, the Caribbean, New Zealand and Australia, and are ‘not happy’ as house plants, warned Di. Most like semi-shade, but the thalia types originating in Mexico grow best in full sun.

“They all like different conditions. But if you know where they come from you’ll have a hint of how they’ll grow.”

Recent warm weather has been encouraging longer flowering, and most varieties should survive in the ground outdoors, she suggested. But over-winter losses are always possible. “So before you leave one out for the first time take cuttings. Once you know how to take cuttings, you’re away.”

Having shown how easily this could be done, Peter, who advocated using mycorrhizal fungi when potting on, urged members to avoid compressing the compost. It should be well drained, he added. The couple’s recipe is six parts 52% peat-based compost : one part perlite or vermiculite : one part sharp sand.

Rooted cuttings should be grown initially in 3inch pots, moving on to 5inches and then bigger. “The bigger the pot the better they will grow,” he said. “They don’t like being confined. Small pots are only for showing.”

Echoing his advice on compression Di recommended initially planting empty pots in hanging baskets to leave holes into which young plants could simply be dropped without disturbing their roots. “Make it easy for yourself,” she said.

Hanging varieties were not essential for such baskets, she added. “You can attach clothes pegs to pull down any variety.”

Dealing with most pests was simple, the couple claimed, four drops of Stergene handwash laundry liquid added to water in the sprayer being their solution. “It kills even white-fly,” said Di. “It coats the eggs and they die off.”

Tackling vine weevil, however, required the insecticide Provado. “And don’t re-use compost,” she urged.

At our next meeting, on 1 November
, Kelvin Mason will be takling about bulbs. Open meetings, visitorss welcome £3 per head.

Jenni Blake

At the club’s Giant Pumpkin Weigh-in, on 6 September, Andrew Blake’s entry at 63lb won the prize for the heaviest. Jim Rowell’s, with a girth of just over 4ft, also gained an award.

A tricky two-part quiz, set by Jane Woodroffe, was won by a team led by Kim Bristow.

Members were also asked to choose their favourite garden picture from about 20 submitted. The most popular, to be announced in due course, will be printed on a porcelain mug to be presented to the winner.

At our next meeting, on 4 October, Peter and Di Bloor will be talking about ‘Fuchsias our way’. Open meeting, visitors welcome £3 per head.

Jenni Blake

In the club’s Great Potato Competition Weigh-in at our meeting on 5 July, Andrew Blake won two of the three categories – heaviest overall weight at 3lb 4oz, and greatest tuber number (25). Alan Aburrow grew the largest single tuber – 12oz. A total of 25 members competed this year.

Andrew’s technique, which involved extending the height of the production bucket provided by organisers Godfrey Maude and Jim Rowell, drew several comments and even an accusation of cheating, but the result was allowed to stand. Its impact on members’ competition attempts next season could be interesting.

During the assessments, conducted by Godfrey and Jim with Mary Maude recording the results, members took part in a tough two-part quiz organised by Jane Woodroffe. Consisting of a set of gardening anagrams and several quite obscure botanical questions it was won by a four-strong team led by Kim Bristow.

The next meeting will be on 6 September when members’ achievements in trying to grow the largest giant pumpkin will be judged.

Jenni Blake

Ray Broughton returned to Shalbourne at our 6 June meeting to talk to us about ‘80 things you may not know about horticulture’.

After his previous visits we expected some surprises and that we might be ‘tested’ on his earlier ‘little tips’ of gardening expertise. We were not disappointed, but the threatened exam did not materialise - whether that was because we didn’t make it to the end of the 80 things is another point of discussion.

Ray, otherwise known as the ‘ketchup man’ began with reminding us to use tomato ketchup (Heinz 57 is the one to use) to clean gummed up secateurs and hedge cutter blades. He showed blades which looked as though they were pitted and damaged, but after an overnight application of sauce was cleaned off they were as good as new. The pits and gouges had just been a build-up of plant gunge.

Several items referred to new polythene products, some of which will not be available for the domestic market until 2017. One is a colourless sheet for polytunnels containing blue/red pigments which promote bigger and faster growing plants. Another is ‘plastic ventilated floating mulching’ providing protection during the day and overnight when the ventilation holes close.

The following are a few of the other things we learned.

•    Leggy plants in the greenhouse = carbon dioxide deficiency. A bowl of manure covered with Clingfilm (8 holes punched) will cure this.
•    Super sweet rhubarb – new variety called ‘Raspberry Red’ and don’t forget to lift the plants in October and replant in April for the best results.
•    Hebe now reverts to its original name – Veronica - and like Ceanothus, Cytisus and similar shrubs it should be pruned in full flower (once in every eight years). This avoids the sex hormone stopping the growth hormone. If the plant has set seed the shrub will not regenerate.
•    Hardwood cuttings should be taken from the middle of the plant’s zonal position not from the top or bottom. Such cuttings produce much stronger and better shaped plants.
•    Save aching arms with a point of fulcrum harness for your hedge trimmer – Stihl produce one.
•    Clean glass covering seed trays daily with household bactericide.
•    Snails are in a big decline – conservation = more birds to eat the snails – note that it is the banded snail which does the most damage in the garden.
•    All outside taps must be fitted with a one-way valve.
•    The New Zealand flatworm is not the problem that it may have been because the bacteria in our soil are different and kill them.
•    Plant Cornflowers for bees and Tagetes for pest control but don’t deadhead them.

These were just some of the 62 things we learnt about – why not 80? We asked too many questions and time ran out. However, Ray will return sometime next year to tell us the other 18 and probably a few more by then. We enjoyed a very interesting and fun filled evening.

The July meeting is the members’ potato weigh-in session. Godfrey Maude and Jim Rowell will officiate. The potatoes must be presented in their pots but with the haulm cut off. Jane Woodroffe will compile a quiz, drinks and nibbles will be provided.

Members were reminded that photographs (maximum of two per member) must be produced for the September meeting, and voting will take place for the winners in October.

Jenni Blake

Leave your wallet at home but take a notebook.

That was the advice from Marion Dale, the speaker at our 3 May meeting to anyone visiting a garden centre with a view to ‘Designing your Dream Garden with Plants’ – the title of her talk.

“Impulse buys” are allowed, she concluded, but much better results should come from carefully considering a wide range of factors not least the garden’s size. An apparently attractive Eucalyptus in a small pot could soon outgrow it, ultimately becoming 45m tall and 12m wide, she warned.

From the start, deciding the garden’s style is important. “Ask yourself what look and feel do you want,” said Marion who illustrated several options including orderly and formal, informal cottage, modern contemporary, low maintenance, wildlife and themed.

Determine the soil’s pH (alkalinity/acidity) with a simple test kit before planting, she advised. “It will dictate what’s happy.”  In large gardens it is worth taking samples from several places as the pH may vary, she added.

Check the Latin names of plants to avoid mistakes. The statement ‘Sorbus is a good tree for small gardens’ is correct only when the species is known, she pointed out. S.aria (Whitebeam) will tolerate limey conditions, while S.aucuparia (Rowan) prefers acid soil.

Soil texture is also important, and a simple jam-jar test, shaking the soil with water, allowing it to settle for 24 hours and then referring to the widely available ‘magic soil texture chart’ should help determine the soil’s class – eg clay, sandy, silt etc – and hence which plants are likely to thrive best in it, Marion explained.

“Mediterranean plants tend to like sandy soils.”

Bear in mind likely shadows as the sun moves, she urged.  “Take photos at different times of day. Partial shade plants need about three hours of sun.”

Much of her talk was illustrated with names and slides of plants suitable for particular circumstances, and as well as the RHS website she advocated ‘Shoot Gardening’ ( as a useful source of information.

The speaker at our next meeting, on 7 June, will be Ray Broughton who will talk on ‘80Things You Didn’t Know About Horticulture’. Visitors welcome £3.

Jenni Blake

Gentlemen may pee on their compost heaps, but ladies should avoid doing so.

That was just one of several pieces of intriguing advice Gardening Club member Lois Philipps offered during her 5 April 2016 talk on the Art & Science of Compost.

Male urine contains nitrogen which may help maintain the optimum carbon: nitrogen ratio for making good compost. But that from females can also contain hormones which disrupt the activity of key microbes breaking down the various materials used as compost ‘ingredients’, Lois explained.

Pointing out that ‘compost’ could be both noun and verb, she said her talk would be mostly about the verb, i.e. making that ideally rich, dark crumbly material which gardeners crave and never seem to have enough of.

It has a simple recipe, she explained. “Organic matter plus air, water and time equals compost.”

Well-made it has many environmental benefits. As a peat replacement it avoids releasing carbon locked in bogs to the atmosphere; it cuts the amount of organic materials going to land-fill; and it reduces the need for neighbour-annoying bon-fires. It certainly saves money, may even save water and generally enhances wildlife activity.

Its addition benefits both clay and sandy soils, as mulch it suppresses weeds, and it’s a good base for making potting composts.

For what she described as a ‘cake-making process for microbes’ Lois listed acceptable ingredients and those which should not be used. “It’s best to avoid perennial weeds.” Diseased plant material, such rose leaves infected with black spot, and cooked food which may contain vermin-attracting meat, should also be shunned.

The aim should be a 50:50 mix of green and brown material, the latter possibly improved by shredding. “Christmas trees should always be shredded.”

Stressing that the optimum carbon:nitrogen ratio was 20:1, but acceptable up to 35:1, Lois noted that grass cuttings have a C:N ratio of 15:25.

Excess nitrogen, not enough air and/or too much moisture all lead to bad-smelling compost. Solutions include turning to aerate it and adding dry material such as straw or shredded cardboard.

Compost heaps not heating may simply be too small or have lost too much nitrogen – in which case gentlemen may consider relieving themselves, she suggested. “Or it may just be that the compost is already to use.”

At our next meeting, on 3 May, the speaker will be Marion Summers of Summerdale Designs. The title of her talk: 'Design with Plants - How to achieve your dream garden using plant colour, texture, shape and garden style'.

Jenni Blake

You need to eat four modern oranges to get as much vitamin C as from a pre-War one, according to Sparsholt lecturer Chris Bird, the speaker at our 1 March 2016 meeting.

In an entertaining and often amusing talk on fruits – top, stone and soft - he noted that as the latter in particular were becoming more popular, so plant breeders were striving to improve their nutritional value.

Demand for blueberries, cloudberries, and gooseberries is growing. “The invention of smoothies is one reason,” he explained.

His slide-illustrated presentation included several wide-ranging tips and advice.

Growers using plastic sheet to suppress weeds in strawberry beds should choose a woven porous type to avoid puddles damaging the fruit.

A recent introduction has been transparent polythene film for cloches which filters a specific light wavelength to stop botrytis disease.

Most mushroom composts no longer contain the amounts of lime which previously made them unsuitable for acid-loving plants such as blueberries.

Gardeners seeking a peach tree which resists leaf curl disease should try the new variety Avalon Pride, he suggested.

Dwarf cherries, growing to only 6ft, and so-called ‘step-over’ apples are useful for growers with small gardens.

“There’s no reason why you have to stick with traditional shapes of bushes,” he added. Fan-trained gooseberries are easier to pick and cover against blackbirds, for example.

Mr Bird stressed how red and white currants, which branch from single ‘legs’ differ from blackcurrants. The latter benefit from so-called ‘drop planting’ (leaving the soil 2in above top pot level) to encourage suckering and multiple shoots, he explained.

When pruning apples and pears apply the 3D & C rule. First cut out Dead, Disease and Damaged wood, then move on to C – removing any Crossing branches.

“And remember the adage ‘growth follows the knife’,” he advised.

Waterers fall into two camps, he noted. “There are dribblers and flooders.” Flooding, provided it is kept under control, is much the better approach.

-  Tubers and pots for this year’s potato growing competition were sold to members, and free seeds for the club’s new pumpkin growing competition were also handed out.

Our next meeting will be on 5 April when Lois Philips will talk on The Art & Science of Compost.

Jenni Blake

Don’t try to rush oasis water uptake. Allow the foam to float and then sink unaided. That advice, to flower-arranging members at our 2 February 2016 meeting, came from Hungerford florist Sarah Styles*.

Trying to hurry the foam’s absorption by pressing it down into the water might appear to be successful. But by cutting open a block so treated Sarah showed how the centre remained dry preventing inserted flowers from taking up the water they required to ensure long-lasting arrangements.

Initially a nurse, Sarah explained how her flower-arranging hobby had steadily grown until, having produced about 300 wedding arrangements, she felt encouraged to leave nursing about a year ago and open her shop at 2 Bridge Street.

She gave a practical demonstration which held members’ attention for nearly an hour, the resulting wreath being raffled.

Starting with small pieces of foliage plants, such as rosemary, silver dust, pittosporum, and skimmia, she built up a greenish circle to which she then added various more colourful items. These included the thistle-like flowers of sea holly, sea lavender, white brome and golden rod. Cutting stems at an angle could help them penetrate the oasis, she noted.

Adding that it was perhaps surprising how relatively little material was needed, she pointed out that a single stem of many plants could provide several pieces for the display. Answering a question about the obviously good lengths of some of her plants, she explained that she bought many of them from Holland.

“If I order at midnight they can be in the shop by 6.30am the next day. I’ve only ever been to Covent Garden once.”

When finally introducing yet more colour, she advised against using David Austin roses. “They’re really temperamental and quite difficult to work with. If you’re using them from your garden put them in at the last minute.”

Her display included flush pink roses and pink tulips (without their leaves), the completing touch coming in the shape of white hydrangea, a single head giving plenty of “broccoli-like” florets.

“You don’t need to over-order,” she said. “You can easily order too much stuff.”

Sarah offers nationwide delivery of hand-crafted bouquets from £25 with next day UK delivery (excluding Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays) for only £4.95.


Our next meeting will be on 1 March when Chris Bird from Sparsholt College will talk about growing and managing fruit trees.

Jenni Blake

There’s a hard winter ahead, according to Simon Tucker who at our 3 November meeting gave a fascinating talk on when and why particular birds frequent our gardens.
Working on behalf of the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) he outlined key findings from its Garden Birdwatch which is based on weekly observations by about 14,000 people across the country.
Redwings, which flock into gardens over-winter, had arrived unusually early this autumn, Simon noted.
“The indications are that we’re in for a hard winter,” he said. “Leave some apples out for them.”
Acknowledging the debate about whether garden birds should be fed all year round, he said: “The essential time [to feed] is in February and March when there’s a big drop off in food from the wild.”
Since the start of the scheme in 1995 birdwatchers have made 94.7 million observations in 7.3 million reports which can be submitted online or on paper.
“It’s a lean and mean scheme,” Simon stressed. A staff of just three receives and analyses the results.
“Gardens are among our most under-studied areas, yet they are one of the most important habitats.”
He displayed charts, which can be viewed on the BTO web-site, highlighting the contrasting fortunes of species over the years - “the changing of the guard.”
They showed a slide in the blue tit population from 1995-2014. “But the trend for long-tailed tits is upwards.”
Bullfinches, on which there was once a bounty because of their damage to fruit trees, are also making quite a good recovery, he noted; and nuthatches, which like peanuts, are now quite common. But the big success has been with goldfinches, a flock of over 1000 being seen recently on one farm. “They’re doing extremely well.”
However, several “nasty” diseases are taking their toll. Chaffinches in particular are succumbing to a virus which creates warts on their legs; and trichomonosis, caused by a parasite which stops birds swallowing, has hit greenfinches especially hard.
Outlining observations in his own 70x40ft garden near Swindon, Simon said the scheme’s title should really be considered the Garden Wildlife Watch.
“My garden’s a mess, but I love it.” Since 2008 he has recorded 54 species of birds, six of mammals, 10 of butterflies and two types of pipistrelle bat. And having installed a pond four years ago he has noted four amphibian species, slow-worms, and seven types of dragonflies and damsel flies.
“It’s been a great year for moths,” he added. “Since I started trapping two years ago I’ve seen 377 species – there are over 3000 in this country.”
The BTO is always seeking more Garden Watch members, he pointed out. It costs £17/year. For more details visit
Our next meeting will be the AGM on 1 December.
Jenni Blake
Even with over 100 varieties of herbs, Lynda Warren, the speaker at our 6 October meeting, said that there were plenty more that she would like to possess.
Starting her talk A Spoonful of Herbs Lynda stressed that she was not a gardener, but that herbs and especially their uses had become an obsession for her.
“I’m always on the look-out for new ones.” However, garden centres rarely offered more than a few common types, she pointed out.
Among several samples of herbs and essential oils she had brought to the meeting was Ginger Rosemary, which as the name suggests smells strongly of ginger. “It was a real find.”
Lynda admitted that she could never remember herbs’ Latin names, but any including the word officinalis guaranteed that they were of medicinal importance.
There were records of herbs being used as medicines by the Ancient Babylonians, with coriander, dill, fennel, garlic and even roses among them.
The Egyptians were particularly skilled in using herbs, listing over 700 herbal remedies by 1500BC. Many revolved around ‘Cleansing the body’ – “purging at both ends!” she noted.
The Greeks and Romans were equally enthusiastic about herbs, the writer Pliny listing over 900. These included lemon balm, mint, thyme and basil, the last needing to be sown “with a scream of wild curses” to ensure it grew, Lynda explained.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) made extensive use of herbs such as ginseng, jasmine and even Kiwi fruit.
Herbs were among the “essential household requirements” taken to America by the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620, one specific use apparently being to make stored food more palatable.
In his book of 1652 herbalist Nicholas Culpeper noted that basil would not grow alongside rue, but that mint was good for freshening the breath. “Given that it’s widely used in chewing gum it shows that he knew what he was talking about.”
Herbs were widely used in both World Wars when treating wounds, she added; and many people, including the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, were encouraged to collect them for pharmaceutical companies.
Concluding her talk Lynda listed some mainly familiar herbs pointing to some of their uses as seeds, roots or flowers, highlighting the need, in most cases, to dilute essential oils before use.
She invited members to sample several herbs and oils, and handed out sheets with a range of recipes based on mint, lavender, bay and rosemary.
Our next meeting will be on 3 November when Simon from the British Trust for Ornithology will talk about the Garden Birdwatch scheme. All welcome – free to members, visitors £3.
Jenni Blake

Many plants often considered native to this country are not.
That was the main message to members from Marion Dale, the speaker at our 1 September meeting.
During her illustrated talk entitled ‘Where did our favourite plants come from?’ she noted that Roman invaders brought a wide range of species with them. These included foxgloves and opium poppies, not for their flowers but medicinal purposes, the latter being used as an anaesthetic.
The Romans also brought the sweet chestnut, still used for biscuit-making flour in Italy, and sweet apples - before then Britain had only crab apples, Marion pointed out.
Their imported vegetables included leeks, asparagus and globe artichokes. They introduced topiary via box, previously growing here only as a tree, and the art of grafting, a skill later preserved by monasteries.
However, the Romans also gave us hemlock and stinging nettles, the latter possibly used as a defence against bare-legged Britons, Marion suggested. Ground elder, which they used as a forage crop, and the Scotch thistle also came with them. “That had never been near Scotland,” she said.
The Crusaders brought back many plants, initially only as seeds, including for the first time some specifically for their flowers, such as the Madonna Lily, stocks, and the English or pot marigold, she explained.
Hollyhocks, honesty, thyme, sweet marjoram, soapwort and lavender, which was still being used as an antiseptic in World War One, also came back with the Crusaders.
Later, as the New World was discovered and explored, people like Columbus and Raleigh gave us plants such as potatoes and chilli peppers.
Around that time, too, snowdrops arrived from the Ukraine, as did sunflowers from America, and delphiniums from Siberia Marion noted.
Later still plant hunters in the 1600s such as John Tradescant and his son, also John, gave us such plants as horse chestnuts, tulips, hellebores, rudbeckias, passion flowers and morning glory.
In the 1700s Captain Cook and others gave us, among other things, bottlebrushes and eucalyptus trees.

Around that time the opening up of China saw plants such as magnolias, camellias and the weeping willow arrive here.By the Victorian era, plant hunting had become commercial business with discoverers of newly imported species adding ‘ii’ to their Latin names to highlight their findings.
Renowned hunters included Robert Fortune and Ernest ‘Chinese’ Wilson who were behind the arrival of wisteria, from Japan, skimmia and kerria, but also the invasive Japanese knotweed which has a big negative impact on house prices, Marion noted.
Later still, nurseries such as the Exeter-based one begun by John Veitch, were responsible for introducing over 1500 new species such as clematis, hydrangea, and acer, she added.
“So, many English cottage garden plants actually came from abroad,” she concluded.
Our next meeting will be on 6 October when the speaker will be Lynda Warren whose talk is entitled ‘A pocketful of herbs’. All welcome – free to members, visitors £3.
Jenni Blake
The Great Potato Weigh-In at our 7 July meeting prompted animated conversations while club members’ efforts were assessed.
The competition, organised by Godfrey Maude and Jim Rowell with Mary Maude recording the scores, was to see which member could grow the highest number of tubers, the heaviest total, and the largest individual potato from a seed tuber in a pot – both supplied by the club. The choice of growing medium, planting time and subsequent treatments were entirely  the competitors’ decisions.
Kim Bristow from Ham nearly swept the board, growing both the heaviest total, 4lb 6oz, and the biggest single tuber weighing 8oz. Bill Withers had the most tubers – 37.
A apparently fiendishly difficult 30-question quiz run during the weighing was won by a team with a score of only 18 correct answers. I have been asked to let someone else set the questions next time.
Our next meeting will be on 1 September when the speaker will be Marion Dale whose talk is entitled ‘Where did our favourite plants come from?’
Jenni Blake

There are many reasons for wishing to forage for food in the countryside, not the least being that what you collect is free.

Others include learning about wildlife and habitats, eating seasonally and locally, and trying new recipes and flavours, noted Becca Flintham in her presentation ‘Food for Free’ at our 2 June meeting.

“It’s fun, especially for children when it can become a treasure hunt,” she said. Wild food is also becoming trendy in restaurants, she noted.

Becca opened her illustrated talk with a quiz based on the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 which she reminded members did not grant an automatic right to collect food.

However, surprisingly perhaps, all parts of plants - for example horse-radish roots - may be collected although the owner’s permission is required, she explained; and collecting from the wild with the intention to sell is illegal.

Her key advice was to collect “responsibly” working to a code of conduct:
•    Disturb as little of the environment as possible
•    Avoid disturbing nesting birds
•    Take only what you need
•    Avoid digging roots
•    Join a conservation group
•    Stay safe:
•    Never eat anything unless you are sure what it is
•    Avoid collecting from polluted sites (below dog height!)
•    If possible always wash things before eating them
•    Eat small amounts of anything new to assess reactions/allergies
•    Avoid wilted, diseased or sprayed plants

Among many books describing the wide range of wild plants that can serve as food, Becca highlighted ‘Wild Food’ by Roger Phillips, ‘Food for Free’ by Richard Mabey, and ‘A Hedgerow Cookbook’ by Glennie Kindred. “All Roger’s recipes are tested and he includes those that didn’t turn out too well.”

There is no shortage of choices whatever the season, she added, presenting extensive lists. Dried lime tree flowers apparently make an excellent tea.

For newcomers to fungi she urged members to seek advice from a mycologist and to avoid anything with white gills.

Her list of “can’t go wrong” plants to try included nettles, elder, wild garlic, dandelions, wild strawberries, blackberries, rose hips, crab apples, walnuts, chestnuts, cherry plums and sloes (blackthorn fruits). And for something both wild and foreign she suggested a soup made from young mallow leaves. “It’s a national dish in Egypt.”

Jenni Blake


Don’t struggle to divide and move perennials by the traditional method of using back-to-back forks in the autumn. Pull new spring growths from the plants, as if you are pulling rhubarb, and replant them instead.


That was among the many tips in Katherine Crouch’s illustrated talk and demonstration entitled ‘New Tricks for Old Gardeners’ at our 5 May meeting.


Katherine, a former BBC Gardener of the Year and Gardener of the Decade, gave an often humorous presentation. She showed how, by choosing appropriate plants and using suitable tools in perhaps new ways, club members could adapt and continue producing good results in cottage-style gardens well into old age; they are the type most people have and enjoy, she suggested.


She dismissed so-called low maintenance alternatives, such as the conifer and heather gardens which became popular in the 1970s mainly when a cancelled local authority contract left a supplier with 70,000 conifers to sell in a hurry.


Gravel-based gardens are “boring”, and wild-flower meadows are rarely as easy to manage as expected, especially on fertile land, she pointed out.

She showed how a well-chosen combination of species, such as blue Geranium Rozanne and pink Rosa Bonica which flower from May until the first frost, along with certain perennials, grasses and trees can provide colour and interest throughout the year with relatively little management and effort.


They even include a tough hosta – Devon Green which, with a little help from some Tesco chilli powder, can overcome the worst attentions of slugs, she explained.


For bulbs she advocated ‘ribbon planting’ to avoid moving most of the soil twice, and she showed how changing the way implements are held can reduce back strain. Particularly useful tools include a trowel with an extended handle and a three-sided hoe.


Katherine said she rarely needed heavy duty gardening gloves, singing the praises of those available from Somerset Avon Bulbs*; for especially fiddly tasks she suggested using a pair with the finger and thumb ends cut off. And to show how braces are better than a belt at securing working trousers - they allow a size bigger to be worn and so ease bending – she resorted to an amusing striptease.


Jenni Blake


"Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints”.


That was the concluding advice to club members from wildlife photographer Brian Pettit, our speaker at our April 7 meeting who was ably assisted by his business partner and technical guru Tim.


His fascinating talk, describing photographing plants and animals while travelling from the UK through France to his former home in a village in south-east Spain, was beautifully illustrated with pictures and even some short video clips.


One particular picture of a flower-ridden meadow in the Alps highlighted the lack of species diversity in most grass fields in this country. “They call it improved grassland, but it’s only improved if you are a cow!” said Mr Pettit.


Among the many species still widespread in such high meadows were several orchids – the vanilla, the fragrant, the pyramid and the spotted marsh, he noted.


Another shot, of a carpet of small wild daffodil-like narcissi, showed how pursuing the “big is beautiful” principle in breeding flowering plants often had a downside. “As they become enormous they lose their ability and need to produce nectar for bees,” he explained.


Mr Pettit’s gentle humour shone throughout his presentation. For example, having shown a hard-won picture of a rare Spanish ibex or mountain goat he remarked that there was yet another species – and then proceeded to show a shot of himself struggling among the rocks to achieve the first picture.


On bare moorland 7000ft above sea level the only way to get close enough to photograph the Alpine marmot was to cover oneself in a cape and “pretend you are a rock”.


Some of his more memorable images were available as greetings cards, and his book “Wildlife Photography on a Budget”, now in its second edition, was also on offer. For more information visit


At our next meeting our speaker will be Katherine Crouch who is BBC Gardener of the Decade. Her subject will be 'New Tricks for Old Gardeners', and she will bring plants for sale. Visitors welcome £3.


Jenni Blake


Contrary to popular belief ladybirds do not eat aphids. They bite the sap-sucking insects’ heads off and lap up the juices from them.

That was among the fascinating facts and tips from Ray Broughton, the speaker at our March 3 meeting.

He opened his presentation on Seasonal Work in the Fruit and Vegetable Garden by highlighting the threat from several novel pests in the UK.


The Harlequin Ladybird is a voracious feeder, each killing as many as 200 aphids a day – four times as many as the country’s native species. “The problem is that they eat other ladybirds,” said Mr Broughton.


The Spanish Slug, imported to the UK on salad crops, is orange, dumpy and about two inches long. It eats other slugs, but the concern is that it also feeds on dog faeces and so risks spreading disease, he explained.


The caterpillars of the Oak Processionary Moth are extremely aggressive feeders and have defoliated many oak trees on mainland Europe. The long hairs on their bodies are poisonous and can cause skin rashes and asthma. “Don’t touch,” he warned. The “relatively non-descript” adults, which look like many other small moths, also have irritant hairs.


The Asian Hornet, half as big again as a wasp and likely to arrive on these shores before long, has a “terrible sting” and is very aggressive towards bees, invading their hives and biting their heads off.


Mr Broughton said all such pests were increasingly likely given the expanding worldwide movement of plants and animals, and he warned that the fine for knowingly importing seeds without a licence is now up to £6,000.


At our next meeting, on April 7, our new speaker will be Brian Pettit. His talk called 'Going home' will cover his journey from Poole to his home in Spain on the Costa Blanca through the mountains looking at plants and wildlife.
All are welcome, visitors £3.


Jenni Blake.


“The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”


That quote, by former US President Franklin Roosevelt, concluded our first meeting of the year, on February 3, when Lois Philipps was the speaker.


At the outset Lois noted that 2015 was the International Year of Soils, a joint United Nations and Food and Agriculture Organisation initiative intended to raise awareness of the importance of sustainable soil management.


She cut and peeled an apple to show how limited the area of the world’s soil (represented by a small piece of the apple’s skin) really is.


Lois pointed out that it takes thousands of years for soil to form, but that the area needed to produce food, fuel and maintain biodiversity, was steadily being lost to urbanisation.


Her talk took members through the key known facts about soils, how they varied and how their properties could be manipulated through both inorganic and organic fertilisers.


She also highlighted how much remained to be discovered about the micro-organisms within soils.


“The soil in the average 250sq m vegetable plot contains the equivalent of half a cow,” she said.


During her presentation members had the chance to examine samples from their gardens for texture, and to test them for pH (acidity/alkalinity), and key plant nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus.


Her Soil Survey map of south-west England showed that most of Shalbourne lies on inherently acidic greensand deposits. So it was a slight surprise when most samples tested appeared to be pH neutral.


Lois accepted that the hall kitchen’s hard water used for the tests in the absence of distilled water might have affected the results; but the bright green which the test returned for one member from Fosbury clearly confirmed the alkalinity of her chalkland soil.


The speaker at our next meeting, on 3 March, will be Ray Broughton whose subject will be Seasonal Work in the Fruit and Vegetable Garden. All are welcome, visitors £3.


Members are reminded that their subscriptions were due on 1 February.


Jenni Blake.


There’s much to be wary of in a garden. That was the concluding comment from Marion Dale of Summerdale Garden Designs, our speaker at the November 3 meeting.


Her talk, ‘Wicked plants - which ones are hiding in your garden?’ began by describing some familiar poisonous ones – ragwort, foxgloves, laburnum, yew and holly.


Others, perhaps less well known, included the ornamental castor oil plant. Its seeds were the source of ricin, a poison 550 times worse than arsenic and for which there was no antidote, Marion warned.


The sap of many plants caused skin irritation, that from Daphne mezureum leading to severe blisters.


Morning Glory was “not as innocent as it looks”, its seeds having been fermented by the Aztecs to create a hallucinogenic drug like LSD.


Even rhubarb had caused problems. People had been taken ill during World War 2 after a booklet had been circulated suggesting the leaves could be eaten as a vegetable, she noted.


The Solanaceae family, including potatoes and tomatoes, also contained deadly nightshade and tobacco, the latter having “killed more people than any other plant”.


Marion highlighted the danger of misleading look-alike plants. Poisonous hemlock was hard to distinguish from cow parsley unless they were side-by-side.


Daffodil bulbs, which were poisonous, could be confused with onions, as they had during wartime food shortages in Holland; and lily of the valley leaves, which appeared similar to those of wild garlic, were also highly poisonous.


Other plants simply smelled offensive, Crown imperial (Fritillaria) having a skunk or dog fox scent, and flowering currant and common box, smelling of “cat’s pee”.


Some so-called “baddies” had, however, become “good guys”. Opium poppies were now grown to produce morphine, yew clippings and bark had been used to create the cancer treatment drug Taxol; and some daffodils (as well as snowdrops) were a source of galantamine used to slow the progress of Alzheimer's disease.


“If you stand in a garden almost anywhere in the countryside, it’s generally easy to see two or three poisonous plants”, said Marion who highlighted two places particularly worthy of visits - Alnwick Castle’s Poison Garden in Northumberland and Chelsea Physic Garden founded in1673.


Next month’s meeting will be our AGM and a fun evening for members.


Jenni Blake.


At the October 7th meeting Paul Barney of Edulis Nurseries introduced members to some unusual edible plants. Among them was the Yakon, a native of South America grown for its sweet tubers samples of which he passed round for tasting. A perennial 6ft tall by August a single plant could produce up to 13kg, he noted.

Allium hookeri, or Hooker’s Onion, was perfectly hardy and as a repeat flowerer it was a “bee magnet”, he noted. Widely grown in China its leaves and fleshy roots could be used as conventional onions.

The Hascap Honeyberry, bred by Saskatchewan University from a Japanese blueberry, had berries twice the size and sweetness and importantly did not require acid soil. Growers did, however, need to plant two clones to ensure pollination, Mr Barney advised.

The Earth Chestnut produced underground sweet tubers, like pignuts and had highly decorative white umbels of flowers. After harvest it was usually split for re-planting, but it could be left as a perennial.

The Chilean Guava, reputedly Queen Victoria’s favourite, was an evergreen not entirely hardy shrub producing masses of small berries tasting of strawberries, some of which he picked and passed round to make the point.

As well as producing black berries, the Mountain Pepper from Tasmania had peppery leaves which would “blow your head off”.

The Szechuan Pepper was very easy to grow and extremely hardy – Mr Barney said he had it as a 15ft tree.
Japanese Ginger, was a deciduous perennial whose basal flower buds, not the roots, were the edible parts. Given adequate water in summer it could grow 4ft tall.

Dittander and Turkish Rocket could provide salad leaves when normal sources were over, and Mr Barney extolled the virtues of Pentland Brig perennial kale. “It doesn’t get eaten by pigeons and it isn’t devastated by cabbage butterflies.”


The evening ended with a light-hearted competition in which members vied with each other to show their best single flowers in three categories - the most perfect, the most fragrant and the most out-of-season.



Next month's speaker, on Tuesday 4th November, will be Marion Gale. Her subject: 'Wicked plants - which ones are hiding in your garden?'.


Jenni Blake


At the first autumn meeting of the Gardening Club on 2nd September, Ray Broughton was our speaker. He kindly stepped in to replace someone who had cancelled at the last minute for family reasons, and he did so only a day after flying back from a trip to America.


A frequent visitor to the club Mr Broughton gave us a wide range of useful practical tips some of which he had offered previously but which, from the replies to his queries, had clearly been forgotten.


Plants need carbon dioxide (CO2) for photosynthesis and growth, and the naturally occurring amounts in closed greenhouses could soon be used up over-winter, he noted. His solution? Fill a container with livestock manure and cover it with cling film pierced with a few holes to allow the CO2 from the decaying material to escape.  “It won’t smell,” he assured us. 


Hedge plants, like most others, benefitted from fertilizer; but it had to be one containing all the elements essential for growth – not just nitrogen, potash and phosphorus – and it was best applied via nutriballs. Consisting of a mixture of the fertilizer and vermiculite in parcels of kitchen paper, and buried at intervals of about a yard along the hedge, they provided a slow and particularly effective release of nutrients, he explained.


Misted sprays of whole milk (not pasteurised) were valuable tools against a wide range of pests and diseases, he suggested. White flies, increasingly resistant to insecticides, were just one species controlled by this method. “They are actually moths,” he pointed out.


Among a lengthy list of tasks for members to remember to perform was to apply sulphate of potash fertilizer - on Christmas Eve - to plants due to flower the next season. It was during January and February that the flower buds were formed, so later spring dressings were too late to be fully effective, he explained.


Removing the stigmas of tulips could extend their flowering period, and seeds should be stored in fleece, rather than modern brown envelopes. Unlike traditional ones they usually had a lining which prevented the seeds from breathing.


Mr Broughton also outlined the value of the zonal method of taking cuttings. In essence cuttings taken from the tips of plants tended to produce tall, leggy specimens and those taken from the base resulted in short, stumpy ones. The best approach, resulting in strong bushy plants, was to take cuttings from near the centre of the parents.


The next meeting, at which Paul Barney of Edulis Nurseries will be speaking on ‘Unusual Edibles’ will be on Tuesday, 7th October.

Jenni Blake




The Weigh-in for the Potato Competition (see rules below *) took place at the meeting on July 1st. Click here for the full result.



All from one pot! Joint competition organiser Godfrey Maude checks a useful looking sample of tubers.


A plant-themed quiz compiled by Annie was won by Judy, Erica and Catherine.


* Potato Competition Rules
•        The aim of the competition, organised by Godfrey Maude and Jim Rowell, is to see which club member can grow the highest number of tubers, heaviest total, and heaviest individual potato in a pot supplied by the club.
•        Each entry will consist of a named first early variety seed potato also supplied by the club.
•        Each entry costs £1. Members may buy up to three seed potatoes with pots, subject to availability, but only one seed is permitted per pot.
•        The type and mixture of growing medium, planting time and subsequent treatments are entirely at the choice of the competitor.
•        One entry only, clearly identified, may be presented by each member for judging on “Potato Weigh-in Day”, 1st  July 2014 at the Gardening Club meeting.
•        Prizes will be awarded in each of the categories at the December meeting.



Vegetable growing tips aplenty were on hand at the meeting on June 3rd when the speaker was Ray Broughton, formerly Head of Horticulture at Sparsholt College.


A plastic box containing animal manure, covered with cling film pierced several times helps avoid greenhouse plants going short of the carbon dioxide they need for photosynthesis, he advised.


African marigolds are well known for deterring vegetable pests, but it is the dead flower heads which give off the chemicals responsible; so the plants don’t need to be grown in the vegetable patch, he explained. Just pull off and scatter the dead heads there instead.


Black and dark-coloured seeds can be made more visible on compost by coating them in flour, and excess sowings can be retrieved by using a plastic pen charged with static electricity by rubbing it, for example, on wool.


Potash fertiliser to encourage flowers and fruit needs applying in December, not near flowering time, said Mr Broughton who added that bone meal, a useful fertiliser, was generally over-used and so exacerbated phosphate pollution.


Silver clover is a promising new green manure crop, but as little as three weeks of ryegrass growth dug into the soil will also be beneficial.

White flowering runner beans, which are wind-pollinated, are the choice of commercial growers because they crop more reliably in poor weather than red-flowered varieties which need the services of insects.


Potatoes sown in bags of compost in July and fed early can provide a welcome new crop in time for Christmas; and lettuces thrive in north-facing cold frames, he noted.


The soil in raised beds, however deep they are, should be no deeper than 12 inches. Any space below should be filled with other materials such as compost, straw and newspaper to prevent anaerobic conditions developing.


Mr Broughton said he particularly liked a new variety of beetroot, named Burgundy, which does not need thinning because the globes are eaten young as a ‘baby beets’.


Looking ahead he anticipated more seeds being supplied coated with nutrients, water-retaining polymers and growth-enhancing hormones; and he viewed pots made from waste cereals and impregnated with nutrients as an exciting development.


Our next meeting, at 7.30pm on Tuesday 1st July, will include the Great Potato Competition Weigh-In. Please bring your potential winning plants still within their pots for the judging. There will also be a quiz, plus drinks and nibbles.

Jenni Blake



The speaker at the May meeting was Becca Flintham talking about the Wildlife Garden. Before pursuing a career in conservation Becca studied photography at Plymouth College of Art and Design and worked as a freelance documentary photographer. Becoming a professional in the conservation industry allowed her to combine her passion for working in the environment with being a photographer. Her entertaining talk was beautifully illustrated with slides of insects, birds, frogs, toads, newts, etc, and of the flowers and habitats which we are encouraged to provide to support them.

Next month's meeting will be in the Village Hall at 7.30pm on Tuesday 3rd June, when we will be delighted to welcome a return visit from Ray Broughton who will talk to us about vegetables with an update on modern developments.

Visitors welcome for a token fee of £3.

Jenni Blake



The speaker at the April meeting was Kevin Hughes of Heale Garden in the Avon Valley just north of Salisbury. We were told that there is a very good tea room on the site. For further details visit:


Kevin specialises in unusual herbaceous plants, shrubs and trees which are not generally available. He feels that rarity itself is not enough and the plants must be of the very best quality; too often plants bought from garden centres are badly grown - they look good, but once you get them home they rarely survive.


The nursery is run in a strictly ethical manner. Although not opposed to plant collection from the wild for propagation, Kevin strongly disagrees with the practice of strip mining wild flora for commerce. His plants are seed propagated or divided and require intensive effort, some taking 8 years to achieve saleable size.


The entertaining talk was beautifully illustrated with slides of the plants, and members were able to buy choice specimens suited to their garden conditions.

Members were reminded that the annual plant sale

will take place on 5th May on the sports field in conjunction with the May Day Fair. Plants, produce and help on the day needed!


A potato competition (see rules above) has been organised by Godfrey and Jim – entry is £1 for a potato and a pot (members only), any growing medium may be used and the weigh-in will take place at the July meeting.


Next month’s meeting will be in the Village Hall at 7.30pm on Tuesday May 6th. Visitors welcome for a token fee of £3. Becca Flintham will be talking about a wildlife garden.


Jenni Blake

The speaker at the 4th March meeting was Nigel Rowland talking about unusual plants for shade.


Nigel runs Long Acre Plants which is essentially a plantsman's nursery, situated in a hidden triangle of Somerset that slides into Dorset and Wiltshire. They specialise in unusual woodland plants and plants for shade which they sell mainly by mail order. These include Erythronium, Epimedium, hardy ferns, hardy geraniums, hellebores (Helleborus), snowdrops, Viola odorata and Hepatica amongst many other shade loving plants.


Nigel said that plants are the reason for this business and with a very few exceptions they grow what they like, for all the usual human reasons of association, perception of what is beautiful or just inexplicable love. He brought many samples for the members to buy; I didn’t see many people leaving without a special plant or two (or more!)


The talk was beautifully illustrated with slides of the plants, some located where they grow in the wild, others in various famous gardens and the remainder in the nursery. We were all encouraged to go to see the magnificence of the flowers growing in Alpine meadows for swathes of colour rather than individual plants dotted about in the herbaceous beds.

Jenni Blake



At the first meeting of 2014, on 4th February, 

our speaker was Val Bourne, who is an award-winning garden writer, photographer and lecturer. She gardens on the wind-swept Cotswolds high above Bourton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire. Val writes for The Daily Telegraph, Saga Magazine and many others. She is also the gardening correspondent of The Oxford Times. Val also judges the perennial and dahlia trials at RHS Wisley.

The talk was all about snowdrops, the different varieties, the growing habits and the fact that there are always new forms to be found by the sharp eyed. Not sure that many of us felt too keen on lying on the sodden ground this year to observe and note the slight variations.

Val noted that there are lots of snowdrops growing wild in Shalbourne and suggested that it may be because they like growing on banks and slopes. Whatever the reason they do look lovely and are a welcome reminder that spring must be just around the corner.


Jenni BlakeAt the brief Annual General Meeting, on Tuesday, 3rd December, there being no other nominees, Jenni Blake agreed to continue as Chairman for another year.  She stressed, however, that she would not stand for re-election thereafter and she encouraged members to think about joining the committee.


Diane Close was unopposed as Treasurer, Annie Whitcher agreed to continue on the committee, and Ron Hoyes and Godfrey Maude were co-opted.


Jenni also reminded everyone to think more seriously about supplying plants for the annual spring sale. Judy Chidlow, who has provided so many excellent plants in previous seasons, is not able to do so this time. Apart from membership fees, the sale is club’s only other source of income to pay for speakers.


After the AGM, Annie produced a challenging cryptic quiz over which members pored during a buffet supper. Then Martin Truran brought out his guitar and encouraged all to join in singing Christmas songs as well as his own Gardening Club version of The Twelve Days of Christmas:

Twelve bees a humming

Eleven dibbers dibbing

Ten Ruths a sleeping

Nine Jims a laughing

Eight maids a mulching

Seven nettles stinging

Six slugs a munching

Five bulbs for spring

Four Micky Birds

Three Monty Dons

Two gardening gloves

And a sack of John Innes Number 3.


The first meeting in 2014 will be on 4th February when Val Bourne, an award-winning garden writer, photographer and lecturer will talk about snowdrops. This meeting will be open to non-members at £2.50 per head.

Jenni Blake



Ray Broughton, former lecturer at Sparsholt College, spoke to the club at their November meeting. His subject was putting the garden to bed for the winter and preparing it for spring. As usual, Ray delivered an interesting and thought provoking talk delivered in his own inimitable style. We look forward to hearing him again next year.


Next month’s meeting will be in the Village Hall at 7.30pm on Tuesday December 3rd, which will be the AGM followed swiftly by the Christmas Party and entertainment. Drinks provided, please bring a plate of finger food to share.


There will not be a meeting January. However, we have a special speaker in February to start the new growing year. Old and New members will be very welcome, 4th February 2014 in the village hall at 7.30pm.

Jenni Blake


Purchasing a tree to provide spectacular foliage in the garden need cost no more per year in the long term than repeatedly buying annual plants for a similar purpose.


That was one thought-provoking observation from Anthony Powell during his illustrated talk on ‘Autumn Colour in the Garden’ at the October 1 meeting.


He outlined how the myriad variations in colour which occur in plants at this time of year are caused by several chemical changes within the leaves. Then by showing slides and freshly gathered plant samples he highlighted the huge diversity available, not just in foliage, which can help keep gardens colourful right into winter.


The speaker at our next meeting on 5th November will be Ray Broughton whose subject will be ‘Looking after the garden in the winter and planning for spring’.


Andrew Blake 


There were tips aplenty for vegetable growers from Barry Newman, chairman of the National Vegetable Society at the July 3 meeting.


Noting that 50% of the country’s vegetables were imported, largely by air, Mr Newman said it was disappointing that more people did not produce their own.


Don’t use concrete slabs or grass for paths between vegetable beds, he urged. They provide ideal hiding places for slugs and other pests. Use bark or wood chips instead.


Butternut squash could be grown up a hedge to save space, and courgettes supported by stakes were less prone to disease than if allowed to sprawl, he explained.


Likewise, potatoes, best grown in bags of compost placed in soil trenches, were less susceptible to slugs and blight if the foliage was supported. “Get the haulm up off the ground,” he said.


Mr Newman suggested growing vegetables within flower-beds to create “an edible landscape”. Crops such as red chard and fennel could be particularly attractive.


Stick to label recommendations when applying liquid fertiliser to tomatoes, because over-feeding could effectively poison the plants, he warned. A ‘little and often’ approach using extra dilute feed was better than a heavy occasional dose between waterings.


Limit the fruits on trusses of cherry tomato varieties, such as Sungold, to 12-14, he advised. “That’s unless you want to end up with lots for green chutney!”


A firm advocate of raised beds, he pointed out that most vegetables rooted within the top 5-7inches of soil. “For me double-digging is out.”


However, increasing the height of the bed surrounds, which could be constructed from a range of materials, did help as one became older, he noted. “It helps lengthen your gardening career.”


Jenni Blake



Stacey Tuttle joined us for the June 4 meeting; she talked about ‘Garden Design’.


Stacey lives in Hungerford and knows the area well. She began her talk by highlighting the mistakes we all make – buying plants and finding a hole for them, buying pots or ornamental arches because we like the look of them and not knowing where they will look right in the garden. All the things which a professional designer would not do!


We learnt how the gardens are a representation of differing lifestyles; cottage, minimalist, contemporary, Mediterranean and etc. But the key to all these styles being successful is thorough planning. Stacey will talk at great length with her clients to ascertain exactly what it is they are looking for in their garden before charting the design on paper. As she said, it is easy to change a path on paper, not so easy if it has already been laid in the garden.


We saw some beautiful slides of gardens which Stacey has designed and they were remarkably varied. She pointed out features which draw the eye, planting schemes to relax, paving to blend with house or plants, flowers with vibrant colours to liven up a dull outlook. So many ideas to think about but I wonder how many of us will actually change our ways?


The speaker at our July meeting will be Barry Newman, Chairman of The National Vegetable Society.

As well as being a senior NVS judge, Barry serves on the judging and lecturing panel of The Royal Horticultural Society and is a member of the Fruit, Vegetables and Herb Committee. He is a South & South East in Bloom judge and also a member of the South of England Agricultural Society’s Horticultural Committee.

Barry was formally trained in horticulture at Pershore, York and Bath Botanical Gardens.


Jenni Blake



At the May 7 meeting James (Batman) Shipman spoke enthusiastically about his fascination with bats. James is a zoology graduate whose original intention on leaving university was to become a game manager in South Africabecause of his love of African flora and fauna. However, he returned to the UK after finding the tensions in S Africa too unpleasant and he then settled into landscape gardening in the Hungerford and Newbury area where he developed his passion and interest for gardening and bats. Shortly afterwards he trained for his bat licence to allow him to perform voluntary roost visits, and bat surveys as well as bat walks, bat talks and bat rescue/care in West


We learnt that bats are mammals. There are two traditionally recognized suborders - Megachiroptera (megabats) and Microchiroptera (microbats/echo-locating bats). Megabats eat fruit, nectar or pollen, the largest being the Large Flying Fox which just eats fruit. Most microbats eat insects; some may feed of the blood of animals, small mammals, fish, frogs, fruit or nectar. The Kitti's Hognosed Bat or Bumblebee Bat is the smallest of all the world's bat species and also one of the smallest mammals in the world. About an inch long it weighs less than a quarter of an ounce.

Bats are found in almost every habitat available on Earth. Different species select different habitats during different seasons, ranging from seasides to mountains and even deserts, but bat habitats have two basic requirements: roosts, where they spend the day or hibernate, and places for foraging. Bat roosts can be found in hollows, crevices, foliage, and even man-made structures, and include "tents" which the bats construct by biting leaves.


Although the eyes of most microbat species are small and poorly developed, no species is blind. Microbats use vision to navigate, especially for long distances when beyond the range of echo-location. Most bats are nocturnal creatures. Their daylight hours are spent grooming and sleeping; they hunt during the night.


There are thought to be 17 species living in the United Kingdom and they can live up to 42 years. The Pipistrelle, one of the UK's most common species, is a small bat found in a wide range of habitats including farmland, woodlands, and suburban and urban places. It often roosts in crevices around the outside of house and other buildings, and it eats mainly insects; it can eat up to 3000 in one season.


In the UK all bats are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, and even disturbing a bat or its roost can be punished with a heavy fine.

James said that there are many myths about bats; an old wives' tale has it that bats will entangle themselves in people's hair. Not true. One likely source of this belief is that insect-eating bats seeking prey may dive erratically toward people, who attract mosquitoes and gnats, leading the squeamish to believe the bats are trying to get in their hair. Jamesadmits that he is obsessed with bats but nevertheless emphasised that they are harmless to humans.


Jenni Blake

Hacking is illegal. That was the light-hearted warning from our speaker on the subject of pruning at the April 3rd meeting.


Ray Broughton, former lecturer at Sparsholt College, stressed the importance of understanding the science behind this often haphazardlyconducted gardening task.


Only by knowing how the hormones of plants interacted was it really possible to create the desired results from pruning, he explained. Even that potential thug species, Leylandii, could be persuaded to grow into a sensibly shaped and easily controlled hedge provided it received the right attention.


Avoid the temptation to use loppers, he urged. They encouraged over-enthusiastic cutting back which more often than not led to more unrestrained entanglements. They were also good at cutting electric cables!


Pruning tools rarely needed sharpening, merely cleaning, he added. Heinz tomato sauce is apparently excellent for removing the accumulated gunge from secateurs.


Mr Broughton also dismissed the widely-held view that pruning cuts should be made at an angle to the stem. Countless authors of gardening books had unthinkingly reinforced the notion that doing so was best practice – because it allowed rain to run off.

However, recent experiments showed that a straight cut was much less likely to attract disease, and only rarely would a branch be sufficiently vertical for a sloping cut to be any more effective at shedding rain than a simple cross cut.


Next month’s meeting will be in the Village Hall at 7.30pm on Tuesday May 7th, when the speaker will be James Shipman talking about ‘Bats for Gardeners’.


Jenni Blake



About 40 members were welcomed to the March meeting.
Our speaker was Robert Wright, recently retired after a thirty year career in further education.


Robert has spent his retirement developing his interest and knowledge in Traditional Canal Painting.
He began painting in 1992 and learnt the basics of the art before attending specialist courses on signwriting and painting traditional castles in the process of which, he has developed his own style.
He has been a member of the Waterways Craft Guild, the accrediting body for canal crafts, since its inception in 1997.  Robert has Journeyman status in Giftware and Decorative painting. In addition to giftware he paints water cans, cratch boards, signs, and name boards. He also sign writes and
decorates narrowboats.
In an earlier career, Robert was a dental technician making dentures, crowns and plates – fortunately, he hasn’t been tempted to include pictures of those in his paintings!
In a beautifully presented and illustrated talk he showed a great interest in the history of traditional canal painting from its origins in the 19th century to the present day, which inevitably
took in a detailed outline of Britain’s canal system.
Anyone walking the Kennet & Avon Canal and/or the Grand Western Canal (in Devon) towpaths will find many examples of his work. Robert is a painter for both the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust and the Tiverton Canal Co., and they sell his painted items at their teashops etc..
Our next meeting in 2013 is on the 2nd April when we hope that Ray Broughton will be the speaker. New members will be very welcome, just turn up at the Village Hall at 7.30pm.
We are also seeking new speakers, so if you have any suggestions please send them via the Contact Us page.
Jenni Blake
About 30 members attended the February meeting which was the first of 2013.
The speaker was Wilf Simcox, recently retired horticultural lecturer from Sparsholt College, who presented a detailed talk on growing vegetables. No excuse now for not presenting the cook with delicious home-grown produce. Wilf gave many useful tips including one of interest for this pigeon-infested village – a small cage doesn’t need a net cover. Apparently, the pigeons will not descend into a small enclosed area. Hmm! Sceptic that I am, I remain unconvinced. The pigeons in our garden are so fearless I am sure they would descend into an upturned wastepaper basket if there was a tasty cabbage inside. Let us know if you are prepared to test the theory!
Our next meeting in 2013 is on the 5th March. Speaker TBA.
New members very welcome, just turn up at the Village Hall at 7.30pm.
We are also seeking new speakers, so if you have any suggestions please send them via the Contact Us page.
Jenni Blake


About 20 members attended the December meeting which included the AGM.


The decision was made to change the name of the club to: Shalbourne and District Gardening Club. The business meeting (very short) was followed by refreshments to fuel the grey matter for the very difficult quiz which Judy Chidlow had prepared. The least said about the results the better! More liquid was then imbibed for Martin Truran’s sing-a-long session to end an enjoyable evening (so I am told).


Thanks go to all who support the club and help to make it a friendly and forward thinking enterprise.

Our first meeting in 2013 is on the 5th February when annual subscriptions of £10 per head will be due (that is £1 per meeting). Speaker TBA.

New members will be very welcome, just turn up at the Kingston Hall at 7.30pm. We are also seeking new speakers, so if you have suggestions please send them via the Contact Us page.


A reminder that you need to get your compost etc orders to Ron Hoyse asap.


Jenni Blake


At the November meeting Patricia Elkington talked about ‘The Secret Gardens of Hampshire’.


Patricia is the Hampshire County organiser of the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) and her talk included a brief history of the NGS which began in 1927 to support nursing and of its continuing success in raising money for charity by opening gardens.


Charities this year included MacMillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care, Help the Hospices and Cross Roads Care.


We learnt how the gardens are selected – please note the television programmes on the rigid and rather brusque manner of selection or otherwise is not a true picture – we were assured that in real life it is done sensitively and allowance made for imperfections which apparently all add to the character, a bit of wildness is allowed!


We saw some beautiful slides of gardens that are currently open and of some that will be open in 2013. The gardens are remarkably varied and the ‘Secret’ of the title refers to the fact that most are private and only open for one or two days a year. Patricia concluded her talk by giving members the opportunity to buy plants from her own spectacular garden and details of NGS gardens which are fairly local to Shalbourne.


December is our Christmas fun meeting – please bring a plate of food to share, drinks will be provided. We will also take the opportunity to explore the future of the club.

At the October meeting Terry Baker of The Botanic Nursery at Atworth near Bath spoke passionately about his love of traditional plants and of the key role which amateur gardeners have for preserving them for posterity.

The Nursery was founded by Terry and Mary Baker in 1976, when Terry found that he needed to propagate many of the plants he wished to use. There has been a nursery on the site - a two-acre walled garden close to Stonor School for many years – the previous owners used to run a successful market garden enterprise growing tomatoes and salad crops. The soil is a limestone brash. Terry specializes in lime-tolerant hardy plants and the nursery holds the National Collection of digitalis.

The nursery exhibits at many RHS shows, this year they have won four gold medals including one from Chelsea.

Flexibility is achieved by propagating everything they sell and Terry believes that specialist nurseries can survive and prosper if they are willing and able to respond to changes in customer requirements. There is a mail order service for selected plants and seeds. The Bakers make full use of the internet and their web address is:


The Bakers maintain that the personal touch is vital to their business and that certainly was apparent in Terry’s talk which was illustrated by beautiful slides of his much loved and unusual plants. I doubt that anyone present had ever seen or known that so many different forms of foxglove are available.

At the September meeting freelance horticultural consultant Anthony Powell gave a fascinating talk about scented gardening.


Explaining that fragrance, be it from flowers, foliage and even resin, is far more complex than colour, he noted that a single scent may be composed of several hundred different molecules, whereas all colours are simply combinations of only three components.


Two members, smelling various flowers and even a banana while their eyes were closed, helped him demonstrate how hard it can be to describe a particular scent. Although reluctant to emulate critics’ descriptions of wines, he noted that fragrance is often associated with foods.

Perception of scents is often driven by people’s initial experience of it, he added. Whereas many people dislike the smell of flowering currants, he enjoys it because it reminded him of a childhood den – under a currant shrub. And using slides he showed how best to position and use the vast range of scented plants to enhance any garden.


Jane Elliman assisted by Trevor and Jessica entertained members at the July meeting.


Jane talked with inspiration about the different types of tools and their potential for different uses in the garden. We learnt that most if not all of the small early manufacturers of garden tools are now incorporated under the huge umbrella of Spear and Jackson.


The depth of knowledge and the enthusiasm for her subject was obvious and the talk was enhanced by members being allowed to handle the tools which have been lovingly restored by Trevor. The weight of some of those tools might be a problem for those of us accustomed to lightweight electrically aided machines. Hardy folk our forebears!

Of note was the superb quality of the craftsmanship of the early equipment and the regional differences in the construction of tools intended for the same use.


Jane is a keen collector and finds the items at sales and fairs; I won’t give away her method for making special finds! The family research thoroughly the tools using reference books and old advertisements, and they have many items for sale in the Hungerford Arcade in addition to their enormous private collection.


For those members who check their programme, you will be aware that we have booked Antony Powell for the September meeting; he will be talking about the Scented Garden.


There was no meeting in August but discussions were scheduled concerning the future of the club, the annual plant sale and about sourcing good quality ( I mean good quality!!) compost for the members.



We held our plant sale on 28th April at the end of the wettest April on record – despite the diabolical weather we were well supported on the day; gardeners are a hardy breed!. The plants although slightly fewer than in previous years ( problems with compost and unhelpful weather) were exceptionally good quality and very few were left unsold. We thank all those who grew plants and helped with the sale which made a profit of £850.


Robert Harvey joined us for the May meeting; he talked about creating his own spectacular Downland Garden. He demonstrated the way to make a 3d multi-faceted vista from a rectangular plot of field. His garden even has its own mini Silbury Hill and Stonehenge.

Robert’s Winterbourne Bassett garden will be open to the public under the Open Garden Scheme on the 1st July. Robert has invited gardening club members to a private visit, for those interested please contact the Gardening Club.

May I remind you that we have cancelled the June meeting which coincides with the Jubilee Bank Holiday.


The speaker at our April meeting was Marcel Floyd of Floyds Climbers and Clematis near Lacock.The enterprise was started in1992 as a wholesale nursery supplying the local garden centres. They exhibited at their first show in 2003 and started selling to the general public in 2005.
Marcel, ably assisted by his daughter, Jasmine talked with inspiration about the different types of clematis and their potential for different aspects in the garden. We learnt that the different types require specific pruning and planting treatment. The depth of knowledge and the enthusiasm for his subject was obvious and the talk was enhanced by beautiful pictures of his plants, some of which have been bred by him. As a bonus we were given the opportunity to buy some really good specimens, some of which are not generally found in garden centres.
The Floyds plant nursery will be open to the public in September and details will be made available in due course.
At the March meeting Kelvin Mason from Sparsholt College gave an interesting and informative talk on 'Growing Vegetables'. His detailed knowledge of soil structure and ways to improve it included advising members on how to enrich the soil and provide aeration. We learnt that choosing the correct variety of seed for our particular soil and conditions would provide the best of vegetables. When making that decision it is important to distinguish between growing for showing or for eating - large show specimens do not always equal tasty vegetables. And if you want to know if it's warm enough to start sowing in the spring, drop your trousers (or pull up your skirt) and sit your bare bottom on the soil, he advised! 
At the February 2012 meeting Victoria Ennion talked on planning allotments for ease of cultivation and to avoid produce gluts. Pests would inevitably want to help themselves to well presented plants unless their attention could be diverted. An interactive audience ensured a lively discussion with many varied views expressed. However, all agreed that onions (white, red and shallots) had harvested well last season but suffered badly from 'neck rot'.
The next meeting will be on 6th March when Kelvin Mason will talk about successfully growing vegetables - for human consumption!


2011 meeting reports


The November meeting enjoyed a welcome return visit from Lois Philipps who gave an interesting and informative talk on 'Green Manuring'. Lois's detailed knowledge of soil structure and ways to improve it included advising members to plant tares, vetches, clovers, rye grasses, mustard and phacelia to enrich the soil and provide aeration. Next time you see a garden which looks green and weedy don't shout about neglected or untidy gardens, it may be GREEN MANURE!


The Christmas gathering was held on the 6th December in the Kingston Hall when Rod Close entertained members (ably assisted by Diane).


At the October meeting Fred Swift, the Wiltshire Beekeeper, gave another fascinating talk. I wonder if we will ever get to the end of one of his talks? The members were interested and entertained, questions abounded and we ran well over our normal finishing time. Fred's enthusiasm for his bees is infectious, and I am sure we will all be looking with interest in our gardens to see if we can spot the 'precious' black bees, furry or otherwise, which he is trying to re-establish. With wonderful honey products for sale many of us trooped home heavily laden, well ahead with the Christmas shopping. Details are available to encourage absent members to buy online and you can be assured of excellent service from Fred at


At the September meeting Andrew McIndoe, MD of Hilliers Garden Centres, gave an entertaining and informative talk on spring flower bulbs. The results of autumn plantings, shown in his many slides, will hopefully have inspired members to try new species.


At the July meeting Brian Davis gave a talk entitled 'The Secrets of Gardening'. 
Friendly and definitely not foes - that was his message when speaking about slugs in the garden. I am not sure that many members were convinced that their prized Hostas etc. were just plants which got in the way of the slugs’ progress from one patch of rotted vegetable material to another.
Brian went on to highlight the importance of the root system of plants and of using good quality compost – “don’t buy the rubbish from garden centres” was his mantra.
As the author of many books about gardening and with over fifty years of practical experience Brian gave us many tips; so we have no excuse for not producing wonderful plants and a healthy growing medium in Shalbourne gardens.

For free monthly gardening newsletters contact Brian at


At the June meeting Mike Hill gave a fascinating talk and introduced us to some of his owls and birds of prey, including a 2 week old American Kestrel and a pair of fluffy Barn Owl chicks (only 7 & 8 weeks old) that particularly entertained his audience by wandering amongst them.

For more pictures of his birds visit Hilltop Birds of Prey.


At the May meeting speaker Gwen Barton gave us an illustrated talk entitled 'Astride the Tropic of Capricorn', covering her trek across Namibia.


At the April meeting members were delighted to welcome Ray Broughton of Sparsholt College as our speaker.
Ray, an old friend, never fails to instruct and guide our gardening endeavours with expertise and fun. This time his talk was on Plants of Distinction - a wide variety of plants for all sorts of conditions and soils.


Victoria Ennion set off ‘fireworks’ in the garden at the March meeting. Her feast of colour, shape and design possible from planting bulbs gave members some stunning ideas. There were lots of tips and bags of enthusiasm from Victoria who was brought up in Shalbourne.


At our February meeting  Molecatcher Jeff Nicholls gave a highly entertaining show dispelling the many myths about moles and how to catch them. It included his companion Wart who answered questions and flirted with some of our lady members.

2017 Annual Plant Sale

This year's sale will be in the Village Hall from 10am - 12.30pm on Saturday, 22 April.

2016 Annual Plant Sale

Thanks to all members for their help with this year's plant sale on 23 April which returned to its original venue of the Village Hall. There were many good quality plants on offer (see below), but unfortunately the very cold weather appeared to deter many regular punters. Jenni Blake

2015 Annual Plant Sale

Members are thanked for their help and support for the annual plant sale which took place on 4th May at the Sports Field. Lots of good quality plants were produced, but unexpected competition from another plant stall meant that our funds did not receive as much of a boost as in previous years. We will struggle to fund as many first-class speakers. Jenni Blake


2014 Annual Plant Sale

Members are thanked for their help and support for the annual plant sale which took place on 5th May at the Sports Field. Lots of good quality plants ensured that our funds received a much needed boost which will enable us to engage more first-class speakers. Jenni Blake


The 2013 Annual Plant Sale took place on 18th May during fine weather.


Many thanks to all who helped and /or produced plants for this year's Gardening Club Plant Sale. It was a tremendous effort and we took just over £1300. There are some expenses to be taken out but not a great deal, which means that we shall be able to book some good quality speakers for the coming year. Jenni Blake


Here's a taster of what was on sale:








The 2012 Plant sale took place on 28th April.


Despite the rain and relatively small number of plants, albeit good quality ones, the sale returned a healthy profit. This will be used to fund our programme of speakers, but members please note that it will not cover the full cost. Thanks to all who contributed plants and helped to make it a successful and fun event - Judy deserves a special mention.








Last year's event, held on Saturday, 7th May 2011 from 10.00am -12.30pm, attracted plenty of punters - despite the overnight storm beforehand.


It raised a good sum towards the cost of speakers for the coming year, thanks to all those who helped and supported the event.


The picture, taken in the evening beforehand, shows some of the plants awaiting sale.