Reports on talks

OCTOBER  Cottage Garden Flowers

This month George Alway shared his hands-on gardening experiences with us.  He brought an impressive show of fresh cut flowers from his garden to illustrate his talk providing welcome tips on creating colourful borders and growing cut flowers.  George and his wife inherited an 8-acre farm with a cottage and woodland from two elderly ladies who they had helped.  George added quantities of manure and pea gravel to turn the clay to a heavy loam.  He now has an acre of formal garden and half an acre where he grows the cut flowers which he sells from a stall and supplies for spring weddings.

Delphiniums, Peonies, Dahlias, Asters, Chrysanthemums and Red-Hot Pokers all feature in his borders.  He lifts his dahlias in November, knocks off the soil and dries them upside down on gravel in a green house. George takes cuttings in April and plants 6 to a 6-inch pot in the autumn he pots them on keeping them inside for the winter.  He puts them out after the frost is over.  He waters his Dahlias sparingly to prevent them becoming too lush.  He likes the bright red Bishop of Llandaff mixed with yellow Bishop of Gloucestershire.  Mixed packs of seeds known as ‘The Bishop’s Children’ are available to grow these splendid flowers from seed.  He leaves his Gladioli in the ground with a thick cover of manure in winter and they thrive providing good cut flowers for three years.

George grows a traditional range of spring flowers, Hellebores, Daffodils, Snowdrops, and Tulips.  He advocated that Daffodils need to be planted deep with a spade or bulb planter if they are to bloom year after year.  Nasturtiums, Cosmos and Rudbeckia can be planted to come on when the bulbs have finished.  He also recommends the ‘Chelsea Chop’ which involves drastically cutting a plant back in the spring so it flowers abundantly in the autumn. He uses this technique with Michaelmas Daisies and the Sedum Autumn Joy which attracts late butterflies.

The wonderfully scented Pinks and economical bundles of traditional wallflowers that George brought were purchased by eager members.  My Pinks emitted a delicious aroma at home.

SEPTEMBER  Isles of Scilly

Kilmersdon Gardeners were invited to ‘step back in time’ to a quieter age of less traffic and no pressure.  Alan Clarke took us on a tour of the Isles of Scilly where the air and water are clear, the colours vibrant and the climate moderated by the ocean.  The islands have many protections for the Heritage Coast and Special Areas of Conservation.  These qualities attract wildlife enthusiasts, geologists, gardeners, painters and potters.  Of over two hundred islands St Marys is the largest of the five inhabited islands.  The capital Hugh Town is guarded by the Star Castle built in 1588 after the Spanish Armada, now a hotel.  The old town has a churchyard with exotic plants giving a tropical atmosphere. Most visitors come on the Scillonian ferry from Penzance or by Skybus from Exeter.

The islands have many plants adapted to the free draining sandy soil, the wind and salty air with succulent leaves and a prostrate growing habit honeysuckle, sea holly convolvulus, birds foot trefoil and sea mayweed grow close to the foreshore.  Edible plants like sea kale and sea beet contributed to the fish-based diet of earlier inhabitants.  There are burial mounds and hut circles of early settlers on Samson a small uninhabited island.  There are many interesting rock outcrops on the islands evoking images like a camel, Queen Victoria, a bishop and a tooth.

In the 1830’s Augustus Smith was the first of his family to lease the island of Tresco from the Duchy of Cornwall.  A keen botanist and plant collector he was attracted by the mild climate.  Smith introduced a wide variety of exotic plants.  Daffodils became a cash crop in January carried to London by the new railways.  The Abbey Garden he created on Tresco is a 12-acre garden incorporating the old Abbey ruins.  There are over 20,000 plants making it a treasure to visit on a day when there is no cruise ship in the bay!  There are enormous Proteus flowers and majestic tree ferns.  There is a wealth of Agapanthus which has thrived and escaped all over the islands.

The Scilly Islands have been a haven for shipping and the scene of over 2,000 shipwrecks since the early 20th Century.  In 1707 the British Fleet, laden with plunder, was sailing home from the coast of France led by Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell when it ran into fog.  After hanging a local sailor who warned him of treacherous rocks the admiral ran 4 ships of the fleet aground on Gilstone Rocks in Hells Bay with the loss of 2000 lives, including his own.

AUGUST  a garden visit to Honeyhurst Farm at Rodney Stoke 

There was no meeting in the village hall at Kilmersdon in August for Kilmersdon Gardeners, however a garden visit to Honeyhurst Farm at Rodney Stoke was organised.

A good number of members of our club turned out as well as members of Mendip Gardening Club and also others who open their garden for the National Garden Scheme.

The afternoon was perfectly dry just for our garden visit.  Kathy and Don Longhurst were the perfect hosts, Kathy, as our guide around her garden, entertained us with tales of how the garden evolved from farmland and changed to suit over the years as well as how they had two rather large black hungry pigs as pets in the vegetable garden, treats were available for us to feed them.  Kathy’s knowledge of plants was commendable and of course there were plants she had grown from seed for us to buy!

Don was ready for us with our refreshments, a vast choice of homemade (by Kathy) cake and cream teas too on offer.  We all enjoyed our visit and it was deemed to be a successful friendly extended afternoon.

JULY   In Praise of Apples

Charlotte Popescu is the daughter of Christine Pullien-Thompson prolific writer of pony stories. As would be expected she had a country childhood with ponies, orchards and filling apple puddings!  Living first in Oxfordshire, later at a Suffolk parsonage and now, with her husband and family in rural Wiltshire with her own orchard.  Apple Day is on October 21st and will be celebrated in Kilmersdon on October 26th 2019.

Apples have been seen as a symbol of love and an aphrodisiac since Greek Mythology.  Paris presented Aphrodite the goddess of love with a golden apple in return for the love of the beautiful Helen of Troy.  In the Bible eating the apple, a forbidden fruit, precipitates Eve and Adam leaving Eden.  Traditions include peeling an apple in a single piece and throwing it over your shoulder to see a sweetheart’s initial.  Twelfth Night Wassail in orchards is a fertility rite.  In modern times Steve Jobs appropriated its symbolism for his ‘Apple’ computer logo.

The Romans cultivated apples and their armies spread the pips as they marched across Europe.  Cultivated apples had declined in Britain through drought and war by the 16th century.  Henry VIII appointed Fruiterer Richard Harris to bring Pippins to Teynham Kent where there are still 165 acres of apples in addition to the fruit collection at Brogdale.

Richard Cox a retired brewer used pips from a Ribston Pipin to create the famous Cox variety.  Mary Anne Bralesford planted pips in her garden in 1809 creating a great cooking apple.  Matthew Bramley bought the cottage and when Henry Merriweather took cuttings and registered the variety Bramley insisted it took his name.  Deported convict, the Australian Midwife Maria Ann Smith managed her husband’s orchard after his death.  A tree grew from a pile of discarded cuttings.  Maria observed of the ‘Granny Smith’, named for her, that ‘It’s just like God to make something good out of what people think of as rubbish’.

Sunset is Charlotte’s favorite apple bred by Mr Addy in Kent from a Cox seedling.  Member Margaret Wasem agreed with her having herself had a small tree of this variety.  Second came Ashmead Kernel bred in Gloucestershire by Mr Ashmead with a touch of Russet.   Third place goes to the Sturmer Pippin, a sweet juicy apple from Sussex that keeps well.  Supermarket apples may loose their vitamin C if kept too long.

Competition winner for a ‘Flowering pot plant’ Claire Weeks was presented with the Ray Box Memorial cup by Chairperson Judith Stanford.  The meeting in August is a garden visit and the next talk in the hall will be on September 11th when Alan Clarke takes us to the ‘Isles of Scilly’.

JUNE  Healing – ‘A little of what makes someone else poorly may do you good!’

June saw a change to our planned speaker.  Misha Norland an experienced Homeopath volunteered to give a talk on Homeopathy.  He was visiting the club looking forward to hearing Bett Partridge a medical herbalist who was unable to attend at the last minute.

Misha introduced his topic by explaining that Homeopathy relied on treating like with like.  This is a similar principle to vaccination developed by Edward Jenner in the 18th century.  Jenner observed that milkmaids who frequently caught the milder cowpox rarely contracted smallpox a disease with a high mortality rate.  He ‘vaccinated’ his Gardener’s son with cowpox and when the boy recovered tried, unsuccessfully, to infect him with smallpox.  This proved the efficacy of the technique which Queen Victoria later employed for her own children.

Herbal homeopathic remedies rely on the observation that a preparation that causes an adverse reaction in some people can be used to treat a related condition in others.  As with Hippocratic principles there is also the balancing effect of opposites like acid neutralising alkali.  Members of the Allium family – onions may irritate causing running eyes and noses in some people when handling them.  Essence from alliums are used in homeopathy to treat respiratory problems.  The alpine daisy Arnica is used in the treatment of bruises and camomile as a soothing tea or teething balm.

A homeopath will spend time understanding the symptoms and family history of a patient while devising an appropriate treatment.  Treating acute problems like teething or allergies in children is much easier that dealing with chronic problems in adults.  Misha came to Homeopathy as a single parent looking after his young son.  This developed into a lifelong career. Homeopaths are not registered and he gained clients by word of mouth.  He is sceptical of the choice of research to justify no longer funding homeopathic treatment through the NHS.


MAY  Kilmersdon Gardeners Explore how to Create a Sustainable Garden

Mark Walker is a Garden Designer with a strong desire to create beautiful sustainable gardens.  He has a long-standing commitment to cutting down the inputs to a garden to reduce the cost and the carbon footprint while promoting indigenous bio-diversity.  Exotic species in a formal garden are costly to raise, feed, water and tend.

A garden Mark designed near Weston-super-Mare is an example of sustainable planting using perennials in wide sloping borders.  Species are chosen to give a variety of colour at different seasons and planted in interesting patterns.  Choosing plants that provide good ground cover can reduce weeding or mulching can be used with a careful choice of materials.

Near Congresbury Mark has applied an alternative strategy and encouraged the growth of native plants in a low nitrogen wild meadow.  Plants have seeded and colonised what was previously an area of lawn.  There is a rich flora which has colonised the meadow including snowdrops, orchids, buttercups, stitchwort, bugle, clover, plantain, celandine, sheep sorrel, vetches and dog violets.  Grasses like bents and fescues thrive, while nettles are displaced by other species because the soil is poor in nitrogen and potassium.  The meadow which is cut twice a year is a rich area for native birds and insects.

Even in a small garden plants can be left to seed and spread. A variety of habitats that can be created to promote wildlife like a pond or wood pile.  Lower impact techniques like various types of mulch can replace weed killer and pellets to control slugs and weeds.