Reports on talks

SEPTEMBER 2020 ‘Along the Lanes of Somerset’ with Bett Partridge

Kilmersdon Gardeners were excited to get a brief taste of normality.  We made a virtual excursion ‘Along the Lanes of Somerset’ in the company of Bett Partridge.  Bett lives in Wookey Hole and was a practicing Herbalist before her retirement.  She shared the past and present uses of common hedgerow plants.  In the days before pharmaceutical and chemical companies people developed and passed on their knowledge of herbal remedies.  It is usually the dried flowers that are used and it is labour intensive to prepare remedies.  Plants like Cuckoo Pint which are poisonous were used to make starch in Tudor times and had a harmful effect on the hands of laundresses.

One interesting fact is the idea that the similarity of shape of the root of a plant to a part of the body gives an indication of its possible application.  The little nodules of the Lesser Celandine indicate its use to treat Hemorrhoids. Wall Pennywort has trumpet like leaves that look like an ear and can help earache.  Violets and Thyme can be used for sore throats.  Dandelions are a diuretic and may be used with Burdock root to help the kidneys.  The bedstraws can help with toxins causing swollen glands.  St Johns Wort can be prepared to soothe the skin.  Woundwort and Yarrow can help to stop bleeding and be antiseptic.  The mashed roots Comfrey can be made into paste for a wrist splint that helps healing.  Hawthorn is used to treat high blood pressure.  Rose hips are rich in vitamin C and can be made into a tonic syrup. Of course, all these applications need the skill of a trained herbalist to be safe.  We might however think of using Elderflowers for cordial or champagne by mixing with sugar, steeping in boiling water and placing in screw top bottles for a few weeks to become a low alcohol ‘fizzy’ drink.

After the applause for the speaker and Judith Stanford the Chairperson for making the evening happen.  The ‘Rule of 6’ means it could be the last meeting of the year.  We all look forward to getting together again as soon as it is sensible.

Trisha Jordan

MARCH 2020  Hedgehogs in your Garden and Local Area with Laura Batt 

Laura Batt and husband John from ‘Prickles Hedgehog Rescue’ showing their fundraising goods to new Kilmersdon Gardeners member Michelle Farrell.

Five minutes of your time can mean life not death for a hedgehog!

Our speaker this month was Laura Batt a volunteer at ‘Prickles Hedgehog Rescue’.  This charity is based in Cheddar and passionate about the survival and welfare of hedgehogs.  Set up by Jules Bishop in 2007 it is not open for visiting as it specialises in the rescue, rehabilitation, care and release of hedgehogs.  It is dependent on public donations and the support of many volunteer helpers. Their website is 

Hedgehogs are now a protected species.  Numbers in the UK have fallen from 30 million in the 1950’s to about 1 million now.  This is the result of loss of habitat due to changing farming practices, busier roads and expansion of land for housing.  Hedgehogs are nocturnal with poor eyesight, excellent hearing and a keen sense of smell.  If you see one out during the day, sunbathing, wobbling or walking in circles it is sick.  It is best to contact the rescue centre on 07806 744772.  In June a mother with hoglets may forage in daylight to provide for her young. When frightened they roll up in a ball exposing their spines and are vulnerable to traffic. If you see one in the road and can stop safely, carry it to safety with gloves or a towel.

Hedgehogs make their homes in hedgerows, woodland, farmland and gardens.  They put on weight in the autumn ready to hibernate through the winter.  They need to weigh about 650 grams at this time.  If the winter is mild like this one, they sleep badly and lose weight.  Hedgehogs under 400 grams need to be kept warm and fed or they will not survive.  If you take a hedgehog to the rescue centre, they will enter it on their database and give you the PH – Prickles Hedgehog number.  When recovered the hedgehog will be returned to you for release if you have a suitable environment free of badgers and terrier dogs.

Considered the gardeners friend they help to keep pests like slugs under control but we need to consider them in our gardening activities.  Five minutes of your time can mean life not death for a hedgehog!  Check garages and sheds to avoid shutting a hedgehog in and bonfires before you light them.  Don’t put pea netting close to the ground, provide escape routes from ponds, keep covers over drains, be careful turning over your compost heap not to spear a hedgehog.  Avoid blue slug pellets and use alternatives.  If you do use them be sparing and collect dead slugs and snails as they are now poisonous to hedgehogs and other wildlife.  Keep wild patches, wood and leaf piles for insects and hedgehogs.  Before you strim or mow check the area carefully for hedgehogs.  A 13cm square hole in fences between gardens can create a ’hedgehog highway’ and developers can be encouraged to facilitate this.  If you feed them avoid milk and offer meat in gravy or digestive biscuits.  These noisy eaters have sensitive stomachs.

FEBRUARY 2020  Wildlife in the Garden by Diana Walker local photographer and artist

Palmate Newts




              Broad-bodied chaser dragonfly

Southern Hawker Dragonfly emerging

The renowned local photographer and artist Diana Walker wowed the club members with stunning pictures of the wildlife in her garden. By planting 4 trees and adding a pond complete with recirculating ‘stream’, the range of creatures attracted to Diana’s small plot, a mere 47 x 28 feet, is inspirational and something that almost everybody could achieve. A pebbly slope into the pond enables frogs and palmate newts to easily access the pond, which is also a water source and bath for the many birds.

Planting bog arum, yellow flag irises and marsh marigolds not only adds to the visual appeal but enables chaser and dragonfly nymphs to crawl up the stems and emerge. Diana had a video to illustrate this two hour process condensed into 2 minutes. Another video taken underwater showed several male palmate newts, with their characteristic spiked tails and black webbed feet, getting in the way of a female trying to lay her eggs on a pond plant.

A wide range of insects from ants seeking out greenfly on her rose buds to elephant hawk moths, angle shade moths and thick-legged beetles, not to mention 3 types of ladybirds, were illustrated in sharp-close-ups.  The butterflies adorning Diana’s pesticide-free garden include peacock, comma, red admiral, ringlet, small tortoiseshell, large white, green-veined white and orange tip. Spiders featured as well – in particular the ruby red cross spider.

Examples of fungi included the jelly-ear and sulphur tuft. Many common mammals such as rats, squirrels, hedgehogs, foxes and badgers have been caught on stealth cam by Diana, who could then work out when and where to set up a camera and flash to take further images.

Diana has spent hours trying to capture bees and other insects in flight and she was able to demonstrate her most successful shots. Some 20 species of birds visit the garden, some attracted by fat ball, sunflower heart and peanut feeders and others, like buzzards, just passing overhead. Diana’s preferred shots were of birds like dunnocks in the snow or on frosted branches.

Members broke into a spontaneous round of applause and then moved to AGM business

JANUARY 2020 Butterflies and their conservation

For twenty years Geoff Hobson was closely involved with the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme an important resource for understanding change and trends in biodiversity.  Since 1976 Sampling has taken place in random squares across the country in Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest with weekly transects. In addition, the Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey, samples a network of over 4,000 locations for specialised habitats and species.  For more information visit the comprehensive Butterfly Conservation website at –

The 56 species of butterfly in Britain and Ireland are under threat today from unprecedented environmental change.  Butterflies and moths are recognised as indicators of biodiversity. Their fragility makes them quick to react to change so their struggle to survive is a serious warning about our environment. Habitats have been destroyed on a massive scale, and now patterns of climate and weather are shifting unpredictably in response to pollution of the atmosphere.  The disappearance of these beautiful creatures is more serious than just a loss of colour in the countryside.

Geoff has spent much of his time walking with his dog and looking for butterflies on the Chalk Down Lands of Wiltshire and Dorset.  He treated us to a slide show of many species he has captured on camera.   Orange Tip, Brimstone, Peacock, Green Hairstreak and the many varieties of Fritillaries and Skippers.  There were many Blues such as the Holly Blue, Small Blue and Common Blue.  The rare White Admiral and the more common Red Admiral.  The white butterflies include the Large White also known as the Cabbage White who can lay waste to unprotected Brassicas in the late summer.  It is easy to see about 25 of the 56 species in a year but to see all of them is almost impossible because they include species like the White Letter Hairstreak which live in the upper branches of Oak trees.  On one of Geoff’s regular transect at Boys Hill West Dorset it has only been seen three times in 30 years although it is an area where they thrive.  Some species have a limited range in Scotland, the North of England or the South West.

The Painted Lady is a late summer visitor that breeds in the Atlas Mountains of North Africa and then flies north to Spain, France, Germany, possibly Britain and on to Iceland.  Tracking has shown they can ride the high-level jet stream back to Africa when conditions are right.

NOVEMBER The 12 Plants of Christmas

In a seasonally-themed talk on the 12 Plants of Christmas, horticulturalist Julie Henderson gave some fascinating insights and tips. Bringing evergreen foliage into the home over winter has been practised for centuries dating back to the early pagans. Both our native holly and ivy would have been popular choices then as now. To get holly berries in the garden, both male and female plants are needed – unless you buy Ilex Nellie R Stevenson. The attractive pointed ivy leaves are juvenile ones, but don’t over-trim otherwise the ivy will not flower at this time of year, when it provides a valuable source of nectar for pollinators followed by berries for the birds. A specific ivy bee, Colletes hederae has only been recognised since 1993 and is thought to be a newly evolved species. Also symbolising life over winter, as well as being associated with fertility, mistletoe has been recognised by many cultures over the centuries, often being ascribed mystical properties as it ‘magically’ appears high in trees.
Yule logs were traditionally burned during the Nordic winter festival to provide warmth and light over the winter solstice in the hope that the sun would move on to again provide warmth and light. The tradition was particularly embraced by the Victorians. Like all other brassicas which we eat, Brussels sprouts have been selected from wild cabbage and were developed in Belgium by the 16th century. Most of the cranberries for our sauce are grown on a vast scale in peaty bogland in north-eastern America and southern Canada, where they float on the surface of fields flooded in order to harvest them. A top tip for buying Pointsettia, native of Mexico, is to look into the centre of the red bracts and check that there are still some buds in the yellow flowers so they last longer.
It is thought the Romans brought chestnut trees to the UK as they loved to eat chestnuts, even making a cake out of sultanas and ground chestnuts. A particularly fine landscape tree, planted in 1500, is to be found at Stourhead. And who knew that midges are so important for our beloved chocolate? They pollinate the cocoa plant native to Sri Lanka.
Finally, to Christmas trees, where Julie felt that the Fraser fir was worth considering as a lightly-scented compromise between the more scented traditional Norway spruce and the expensive, bulky but low-drop Nordman fir.

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.