November Newsletter

Welcome to our November Newsletter. We have articles from members – Elaine Baker and Tracy Lillington – from the National Trust’s Katherine Alker, Garden & Outdoors Manager for South Worcestershire, our Chairman’s Blog, recipes and propogation notes.

Love gardens? You’ll love this month’s edition!

We would love to hear from other members too, for the December newsletter.   Please send in your contributions, in an email attachment, by November 20th to

Helena Kent. Club Secretary

My grandparents’ garden      

Many of us have a collection of family photos, showing great uncle Jim or your grandparents’ wedding or a studio portrait taken in the 1880s of a relative whose name has been long forgotten. But how closely do you look at the background of these photos either for clues as to when the photo was taken or as a comment on social history, or as in this case, how garden designs and tastes have changed over the years?

My grandparents lived in the same house from 1926 to 1981, and we have numerous photos taken in the garden. I’ve picked out three, all taken in approximately the same spot, to show how taste and circumstance impacted the planting.

The first photo is my Mum, taken in 1930 when she was 18 months old. Note the rocking swan, not a rocking horse! The border is full of perennials, possibly lupins and delphiniums to the right, perhaps a cistus on the left. At the front there are some bedding plants. It’s hard to tell in black and white, but perhaps marigolds, petunias, or bachelor’s buttons, all of which were popular bedding plants in the 1920s. The trellis is a distinctive feature, separating the upper part of the garden from that closer to the house. At the time the photo was taken it hides the kennels and run where my great uncle kept his prize-winning German Shepherd dogs. It later became a tennis court.

The next photo was taken in early 1945 and shows my grandmother, mother (then 16) and her younger siblings Chris and Liz.

The trellis is still in place, but the beds are bare, possibly dug over ready for spring planting. The upper garden was converted into an allotment and hen pens as part of my grandparents’ war effort. My grandfather was not a gardener! He had the best of intentions, but only managed to grow potatoes with any success as his contribution to “Dig for Victory”. The hens were more successful. Any bird that no longer laid eggs, “gone leet” in Lancashire dialect, could be traded at the local pub or appear on their own table for Sunday lunch.

The third photo was taken on 23 July 1966, I’m to be a bridesmaid at Liz’s wedding later that day. The trellis has gone, replaced by large posts that support climbing roses and creating a large border. The bed is dotted with large white quartz stones to form a rockery, and planted with bedding plants including pansies, impatiens and nicotiana, plus a cistus. The wartime allotment has been converted into a lawn. In the background are more pansies and dianthus. It is still work in progress, if you look carefully you can see a stack of empty flowerpots behind the far-right post.

The planting schemes altered over the years in line with changing tastes and circumstances. The 1966 planting scheme remained with the addition of perennials and more roses until the house was sold in 1981.

It’s nearly 40 years since my grandparents lived in the house. I know that the lawn where we all had our photos taken is now under a conservatory, and it is unlikely that any of my grandparents’ plants still survive. But I sometimes wonder what the garden looks like today.

Many thanks to George Rees whose plant knowledge helped identify some of the plants.

Elaine Baker

Hello from a newcomer

I am both a new club member and also new to Malvern. I managed just one club meeting before lockdown. I think it was March, it was the one with the chap with the vegetables – remember? lt was in pre-covid days when we were all allowed to squeeze into one room, bump elbows, share pens……

Since then life has been a little different, although we all seem to agree on one thing – if you have a garden then the last few months have probably been much easier for you. Monty tells us this every Friday (so it must be right) but various surveys etc always seem to confirm it.

This is so true for us. Last Christmas my husband and I moved from London to a six acre plot on Castlemorton Common.  Recently retired, we wanted to be able to fill our days working outside so our new place suited us ‘to a T’ as it’s just a series of fields with lots of trees, waiting to be turned into a beautiful garden…..

It was tough in the beginning. We had all that rain and much of the garden was waterlogged. Then the animals started to make themselves known.  Muntjac, moles and foxes.  Even worse…… bunnies. Then the lambs started jumping over the cattle grid. Cattle got through fencing. So was this why we inherited virtually no plants in the garden? I was no longer optimistic about being able to create a beautiful garden from these muddy fields.

But then March arrived. I started sowing seeds. There is something so special about growing seeds; I absolutely love it.

The weather started to improve and we had that fantastic spring. The once dilapidated greenhouse was repaired and soon filled with seed trays and seedlings. Loads of rubbish was removed in numerous skips; mulch and compost were delivered. We started clearing the fields of brambles and thistles. We have laid industrial sized rolls of black plastic everywhere, hoping that all the weeds underneath will magically disappear by next year. The lambs got too chubby to jump over the cattle grid and the cows now gaze longingly at the garden over the newly built stock proof fencing.  Yes, at last, we are beginning to feel more like Tom and Barbara.

My plan was to grow almost everything by seed/cuttings and plant them out as very young plants. Those pesky rabbits put paid to that idea. We did try to catch them in cages. But all we managed to catch was Fred the pheasant who has trained me to give him sunflower seeds every time he visits the garden. The cages have now gone as my husband got fed up with rescuing Fred (who was equally unhappy).  Growing all the plants from seed was probably a crazy idea anyway and would have taken far too long. Very fortunately, as a member of this gardening club, I got to know the lovely Lucy Bannister and have bought numerous more mature plants from her at bargain prices, all in support of St Richard’s Hospice.

Having such a big garden made me realise I needed to brush up on some practical skills. So I recently enrolled on the RHS Level II Practical Horticulture course at Pershore College. lt’s early days but I think l’m going to really enjoy it. As part of the year long course you get your own little allotment to look after and grow vegetables on throughout the year. The College itself offers a huge array of courses (not all related to gardening) so it might be an idea to pick up one of their brochures if you are thinking of starting a new hobby over winter.

For inspiration for our new garden we visited a few of the NGS gardens over the summer. (Wasn’t it lovely when you could get a cup of tea and a slice of cake whilst walking around? Hopefully next year). We went to many but one that really stands out is a beautiful seven acre garden, Moors Meadow in Bromyard, Herefordshire. lt is absolutely packed with unusual plants and has so many different areas to explore. I recommend a visit if you haven’t already been (or check out the website).

So I have started to build a collection of plants for the garden and have ideas for how I want it to look…..but I’m not sure how to go about achieving this look. With little money for a garden designer but with lots of time on my side, I decided to enrol on a garden design course at the Cotswold Gardening School. By the end of the ten week course I should have a high level plan for the whole garden and a detailed plan and planting scheme for a small area within it. I’m not sure yet how well I will manage this but I will be giving it my best shot and I’m having fun doing it. I’ll be happy to let you know how I get on if anyone else is interested in doing something similar in their garden.

So we are now entering winter, with its limited gardening time and of course, all the uncertainties that this wretched disease brings. If you are anything like me, you may be looking ahead with a little trepidation. I’m hoping to beat the winter/virus blues by keeping busy with my new projects. I’ve also stopped watching the news! That’s a really big help. And I’m going to explore the hills when weather permits to try to keep my fitness levels up. I’ve downloaded the ‘Malvern Walks’ app which has lots of lovely walks, many that are circular, all easy to follow. I highly recommend it.

I feel so fortunate that we moved to Malvern when we did. How lucky are we that we all live in such a beautiful place? 

Tracey Lillington

Propagation Notes November

from Rachel Salisbury

I am trying to make these notes relevant to the month in which you receive them, so this time we’re going to be taking hardwood cuttings. These can be taken from a wide range of shrubs, both deciduous and evergreen, but the methods are slightly different.

Deciduous shrubs

Choose wood of the current season’s growth, ideally about pencil thickness.  Many of the shoots you select will be quite long and it’s fine to make several cuttings out of one shoot.  Cut the stem into lengths of about 30cm, cutting just below a node for the base of the cutting and then trimming the remaining piece to just above a node.

Insert cuttings to at least a third of their length into pots of gritty compost and leave outside.  Alternatively they can be inserted straight into garden soil (add grit if it’s very sticky).  Leave until new growth is showing next year, then pot up into a compost containing nutrients and grow on for a year before planting out in the garden.  

Plants to try – Forsythia, Willow (both very easy), Weigela, Deutzia, Buddleia, Cornus

Evergreens, including conifers

Take the top section of shoots of this year’s growth, about 10 – 15cm in length. If the top is still soft, pinch it out, leaving yourself with a woody stem. Strip off the lower leaves/needles for approx 5cm to give you bare stem to insert into compost.  Place in trays or pots of gritty compost (low nutrient) or even pure sand.  Water well and place in a cold frame or unheated glasshouse.  Ensure cuttings do not dry out, but they should need very little watering during the winter.  Leave until late spring then check for rooting – a gentle tug will meet with resistance if rooting has occurred.  Pot up into a good potting compost and grow on for a year before planting out into the garden.

Plants to try – Evergreen Viburnum, Myrtle, Skimmia, Thuja, Cupressus.

The above are the simplest methods. Some plants need a bit more refinement and we’ll come to those later.

Deciduous hardwood cuttings can be taken throughout the winter until about mid February, Evergreens are better done early in the winter and definitely this side of Christmas.

NB some plants will never root whatever you do!!  They simply do not have the right chemistry/physiology to do so.  Others have very specific requirements.  We’ll look at some of those later, but for the time being just have a go and remember there’s no such thing as failure. It’s all a learning process.

I look forward to hearing about your successes and failures next spring and if you have any questions, feel free to message me and I’ll do my best to help.

Pumpkin Pie (a thoroughly good recipe!)
Recipe from Hilary

For the pastry



  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
  2. If using a shop bought sweet crust pastry case, use one that is 23cm/9in diameter and 4cm/1½in deep. If using your own pastry, roll it out and use it to line a 23cm/9in pie plate (not loose bottomed). Bake the pastry case blind for 20 minutes.
  3. To make the filling, place the pumpkin chunks on a baking tray, cover with foil and roast until tender. This will take about 20-30 minutes, depending on your pumpkin. Press the cooked pumpkin in a coarse sieve and to extract any excess water. Set aside to cool before blending in a food processor, or mashing by hand to a pureé.
  4. Lightly whisk the eggs and extra yolk together in a large bowl.
  5. Place the sugar, spices and the cream in a pan, bring to simmering point, giving it a whisk to mix everything together. Then pour it over the eggs and whisk it again briefly.
    Now add the pumpkin pureé, still whisking to combine everything thoroughly.
  6. Reduce the oven temperature to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Pour the filling into your pastry case and bake for 35-40 minutes, by which time it will puff up round the edges but still feel slightly wobbly in the centre.
  7. Remove the pie from the oven and place the tin on a wire cooling rack. Serve warm or chilled (stored loosely covered in foil in the fridge) with some chilled créme fraïche or whipped cream.

The Firs, Elgar’s Birthplace

From Guest Contributor Katherine Alker, Garden & Outdoors Manager, S  Worcs

Unlike Croome, The Firs, Elgar’s Birthplace in Lower Broadheath, remains closed to the public for the time being due to the Covid-19 crisis. Throughout this year though the place has been well cared for by gardener Dawne, who has been onsite to carry out essential security and maintenance tasks, as well as keeping the garden looking beautiful. She has also taken the opportunity to tackle some large-scale jobs which would not have been possible if the place had been open.

In the birthplace cottage garden, Rosa ‘Arthur Bell’ has been blooming for several months; it’s a beautiful deep yellow flower. ‘Arthur Bell’ was bred by Sam McGredy, in Northern Ireland in 1964. The new cultivar was named for the Scottish whisky manufacturer, Arthur Kinmond Bell (1868—1942). Many of Sam McGredy IV’s rose varieties are named after alcoholic drinks. ‘Arthur Bell’ is a cross between ‘Cläre Grammerstorf’ and ‘Piccadilly’, and is classed as a modern floribunda rose.

Dawne made the most of the place being closed this year and removed several huge viburnum shrubs that had become very overgrown in the cottage garden. By cutting them right back she opened up an area that she could plant with some herbaceous perennials such as heuchera, penstemons and geraniums which would provide some good colour and nectar for pollinators too. This area, known now as ‘the mount’, is filling out nicely and we hope that visitors will enjoy it next year when we re-open.

Another large job was to open-up the view of the Malvern Hills from the statue of Elgar at the bottom of the garden by reducing the thick hawthorn hedge down to waist height. Dawne made room to add a second bench to the area and some climbing roses behind it, so when visitors sit there in future they will have a fantastic view and smell a gorgeous scent too. During his final illness in 1933, Elgar hummed the Cello Concerto’s first theme to his friend Billy Reed and said, “If ever after I’m dead you hear someone whistling this tune on the Malvern Hills, don’t be alarmed. It’s only me.”

We hope to re-open The Firs in 2021. Please keep an eye on our website for any news.

Chairman’s Blog

We drove past one of the churches in the Link recently and they had a banner celebrating harvest. It is certainly the time of the year in the garden when crops stop ripening and it is time to harvest what we have grown.

Over the last few weeks we have harvested the last of our tomatoes from the greenhouse. They have been a bit disappointing this year, with a smaller crop than usual but enough to make it worthwhile.

We always grow Sungold but this year added Sunchocola, a small reddish / chocolate brown tomato. It has a very good flavour and texture and we will grow it again.

As for our cucumber – not a success. We normally get at least 4 fruit but the lockdown plant from Waitrose (grafted and twice as expensive) only gave one cucumber. We will go back to Femspot from Laylocks !

The apple trees have been reasonably productive. We have 6 small trees, with a selection of varieties. Each year two seem to produce far more fruit than the others, but which two varies. Trying to get to the apples before the wasps and magpies is an annual battle. At least we are wildlife friendly.

We have grown gourds at the top of the garden for several years. They are great fun, as it is a mixed pack and you don’t know what you will get at the end. The vines grow up the fence and the fruits are hidden under the leaves, so it is always fun to see the result. Although we have slightly fewer gourds than last year there is a good mix.

When we lived in Maryland and Virginia it was common to see displays of pumpkins and Indian corn (like sweetcorn, but with multicoloured seeds) in many front yards as we come up to Halloween. We also grew some Indian corn this year. I particularly like the one with the red leaves.

Our last harvest job is the grape vine. We can get four or five large plastic trugs of grapes – they are not quite sweet enough to eat and never quite enough for a Château Rosebank !

I hope you have had success in your gardens this year, and enjoy planning for next year.


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