December Newsletter

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

Welcome to our December Newsletter. We have articles from members – Helena Kent and Trish Robinson – from the National Trust’s Katherine Alker, Garden & Outdoors Manager for South Worcestershire, our Chairman’s Blog, recipes and propagation notes from Rachel Salisbury and an article from Club President Carol Nicholls.

Artwork is from Mary Pillon

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

Helena Kent. Club Secretary

A Trip down Memory Lane 

Feeling inspired by Elaine’s article in the November newsletter, about her grandparents’ garden, I wrote this short piece about my childhood in the ‘50s.

My Grandad’s garden was actually an allotment down Water Furlong in Stamford, Lincs.  We always called it a garden because it was more like a garden than an allotment.  It had a lawn, flower beds, old apple trees, as well as vegetable plots, a hen house and run, greenhouse and a wooden shed.  Most of the allotments down Water Furlong were bordered by hedges or stone walls with their own wooden entrance gate with a padlock.  In our case, a large brass padlock with a key, which hung, on a piece of string, over the inside of the gate!  

I remember being fascinated by many things in this garden. To name a few, the greenhouse, whitewashed in summer, full of tall tomato and cucumber plants, laden with fruit; the rows of Grandad’s prize winning Chrysanthemums and Dahlias in the flower beds and especially the musty smelling shed with balls of string, brass weighing scales with a hook, a dibber and tools with smooth wooden handles and the boxes of orange and brass shotgun cartridges.  My Grandad was the archetypal Lincolnshire Poacher!

In Spring, I would walk around the grass paths, alongside the hedges and pick the primroses and sweet violets, that grew there and give them to Mum on Mothering Sunday.

In Summer, my brother and I always helped to pick the runner beans and garden peas. I do not remember peas ever tasting as good as those we picked then; popping open the pod and eating the small, bright green peas, fresh from the pod, whilst discarding the occasional, tiny wriggling maggot we found! 

We would also help to collect the hens’ (or chucky) eggs. I remember the feel of the newly laid eggs, smooth and warm with bits of straw attached.

At the end of the day, we often walked back to Nan and Grandad’s house, in Water Street, through the Meadows.  At the bottom of Water Furlong was an old stone bridge, crossing the stream, which flowed into the main River Welland.  In those days the stream ran fast and we often caught a flash of brilliant blue, as the kingfisher dived into the water to catch a fish.  Those days seem idyllic now looking back!

Helena Kent

Chairman’s Blog

As winter approaches Elaine and I are planning projects for next year. Almost ten years ago we bought a summerhouse. We had looked at them at several Malvern Shows and had reluctantly decided that they were simply too expensive. On a visit to John Lewis in Southampton we accidentally got out of the lift at the wrong floor and found a display of Cranes summerhouses in the lift lobby. We looked at the brochure and found that they were only half the price quoted at the shows and for a larger model too. It duly arrived – Cranes come and build the summerhouse themselves – and it was very smart. It sits alongside the cottage garden and has lovely views of summer flowers. But it looked very much like a Tardis had landed in the garden – completely disconnected from the garden and out of place.

We went to Grange Farm Nursery and asked for advice. They recommended that we created new planting to allow the summerhouse to connect with the garden. So we dug a new border that sits between the summerhouse and the lawn. We planted two phormiums and some bedding plants and after two years the summerhouse blended in nicely. What we didn’t realise was that phormiums need a lot of care, and don’t stay as the small plants we had bought. They are also known as New Zealand flax, and the leaves can be cut to make woven baskets. The plants have great significance to Maoris and there are rules on how they should be pruned, by whom and when. Suffice to say we didn’t have the skills needed and they got out of control. Reluctantly after ten years we decided that they had to go.

It turns out that phormiums are quite shallow rooted and digging them up was not as hard as we had feared. Each clump could then be divided into small plants – we got about 50 from the two clumps. We potted on about four of them and managed to give away the rest. It was fun to see the dog walkers at the bottom of the drive leaving with three or four plants, little knowing that they were holding future time bombs waiting to take over their gardens. So what to plant instead? After a recent visit to Biddulph Grange in Cheshire, which is famed for its dahlia walk, we decided to experiment with a matched collection of dahlias. Sarah Raven and Halls of Heddon have excellent websites and even if you don’t have a spare space for them it is fun to window shop. We decided on Sarah Raven’s Venetian dahlia collection which is shown here as cut flowers. All I have to do now is to enlarge the borders to accommodate the new dahlias when they arrive next year, prepare the soil and hope that we have reasonable weather (not the cold wet spring followed by a very dry early summer we had last year). I hope you enjoy making plans for next year.  It seems very likely that the Malvern Spring Show will return – tickets are now on sale – and we can return to a more normal world.

Malvern Shows

We are so lucky to live in such a beautiful place as Malvern  & having the Three Counties Showground near by. For us gardeners the draw of the R.H.S. Spring, Autumn & the 3 Counties Shows are an added bonus.

Local gardening clubs run the plant creche at the Spring & Autumn shows, our club usually do the Saturdays and lately have been manning an additional Floral Marquee plant creche on the Thursday of the Spring show.  It is hard work physically but great fun & rewarding with the added bonus of getting an entry ticket to the show for doing 2 hours on duty, the club also receives a fee from the organizers. We take in plants, tie no more the 2 bags together and give the owner one half of a raffle ticket stapling the other half onto the bag, these are then put in numerical order on the benches in the marquee. (Sometimes one owner might have 2 or 3 bundles). The later shifts hand them back hopefully still looking beautiful. It is fascinating to see what is in vogue that year.

Fingers crossed, by May 2021 life will have got back to some form of normality and we will again be asked to run a creche. If you fancy helping, make sure you volunteer in good time.

At the Spring Show there is so much to do & see. Especially the gardens built  for the show. The children’s entries are great fun  Famous gardening celebrities give talks & demonstrations. If you want  a special plant this is the place to look for it. The Autumn show celebrates all the fruit and vegetables with some amazing displays. The Giant Vegetable Championships for heaviest & longest vegetables is worth visiting just to see the weird & wonderful shapes. Growers come from all around UK to show their produce & flowers and there are national competitions for roses, chrysanthemums, dahlias and other flowers also filling a Trug! But we grass root gardeners can also enter, and there are some classes restricted to local entries.

I have been entering the ‘Grow to Show’ for the past few years it is not much more difficult then entering our own club monthy competitions and if you enter 5 categories you are given tickets for each day of the show!! Next year pick up an entry form and have a go!! There are  classes for first timers too. One year a friend & I thought we could do a better display in an alcove – it was more challenging than we’d realised but worth it in the end as we won a 3rd.

Trish Robinson

RecipeFrangipane topped mince pies

• Jus-Rol all butter shortcrust pastry (or homemade)
• Approx. 200 g mincemeat
• 45g caster sugar
• 45g butter – melted
• 1 egg
• 45g ground almonds
• Few flaked almonds

• Preheat oven to 180C Gas M. 6
• Unroll sheet of pastry and cut out 12 discs and transfer to jam tart tin
• Spoon out mincemeat
• Beat the egg and sugar together and stir in the melted butter and ground almonds.
• spoon the mixture onto the mincemeat and scatter a few flaked almonds
• Bake for 15-18 mins until pastry is golden brown.
• Serve warm with brandy or Amaretto butter

Do you know your Christmas Carols and Songs?

Fill in the gaps!

1 Here we come a-wassailing amongst the ……
2 …… roasting on an open fire
3 The holly bears a …… as white as …… ……
4 …… to offer have I
5 It’s time for …… and ……
6 Now bring us some …… pudding
7 O ……, O ……
8 …… is mine
9 Rocking around the …… ……
10 A partridge in a …… ……

Answers at the end of the Newsletter


A plug from Rod Wells, Secretary of Gloucestershire Federation of Gardening Societies for ”Cuttings”

This fun and feisty little book is jam-packed with bite-sized snippets of wisdom born from the gardening experience of the great, the good and the very green-fingered. What do Joanna Lumley, Julian Clary and Justin Welby have in common? You’ll find their favourite tips within the 160-pages…., along with a host of hints from well-known gardening faces such as Carol Klein, Roy Lancaster, Bunny Guinness, Mark Lane and Alan Titchmarsh: and from the horticultural élite working in private and public gardens across the globe. The appeal of this little book is further enhanced by sparklingly beautiful photography by Justine Stringer (aka @generousgardener) and engaging illustrations by Sharon Grosse.
Priced at an introductory price of £10 (plus postage & packing), this colourful and uplifting little book will be a perfect Christmas stocking-filler for gardeners, for the unexpected guest or indeed a little token for anyone with a window-box. Please fill in the form on our website and specify how many copies you would like. On receipt of your payment your book/s will be despatched by Royal Mail 2nd Class Post, un-tracked. We will do our best to get them to you within 2 weeks. Sold in aid of Gardening for Disabled Trust.

Best regards, Angela Goddard, Hon. Secretary

National Trust – Croome News

Since Lockdown version 2 started, we have seen a steady flow of visitors to Croome. People are clearly keen to make the most of National Trust places still being open and they are enjoying the bright sunny Autumnal days we have had. As I write, I don’t know what December will bring, but I expect that the garden and park at Croome will remain open for people to get a breath of fresh air and some exercise outdoors.

Plenty of signs of Autumn have been on display in the garden, with brightly coloured seeds, bronzed leaves and fungus popping up in various locations. The Spindle trees (Euonymus europaeus) have fantastic pink seed pods which burst open to reveal their orange seeds inside. In the herbaceous beds, the iris (Iris foetidissima) are displaying their bright red seeds. The hollies in the Home Shrubbery are laden with berries so there’s a feast for the birds to enjoy. If the old wives’ tales are anything to go by, this means we’re in for a harsh winter! This won’t be such a bad thing – many plants and fruit trees need a good cold period to trigger the process known as ‘vernalisation’ so that they burst into flower at the correct time in Spring.

This Autumn we’ve seen a lovely range of colours – reds, yellows, oranges and bronzes – in the falling leaves throughout the garden. Leaf collecting has been taking a lot of my time in the garden these past few weeks…. If only all the leaves fell on the same day, then I wouldn’t have to go back to the same spots several times!

We dump the leaves in large cages that we have created; this allows the leaves to break down and provide us with a lovely leaf mulch to use in the garden.
As well as the garden walk with its hard surface path, the wider parkland is open for longer walks. You’ll need to have decent walking boots or wellies, but maybe you fancy a walk along the river to the Park Seat? The Park Seat is an arched building, designed by Robert Adam in the 1760s for the 6th Earl of Coventry as part of the grand re-design of the parkland at Croome. The National Trust restored the building in 2006, and it’s now a lovely spot to stop on a parkland walk; there’s a bench inside where you can take a seat and admire the view across the park back to Croome Court.

Croome is open from 10am 7 days a week. The café is open for takeaways only (at the time of writing). We are offering hot and cold drinks, sandwiches, cakes and pasties. Find out more about what’s open at Croome on our website. Visits should be booked to guarantee admission via our website

Katherine Alker
Garden and Park Manager, S Worcs, National Trust

Winter Wonderland

Let’s not forget our feathered friends!  Ducks can be fed small amounts of bread but they require more nutrients, which are found in cracked corn, barley, oats, birdseed and other grains. Robins and other birds still need water, so break the ice on your ponds or birdbaths.  Plenty of advice online and from RSPB.

Ducks on Ice by Mary Pillon

Propagation Notes December

Seed Sowing
We tend to think of Spring as the time for seed sowing. Whilst this is true for many plants, there are some significant exceptions.
Many seeds have built in mechanisms which prevent them from germinating at times which would limit their chances of survival. One such group is plants that flower in spring or summer and set seed relatively late in the growing season. If these seeds germinated straightaway, the resultant small seedlings would be unlikely to survive the oncoming winter. These seeds have a built in requirement for a period of cold before they will germinate.

These are the seeds that we should be sowing now. The exact amount of cold, measured in cold units, varies from species to species, but you cannot give too much. Once enough had been experienced, the seed will still not germinate until conditions are favourable.
Which seeds need this treatment? In general it is the seeds of plants which in their natural habitat would experience a seasonal cold period eg Aconitum, Astrantia, Dodecatheon, Gentian, Liatris and many alpines.

How do we know?

  • For commercially produced seed in a colourful packet, the instructions will tell you!
  • If you have collected the seed yourself or obtained it from one of the many plant societies, you will need to do some research. The internet is a valuable tool here.

    Sowing methods
  • Sow the seed on the surface of moist loam based seed compost. Cover with a layer of grit or vermiculite. I use 7cm square pots for this as I can then group 15 in a standard seed tray and reduce the chances of them getting knocked over. There is no need to cover with a lid. Leave outside.
    Keep checking for germination in Spring. Some will take longer than others and some will germinate erratically. Be patient!! Once shoot growth has started the seedlings can be moved into a cool greenhouse or cold frame and pricked out and grown on. They can also be left to continue growing outside, but growth will be slower.
  • This method applies to berries of a range of plants. Try it with Sorbus, Cotoneaster, Pyracantha, Holly or anything else in your garden that has berries.
    Collect the berries and crush them between two sheets of greaseproof paper. Mix the resulting mush with moist silver sand and put in a sealed container (to protect from mice!) Leave outside.
  • From about mid February check for signs of root emergence. Once this has occurred, spread the entire mixture evenly on the surface of loam based seed compost in a pot or seed tray, cover with grit and leave to grown on. It is now safe to bring into a cool greenhouse or cold frame to speed up growth a bit, but this is not essential. Once the seedlings are big enough to handle they can be potted up into small pots and grown on.

    With both the above groups, if there is no sign of germination by about late April, this is probably because insufficient cold has been experienced. You can compensate for this by transferring them to the fridge for 3-4 weeks and then returning them outside. This tends to upset other household members and you may need to buy a second fridge!! Now it’s up to you to experiment. Let me know how you get on and feel free to ask questions if I’ve confused you.

Rachel Salisbury

National Tree Planting Week. November 28 – December 6

The end of November is National Tree Planting week and I would like to recommend a few of my favourite trees for small gardens.  lf we could all find a space to plant a tree this year it would be helping in some small way with the environment and for wildlife.

Sales this Autumn for trees has so far been very good which is encouraging, probably due to customers spending more time at home and also with new people moving to Malvern to enjoy their active retirement. As we all know Malvern is a wonderful place to live and many more people are discovering it.

I have been ordering as many trees as I can so have enough for this Winter and for sales in the Spring, although there is already a shortage of availability with a lot of wholesale nurseries selling out fast. This is compounded by the prospect of Brexit at the end of the year with a fear of more costs from the Dutch growers. ln fact the shortage is not just on trees, but also with many hardy shrubs, including roses, which by my calculation will take six months to rectify. ln over forty years of running my nursery I have only known this once which occurred after the cold winter of 1982.

Trees take a long time to grow to the usual 10/12 litre size, and the Covid effect in the Spring hasn’t helped the situation. I have already sold out of a lot of Apple tree varieties which were to see me through until next Spring. Anyway, enough about my business which I am very passionate about.

Here are five trees I would recommend for small gardens.

Prunus serrula/Tibetan cherry.

Every morning I pass by my tree and say hello. It only has small, tiny white flowers but these are loved by our resident bees in Spring time. Small green foliage and no Autumn colour. lt does however have the most beautiful peeling mahogany red / orange bark, which the early morning sun shines through and gives me such joy. lt has reached about 14 ft by 12 ft in twenty years.

Sorbus aucuparia vilmorinii.

A lovely small growing tree with fern like leaves which turn red in the Autumn. My Sorbus is covered with pale pink berries which are devoured by birds in the month of November and is about 14 feet by 8 ft after twenty years. These mountain ash or Rowans are ideal for smaller gardens where you can usually plant about 4-5 metres away from a house. They require a well drained soil in an open sunny position.

Malus ‘Red Sentinel’

A crab apple with beautiful apple blossom in Spring providing good pollination for other apple trees. This is followed by bright red crab apples. They are a hard fruit which do not fall to the ground. I use them for adding red fruit to our Christmas wreaths. For some reason the birds in our garden leave them in the Autumn and feast on them in January. lt is about 12ft by 8ft after 20 years.

Cornus mas/Cornelian Cherry

A little known and planted Dogwood, the bare branches are covered in little yellow flowers in February heralding the beginning of Spring. Underplant with snowdrops, primroses and hellebores to complete the picture. I have planted one close to a wilder part of my garden where it sits very well with its surroundings. lt is also close to our bee hive where it  provides valuable pollen in the early months for them.

Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’

This is the Winter flowering cherry which forms a round headed shaped tree to about 12-14 ft. They flower during mild spells in the Autumn and Winter. lt is covered with small pink blossoms on bare branches. Travelling around Malvern one can see various specimens coming into flower and looking really beautiful and almost too delicate to flower at this time.  The cut stems can be used for winter decorations. lt will flower right through mild spells in winter and then produce a final show in March. lts Autumn colour is of oranges and yellows. It is often confused by people with the Winter flowering Viburnum, which produces larger and deeper pink blossoms on its bare branches. The common planting mistake is to not give it enough width room for it to grow. I so often see them cut back in size which spoils their beautiful graceful habit.

Carol Nicholls from Grange Farm Nursery and our Club President

Quiz answers: 1. Leaves. 2. Chestnuts. 3. Blossom, lily flower. 4. Frankincense. 5. Mistletoe, holly. 6. Figgy. 7. Tannenbaum, Tannenbaum. 8. Myrrh. 9. Christmas tree. 10. Pear tree.

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