January Newsletter

A big thank you to all our contributors for this month’s articles.  We have many things to be grateful for, not least our gardens and gardeners!   Although we might have wished for the ability to hibernate like a dormouse this year, we can still find many jobs to do and new things to try, such as propagating root cuttings or growing orange trees. 

A special thanks to one of our new members, Richard, for sharing with us his bitter sweet relationship with citrus plants! 

Hoping that other members will rise to the challenge and send in an article for February’s newsletter, any length will be welcome with or without photos.  We will also put the newsletter onto the website but we will need your permission to publish your photos online. 

Next month we will be featuring orchids, so if you have anything to contribute, please get in touch at malvernhillsgardeningclub@gmail.com

Helena Kent. Club Secretary

January 2021

The beginning of the year 2021 signifies a new beginning with hope for the future. The days are getting longer and Nature is already preparing for Spring.  Gardeners are too!

A robin is singing loudly in my garden every morning now.  His Spring song, more confident and upbeat than the Autumn one, is in defence of his territory and hope of attracting a mate.

Traditionally, the first flower of Spring, the primrose has already made an appearance.

Iris, which has been blooming in my garden throughout December, signifies, in the language of flowers, hope, wisdom, trust and courage.  All of which we need at the moment.

Looking forward, we hope to resume our monthly meetings at the end of April with a talk on fuchsias by Geoff Oke and in May a talk entitled ‘The Role of a Head Gardener’ by Hugh Thomas.  In next month’s newsletter, further details will be given of the rest of the programme with dates, times, venues etc.

In the meantime, the Chair suggests that we try a Zoom talk in February.  How many members would like this?  Please email David at malvernhillsgardeningclub@gmail.com if you are interested.

Monthly competitions will also begin again in January.  3 categories, 1 entry each: Winter outdoor bulbs eg snowdrops, a flowering pot plant, birds feeding in your garden.

Lucy Bannister has a selection of spring bulbs available.  As usual, the money goes straight to St Richards Hospice.  £1 for 10.

Tulips, Clearwater, Sunny Prince, Hemisphere, Honeymoon, High Scarlet, Van Eijk, Canasta, Carre, Spring Break, Crème Upstar, Cummins, Corona, Hugs and Kisses, Shirley, Sanne, Purple Flag.  Narcissus, Big Gun, Golden Ducat, Replete, Flower Drift To arrange a mutually convenient time, please email Lucy, swissbannister@gmail.com or phone on 01905 831330

Helena Kent

My life with Citrus Plants

Early studies

As a boy I was fascinated by the thought that I could grow an orange tree from a pip and my brother and I grew various citrus plants from pips. As I remember they all germinated apart from ordinary sweet oranges. I must have lost interest after a while but my brother’s grapefruit trees continued for many years. None of them showed any sign of flowering, let alone fruiting.

Many years later, thinking I had no choice but to actually buy a plant, I got a Calamondin orange, sometimes called citrus mitis, with the correct botanical name of   × Citrofortunella microcarpa.

This is a very attractive ornamental orange, displaying fruit for much of the year and small enough to fit easily into the home. I didn’t eat the fruits but when new neighbours moved in next door, from Scotland, the first time their little girl saw the plant she picked a fruit, put in her mouth and ate it all, including the peel, so I suppose they are edible.

Eventually the little orange tree succumbed to the most dangerous pest known to house plants. It was left in the care of friend while we went on holiday. So I had another attempt at growing a new plant from its pips. They grew fast. At five foot high, much taller than their parent, with no sign of flowers, I ran out of space to keep them. Also they had numerous sharp spines whereas the original plant was spineless. This demonstrates another problem of growing plants from seed. They may not breed true, and in the case of hybrids certainly won’t.

To misquote a famous person “Life is too short to attempt to grow orange trees from pips.”

Seville oranges

Many years later my daughter announced that she was going to spend a term at the University of Grenada in Spain. Up to that point her mother and I had shown little interest in her foreign travels but we immediately said it was very important to visit her and see that she was OK. In the course of this trip we saw Grenada, Seville and Cordoba and all these cities had Seville orange trees lining the streets, in bloom and in many cases still with oranges on them. It would seem appropriate to say that the crime occurred in Seville but it was in Cordoba that I stole two cuttings from a tree in the street. You might think that this is not seemly behaviour for a member of the Malvern Hills Gardening Club. After some thought I have come up with a very convincing justification. All these trees are tall with a single smooth trunk. The flowers and fruits are high up, too high for passers-by to pick them. Evidently the Superintendent of roadside trees in each city has the job of removing a shoot that appears low down. I was merely helping them.

To my surprise the cuttings took and are the ancestors of my three current orange trees. The photos show a flower and one of the little standard trees. The Versailles planter is, pardon my French, merely a cache pot. The tree is actually growing in a builders’ bucket, as builders’ buckets are cheaper and stronger than plastic flower pots. The plants spend the entire summer, May 1st to September 30th out in the garden.  I bring them into the conservatory for the winter months.  I repot them using a compost/soil mix, feed them with Phostrogen all year round and extra nitrogen in the summer. I water them using rain water, but only when the pots seem dry; they dislike overwatering.

Other citrus plants.

One unsuccessful present I received was of a very handsome Kumquat plant, covered with oval fruits. That was it. It never flowered or fruited again.

For years in the garden we had a Japanese bitter orange. When purchased it was not classed as a citrus but several years ago the botanists reclassified it as a citrus species. It is not my place to argue with the botanists but clearly they are wrong. The Japanese bitter orange is: a) the only hardy citrus; b) the only deciduous citrus and c) the only one with trifoliate leaves. Anyway it never produced a ripe orange, was occupying a large space I wanted for something else and had the most vicious spines of any plant I have ever grown in the garden. Curiously, in a gardening column in this month’s i newspaper, three plants were recommended for forming an impenetrable barrier. These are berberis, pyracantha and, to give it its proper name, citrus trifolata. I have never seen a hedge of citrus trifolata – it would be quite something.

More recently I have been growing a Kaffir lime, started from a pip! (I know it is unlikely to ever flower but we only want the leaves. Three or so go well in a Thai curry.) As shown in the picture, the leaves have a characteristic double shape, with a bulge near the stalk.

How to win a marmalade competition

Once I had a supply of oranges I started making marmalade with them. Coming across a reference to the grandly named The World’s Original Marmalade Awards I decided to enter. In those days you could save postage by dropping the jar off at a Paddington Bear shop. I was very proud to receive a Silver Medal – as you can see from the label that I used to put on my marmalade jars.

The main criticism of my silver medal winning jar of marmalade was that I hadn’t filled it up to the brim. So the following year I decided to enter again, in person. The awards are held at Dalemain Mansion in Cumbria, quite convenient for staying at the house of some friends. There were hundreds of jars set out on tables. Imagine my disappointment to find I had been demoted: this one only deserved a bronze medal. I was too numbed to think further but my wife is made of sterner stuff. She sought out two of the judges and challenged them to explain the criteria they used.

The key thing is how clear the marmalade is. To achieve this you should pass the juice and pulp through a muslin bag. The marmalade is essentially a jelly made with the filtered juice. Most of the peel is then discarded with just a few strands allowed to be suspended in the now clear jelly.

I am happy to pass on these insider tips in case you should decide to enter yourselves. I will not be competing with you. 

Richard Winterton, November 2020.

























Chairman’s BlogSpecial Plants in Our Garden. 

At this time of the year our garden is very much in hibernation. We have our first snowdrops, and the winter flowering jasmine is looking good, but everything else is biding its time. It is good to look out into the garden and see some plants which have special meaning.

When we had our first house we received two plants which we have taken care to transplant twice as we have moved to a new house. The first is a deutzia, with very pretty pink flowers. It was a wedding present from a very keen gardener and it was chosen by her because it flowers on our wedding anniversary in early May. It has never failed to do so – sometimes in a year with a late spring we have just the first flowers open, most years it has hundreds of open flowers, in an early spring (global warming) it still has open blooms on the day.

The second is a spirea “bridal wreath”, with cascades of white flowers. It also flowers in May, and looks fantastic in the corner of the spring garden. They need careful pruning to continue to give  a good display as they flower on new growth, but need to be trimmed to keep their shape. I don’t always get it right, and that gives a lean flowering year in the spring.

The next plant is an ornamental weeping pear (Pyrus salicifolia pendula). This was chosen by us to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary, as a gift from my brother. He had suggested a silver birch, but the weeping pear is much smaller, has beautiful spring flowers, weeping posture and small, slender leaves and ornamental fruit in the autumn. It looks great and I am gradually lifting its crown to give it a better shape.

The next group of plants are the four apple trees on our main lawn. When my grandmother died aged 101 she wanted all her many grandchildren to receive £100 which my Uncle Mickey proudly distributed. We decided that we would like a permanent memory of her, and the apple trees are a lovely reminder of her long life.

The final memories are also an “in memoriam”, but with a different story. When my Dad died in February 2018 we found that he had been planning a major replanting of his large garden. A good number of plants arrived by mail order, and we had no idea what would arrive next. Not all of them survived between their arrival in Hampshire and getting them home to Malvern. However, the collection of three peonies that he ordered have settled well. We have Shirley Temple, Sarah Bernhardt and Karl Rosenfield and each year they get a bit bigger and have more flowers. They were fantastic this year, one of the few rays of sunshine in 2020.

David Baker




Propagation Notes January

January can be a bit of a dead month for plant propagation, but there are still things to do.  You have no excuse to stay indoors!

There is still time to take hardwood cuttings as discussed earlier. In fact, late January seems to be a particularly good time for these, just as the sap is beginning to rise.

If you haven’t sown those seeds that need stratifying (exposure to cold), there is still time for that too, especially as we seem to be having a cold snap right now.

If you’re desperate to get going with the new season you can sow broad beans such as Aquadulce Claudia.  I usually start mine off under cold glass, mainly to keep the mice off, but they are ok planted directly into the soil.

If you can provide some gentle heat, you can start tomatoes and onions in pots.   Only do this with tomatoes if you are intending to grow them on under heated glass, otherwise you’ll have plants ready too early for planting out.

Most half hardy annuals are sown from February onwards, but if you’re desperate to start some flowers, then Antirrhinum can be sown now.  Like  tomatoes and onions they will need gentle heat but a window sill is fine.  Sow the seed on the surface of moist seed compost, spray gently with a mister, just to settle the seed into the surface.  Do not cover with compost and do not exclude light.  Ideally place in a propagator with a lid to prevent drying out.  You can put the pot inside a polythene bag, but I’m trying to avoid single use plastic, so prefer any alternative I can find.

If that’s not enough to keep you occupied in January then you can have a go at taking root cuttings. January is the perfect time to do these, as they have to be done when the plant is dormant and there always seems to be more time in January.

Root cuttings are taken for a fairly select group of plants and fall into two main groups.  Thick cuttings are taken for most types, including herbaceous and trees and shrubs. Thin cuttings are taken of just a few herbaceous perennials.

Method.  (Thick) If practical, lift the plant.  Select a few roots about pencil thickness.  Never remove more than one third of the roots.  Cut the selected root(s) close to the crown of the plant, making a horizontal cut.  Remove any fine fibrous roots from the base of the severed section. Now cut the remainder into lengths of about 5-8cm (2-3”), making a horizontal cut at the top of the cutting and a diagonal cut at the base.  This is important as you will need to know which way up to put them in the compost!

Insert the cuttings into pots of gritty compost, diagonal cut downwards, so the top of the cutting (horizontal cut) is just about level with the top of the compost or a fraction below.  Cover with a layer of grit, water and place in a cold frame.  All you need to do then is wait until you see signs of shoot growth, usually late spring/early summer. at this stage you can pot your new plants up and grow them on ready for planting out.  Herbaceous plants that are propagated in this way include, Oriental Poppy, Acanthus, Echinops, Eryngium.

Assuming you want to keep the parent plant, replant it as soon as possible.!

If it isn’t practical to lift the plant, as will be the case with trees and shrubs, you need to carefully scrape away the soil from one section of the plants and sever the exposed roots. The rest of the process is the same.  Shrubs to try include Chaenomeles, Catalpa, Robinia, Campsis and Solanum

Thin root cuttings are taken from plants such as Japanese Anemones, Primula denticulata, Verbascum and Phlox.

For these plants, lift if it’s practical.  Remove a few roots and trim off the very thin ends.  The roots you are using will probably be no more than 2mm thick and you need to cut them into lengths of about 10cm (4”).  You may only get one section from each root.  In this case they are laid horizontally on the surface of the compost and again covered with grit and watered as before.  I find with these that it works better to use trays rather than pots. Place in the cold frame and continue as above.

Root cuttings really are very easy and the only thing that can go wrong is that they get too wet and rot, so take care not to over water.

Pros and Cons (mostly pros!)

Done in winter when you’re less busy with other jobs in the garden

Can be done with plants which don’t produce suitable shoots for cuttings

The roots will not be infected with any of the pathogens which may be affecting the shoots. This is especially true of Phlox, which are frequently infected with virus transmitted by eelworm.

The only con that I know of is that if you take roots cuttings of variegated plants (eg Phlox ‘Norah Leigh’ you will finish up with progeny with plain green leaves!  You have been warned.

I hope the ground thaws soon so you can all get out and have a go at root cuttings.  It is remarkably satisfying!!

Rachel Salisbury








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