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

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 malvernhillsgardeningclub@gmail.com

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 http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/croome

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.

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 malvernhillsgardeningclub@gmail.com

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. greentouchpaper@gmail.com

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. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/the-firs

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.