This month we have contributions from members about their particular interests and news of Zoom meetings for April and May.
Helena Kent. Club Secretary
Save the date! Weds, 28 April at 7.20pm
Our next MHGC Zoom meeting!
Details: Join meeting at 7.20pm for 7.30pm talk. Approx one hour long.
The next Zoom meeting will be on Weds 28 April and the speaker will be Stuart Lees, who will be talking about ‘Adventurous Container Gardening’. Stuart’s biographical details are:
Having worked in horticulture since leaving school, Stuart studied for a Diploma at Askham Bryan College in Yorkshire before taking a gardener’s position with the Cadogan Estate in Chelsea. From there he progressed to various Head Gardener positions in the South East, including at a five-acre intensive garden in Berkshire for six years and responsibility for a 100-acre garden in Oxfordshire, which included the initial design work on the new garden and a one-acre, elliptical walled garden. Before becoming self-employed in 2000 he was the Head Gardener and Designer for a small London based gardening company, responsible for the maintenance of various private gardens in South West London.
We will forward you more details, the link, meeting ID and pass code nearer the time.
Ian Thwaites, a professional plant and gardens photographer, gave a very interesting Zoom talk to 21 participants at our March meeting. We also learned a few tricks of the trade, which is all about ‘selling the dream’ to quote the speaker.
May’s meeting, Weds 26 May, will be a Zoom talk on ‘An Allotment Year’ by Alan Williamson.
Subscriptions are now due for renewal for this year. We are maintaining the yearly subscription at £10. The cancellation of the Malvern shows has resulted in a substantial loss of income for the club, as we usually receive monies from holding the plant crêche. In order to remain sustainable as a club, we need to continue with the usual subscription fee this year. Please look in the newsletter for details of how to pay electronically – our preferred method.
If you wish to pay by cheque, please make payable to Malvern Hills Gardening Club and send to the club treasurer. Address is Mary Pillon, 12, Arosa Drive, Malvern, WR14 3JP.
Upsize/Downsize by Phil Bunyan
When we retired in 2002 we decided to move from Hertfordshire to Worcestershire. We needed to get away from M25/M1 and all the other traffic. I had always been keen on gardening and had 2 allotments in Hertfordshire. We could not afford to move to a detached house with land in that area.
Hence we purchased converted agricultural buildings with 4 1/2 acres which included an old neglected orchard. We concentrated on upgrading the buildings to start with, just ticking the garden over. The following year I concentrated on the garden. A vegetable patch was dug out from rough grassland and fencing constructed to divide the garden into various areas. An old fish pond was relined and increased in size, with new fish introduced. A new wildlife pond was also created which encouraged newts, frogs and other pond life.
It was time to start on the orchard which had not been pruned for many years. A neighbour agreed to keep about 20 sheep in the orchard. The old dead lower branches of the fruit trees were removed and the upper branches pruned. This was done in 3 stages over 3 years. A circular path was mowed through the orchard which allowed easy access to all the trees. New trees were planted where there were gaps in the rows, and also in an area down the bottom which had been left open.
We planted organically grown trees from Walcot Nursery in Drakes Broughton, choosing local Three Counties varieties. In all we ended up with 172 apple 34 pear 22 Plum and 3 Cherries. Local varieties included Madresfield Court, Newland Sack, Colwall Quoining, Pitmaston Pineapple and William Crump. A survey of the orchard was carried out in 2014 by Worcestershire Wildlife Trust which confirmed it met the required habitat quality for selection as a local wildlife site. (LWS)
Each year in the autumn with 5 other couples we would spend the day making apple juice and cider, dividing the three hundred odd bottles between the helpers. The orchard in the winter was full of redwings and fieldfare feeding on the fallen fruit with woodpeckers nesting during summer in the old trees.
The excess fruit and vegetables grown on the plot were either given to friends/neighbours or put in the freezer. As I advanced in years I found that the garden was taking more of my time keeping to the standards I had set myself. Holidays became more of a problem, finding time to get away then catching up with the jobs on our return.
We had been at the house now 15 years, so a decision was made to move into Malvern where we had facilities available within walking distance. We eventually found a property that we liked however the garden was very small. When moving house one always has to make compromises and the garden size was outweighed by the other benefits. Hence we now have a back garden approx 60ft by 45ft which is divided roughly 50/50 with flowers and vegetables. I have a greenhouse which enables me to grow most of my plants from seed.
I do miss the large garden walking around the orchard enjoying the wildlife, but as I get older I think we made the right decision at the right time in our lives.
Allotment love by MaggieJo St John
I’ve grown vegetables and fruit whenever I have had a bit of garden. Most exotically in Singapore where a papaya tree actually gave us our own fruit; most consistently in Birmingham until the lovely neighbouring park trees soared so high that my veg patch was shaded out and became more of a woodland habitat; most bizarrely here in Malvern where I use part of my small front garden for beans, corn on the cob, tomatoes….it’s the only south facing area so there’s no neat flower border for neighbours to admire; these edible delights are in full view!
And I have even more edible delights now that I have the immense pleasure of an allotment. I was allocated a plot in 2018; a full size one (200+sq m) became vacant and was divided in two. I misunderstood which was my half, was very happy with it as it was in relatively good condition and started putting down large quantities of cardboard to prevent weeds growing. When I realised my mistake I had mixed emotions: on the plus side I now inherited a shed, an overgrown fruit bush and even some chard, perpetual spinach and edible unharvested potatoes; on the downside I discovered that two thirds of it was heavily overgrown with rampant old raspberry canes and matted bindweed.
I gave myself three winters to eradicate all that, a third at a time. Now, in 2021, I can establish permanent areas for perennials such as rhubarb, an asparagus bed, new raspberry canes, some soft fruit bushes and a central strip of plants for pollinators. I was mapping that out on paper when, walking along Court Road in January, I cast my beady eye over a skip and spotted treasure! Long boards in good condition. A “help yourself” from the owner and 30+ one metre long flooring boards plus shorter ones were mine. With a third lockdown, there’s not been much to do; it’s too wet to walk the fields, let alone work the ground. Suddenly I had a reason to be down on the allotment on a regular basis: cobble the boards together and create paths and borders. To call them raised beds would be a misnomer as yet: I need, over the years, to build up sufficient layers of compost and manure before they merit that name.
I get immense pleasure from my allotment and was especially grateful to have one last year. Grateful too, unexpectedly, to Michael Gove who explicitly mentioned working on allotments as allowable activity in the first lockdown. I’ve wondered why I get such pleasure from it, more perhaps, certainly in a different way, than from my garden. Our gardens (if we have one) are mainly enclosed and private. For me, the allotment is a large open space where I have a sense of freedom: there’s no feeling that it should look good – it’s a place for practical, purposeful activity. Every plot is different, each allotment holder there for their own reasons yet all happy to pass the time of day and share ideas. Nowadays, few of us aim to be self sufficient and feed a family. We may want to grow organically, reducing the amount of chemicals we ingest or have space for a greenhouse or polytunnel so we can ripen cucumbers, grapes, pepper, melon, so many possibilities! Or just have more space and light.
While allotments have existed for hundreds of years, our current system stems from the nineteenth century when industrialisation left many labourers without access to land, unable to grow food to feed their families. The 1908 Small Holdings and Allotments Act placed a duty on local authorities to provide sufficient allotments and this was extended, after the First World War, and land was made available to all, not only the labouring poor.
I have a plot at Goodwood Road, a site that adjoins the railway line, owned and run by Malvern Town Council. Just as individual plots differ so too do the ways in which allotments are run with many now operating under devolved management schemes. There is a National Allotment Society (NAS) which supports members, be they individuals, societies, local authorities or others and champions the allotment movement. Taking on even a part size allotment is a substantial time commitment and can be a physical challenge. Sadly, we seem to love them so much that we hold on to them even when we cannot look after them properly and they become overgrown. At Goodwood Road this is the time of year when new people arrive to cast their eyes over a plot and assess whether its location, condition and aspect bode well. Some last a year or so, some will become the old stalwarts; some are enthusiastic beginners, some bring a wealth of experience; some live close enough to pop in daily, whilst others fit a visit around their work shifts; some of us raid skips for useful items, others invest money as well as time to create a special space. We all (mostly, most of the time) have a smile on our face.
Competitions by Carole Newton
Following a heartfelt plea from the chair of the group for more members to enter the monthly competitions I finally decided to give it a go. That month was Spring flowering shrubs. My entry was Edgeworthia, a fantastic very early flowering shrub in my garden. It was relatively unknown to most of the members in the group who were amazed at the strong honey perfume which filled the air, and too the wonderful blooms.
Duncan Coombes the speaker/judge that evening was very taken with it and awarded it first prize. That was it, I was hooked. It wasn’t always easy to find the flowers, foliage or decorative arrangement each time. Nevertheless, I tried and managed to find something almost every month.
Imagine my surprise and delight a couple of years later when I was awarded the RHS medal for overall winner of that year. The only medal I had been awarded since winning the egg and spoon race at junior school, (it was cardboard though), more years ago than I care to remember. I am very proud of that achievement.
So, if you have never tried your hand yet, why not give it a go and you too could be a medal winner.
What are the origins of our plants? Helena Kent
Having watched ‘Monty Don’s Japanese Gardens’ on tv, I wanted to get a Japanese theme going in my own back garden, albeit on a miniature scale! After all, I had the necessary elements:water, stone and a fertile imagination!
I already had a wildlife pond and several trees and shrubs, native to Japan and Asia and plenty of Malvern stone. The soil is neutral and mostly well drained with mixture of sun and shade. I had planted an azalea and a Japanese maple, as well as a young Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) because I love the scent of its leaves in Autumn. When you crush them they smell of toffee apples! It was also one of Geoff Hamilton’s favourite trees and he loved to sit in the shade of one at Barnsdale Gardens in Exton, Rutland.
When we moved here 3 years ago now, I inherited several established shrubs and surprisingly enough, after a bit of research I found that most of them originated from Japan or Asia. One was a red Camellia, originating from the Himalayas to Japan and Indonesia, another was Skimmia japonica, native to Japan, China and Indonesia. The bees love it but only when the sun is on it. I also inherited a Spirea (Spiraea japonica) native to Japan, China and Korea and a Weigela. The Weigela florida has an interesting history. It was the first species to be collected for Western gardens from N. China, Korea and Manchuria. It was found by Scottish botanist and plant hunter Robert Fortune and imported to England in 1845.
The Viburnum, I think, is Viburnum x bodnantense, a hybrid cultivar, V. farreri (native to N. China) crossed with V. grandiflorum (a Himalayan variety). It was made in 1935 by Charles Puddle, head gardener to Lord Aberconway, of Bodnant Garden, Wales. It certainly earns its place in the garden in Winter,due to its beautiful scented blossom, when most other shrubs are just bare stems.
I have since planted a Peony and Daphnes in the garden; a Pieris, in a pot containing acid soil and a Gingko (native to China) also confined to a container. I find the Gingko biloba fascinating because of its leaf structure and history, considered as a ‘living fossil’.
Bleeding heart, Dicentra spectabilis, as I know it, now called Lamprocapnos spectabilis had a beautiful display in my garden last year and I am hoping it will return! It is native to Siberia, N. China, Korea and Japan. Plants were introduced to England from Asia in 1840s by Robert Fortune.
I am now looking for more plants for ground cover, which fit into the theme!
I recommend the book: Authentic Japanese Gardens by Yoko Kawaguchi.
Allotment News. Barry Kent
The weather in March has been varied, with some sharp frosts, rain and dry cool days.
I will harvest the last of the leeks. All the fruit trees and bushes look healthy and are in bud. The weeds now need regular hoeing and the paths strimming. The water supply is now back on.
I am experimenting on part of the allotment with a ‘no dig’ policy. It will be interesting to see which vegetables prosper in the different plots. Presently the soil is cold and wet but hopefully I can sow some seed before the end of the month eg spinach, parsnips and lettuce.