Editorial                         John Hudson
What a difference a year makes! Last year March was drear winter, this ear it is burgeoning spring, (although we had hail yesterday). In this part of the country we have escaped the floods and most of the soaking that the West Country has endured, and we are well away from any tidal surge. It has been a wet and muddy winter, but not exceptionally so. The mild weather has favoured the snowdrops and hellebores of early spring, and now daffodils are in full bloom (Narcissus cyclamineus bloomed in February: see photo left). In the autumn issue I included a photograph of Melianthus major, taken in September, with the comment that it is at its best in November. Indeed, it was bigger and better then, but this year it has stood up right through to March, looking a bit yellow at the top, and is even sending up a flower shoot. Of course, it could all go wrong if we get late frosts, but let us look on the bright spring flowers while we may, and plant hopefully for our summer gardens.

From the Chairman
                                          Brian Taylor

At about this time last year, I was 'persuaded' out of my retirement from the group's committee to take on, once again, the role of chairman on the understanding that it would be for one year only. Since then, the months have passed by very quickly (too quickly perhaps) and we have reached a stage when, once more, a new chairman needs to be nominated. Alas, despite repeated cajoling from me, no-one has come forward and so the new committee in April may have to function without one, at least for a while.

Having said that, I have enjoyed my second term of office, supported as always by an excellent committee that has carried out the bulk of the work, leaving me to perform the relatively easy task of 'front of house'. Having given some thought to changing the concept of our garden in order to make it less labour intensive, several of the lectures, from a varied and interesting programme, have given me much food for thought even if it might be too late - unless, of course, we move house.

I was delighted to welcome to Rutland Vivienne McGee, the national chairman of the HPS, who joined us in celebrating our twentieth anniversary in October, and Tom Hart-Dyke who, on Saturday 22nd February, gave the group's seventh celebrity lecture. Held at The Wilson Auditorium at Oakham School, Tom's talk, 'The Captivating World of Plants' was born out of a truly traumatic experience in the rain forests of Colombia over ten years ago. Tom's talk was a bravura performance from start to finish by an ebullient, loquacious and highly engaging personality, who managed to keep his audience interested and amused for nearly two hours. (See the review of the lecture by Peter Heyes). Speaking personally, I thought that the whole evening was a great success. The venue was excellent (thank you Oakham School), the canapes were mouth-watering (thank you Oakham School catering staff), the floral displays by our own Jo Porter were exquisite and Tom Hart-Dyke was an inspired choice as our seventh celebrity lecturer and would be a hard act to follow.

However, despite the Herculean efforts of Pat and Henry Woolston and John Dyson behind the scenes, we failed to attract sufficient numbers on the night to cover the costs incurred (about another 10 people would have sufficed) and so the new committee will need to carefully consider the future of the celebrity lecture - should we go out on a high and call it a day or should we risk all in two years time?

This years annual Plant Fair, held at Ashwell House, Ashwell, on Sunday, 25th May and hosted by Mr and Mrs D. Pettifer should be another successful occasion. Sixteen stallholders will be attending, a number for the first time, and judging from what plants will be on offer (including summer flowering bulbs, shade-tolerant species, tender perennials for containers and plants derived from seed collected in the wild) there should be a choice specimen for everyone.

Finally, thank you all for supporting the work of the group over the last twelve months and may I wish the new committee every success in the future.

A birthday treat                                              Jane Skipp
My birthday this year fell on a Sunday in February, and for a treat we went to visit the Winter Garden at Anglesey Abbey near Cambridge. I expect many of you have been to see this garden but it is over fifteen years since we last went to see the snowdrops on a bitterly cold winter's day. The Winter Garden was not there in those days, but I'd seen about its creation on the regional news some time after our visit and was glad to have the opportunity to go; and what a treat it was!

Winter has always been a favourite time in the garden for me, I'm always amazed at the variety, beauty and hardiness of our winter flowers and at Anglesey there they all were in their magnificence and beautifully spaced out to show them off to full advantage.

Of course there were snowdrops in abundance; many old varieties were apparently rediscovered at Anglesey, and what was so nice was a display table at the entrance to the garden, with a pot of each variety clearly labelled so visitors could compare and contrast the blooms and leaves. Also plants were labelled in the garden so you knew what you were looking at. Naturally there was a variety called Anglesey Abbey.

The hellebore display was eye-catching with a variety of species and hybrids ranging in colour from purest white to darkest purpley black. They are among my all time favourites and I love them. Returning year after year, they die beautifully into the summer and drop seed, which turns into a lottery of colours, spots and splashes. The Anglesey hellebores did not disappoint.

There were also clumps of Iris reticulata and its relation, among them 'Gordon' and the ever popular 'Katharine Hodgkin' interspersed with aconites, snowdrops and Iris unguicularis (devoid of all the scruffy leaves mine sport). Cyclamen coum, both pink and white were happily displaying among the shrubs and trees. Those that really caught the eye were the red stems of Cornus alba and a grove of Silver birch with the whitest of white bark, which is washed to keep it pristine. Round every comer of the not too muddy path was a treat or surprise, and it was lovely to see the beautifully tended Herbaceous Garden with every plant cut back and mulched with compost ready for the summer display.

On our previous visit we were allowed to wander over the parkland to see the snowdrops under the trees, but this was all fenced off, possibly because of the exceptionally wet winter, although we had a wander down to the mill to explore that, and a good walk all round the grounds to the house and second hand bookshop. Following a welcome lunch, we visited the shop and plant centre and I am now the proud owner of a white Cyclamen coum and a Helleborus lividus, which is just beginning to flower in its pot.

All in all it was a lovely day out, especially as the sun came out, and is to be highly recommended if you have not been. I'm looking forward to visiting in the summer to see the herbaceous display, which I'm sure will be another treat.

Small is Beautiful                                               Judy Templar

Twenty years ago I was not a big fan of peonies, rather disliking the big blowsy lactifloras such as 'Sarah Bemhardt', At the time my interest was for all things alpine so when I saw a small plant with attractive ferny leaves on Bob Pottertons plant stall, labelled Paeonia tenuifolia I was intrigued and promptly bought it.

This delightful peony (left) has single flowers, 5-6cm across, of vivid scarlet hovering over the feathery, finely divided foliage. My plant grew to about 30cm. When I moved to King's Cliffe the peony was left behind but very soon another was bought from Will McLewin with wild provenance. It has done well with seedlings popping up in the gravel around the plant. They have yet to flower.

There are double forms of P. tenuifolia in cultivation and a soft pink form, 'Rosea', but 1 have neither of them. A number of hybrids have been raised with P. tenuifolia as one parent. P. Smouthii is an old cross thought to be between P. tenuifolia and P. lactiflora. A plant came to me from a friend who had to give up her home and garden. It is settling down to make a nice clump, rather bigger than P. tenuifolia and with larger flowers.

In time I started to grow species peonies from seed and acquired seed of P. tenuifolia ssp.biebersteiniana supplied by Will McLewin. This plant grows taller and the leaflets are less finely divided but the flowers are the same bright red with a central boss of yellow anthers.

 P. tenuifolia ssp.biebersteiniana

P. tenuifolia flowers in late April to early May. It is well worth looking out for this exquisite little peony.

Marvellous mulch                                                      Jo Porter

When we bought our present house, we knew that a large number of trees would have to be removed - if only to let the light in. The first work was done in the autumn of 2009, leaving a pile of wood chippings, which were subsequently used to mulch new trees that were planted to give privacy. We are on a south slope and the soil is light and very free draining. The mulch was primarily used to preserve moisture round the new trees, but ultimately it would improve the humus content of the soil and slow down water loss. The small amount of chippings not used has now turned into wonderful weed free compost, which I can adapt for potting.

In the autumn of 2012 a large area near the house was cleared of old plum rootstock which had suckered. This produced more mulch for the new planting. That summer saw me hoeing and spraying the many, mainly annual, weeds growing in between the trees and shrubs. Just before we went away in late summer, I decided to mulch the whole area with the chippings, even though they were not yet one year old. They had also sprouted an amazing cauliflower fungus (Sparassis crispa I think), probably growing on some coniferous chips!

Suddenly the whole area was transformed into a potential garden.
Two footpaths were left for access.    After our Group trip to East Ruston, at the end of July, I resolved to try and copy their footpaths through the woodland area. They had used large wood chips, which were comfortable to walk on and would last a long time. This winter, when we had more trees to remove, I asked our  contractor  if he could make some larger chips. He couldn't but asked some one who did to discover that all his chippings now go to make green   energy. [This is despite the huge amount of oil  that  is   used  to  make them]. We now had a large pile of fresh, small chippings and it seemed silly not to try and use them on the footpaths.   To prolong their life, we put a membrane down first and then covered it with chippings. I am now concerned that the membrane will show through, so we must keep a large supply of reserve stock.

The result of all this endeavour? The mulch I put down last year has done a reasonable job of preventing weed germination, even though I only put down 2 rather than 3 inches. Now, in early spring, it is difficult to find the herbaceous plants I moved last year. Mulch has had no effect on the seeds that land on top of it. In the winter this area was covered with unnamed maple seeds which looked rather attractive.   It is now green with thousands of new baby maples!   I wonder if we should remove that tree? It is very big.

The Seventh Celebrity Lecture Tom Hart-Dyke on 'The Captivating World of Plants*  
Peter Heyes

Members of the Rutland Group of the Hardy Plant Society were privileged to meet in The Wilson Auditorium at Oakham School where we were entertained and captivated by Tom-Hart Dyke, a modern day plant hunter who risks life and limb in pursuit of exotic blooms and plants.

Tom lives in the ancient gate house of the family seat, Lullington Castle in Kent, home to twenty generations of the Hart-Dykes. He was inspired by his beloved Granny who gardened in to her 90s. She gave him a trowel and a packet of carrot seed on his 7th birthday and he has been hooked on everything horticultural since then. At the age of 17 he went to Sparsholt College near Winchester to study tree surgery and forestry, this enabled him to earn sufficient money so that he could start travelling in search of rare plants and satisfy his passion for orchids.

Tom took us on his travels around the world, illustrating each step with captivating photography, and keeping us enthralled by his enthusiasm and knowledge of so many rare plants that many of us had never seen let alone knew existed.

He calls himself a "plant nut" and illustrated this by telling us how he had grown the smallest eucalypt in the world from seed. Just three plants of this species exist in the UK and he brought one of them to show us. He is also very proud of his achievement to have grown the rare and beautiful Eucalyptus Silver Princess (Eucalyptus caesia) which flowered for the first time in the UK.

In March 2000 he was exploring the Darien Valley between Panama and Columbia when he and his travelling companion, Paul Winder, were captured and held captive for 9 months by warring guerrilla factions. Their two guides quickly lost their heads and Tom and Paul were continually threatened with death. Whilst Paul prayed, Tom occupied his time by designing his dream garden to contain the plants he had collected on his travels.

Tom believed they were released because his captors just could not understand why he was always talking about gardens and had us in stitches as he explained how they got lost in the jungle after their release and had to return to their captors to ask which way to go home (to Gatwick North)!

On return to Lullington Castle, Tom began to build the garden he had so long created in his mind. This one acre garden was built in the old Victorian walled herb garden. He called it "The World Garden" with over 8000 species of plants grown in their respective 'continents'.

To illustrate his unique way with plants he told us how much fun he had with visitors to the garden where he has an example of the stinky Dog Pooh plant (Hoodia gordonii) and the world's most dangerous plant, the Queensland Stinger (Dendrocnide moroides] and of course the hottest chilli in the world - Dorset naga. He also showed us his quirky baobab tree made from 51km of wire.

In his own words, Tom explained that after an invitation from the Columbian Ambassador to the UK, he had to set his ghosts to rest and return to Columbia and the countries of South America. He has now achieved this ambition and took us on this journey with superb photos of the mountainous scenery and many of the exotic plants he encountered.

Tom has at last found a plant, a penstemon indigenous to Mexico, which he has named Crac's Delight, in memory of his beloved Granny who he nicknamed 'Crac' when he was a youngster. His latest project is to create a one acre meadow at Lullington Castle with over 50 species of orchids native to the UK - all grown from seed.

This was indeed a worthy occasion and we thank Tom Hart-Dyke for such an entertaining evening.

The Rutland HPS website                                John Dyson
Don't forget to visit our very own website at www.hpsrutland.btck.co.uk for all the latest information as well as photographs of past garden visits, plant fairs and celebrity lectures. You can also read articles from past editions of the Newsletter.

The programme page lists all the forthcoming talks and usually carries a poster to download and display about the next scheduled meeting. We need as much publicity as we can get!
I am always open to fresh ideas to add even more interest to our website. Would you like to write a small article about your garden, with pictures? How about a favourite plant? Share a few tips? Just send a photo to show off your successes (or failures!).

We have recently opened a Twitter account which is useful for publicising our programme to the world at large. We have so far attracted 32 followers including Kevin Pratt who was our speaker last November and Colin Ward of Swines Meadow Nursery, a regular stallholder at our Plant Fairs, and occasional visitor to our talks. It is early days yet so we will see how interest develops. The Nottingham Group also use Twitter alongside their FaceBook, and Google + accounts. Where will it all end?

The fact is that the Hardy Plant Society has to move with the times and venture into electronic media to reach the next generation of potential members. Current membership is on the decline and must be reversed if we are to survive.

The national organisation has it's own website of course at www.hardy-plant.org.uk which provides limitless information including a link to the national HPS FaceBook page, also proving popular. I made use of this to help publicise the 2014 Celebrity Lecture with Tom Hart Dyke. Have you seen the photos of that event on our own website? If not, do give it a try.