Newsletter No 33
December 2011

From the Chairman John Hudson

It seems a long time since the last newsletter, when I was urging you to support our summer programme. The Plant Fair was again a great success. Attracted by fine weather and an excellent array of stalls, over 300 members and visitors went away happily laden with plants, generating a handsome profit for our group. All those who helped in preparation and on the day deserve our thanks.

 The summer visits were most enjoyable. John Massey's garden at Ashwoods displayed very diverse styles, all immaculately maintained, as was the adjacent nursery. Louisa Arbuthnot's garden at Stone House Cottage was, contrastingly, charmingly informal, a real plantswoman's personal creation. The visit to Waterperry and the Oxford Botanic Garden was less well supported, but also showed us two very different approaches: Waterperry's impressive herbaceous borders out in the country and the Botanic Garden's sympathetic though in part systematic planting with its view of Magdalen Tower. Thanks to Mark for organizing these visits.

 Our autumn lecture programme has made a very good start, with excellent talks from Derry Watkins, Stuart Dixon and Colin Ward. Colin spoke to his plants rather than to slides, and sold many of them, as did the others. With the increase in speaker's fees and especially travel costs, we more than ever need profits from the plant fair to maintain the standards to which we have become accustomed.
Gardeners often lament what a peculiar year it has been, but this year it has been truer than in most. An early and cold winter was followed by a dry and warm spring, which was followed by a dry and cool summer, followed by a dry and warm autumn. Nobody in this area can have been surprised to learn from weather reports that the east and south Midlands was the driest part of the country. January to August, and until very recently not much has changed since.

In my garden the cold did much less damage than feared. The more glamorous Hebes, La Seduisante and Simon Delaux, which had survived the 09-10 winter, were killed this time, although planted in sheltered spots. Ceanothus didn't like it, but recovered in part at least. A Sophora on a south wall was defoliated and looked dead, but produced a few rather scruffy flowers in spring; it then leafed-over again and now looks back to normal. My clump of Melianthus major was cut back early by the November snow and frost, but reappeared in late spring as usual and is now magnificent again: it is the only plant in the garden which is at its best in November. There were some casualties among pots of salvias and fuchsias that I put in the unheated greenhouse. I wonder how much it cost to keep the other one frost-free?

 Perhaps the most surprising success was Cyclamen graecum. I had planted a single specimen two or three years ago in a sheltered gravelly bed, and its leaves survived in 09-10. They were cut back this year, but in September not only did its leaves reappear but it flowered, rather better than most of those in the greenhouse, and the leaves are bigger too. 

Cyclamen graecum

I have been emboldened to plant a few more outside. Even C. persicum, whose leaves were thoroughly scorched, has come back now. I wonder if it will flower?
The drought had less obvious effects, except on my vegetable patch, which I didn't water enough, and autumn flowering Rudbeckias and asters were less vigorous than usual. There may be more long-lasting effects: time will tell.

Lastly, support the Celebrity Lecture and bring a friend or several.

         Rudbeckia deamii

The search for Beauty of Livermere  by Jane Skipp

Many years ago Geoff Hamilton showed us a spectacular poppy on Gardener's World. This was a brilliant bluish red and was called Beauty of Livermere (photo below left) It became top of my 'must have' list, and I set out in pursuit.

In those days I had time to grow from seed, so I searched the seed catalogues. Not finding a Beauty of Livermere I plumped for what seemed the next best thing (from the photo at any rate). The photo showed a beautiful bluish red flower called Papaver Brilliant and in my innocence I thought it would be that colour.

 I sowed and tended, and in the fullness of time planted three healthy seedlings around the garden. When flowering time eventually happened, I was horrified to find that the flowers were more orange than red; beautiful with their deep black spots round the centre of the petals, but nowhere near the remembered red of Beauty of Livermere.

 Not to be outdone, at the next Rutland Group HPS plant fair I purchased a poppy labelled Beauty of Livermere. I took it home, planted it and waited expectantly for the next year's flowering. Well, I was not impressed when it did flower, exactly the same colour as the Papaver Brilliant, but with frilly petals. In the mean time, I also discovered that once an oriental poppy is in place, nothing will remove it, so now I had two flourishing plants that I did not really want.

 Last year at the plant fair I decided to have one more go at obtaining this elusive treasure. Fortunately, one stall had one plant of Beauty of Livermere in flower, so I knew the colour was what I remembered from the television all those years ago. I made my purchase, and put the plant in the garden, where it promptly seemed to die, despite my breaking the habit of a lifetime and watering it regularly. On returning from a few days' holiday, nothing was left but a few brown leaves and an air of desolation (me as well as the plant).

Earlier this summer I noticed a splash of red at the top of the garden where the prized possession had been. Only an annual self-seeded poppy, I thought, so imagine my delight when, on investigation, it was actually Beauty of Livermere back from the dead. Joy and Bliss!
Hopefully we will now go from strength to strength, and I will have the poppy I had wanted for so many years.

 A brief history of our group by Jo Porter

Nearly 20 years ago Hardy Plant Society members in this area were circulated with a questionnaire to see if they were interested in forming a local Group. Our nearest at that time was Nottingham which required much effort. Replies were received from 40. Fortunately among these there were sufficient interested members who were willing to form a steering committee.

 We had plenty of assistance from the official Guidelines from Head Office, the Group Coordinator from Nottingham and Hazel Kaye who had been the Secretary at the Group there. There was much encouragement from Lady King, in fact our first meeting on 3rd October 1993 was held in her garden at Wartnaby. Later that month on the 21st, our Inaugural Meeting took place at Easton on the Hill (courtesy of one of our committee members who has since left). The speaker was Dr. Dilys Davis who was the National Chairman at the time. There were about 45 present - an encouraging start.

 We continued with monthly lectures over the winter and spring, our numbers gradually increasing so that we had to move to the Uppingham Community College. Eventually with membership over 100 we changed to the C. of E. School.
In 1994 there was a hugely popular plant fair organized by the Barnsdale Lodge Hotel. With Richard Cain's help (now living on his nursery in South Wales) we arranged one for the following year. It was held indoors at the Uppingham Community College. It became so hot and crowded that we had to restrict entry! After that we were able to move into a quad outside. We never had so many visitors again, possibly afraid of the crush but also there are now many more plant fairs. How much more pleasant it is to hold our Fair in a lovely garden; latterly Mrs Pettifer's at Ashwell. We still hold them successfully, attracting both stall holders and the public. It means that we can afford good speakers.

In 1997 we were able to host the annual Summer Day Garden Visit for the whole Society. For a Group only 4 years old this was quite an achievement. On the strength of this we repeated it in 2009, an occasion helped by a beautifully sunny day. On the 21st July 2007 we looked after the Study Day for the Variegated Plant Group in the Uppingham Community College. It was a memorable weekend for the atrocious floods in the west midlands. Bob Brown, the main speaker and Chairman of the Group was unable to leave his house. How lucky we were to have Brian Cromie, who at the drop of a hat, gave a brilliant talk on clematis. Val Barber produced an excellent lunch.

A major innovation came in 2002, with our first Celebrity Lecture, organized by Brian Taylor. It was given by Roy Lancaster to a large audience in the Uppingham Theatre. Subsequent lectures have been held biennially, given by Timothy Walker (2004), Carol Klein (2006), Fergus Garrett (2008), Christopher Bailes (2010), and Bob Brown will give the sixth in 2012. These lectures have become our most successful public occasions, attended by many local people, as well as gardeners from outside our usual catchment area. They are much enhanced by Val Barber's delicious canapes, member's snowdrops and hellebores on the tables, and foliage arrangements on the stage.

 After such a lively and expanding start to our Group, where we could do no wrong, we seem to be slowing down. Our numbers are falling and the committee disappearing! We must not be complacent and find an incentive to create more interest. I can't believe that there are no more serious gardeners out there - or is everyone too busy? We could have a "Study Day" of our own or perhaps get involved in Conservation? As October 2013 will be our 20th birthday, we ought to have a big celebration to make people more aware of us.

[Jo is being too modest. She doesn't say that it was she who did the initial circulation that started the group. Nor does she mention the many years that she served as secretary, nor her contribution to the celebrity lectures with her floral and foliage arrangements that decorate the stage. Her final comments should be seen as a challenge to the current generation of members. Editor]

On Rotating Tubs, Part 2 by John Hudson

In the last newsletter, I wrote about the tubs and pots on my patio steps, finishing with the tulips and auriculas. After they have been moved aside, lilies take their place. There is usually a break of two or three weeks after the changeover, before the lilies, already in full leaf standing outside the garage, start flowering. This doesn't matter as there is much else to look at in the garden in June, but by the time the lilies really get going, in July, the early summer display of peonies and roses is fading. Lilies compensate for that. They include both trumpet and Turk's cap forms. Some of the Asiatic hybrids have been with me, and increased, for over twenty years.

Before all this, the lily pots have spent the winter in the garage, being kept just moist. In late winter-early Spring, just as they are beginning to show new life, I inspect the pots and refresh the compost, also killing any vine weevils. They love lily bulbs, and can destroy a whole pot full.    Later in spring, the pots come outside, and return to the same position while the foliage dies down in autumn.

 Hosta tubs occupy the path in the shady front garden all summer; too many really, and I cannot resist buying new ones, so the path is almost impassable. In winter they live under the north porch, but they are overflowing that, too. They also get inspected and sometimes (not often enough) potted on in spring, as they come into growth. Liquid slug bait keeps them presentable for most of the season, but snails climb in from overhanging neighbouring plants and cause unsightly damage by late summer. Hostas do well in the open garden too, and in some places suffer less from gastropods than the potted ones.

 For late summer, I always have Zinnias. Their stiff brilliance suits a large bright blue tub that is too big to fill and move. The zinnias go into smaller pots hidden beneath gravel. This is the same tub that featured red tulips in the spring: see the last newsletter. This year I made a successful tub of Gazanias. (see photo) I used to grow a lot of these in the garden, and had my own seed strain that I liked to think was better than the commercial ones. But after a succession of poor summers, with little seed being set, it died out. The star of my tub was a variety called "cookei" from Derry Watkins. it is not a species, despite its name, and doesn't set seed, but comes easily from cuttings. The others were selected from a commercial mix; a good deal of selection was needed.

 In autumn, salvias and species fuchsias come into their own. Most are doubtfully hardy or tender so they go into the greenhouse, kept just frost-free over winter. For salvias this is an insurance, because best results are often achieved by taking cuttings during the summer, and using those to replace the parent plants in the spring. Salvias are very popular at present and there is a bewildering variety of them. I wouldn't be without blepharophylla, elegans, fulgens in scarlet red, Silas Dyson in maroon, buchanani in velvety deep magenta, cacalifolia in brilliant blue and leucantha in furry violet. That, and also guaranitica (purple) and confertiflora (red) grow tall and flower late, so they sometimes fail to beat the frosts. Salvia patens, in Oxford and Cambridge blue is so easily grown from seed each year that I don't bother with saving tubers or cuttings; so is S. coccinea in scarlet.

It would be very expensive to do all this changing about if I always used new compost, as advised in books and articles. In practice, I do a lot of recycling, only rejecting tulip tubs with tulip fire (fortunately not usually a problem), and any that are impossibly overgrown with weeds. New or extra compost is a mixture of Jl no 2, coir, and horticultural grit, with added fish, blood and bone as appropriate. I top the larger tubs with 10mm gravel. The recycling means that the compost becomes increasingly gravely over time, no bad thing. It also means that my tubs are rarely pristine. Especially by late summer, purple-leaved and green-leaved oxalis, annual meadow grass and chickweed are usually all too conspicuous. Another lesson, quickly learned, is that however many pots or tubs you have, there is rarely one of the right size or shape for the job in hand.

A few tubs don't get rotated, only moved. Aeoniums give foliage interest in summer and are moved into the greenhouse in the autumn. Two big plants of plants of Crassula argentea and one of C. arborescens move from patio to sun room, where they flower in the winter. Moving them is the heaviest job of all, and usually awaits a visit from one of my sons.

This November has been mild so far, and the salvias are still looking good. Soon, however, the winter hellebores will be back on the steps, and the cycle will start all over again.

The sweet names of our enemies by John Hudson

Wood Avens, Enchanter's Nightshade, Violet.........what delightful names, what dreadful weeds!

Geum urbanum, Wood Avens, is also known as Herb Bennet. Richard Mabey (in 'An Englishman's Flora") says this is a corruption of herba benedicta, the blessed herb. A curse on it! Its seedlings look pretty, and harmless. They are dropped into hellebores, peonies and anything else, developing unnoticed into tough clumps that have to be dug out at risk of damaging the host. And the yellow flowers, the saving grace of the similarly behaved Welsh poppies, are feeble things.

Circaea lutetiana
, Enchanter's nightshade. It is quite pretty in a wild wood. Mabey says " No great powers or medicinal properties were ever claimed for it in this country, but, looked at more closely, it has another kind of enchantment....."    It also has white creeping roots that twist and twine everywhere, making it ineradicable. If only it could be enchanted away.

Viola riviniana, common dog violet, is probably the main enemy in my garden.

And just to say the spring has come,
The violet left its woodland home,
And hermit-like from storms and wind
Sought the best shelter it could find
(John Clare)

It certainly found shelter in my garden. Very pretty in spring, but what a menace its tough roots are. It spreads by both seeding and creeping, and is a particular nuisance in tubs. I think we deliberately introduced it, many years ago, so it is one of those self inflicted invaders that Brian Cromie wrote about in the last issue.

Happy weeding!

Four Cyclamen in November  by Judy Templar

At first I thought to write about the out of season flowerings seen this autumn when my Galanthus reginae-olgae started to flower in mid September, and very strange it looked too. A friend thought I must have pushed some plastic snowdrops into the ground. This snowdrop does flower in the autumn but mine have never done it before late October in previous years. I'm sure many of you would be able to tell similar stories.

 However, I shall limit myself to cyclamen species, four of which were in flower during November. I have a great colony of the best known and most widely planted cyclamen,
C. hederifolium, under some conifers which have had the crowns lifted to create a planting area underneath. Just a few flowers were poking up through the carpet of leaves in early November.

The cyclamen with the longest flowering period in my garden is
C. purpurascens. This is sometimes known as the evergreen cyclamen and the foliage does hang on almost until the new leaves emerge in the summer. In June the first flowers appear and this year several plants are still flowering on 21 November. It is supposed to be very difficult in the open garden but mine evidently haven't read the books. In the wild it grows in woodland in deep leaf litter, as I have seen in Northern Italy. The general recommendation is to plant it in deep, leafy soil as plants resent heat and dryness. I put one in a south facing trough which stands on gravel. It has proceeded to self sow in the crack between the base of the trough and the concrete path (see photo), also in the adjacent gravelled area. Similarly the one planted in a raised bed in full sun flourishes and seeds itself around.
C. purpurascens 

Cyclamen mirabile flowers at a similar time to C. hederifolium but is a smaller thing and more restrained. One plant, again in a trough, still had several flowers in early November. The other common hardy cyclamen, C. coum is a delight in the early part of the year. I have seen it covered with snow only to revive after the thaw and stand up as if nothing untoward had happened. This is my fourth cyclamen to be in flower in early November. There are many buds hiding under the foliage of my plants waiting to do their thing in January but one which put itself in the gravel path has a flower full out.