From the Chairman/editor           John Hudson

2013 will be the Twentieth Anniversary year for our Rutland Group. The first meeting was held in October 1993. Our speaker for next October is Vivienne Me Ghee, Chair of the Hardy Plant Society. There will be celebrations.

Since the last newsletter, we have had the summer programme, and how long ago that now seems. Mark Bird arranged two excellent outings, to Staffordshire and to Norfolk. Unfortunately the first one was not well attended. He also guided a group around the gardens at Oundle School, where he is Head Gardener. I couldn't attend, but I'm assured it was enjoyable. We have also had the first three talks of the winter programme, by Keith Ferguson and Andrew Ward, both previous speakers making welcome returns, and our former Chair, Hazel Kaye. Hazel is soon leaving the area for the Peak District. We wish her well. The front cover picture (above), of my Trillium kurabayashii may remind you of Keith Ferguson's beautiful photographs from the American woodlands.

In this issue we have articles from Brian Cromie and Jane Skipp; both regular contributors. We need more like them. We also have details of the 2013 evening meetings, and the Plant Fair. Don't forget to check our website for updates.

As we all know, it has been a mixed season at best. Yet some things have done well. I offer you a view down my garden in full spring greenery (below left). The other picture shows a corner of the patio with Hosta 'Snowcap' in its first flush of foliage. It burgeoned later, and had a splendid display of tall white flowers, before the snails got at it. The other pot plant is Heuchera 'Obsidian', a Geranium psilostemon is getting ready to cascade all over, and the geese preside over the whole scene. The back cover (below right) shows my faithful pampas grass. I used this picture in 2010 in black and white. It is much better in its muted colours, so I don't apologise (much) for repeating it.

My thanks to all the committee for their hard work and support. The spring newsletter will contain the usual exhortations for new folk to come forward.


A Nice Surprise                             Jane Skipp

Do you remember a few years ago when the must have plant of desire was the Cerinthe? Well, I was no exception to the eager masses and hunted around for seeds or plants but with no success until I visited a Garden in Devon where this item of desire was growing in profusion. While admiring this profusion I felt the need to remove a stone from my shoe and as if by magic I acquired a few seeds which had fallen on the ground just where I happened to be standing.

I brought home my booty, and planted it. The next summer I was rewarded with several cerinthes which did their stuff all summer long. A few even survived the winter, as it was in that period when we had warm wet winters with no snow. The next summer I planted some more seeds which I had saved and had the same success, so, having done a little research and discovered there were several varieties, I asked for some seed from the HPS seed distribution. I had two varieties, Cerinthe major and Cerinthe glabra. C. glabra flowered with the deep purply blue flowers, but I was thrilled when C.major produced yellow flowers with deep maroon edges. They were beautiful and again flowered all Summer long and into the late Autumn. Well, as happens with things of fashion, my interest waned as life and work took over. Occasionally a stray plant would appear from nowhere and give pleasure, but imagine my delight when, last summer after a gap of several years, the most amazing Cerinthe appeared in the front garden in one of the places I had placed some of my original plants all those years ago. The plant stood a good eighteen inches high and had a spread of getting on for two foot in a wonderful fan shape. What was truly amazing was that there were blue and yellow flowers intermingled. The foliage was really dense, and as it was quite brittle I did not want to rummage too much at the base of the plant as I could have snapped some of the arching "branches". It flowered all through the summer and not until the snow came after Christmas did it stop! Of course, when I cleared the mushy brown foliage left by the bitter weather I found several different plants had joined together to form the great display, but it was so lovely to have enjoyed it for so many months, and to know that the seeds can lie dormant for a number if years ready to burst into life when the conditions are appropriate.

I'm hoping for a repeat performance sometime in the future.

Three fine plants from Wollerton Old Hall          John Hudson

Of all the gardens the group or its committee visited during the past summer, I thought Wollerton Old Hall was the best. I was rather ashamed of not having visited it before; no doubt many of you know it. The nursery attached to it was just the kind that I like. There was not an overwhelming number of plants, but all were well grown and clearly labelled. Expert advice was freely given. They like Salvias, as I do. I enquired about S. guaranitica 'Black and Blue', which I used to have but had lost. Sure enough, they produced one from behind the scenes. It grew rapidly in a pot, and flowered earlier than such things generally do. It is well named.

The other plants I bought were new to me. Salvia 'African Sky', also in a pot, started slowly with only a few bright blue flowers. Bit it got better and better, virtually covering itself by August, and it is still flowering now, up against the sun-room window, after several frosty nights. I enquired about its hardiness, but as it is a new introduction was told that they didn't really know. It will go in the greenhouse, and I hope to bring it through the winter. It is too late for cuttings.

The other plant was an unusually tall Diascia, D. personata ' Hopleys' which I planted in my late summer border along with Aster fhkartii, Echinops and Rudbeckia deamii. Its numerous flowers, all the way up it 80cm high stems, are dusky pink, like those of many low-growing Diascias. It made a lively, picture with its companions. I shall pot it up for the winter, as I am not sure how hardy it is. Sadly, I didn't take photographs.

Thoughts on the HPS Seed List     Jo Porter

I wonder if there are many of our members who, like me, ignore the HPS Website? I frequently use the Internet when researching new plants - but I never think to browse the HPS site. A few months ago 1 was amazed to find last year's Seed List complete with some growing information. To think of the hours I spent last winter looking at all my reference books to find what would be suitable for my new garden - what an idiot!
I did send for my full quota plus the "Distributor's Mixture" and the "Random 25", a very exciting collection although there were some real puzzlers.
I always feel guilty that I never contribute many seeds. I suppose I have an excuse this year with only half a garden. It is always fascinating collecting and cleaning seeds. You can learn a lot about the plant structure!
By now, members will have received the 2012 seed list, so even if you do not use the website you can see what is on offer, and perhaps be inspired to try something new.

Favourite Garden Tools.                                   Brian Cromie

Every now and again some media gardener is asked what is his or her favourite garden tool. They usually describe some inherited tool such as a well worn and much loved spade handed down from a grandfather of fond memory. Such a gardening heritage doesn't apply to my antecedents, whose practical experience was limited to keeping the grass cut, cultivating a few marigolds and horrid golden rod and trying to grow runner beans and easy vegetables in wartime. Accordingly, my favourite garden implements do not come with nostalgic memories, but purely from my own experience, which is not much more than the twenty years since retirement and moving to King's Cliffe.
We started with a derelict field and gradually changed it into a garden. We introduced trees, flowers and vegetable beds but the indigenous weeds were never far away and we added to them by distributing our home-made compost, which never got hot enough to kill off the weed seeds. Thus, a good deal of gardening effort went into weeding and that hasn't changed over the years.

I have a gardening partner in my beloved wife who tends to specialize in the veg beds but who also plays her part in the weeding. Our approaches are quite different. Heather is a speedy weeder, attacking the ground with a vigorous hoe and she sweeps round the beds in no time at all. I, on the other hand, have always believed in attempting a cure rather than settling for symptomatic relief, so I get down on my knees and work slowly along trying to get the roots out. We are complementary weeders! As a primarily 'kneeling gardener', my favourite tools are small and hand held.

Hand-held tools.
Of course, my trusty Felco secateurs are in my pocket and always ready to hand but my real favourite is my 'weeding knife'. As can be seen from the picture, this is a straight, slightly hollowed blade with a red handle and it is absolutely ideal for prodding, exploring, and levering out pretty well all the common weeds with their roots intact. It is not unlike a shortened version of an 'asparagus knife' of bygone days. Needless to say it cannot always get all the roots out Field bindweed is proof against all my efforts, but most deep rooted weeds such as dandelion come out cleanly. The 'weeding knife' is marketed by Wolf and was initially sold as a gadget to go on the end of a long handle but I use it purely as a hand held tool. I would not want to be left without my favourite tool.

My second favourite for a 'kneeling gardener' is a hand fork which differs from most forks in that the prongsare round, as can be seen in the picture. With its round, smooth, steel tines and its comfortable wooden handle, it is a joy to look at and a pleasure to use. I use it for all the minor cultivating tasks carried out when kneeling but it is particularly suited to combing through old leaves and stems, such as the tired hardy geraniums, in the winter tidy of the garden. I think that a number of manufacturers produce similar round-tined forks but mine in the picture is by Burgon & Ball and is available from many gardening mail-order catalogues.

I have concentrated on hand-held tools but I cannot leave the subject without mentioning a couple of larger items that have made my gardening life easier over the years and which are shown in the pictures.
The first is an edger. The 'Bob Andrews Spintrim1 had a rechargeable battery and was held against the edge of the grass whilst walking backwards, trying to avoid anything noxious under ones feet. Some years ago, it was taken over by Aliens and the colour went to a darker shade of blue but was, otherwise, unchanged. Later still, Aliens left the market and most of their machines were taken over by other manufacturers but nobody has taken on the 'Spintrim' and I am distraught.
When the garden was in its prime and we were nearer ours, we had nearly a third of a mile of edges and some mechanical device was needed to keep them cut and tidy. I could not use electric devices because of the distance and the more powerful ones with petrol engines tended to cut a new edge every time making the beds a bit bigger every time they were used. The ideal was the battery powered 'Spintrim' but mine is now very old and I can't get parts any more so it is a real problem. Of course, I have now drastically reduced the beds and, accordingly, the edges but I still mourn the loss of one of my favourite garden tools.

My last favourite is self invented, designed and made, so there are no difficulties of manufacturers going out of business and spares are always available. As shown in the photograph, this is just a simple freezer basket slung between the handles of a wheelbarrow. It is placed far enough forward so that it doesn't hit your knees when wheeling the barrow and wired firmly in position. Into the basket I put string, wire, pruners, scissors, weeding knife, trowel, hand fork, pruning saw and anything else that I am likely to need before I venture out to work. Before I devised this wheelbarrow modification, I was always finding myself at the bottom of our large sloping garden without some essential tool and having to walk all the way back to the shed to find it. I am thankful for it on an almost daily basis, particularly as the years pass and the thought of slogging all the way back up to the shed to collect forgotten string or something else becomes more off-putting!