From the Chairman

Several important and enjoyable events take place in spring and summer, before our lecture programme starts again in September. No doubt you will want to spend more time in your gardens, but please try to support our efforts. We cannot afford our programme without the profit generated by the plant fair in May; nor can the specialized nurseries we encourage exist without our custom. They share our mission to sustain and extend the cultivation of hardy plants, especially the less usually grown ones. The outings we have organized provide the inspiration we need from seeing some superb gardens, as well as further nursery visits. Mark Bird has succeeded in reducing the costs compared to last year. And don't neglect the entirely informal non-commercial opportunities to visit member's gardens on summer evenings. The autumn programme starts with a visit from Derry Watkins, a most enthusiastic speaker who brings exiting plants from her nursery in Somerset that some of us visited in 2009.
Looking further ahead, we are delighted that Bob Brown, of Cotswold Garden Flowers, has agreed to give the 2012 Celebrity Lecture in February. He is an entertaining and sometimes provocative lecturer who will certainly keep us on our toes. We believe these lectures are now part of the Rutland 'social calendar', and they are an ideal way of introducing new members to our group. Need I say once again how much we need them, especially those prepared to serve as officers?

Spring Blue Bulbs by  John Hudson
When I wrote in anticipation of the joys of spring in the last newsletter, I mentioned snowdrops, winter aconites and crocuses, but failed to mention Chionodoxa. Silly of me, as these very cheerful and undemanding blue bulbs are now (mid March) at their best, coming after the crocuses and overlapping the daffodil season. Mine increase year on year, and don't seem to mind disturbance, as some of the best are in a bed that regularly gets dug over twice a year. I didn't mention Anemone blanda either, which is similarly cheerful and tolerant, and lasts longer; nor even grape hyacinths. These grow only too well, but I like them none the less. Pale forms such as Valerie Finnis' are more restrained and less invasive. Scilla sibirica too. Never forget the blues (see pictures below)

        Grape hyacinths and daffodils, April                                       Chionodoxa and daffodils, March

On Rotating Tubs (Part 1)   by  John Hudson

No, not ones spinning on their vertical axis, but rotating as in the term crop rotation. I have many tubs and pots whose contents change with the seasons. There are two shallow broad steps leading down from the sun room to a small patio, facing south. They are in the most sheltered and most prominent position in the whole garden. The other side of the patio also has tubs on it in the summer, as does the path in the north facing front garden. Keeping them decorative and interesting for the whole year is a challenge, and hard work, but not one I am yet ready to give up. When the tubs are in the preparation or recuperation stages they go into inconspicuous positions against the garage or in it, on the drive, or in the open, north-facing porch. Moving and lifting them is where the hardest work comes in. It is bad for my elderly back. This time I shall describe the winter and spring tubs, reserving summer and autumn for next time.
In the early months of the year the top step is occupied by hellebores, not the H. x hybridus that I grow in the main garden and sometimes bring to our meetings, but the hybrids involving the evergreen caulescent (stemmed) forms: H x sternii, H. nigercors, H. ballardii and H. ericsmithi. They all have attractive foliage, and flower in late winter to early spring, lasting into May. They spent most of the last two winters outside on the step, although I brought the reputedly slightly tender baliardii inside during the hardest weather; also the t
ender species H. lividus..
I order tulips each year from Blom's to form the basis of the spring display, also recycling some of the previous year's when they have kept well. They are never as good as the Dutch-grown ones though. They are currently (mid March) in position and will be flowering by the time you receive this newsletter. There are a few tubs with daffodils too. There is a large bright blue tub that is too heavy to move. I insert smaller pots inside it, planted with bright red species tulips: eichleri, ingens, hoogiana, wedenskyii in varying combinations. The result is at least striking (picture). Another regular feature is a low tub with 'Red Riding Hood'. The striped foliage is as decorative as the scarlet flowers. I sometimes plant second-season tulips in the garden, especially among the peonies. They usually grow well, but I am running out of space for them.

Auriculas live in troughs rather than tubs, and can stay in the same one for several years. They go on the drive under the house wall out of season.. They are very tolerant of neglect. They are moved on to the lower step in April and May. So May is a good time, as ever in English gardens.

All these are moved aside and replaced by lilies for summer display: await the next episode.

Deene Cottage garden in June

Self Inflicted Garden Invaders  by  Brian Cromie
Gardens should be havens of peace and tranquillity but they are not immune from unwanted plant invasions that cause trouble and strife. These are plants of the weed variety, including brambles, nettles, thistles, chickweed, bittercress, dandelions, oxalis and many others, which just appear from nowhere. We try to control them with varying degrees of success, which gets more difficult as more and more herbicides are removed from the market.
Then there is another group of invaders and these are plants that we intentionally introduce into the garden and then regret it when their thug-like properties emerge and control becomes a real problem. I can think of at least four examples of self inflicted
plant invaders that we have introduced and lived to regret.
In the barren winter months, a plant which was in flower and had an interesting scent was admired in my sister-in-law's garden and a couple of chunks were duly dug up and planted in the narrow strips on either side of our garden. The plant was Winter Heliotrope or Petasites fragrans. It is described as a 'Spreading perennial' with 'strongly vanilla-scented, pale lilac to purple flowerheads from midwinter to early spring'. All of that is correct but the cardinal feature is the "spreading". The two little clumps planted about 8 years ago are both 25 feet long and would be just as wide, spreading out into the lawn were it not for the mower that chops up the outer edge as it cuts the invaded grass.
On   another  occasion, we visited my younger son's garden in the Midlands and admired a striking yellow flowered plant in his stone wall. Again, a couple of bits were prised out and planted in our little walled garden at home. The plant we had introduced was Corydalis lutea,- we should have known better! There are many very attractive varieties of Corydalis, which are controllable, but this 'wild form' is not one of them. It has now inserted itself into all parts of our walled garden. The books say that it 'self-seeds freely' and they are quite right. They fail to add that it has very fragile, brittle stems, which makes it almost impossible to get out without leaving the roots behind. Still, it is quite a cheerful yellow and there are worse plants to have as invaders.
The third self-inflicted invading thug arrived because we said that we liked it in a neighbour's garden and the own
er brought round a root, as a little present, the very next day. The plant was Arum italicum 'Marmoratum', with its large, veined leaves and 'Cuckoo Pint' flowers. It is a striking plant and the large, dark green, shiny leaves, which do well in the shade, give interesting ground cover but it does spread throughout the garden and survives attempts at removing it. With its deep tubers it even flourishes where beds have been dug out and grassed over. Introduce it into your garden at your peril!
My fourth naive invasion relates to that old favourite 'Ground Elder'. Brought into England as a sort of vegetable, it was described thus in the 16th century; "It groweth itselfe in gardens without setting or sowing, and is so fruitful in its increase that, where it has once taken root, it will hardly be gotten out again, spoiling and getting every yeere more ground, to the annoying of better herbes."
Visiting a nursery with our village garden club we admired the fresh, light colours of variegated ground elder; Aegopodium podagraria Variegatum'. The nursery assured us that it was not invasive compared with ground elder and we bought some for a circular bed that already had Cornus shrubs and a Mahonia; all doing well. It was soon evident that the reassurances about invasiveness were widely off the mark and we dug and dug to get out every scrap. However, the story has a happy ending. We planted some in a pot and, years later, we needed light-reflecting ground cover in a restricted space outside a rather dark kitchen window. The variegated Ground Elder was transferred from the pot to the concrete-edged area; it has spread and spread and been a great success, so some self-inflicted thug plant invasions turn out well after all.

Peony 'Gleam of Light