Category Archives: Club Lectures

Neil Miller, Head Gardener at Hever Castle

Hever Castle clad in Boston Ivy

Neil Miller, Head Gardener at Hever Castle, conducted his online Zoom lecture, a first for Grayshott Gardeners, in cooperation with the Perennial charity. Having missed out on live talks for most of this year, some 70-odd G G members took up the invitation to participate in an online Zoom lecture. Neil, a Lloyds broker in the City of London, changed tack midlife to retrain as a horticulturist, ran his own business, but nevertheless did not think twice when offered a job at Hever Castle, where he was subsequently appointed Head Gardener in 2006.

Neil did not disappoint. His photographs of the Castle and gardens with the abundant vistas were wonderfully varied and colourful; he managed to fit in a vast amount of information on the history of the estate, the plantings and the layout, as well as inherent values and plans regarding future work, young people and education. A fluent and inspiring speaker, Neil succeeded in conveying his enthusiasm for the different species of plants. The hard work involved in their care was not overlooked either, especially in wrestling (more or less successfully) with the effects of wildlife, such as badgers, rabbits and greenfly.

We heard how Hever Castle dates from the 13th Century, that it was Anne Boleyn’s childhood home, and was bought by William Waldorf Astor in 1902, who used his fortune to commission the 125 acre gardens, known then as an Edwardian Pleasure Ground, and which involved 2000 men and 4 years (as well as many litres of beer) to construct.

Amazing photographs took us along the Topiary Walk, past the Yew and Box Maze, the Chess Set, the Tudor Herb Garden; the Italian Garden with its statuary and mostly Roman artefacts, the Pompeiian Wall and its Mediterranean plants, such as pomegranate and pistachio trees, backed by the heat-retaining south-facing sandstone wall; and opposite the 1/8th of a mile Pergola walk and shade-loving camellias and hydrangeas, with a marble structure gracing the well in between. (fact-check by the editor: etymological connection with “well-to-do” may be fake news).

Nearby is a fountain based on the Trevi fountain in Rome, flanked by nude female statues, which in less liberal times used to be cleaned by ladies from the Women’s Institute. (Fact-check required – ed.) A favourite picture is the loggia at sunrise, glowing with warm Italianate colours. The sunken garden used to be filled with water for bathing by the Astor family. The 38 acres lake with its water maze attracts many youngsters, and the wildlife also serves as an educational resource.

Neil is a rose fanatic, and a large part of his time is spent on the walled rose garden with its 4000 fragrant rose plants – greenfly is dealt with organically by birds and hover flies but black spot is regretfully but necessarily kept at bay by spraying.

All the Gardens look immaculate, and it is hard to believe that until last month, 9 members of staff were furloughed, leaving Neil with only 3 members of staff to cope. However, Hever Castle is currently open for visits and stays, with Covid 19 precautions in place. The Autumn colours are particularly fantastic this year, as are the vistas.

Aerial view of the gardens

Many thanks to Neil, and to Perennial who have guided and fronted this Zoom lecture for Grayshott Gardeners as a new fund-raising activity to replace many others lost to the coronavirus. Neil is donating his fee for his talk to Perennial.

Further information on Hever Castle and its Gardens on their website:

Perennial is a charity which looks after former horticultural employees and their families:

Photographs supplied by Neil Miller

World of Plants in your Garden by David Hurrion

On Wednesday, David Hurrion, teacher of horticultural subjects at all levels, broadcaster, editor, designer and a Designated Judge for the RHS, demonstrated the breadth of his knowledge and experience by taking us time-travelling around the world.

He began his fascinating talk with a slide depicting the separation of the seven continents causing plants to evolve into distinct groups, and continued to demonstrate how mountain ranges, rivers and other landscape characteristics, including climate (position vis-a-vis the sun) also impacted on the plant world. Human beings had a huge effect, intentionally (by collecting plants to bring home) as well as unintentionally (by carrying seeds home in their clothing).

David illustrated his talk with colourful slides of a wide range of flowers and plants from all over the world, some of which are reproduced here; he frequently dropped in nuggets of information such as why plants from the Himalayan region (as well as spring bulbs) have their dormitory period in summer, or how the Great White Cherry came to be reintroduced after it had become extinct in Japan.

David’s enthusiasm and passion for plants was most evident towards the end, when he cautioned the audience to be aware of human action and its effect on he plant world, based on the different aspects of his own garden, and his conclusion: East is Least, West is Best.

David has a very informative website with beautiful photographs at, as well as a YouTube channel with useful instructions.

David Haselgrove: Plants and Places in Patagonia and Peru

David Haselgrove, retired solicitor and former Council Member of the RHS, presently chairman of their Joint Rock Garden Plant Committee, treated us to a breathtaking show of alpine plants and flowers in South America, set against the imposing landscapes of Chile, Argentina and Peru.

Starting in the very southern-most part of the continent, with its snow-covered mountains, blue icebergs and glaciers, we travelled (virtually) across many miles of grasslands, stopping at chrystal-clear lakes, climbing mountains and volcanoes and crossing dangerously windy plains at high altitude in search of alpine plants growing in the wild.

We were rewarded with the most diverse and colourful range of plants, in unexpected shapes and sizes. It came as a surprise that many of the plant names were familiar, and commonly sold in local plant nurseries, yet the shapes and sizes seemed completely different.

The selection of photographs shown here should give some idea of the variety of plants grown in this hostile climate; during questions John indicated that many require a great deal of attention, with drainage foremost, when grown in this country.

If anybody missed this interesting and entertaining lecture, or would like reminding, a number of photographs taken on this trip are shown online here:

What makes your local Garden Centre tick?

Grayshott Gardeners started the new year with a fascinating peek behind the scenes at one of our most popular chain of Garden Centres. Sarah Squire, Chairman of Squire’s Garden Centres, gave our first lecture of 2020, and explained the history and the ethos of this long standing family business. She also gave us an insight into some of the challenges Garden Centres face today, and how they try to manage them.

Squires was founded in 1936 by Sarah’s grandfather, D.J. Squire. It started as a company that took on small scale landscaping work, and soon expanded into plant nurseries. It wasn’t until the 1950s and 60s that Garden Centres as we know them today came about – driven by the fact that people now cared for their own gardens (employing gardeners had become a thing of the past), widespread car ownership, the availability of container grown plants, and the emergence of garden centres in the US.

W hen DJ retired Sarah’s father, Colin, took over the running of Squires. He remained Chairman for 30 years, and still plays a part in running the business today. Sarah took over as Chairman in 2019. She has had many roles different roles in the company, starting off as a Saturday girl, and has worked outside the company as a solicitor specialising in commercial property.

Squires today has 16 Garden Centres in the Surrey/Sussex/Berkshire/West London area – three of which are very familiar to Grayshott Gardeners. Squires are happy to keep this tight geographical footprint, as it allows them to really understand their customers and their needs. They employ nearly 1,000 people, across a whole range of disciplines, from IT and Marketing to plant and animal experts.

Their business is very seasonal, with plant sales peaking in spring and early summer. And throughout the year Saturdays and Sundays are their busiest times. In order to attract customers outside of these peaks, diversification is key – with restaurants and Christmas decorations being good examples of this. However, we were left in no doubt that it is plants that are the raison d’être of this great family business, which raised a cheer from this audience of gardeners!


Julian Hight: Britain’s Forest History

The subject of Wednesday’s talk was something of a first for Grayshott Gardeners: Ancient Trees in Britain and around the World, along with their history and myths, all located, researched and beautifully photographed by Julian, and presented in a lively and captivating lecture. We were told about ancient oaks, native to Britain (moved there from Europe when it was still connected to the Continent), the grove of ancient Yew trees in Kingsley Vale near Chichester, as well as about Mediterranean Olive trees, some of which are estimated to be 2-3000 years old, and a surviving Cherry tree in the Japanese Alps, propped up by struts but still flowering.

The reason some of these trees have survived hundreds, or even thousands of years is that they served a useful purpose: industrial (e.g. pollarding), community (fruit bearing) or religious (Yew trees in churchyards). Julian quoted many anecdotes (some of which may even be true) such as Newton’s apple tree at Woolsthorpe Manor, the oak taken by an architect as a model for building a lighthouse, and the Queen Elizabeth oak at Cowdray Park, entirely hollow now, and squat, purported to have been visited by Q E in 1591.

Julian is the author of two lavishly illustrated books, Britain’s Tree Story (2011) for the National Trust, and World Tree Story, celebrating the world’s oldest, largest and most famous (and sometimes not so famous) trees, while also telling the human tale. He is actively engaged in tree preservation, campaigning locally in Somerset as well as nationally to save threatened trees and ancient woodland. Further info on his website:

James Smallwood: Auriculas

A mini Florists’ Feast awaited Grayshott Gardeners members when James Smallwood, accompanied by his wife Nicola, brought along part of his collection of Auriculas to show and sell at the May lecture evening. James is an excellent speaker and his enthusiasm for these attractive and interesting colourful plants was obvious.

At Chelsea with Alan Titmarsh

Originally found in the Alps and Dolomites, Auriculas featured in this country as early as the 1700s when growers of these plants gathered at so-called Florists’ Feasts, contests held in public houses and halls all over England, to show off their skills in breeding new varieties. The traditional prize was a copper kettle.

The wide-ranging palette of colours and markings is partly due to the combination of acid and lime-loving ancestry, and partly to a peculiarity unique to Auriculas: the icing-sugar like covering on leaves and/or petals called farine. When this forms a tight circle in the centre, it is called a paste. It remains a great mystery as to what purpose the farine serves.

James had the privilege of working together with grower Bill Lockyer, a multiple gold medal winner at Chelsea, a tradition his son Simon continued last year by winning another Gold Medal.

James told us where to buy Auriculas, the best way to grow, look after, propagate and display them, and also explained the classification of the more than 5000 different varieties illustrated by a clear and simple slide. He answered questions from the audience and invited members to come and have a close-up look at the plants he had on display.

The stunning photographs accompanying this post were provided by James, who has also compiled a list with useful information here.

Seasonal, Scented and Sustainable

On 13th march 2019 a packed hall of Grayshott Gardeners were treated to a fascinating talk on flower farming by Claire Brown of Plantpassion.

With her experience of working and designing flower borders for other people Claire realised there was a need for beautiful British cut flowers rather than the standard blooms created just for the mass market.

Hill Top Farm was set up in 2013 and with the help of social media her business has grown more successful with each passing year.

Claire went on to explain that historically the farming of flowers in England was a thriving business. A place in Clandon grew cornflowers as its cash crop to be used as buttonholes by discerning Victorian gentlemen.

Flower farming declined in the 1970’s due to high fuel costs and Dutch growers who, because they were subsidised, could produce cheaper blooms.

Now, however, because of a more discerning market the business in the UK is making a comeback. Florists want different and more interesting blooms and don’t want to buy in huge quantities.

Claire also has local customers for whom she provides “Buckets” – that is a selection of flowers that because of their colour and shape all go together well making it easy, even for the amateur flower arranger, to make fantastic compositions.

Weddings and events are also catered for on an individual basis.

Claire gave us lots of tips and information –

  • Mix nice smelling herbs such as Apple Mint with your arrangements.
  • Pick flowers early in the morning for longer lasting blooms
  • Don’t forget about Winter foliage and seed heads

Interesting facts about supermarket flowers –

  • Roses don’t usually have any scent because the ones that smell nice don’t last as long.
  • The rose buds that never open but just eventually die have been dipped in Silver Nitrate to extend their shelf last
  • Super markets only want flowers that last at least 7 days
  • The daffodils we buy in the supermarkets are usually by products of the bulb growers who are, actually, not really interested in the flowers.

At the end of a fascinating evening Claire answered questions from the floor, once again showing her wealth of expertise and knowledge.


Nick Bailey on 365 days of Colour

A packed village hall eagerly awaited the arrival of Nick Bailey, a little later than expected, due to a delay at Waterloo Station caused by an incident on the line. After the warm-up act comprising Gill (upcoming events), Vanessa (Hidden Gardens 2019) and Gordon (Snowdrop viewing on Saturday), the audience was well-primed to warmly welcome Nick Baily, horticulturalist, author, award-winning TV presenter and garden designer.

(Lesley Cook Headshots)

Nick spent part of his extensive and varied 15-year career as Head Gardener at Chelsea Physic Garden, which has its own micro-climate,  which Nick took full advantage of when redesigning the gardens and diversifying the plant collection. A visit is definitely recommended.

Continuing with the main theme of colour (usually against a general background of nearly 90% green foliage) Nick then told us how to add colour by interplanting, and contrasting or harmonising colours. He identified the gardener’s colour wheel as a useful aid for pinpointing nuances of colour.

All this led up to a series of slides showing colourful flowers and plants taken from his best-selling book 365 Days of Colour, which has tips as well as lists of plants which will provide year-round colour in our gardens.

365 Days of Colour by Nick Bailey is available from

Gordon Rae: A Year in a Grayshott Garden

Our patron Gordon Rae kick-started this season of GG lectures with a raft of marvelously colourful images of his and Judith’s garden photographed month by month throughout the year, in the form of a varied and well-balanced slide show which was assembled by Kathleen Bird. The many different and sometimes surprising colours complimented the “50 shades of green” pointed out by Gordon, who acknowledged Judith’s expertise in setting off the different shades against each other. We time-travelled through the worst of the winter (cue: icy picture of a frozen fountain,  but also snowdrops popping their heads above the snow) and interesting architectural shapes – Gordon’s tip: buy winter pansies for a pop of colour – followed by spring with its numerous flowering plants, the high point of this garden. There was still plenty of colour during the summer months, although drought put paid to the lush green of the lawn, which had to be reseeded in the autumn.

Gordon is also an expert photographer, as demonstrated by the superb landscape images and amazing close-ups of individual flowers and adorable animal pictures – he clearly has a soft spot for foxes, squirrels and birds (except for snowdrop-ravaging pigeons!). He also has an eye for the weird and wonderful (fungi) and tells a good anecdote.

Hamamelis mollis

Gordon reminded us that this garden was started from scratch 47 years ago, on land which was completely overgrown; a drop of 50 ft from the house meant that they had to install all of the hard landscaping and terraces before planting could begin. The presentation showed what can be achieved on Grayshott’s sandy soil with dedication, skill and sheer hard work.

Thanking Gordon for his interesting lecture, president Gill Purkiss offered Gordon a donation to give to a charitable cause of his choice.

For an impression of the many colourful plants in this garden, or a reminder, please visit the members’ gardens gallery, as many of the photos featured are by Gordon taken in his garden last year.

Gordon and Judith are kindly inviting GG members and their guests to visit the snowdrop display in their garden on Saturday, 16th February 10 – 12 a.m.

Timothy Walker: In the not too bleak midwinter

Terry and Chrissie dispensing refreshments

December it may have been, but there was nothing bleak about Grayshott village hall as Grayshott Gardeners flocked to this month’s lecture evening, where the now traditional mulled wine and mince pies dispensed by Terry and his team awaited our keynote speaker Timothy Hall, as well as members and visitors.



Timothy Walker

Timothy is a renowned botanist, who between 1986-2014 was General Foreman, followed by Horti Praefectus and later Director at the University of Oxford’s Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum. During that time he has given more than 1500 talks worldwide, while also lecturing in the Department of Plant Sciences Oxford and other Colleges.  He was made a Fellow of the Linnaean Society of London, has written a number of books, has appeared on TV and is also involved in outreach work.

His informative and entertaining lecture, accompanied by numerous colourful slides,  took us from the start of winter in December/January through to the beginning of spring. We were alerted to the difference in appearance caused by changes in the light, the different plants which emerge as temperatures drop, e.g. mosses, and clearer outlines ( topiary), as well as the contrasting images associated with a rapid change in the weather.

Click on the pictures to enlarge

Timothy discussed climate change, the varied effects of snow and ice, of drought, and how mistletoe is increasing due to milder winters and a change in the migration habits of black cap birds: in contrast to mistletoe thrushes, they cannot digest the seeds, but rub them into tree bark when stuck in their beaks.

We heard how Piet Oudolf recommends growing plants “that die well”, and were shown a series of flowering shrubs, common as well as more unusual ones;  were told how plant species are determined with the example of snowdrops/flakes, at which point our patron came in for some gentle teasing.  A summing up of winter jobs concluded this wide-ranging and topical talk.

Abeliophyllum distichum

Timothy generously shared some of his stunning photographs to be published on our website;  he happened to mentioned that next April he will be running the Brighton Marathon to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support, details of which in italics below.

Membership fees are now due and the 2019 Handbook with a program of all events will be available at the next Club meeting on 9th January, when Gordon Rae will tell us about A year in a Grayshott Garden.



Bonus picture: our president Gill Purkiss in a seasonal jumper, with treasurer Dennis Homer in the background:





On April 14th 2019 I am running the Brighton Marathon to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support.
If you could bring yourself to sponsor me I would be very grateful and many people suffering with cancer would be even more grateful.
More details can be found on my justgiving page – address below.
Thank you!