Ann-Marie Powell designs and builds Countryfile’s 30th anniversary garden

(with the help of a few friends). February 2018, and Ann-Marie receives an offer she cannot refuse from the RHS: to design and build a small garden at Hampton Court, possibly a backyard-type, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the BBC 1’s flagship programme Countryfile. The brief is just her cup of tea: nature, wildlife, preservation and diversity of plants. Although the time restraint (5 months instead of the customary 18), the extremely limited budget and the Counryfile wish list may warrant something stronger than tea!


To involve the whole nation, the idea of mirroring the diverse landscapes of the British Isles was born, followed by a period of intensive research into native plants relating to Scotland, the Dales, Lakes, Wales, the South and the Coast. It had to include massive boulders, a stream, ponds complete with a mini Giant Causeway, a hill representing the Scottish Highlands, and farming (a field planted with barley, featuring a classic Ferguson T20 tractor). By this time the suggested backyard had grown to 600 square metres.

But there was no damping Ann-Marie’s enthousiasm, and backed by staff and a bunch of extremely knowledgeable, capable and willing friends (including our own member Jill Meech, who spent a day watering the 14000 plants) all components were duly sourced and transported to their corner at Hampton Court in time for the build. 3 weeks of heavy digging and grafting in hot sunshine by an army of intrepid helpers, egged on by Ann-Marie’s example (and generous smiles) ensured that the garden was ready in time for the opening of the Hampton Court Show 2018.

By the end of Ann-Marie’s lively and illuminating Keynote Lecture, we all felt as if we’d had a hand in the creation of the garden ourselves. The garden is long gone, but the photographs (provided by Ann-Marie) show the magnificent result enjoyed by thousands of visitors!

Award-winning garden designer Ann-Marie Powell is involved in the Wildlife Garden and World Food Garden at Wisley scheduled to open in Spring 2020.

Leonardslee Gardens visit

The 200 acre Grade I listed valley garden in West Sussex was the destination for our annual coach trip on Sunday, a sunny day but not too hot. Event organiser Terry effected a last-minute switch of coach company, which ensured that the trip could go ahead.

Leonardslee is famous for its spring plantings of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and magnolia trees, which cover the steep-sided slopes; although by June most had finished flowering, they provided a magnificent backdrop of different shapes and shades of green to the 7 mostly man-made lakes. Armed with a map showing the numerous trails, many members enjoyed the walks through the rhododendron woods and along the ponds, stopping to admire the dragonflies and damselflies flitting over the water, or the huge carp just below the surface. Although we had missed the colour display in the spring, coming later gave us a much more peaceful time there. It also allowed us to admire the Kousa dogwood trees covered in white flowers, including a magnificent pink-flowering one.

As well as the valley gardens, there were other attractions: a rock garden, a glass house (with pond!), a wallaby colony introduced in 1889, a vineyard with wine-tastings and a wall-to-wall collection of dolls’ houses, shops and Victorian village scenes.

There were various cafes where we could spend the pre-loaded cards given to us on coffee or lunch, and a gift shop and plant sales area, and before we knew it, it was time to get back on the coach, ending another successful Grayshott Gardeners visit.

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:

Visit to Dipley Mill

On a rather cold and wet evening we were fortunate to visit a wonderful garden in Dipley,
Hartley Wintney. We were met by Rose McMonigall who is an award-winning Garden Designer. She is in the final phase of designing a garden for the Spanish Tourist Office for Hampton Court flower Show.

Rose gave us a potted history of the Mill, which is mentioned in the Domesday Book, and the over-grown, almost non-existent gardens that she took over in 2000. We were shown around the various garden ‘rooms’ which include many specialist and unusual plants and trees. Now there are eighteen various gardens each one totally different in design and colour scheme.

There is a large Dove Cote that was unfortunately cleared out by minks that are a problem on the Whitewater River. The Dove Cote is now occupied by bees and they have been left alone by the mink! Rose’s father demonstrated how their sluice gates work to maintain the water level and prevent flooding to the house.

The gardens can be visited on special open days shown on their website and in the Yellow Book. Well worth a visit, especially on a warm, sunny day!


Grayshott Fair in the Square

Anne Waddell and helpers added a colourful note to the fair in Grayshott on Saturday, with fragrance provided by Gill and Jan in the form of Lilies of The Valley. There were plenty of takers, both young and old, who stopped by to hear and read about Grayshott Gardeners. A great effort, which may well result in some interested youngsters becoming future members!

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.

Grayshott Gardeners Annual Plant Sale

This was another enjoyable and successful event, from the buyers’ as well as the sellers’ point of view. Bacon butties and hot drinks were very welcome too. Well done everyone – especially Karen who is now off on a well-earned rest. Photos by John Price. Click on picture for full screen icon (crossed double arrows), click.

2019 Plant Sale
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Hampton Court Garden Nursery visit

Nursery Tour with Martin Einchcomb

Grayshott Gardeners were privileged to take part in a private tour conducted by Head of Nursery Martin Einchcomb, who donated his time in return for a donation to the Perennial charity.

he Nursery comprises 15 glasshouses covering one acre, and the team of 7 (helped by volunteers) produces plants for 60 acres of formal gardens at the Hampton Court and Kensington Palaces.

Following a brief introduction, Martin conducted us past an array of tropical and semi-tropical plants, the famous Exoticks Collection originally started by Queen Mary II, parts of which survived until the First World War when lack of manpower and attention led to the last plants dying out. Since 1987, the Gardens & Estate team and lately Martin, have devoted much time and effort in researching the specimens in Mary’s collection and bringing them back once more to Hampton Court. It is one of the three National Plant Collections at Hampton Court and has now been recogni

Other glasshouses contained masses of bedding plants not usually seen at garden centres but well-known to the Victorians, as most of the plants produced here are destined to fit in with the historic settings of the Palaces, flowering in (what now seem) old-fashioned colours. These include pelargoniums, lantanas, and also coleus with vivid colour variations in the leaves.

Hampton Court holds two other National Plant Collections, Lantana, whose many cultivars have flowers that change their colour (from yellow to white and orange to purple) as they mature, and Heliotropoium, or the Cherry Pie Plant (its purple flowers smell of cherries and vanilla).

Yet another glasshouse we were shown contains the Citrus collection, showing off their oranges and lemons – these normally tender trees had been put into period-appropriate pots which the Nursery has specifically made for display in their formal settings during the summer.

Martin told us that the original Victorian glasshouses had been destroyed to make way for more modern and efficient ones during the 60’s and 70’s; like the Victorian ones, they have been overtaken by later designs and technology, but lack of funds mean the latter remain an item on the team’s wish list for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the Nursery manages to grow 40% of the bedding plants from cuttings and seed, and the remaining 60% from tiny plug plants which are cheaper and more efficient to buy in, a credit to the staff, and proof of what can be achieved with devotion and skill, even without the latest technology.

Pot filler machine

The tour ended with a brief survey of the workshops and tractor and machinery shed containing trolleys to move large trays and tables, and for picking up (very heavy) tubs; we also saw the machine for automatically filling pots with compost.

Thanking Martin for his interesting explanations and tips, most members of the group then departed for lunch in the cafeteria or outside on the terrace, as it was a lovely sunny day.

There was an opportunity to enjoy fee access to the Rose Garden (not out yet but containing plenty of interesting bedding plants and tulips) as well as the extensive Kitchen Garden, origininally established for William III and Mary II in 1689 on the site of Henry Viii’s tiltyard, with its numerous fruit trees and bushes.

Others explored the Palace itself, and the more Formal Gardens, while some sneaked down to the river to watch the Royal Swans and enjoy a drink by the side of the River Thames : )

Millais Nurseries visit

Millais Nurseries visit (David Millais in black)

Millais Nurseries, situated in a lovely quiet setting near Churt, specialise in Rhododendrons, growing and supplying more than 800 varieties of Rhododendrons, as well as Camellias and Azaleas. The Millais family boasts a long-standing interest in Rhododendrons, going back to the early decades of the last century, but the plant nurseries were established in 1970. They have grown into what today is a thoroughly modern and impressive setup, with business conducted largely online.

A sizable group of Grayshott Gardeners were lucky to visit their colourful Plant Centre and extensive Nurseries on Wednesday. Owner David Millais and Dan, a member of his team, each headed one half of the group, taking us round the propagating tunnels with their fully-automated systems for heating, watering and ventilating the thousands of healthy-looking cuttings. It takes three years for a cutting to be turned into a rhododendron ready for sale.

Millais Nurseries generate most of their environmentally-friendly compost with the aid of a gigantic machine, which shreds and mixes a variety of plant materials into a mixture of currently 45% peat-free compost, which then gets measured out into pots, still by the same machine. There is even a machine for cleaning plant pots, based on the design of a mechanical car-wash!

A special treat was the walk around the woodland garden, full of mature rhododendrons and azaleas, flowering in many different colours and shapes. A particular striking example was a large yellow-flowering Camellia called Lois. The woodland garden is closed to the public this year for redevelopment, but is well-worth bearing in mind for a visit in May 2020.

Throughout the tour David commented and explained the different processes for propagating and growing rhododendrons, which come in a great variety of colours and sizes, and offered many useful tips for pruning and looking after these plants in our gardens.

On our way back to the Plant Centre we passed an area sheltered from the sun behind some sheeting in order to postpone their flowering. This contained plants being grown for the Chelsea Show towards the end of May. Millais Nurseries hope for a repeat of their 2016 success in gaining a Gold Medal.


For more information, including opening times and directions, please refer to the Millais Nurseries website and remember to take your membership card for a discount to Grayshott Gardeners when visiting!

Spring Show

Tulips class

The 2019 Spring Show organised by Grayshott Gardeners again proved a great success, with many entries, despite the period of freaky weather preceding the show. A total of 139 persons enjoyed the the exhibits and other attractions presented by the teams. Results and a brief report on the Shows page here, photo gallery to follow soon.