Category Archives: Uncategorized

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!


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!

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.