Category Archives: Club Lectures

Cutting out the Middleman, by Benjamin Pope

A Guide to Growing and displaying your own cut flowers.

Benjamin Pope is Head Gardener at a private garden in West Sussex.  Apart from gardening, he takes a keen interest in beekeeping, travel, art and of course displaying cut flowers from his own garden.  He has a Diploma from Wisley and is a Master of Horticulture. 

Chairman John Price and Programme Secretary Sue Wheeler with Benjamin Pope

He gave a very interesting and informative talk about the different flowers you can grow in your own garden and display.  He said one should not be afraid of breaking the mould in arranging flowers.  Different sorts of flowers can be arranged with branches, shrubs and trees to decorate your home, but it is environmentally friendly and inexpensive to use what you have in your garden.   

You can grow different specimens of flowers and shrubs in the garden to pick for your arrangements, ranging from one or two different colours to hundreds.  Putting just two-coloured flowers in a vase can be more exciting that a whole range of colours.  Combining flowers in the garden was not only a good idea to add colour to the borders but also to pick.  Ben also suggested staggering planting of flowers so that you always had flowers to pick.    

He suggested seeds were a good way of cultivating favourite flowers.  They can be collected from spent flowers; they are cheap and can be brought on easily. Division was another good way of cultivating plants and cuttings were also a good way.  When taking a cutting cover with vermiculite and if you don’t have a greenhouse, find a warm place in which the cuttings can take.

When cutting flowers, we were reminded that sharp secateurs or garden snips were needed and a clean bucket.  Bacteria can affect cut flowers, so you need to put stems of flowers into clean water.  The best time to cut flowers is first thing in the morning.  The key is to rest not rush.  After cutting put the stems in a bucket of clean water and leave for 24 hours to soak up the water.  Make sure the water is free from bacteria, foliage (which will rot) and dirt. 

Cosmos and rudbeckia are great grown from seed and are good annuals and biannual.  Perennials such as aster, Michaelmas daisy, delphiniums and crocosmia are also wonderful flowers to display.

Bulbs and tubers such as anemone, gladioli, narcissus are good flowers to arrange.  Branches and flora from shrubs and trees, leaves with small branches such as willows and witch hazel are good for accompaniments for displays, as are rose hips and seed heads of clematis, lilac and berberis.  Herbs can also be used. Sage, zinnias and dianthus.  Moroccan mint is not only a good herb to use but has a heavenly scent.

Long stemmed plants such as dahlias and rudbeckia along with crab apple, asters and scabiosas are good accompaniments with Iris, peonies. 

You can put just three colours together to make a statement.  Sweet peas, roses allium is a good combination and for larger displays you can use delphiniums, alliums and foxglove together with different grasses.

Ben talked about what can be used as vases/containers.  He said they made up half the arrangement.   A bold colour should be used for a strong arrangement.  Snowdrops along with sedums make for a classic yellow and white display and it doesn’t have to be elaborate, cowslips can be used with meadow flowers such as feverfew. 

Different types of bottles can be used for displays.  An example being Hendrix bottles or test tubes containing snowdrops, or large spirit bottles for witch hazel and you can also use different sizes of jugs.  You should think about the weight of the display and consider using wires for structure and flower frogs.  Think about the neck of the container, a small neck limits how many stems you can use whereas large neck containers are good for larger displays.  Junk shops are always a good place to find different receptacles for displays. 

More information can be found on Ben’s website

Growing and Using Culinary Herbs, by Jekka McVicar

Jekka McVicar and GG Programme Secretary Sue Wheeler

Jekka’s eclectic career began when she was a singer and flute player in a progressive rock band.  The band was one of the first to appear at Glastonbury and to perform at the Isle of Wight Festival.  She subsequently worked at the BBC in the drama department and then went on to work at a herb nursery in Somerset.  In 1987, she and her husband Mac established their herb garden, which has now has the largest collection of culinary herbs in the UK hosting more than 500 different varieties.

Jekka has published many books, written for the RHS, contributes to many publications, and has been awarded the Garden Media Guild Lifetime Achievement Award ‘for services to horticulture, design, education and communication and excellence in the field of organic herb growing’ in 2012 and the Victoria Medal of Honour for her services to horticulture in 2017.

Jekka treated us to a fascinating and entertaining talk which started with her reminiscing on how as a child, she would visit her grandmother (Ruth Lowinsky), pick Mint from her garden and make mint sauce with sugar and white wine (or cider) vinegar.   A recipe she still uses today.    She then told us how she had started her ‘Herbetum’ 40 years ago, (etum meaning ‘collection of’) she continued to describe some popular herbs and the different ways we can use them.

Source: Jekka’s website

Mint when grown in a pot will last 6-8 weeks, it should be fed with a seaweed feed.  It should be cut back in September, fed and will keep growing until the frost.  It should be re potted in November.  Mixing Mint with peppermint can enhance good sleep.  Korean Mint is a beautiful plant which is not invasive and good for wildlife.

Bay is known for adding to casseroles, soups and bouquet garni, but is also delicious as ice-cream, the recipe for which is on her website.  

The best time to sow Garlic is on the shortest day and harvest on the longest.   Garlic was used in ancient Egyptian times for sores and has been scientifically proven to aid the healing of skin.  Welsh Onion, wild garlic and Siberian chives are all good for making flavoured vinegars. 

White borage flowers are lovely scattered on salads, also good in ice-cubes.

Calendula is good for putting in creams for skin but not for eating.

Heartease (Viola Tricolor) can be made into tea for long distance flying pigeons, they are nice in ice cubes.

Fennel, (which was introduced into this country by the Romans) helps with digestion and has been scientifically proven to lower cholesterol.

French Tarragon (different to Russian Tarragon) is also a good digestive herb. It is also good to use in oils and vinegar.   Russian Tarragon is just an upper-class grass and bears no resemblance to French Tarragon.

Herbs are good for making syrups, added to soda water is a refreshing drink. 

Celery leaf is a UK native herb which was taken to India.  It has a milder taste than Coriander, which although thought to be native to India originated in Italy.  Coriander, Sorrel and Parsley can be grown in North facing gardens.  Coriander and Dill are annuals.  Seed them when you want them to crop and do not transplant.

Lavender is a useful medicinal herb.  It can be used to make biscuits, cakes and is also good ice cream.  Make sure to prune Lavender, Sage and Rosemary in September as it an become woody.  Sage is a good tea for sore throats.  Rosemary tea is good for memory, also good as a tonic and for hangovers.

There are 10 different types of Basil, good for rubbing on bites, especially mosquito bites.  It also hates being wet at night so must be watered in the morning.  It is better grown against a wall and not in pots.  Marjoram and Oregano used on pizzas, are the same plant.  There are 13 different types of Thyme and a favourite with bees to treat themselves against disease.  Rhubarb and lemon thyme crumble is a good pudding to make.

Lemon Verbena is the Rolls Royce of herbs, best in tea and wonderful in ice cubes.  Not to cut the stems now but to prune in April/May when the leaves just start to appear.

Liquorice is the sweetest of herbs, but invasive.

Jekka stressed that you must feed herbs regularly as you would vegetables to be rewarded.  Seeds should always be kept away from the light and dry, only take seeds from the packet you need, never put them back in the packet after being in your hand. Never keep seeds in the fridge.

Lots of information of growing herbs and recipes are on Jekka’s website and in her many books.  Her new book ‘100 Herbs to Grow’ is published in March 2024.

Thank you Jekka for a very entertaining and informative evening.

Pest Recognition and Control, by Andrew Halstead

Andrew gave a very informative talk on recognising and controlling pests in the garden.  Here is a summary of his talk, but please watch the video which John has uploaded on the website for detailed information.

He reminded us that there are rules and regulations on the use of pesticides.  We should read the information on the products before buying making sure it is approved for the type of trees, vegetable or flowers you wish to spray.  Please check, as some are toxic and not for use on produce which will eventually be for human consumption. 

Andrew suggested the audience look at the RHS website which has detailed information of the products available for pest control.

Andrew listed all the pests and how to control them starting with slugs and snails reminding us that pellets were no longer available and Ferric Phosphate was expensive.  Whilst other controls are used such as copper bands etc he said the best thing to use was pathogenic.

He went on to discuss root fly and how there is no preventative, although putting card or material under the plant can stop the maggots eating the roots.  The carrot fly can be avoided by netting the carrots.

It was interesting to learn about the Chafer Grub which lays its eggs in your beautiful lawn, not only ruining it, but encouraging badgers, which love to feed on them thus helping to destroy the lawn.   Unfortunately, there is no deterrent and no guarantee that the grub will not return.

The Vine Weevil is a nocturnal female feeding on the roots of plants and laying hundreds of eggs on namely Rhododendrons.  Nematodes can be used, or you can hunt them at night.

All Muck and Magic, by Geoff Hodge

This month Grayshott Gardeners learned all about our soil – including how to care for it and how to improve it. Geoff Hodge gave us a very entertaining lecture which unlocked some of the science behind the topic, and gave us a real insight into what is going on with our muck.

Geoff started by underlining how important a plant’s roots are to its health and well-being.  The roots absorb water and nutrients from the soil, which are vital for growth and establishment.  If you want good plants that perform well, you need to look after their roots.

Healthy plants show much more resistance to pests and diseases – and with many pesticides now withdrawn from home use, it is important to grow plants as well as we can so they can fight off problems themselves.

Geoff explained how to look after your soil, by adding BOM (Bulky Organic Matter) to improve its structure and feed the micro flora and fauna that are so important to plant growth.  He then took us through examples of the wide array of fertilisers available on the market, and explained which was best for what function.  We now know how to use liquid, granular and slow release feeds, what to look for in an N:P:K ratio, and the dangers of over-feeding or feeding at the wrong time of year.

It’s a complicated topic, but Grayshott Gardeners are now armed with a little more knowledge that should help us successfully navigate the Garden Centre shelves (and keep our President’s pension in fine fettle).

Fruit for a Small Garden, by Jim Arbury

This month Grayshott Gardeners enjoyed a fascinating talk from Jim Arbury, the RHS Fruit Specialist based at Wisley.  Jim has an encyclopaedic knowledge of top fruit (apples, pears, plums and cherries) and soft fruit (raspberries, strawberries, currants, gooseberries and blueberries).  He shared some of this knowledge with us, with recommendations of what would work well in a relatively small space – a back garden, a section of a larger garden or an allotment.

Jim explained all the things we need to consider before deciding what to grow – a site’s aspect, soil type and micro climate.  He warned that growing in a frost pocket can be particularly challenging due to late frosts damaging the emerging blossom – and without good blossom, there will obviously be no fruit later in the year.

For apples and pears, Jim explained the importance of the choice of rootstock and pollination partners.  He also showed us how trained varieties, such as cordons and espaliers, can maximise production in a small space, as well as bringing very attractive structure to a garden.

Jim had many recommendations of varieties for us to consider – there was much scribbling of notes in the audience.  He also described the RHS apple identification service, which allows you to find out the variety of a tree that you have inherited (or simply lost the label for 😊).  Jim can identify about 700 varieties by sight alone!

The evening gave us a comprehensive overview of the potential our own spaces have for growing delicious fruit – roll on harvest time!

Pottering with Pottage: Wisley, the Flagship Garden of the RHS, by Matthew Pottage

We were delighted to welcome Matthew Pottage to speak to us at Grayshott Gardeners this month.  Matthew was the youngest ever curator of an RHS Garden when he was appointed to lead Wisley at the age of 29.  During the last 8 years he has overseen some of the most ambitious projects that the garden has ever undertaken.

With Wisley just up the road, it is a garden that many of us know and love – so it was fascinating to get a peek behind the scenes.  For example, next time we walk down the beautiful avenue of cherry trees that flank the new Garden entrance we will remember what it is like to have a shopping list of 150 semi-mature cherry trees (white flowering only please), all of which have to be quarantined for a year whilst they are closely monitored for pests and diseases.  This is gardening on a gigantic scale.

We also learned about the newest addition to the garden – Hilltop.  Its laboratories and three new gardens are now one of the go-to destinations in Wisley.  Each garden has a distinct purpose – the wildlife garden proves that catering for wildlife doesn’t have to be “messy”. The World Food garden showcases unusual crops amongst the traditional vegetables, and encourages all to be more adventurous in what we grow.  The Well Being garden is not only beautiful to be in, but also enables scientific research into to the benefits of green spaces to our mental health.

We also learned how change comes with challenges.  A bulging postbag from supporters and detractors accompanies each new development.  Moving the garden forward requires courage and a belief that the destination will be worth the disruption and upheaval.  Thankfully Matt is brave – and Wisley continues to inspire and excite us in equal measure!

Seed Sowing and Plant Propagation, by Ray Broughton

Finally the weather is warming up, and us gardeners are inevitably drawn to thinking about new plants.  So it was very timely to be able to welcome Ray Broughton to Grayshott Gardeners to give us a wealth of hints and tips about how to successfully grow our own plants from seeds and cuttings.

Ray has been a lecturer at Sparsholt College for many years, and his expertise in teaching shone throughout the evening.  He gave us so many tricks that it was hard to keep up – around the hall many scraps of paper were being filled with hastily taken notes. Grayshott Sainsbury’s may well have seen a run on Heinz tomato ketchup, cornflour, cling film and vinegar the following day.

He taught us how to clean our secateurs, make black seed visible, use static to collect wayward seeds (along with a useful dance move to discharge the static when it is no longer required), enrich the carbon dioxide in our greenhouses or conservatories, where to store our hosepipes, a space saving way to store hardwood cuttings, and how to break dormancy in seeds that are notoriously tricky, like parsnips.

It was an extremely entertaining evening, as well as an informative one.  We all left enthusiastic to put our newly gained knowledge into practice.

Ray very kindly donated his lecture fee to the charity Perennial.

The Trowels and Tribulations of taking on a Historic Garden, by Maggie Tran

We had the pleasure of welcoming Maggie Tran to our monthly meeting on February 8th to give us this fascinating talk.

Maggie turned from a fine arts background to a career in horticulture. She trained at Wisley for two years and obtained scholarships to places both in this country and abroad. A very impressive list – Great Dixter, Cambo gardens in Scotland, Sissinghurst, Kerdalo in Brittany, Tresco Abbey Gardens – Scilly’s subtropical gem and lastly Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania where, much to her delight she found 80 acres of original wild meadow land to wander through!

Finally, in 2018 she took on the formidable task of restoring the gardens at Bramdean House to its original splendour.

Bramdean House Garden is a “plant lover’s garden” in Hampshire covering 5 acres. The house itself dates back to the 1740s but the garden has been established since the 1940s by then owner, Victoria Wakefield, and her mother. Victoria was a Kew trustee and part of the RHS judging panels.

Victoria was an avid plantswoman and packed the borders with as many different and diverse plants as she could find.

Unfortunately, for some years the garden was left to do its own thing until it was passed down to the next generation – Victoria’s son Teddy and his family who, along with Maggie are working hard to bring it forward to contemporary times and practices. A difficult task by any standards but with a workforce of only 5 (Maggie being the only full-time gardener) sustainability became the order of the day. In 1944 there were 40 gardeners employed!

So it started, but instead of doing a massive, much needed clear-out, Maggie restrained herself for a year to just watch and see what developed. Time was not wasted however as she began to cut back the obvious climbers which were not only entering the roof space but also covering the windows. She said it had been like carefully removing layers to expose the gems beneath.

The Mirror Beds, for which the garden is famous, were completely restored and are now quite magnificent throughout the year. Each one mirroring the other – that is along as the plants behave and don’t start wandering.

The walled kitchen garden which extends to over an acre, the greenhouse and the shed were all also desperately in need of a makeover.

Maggie told us that there were enough leeks growing to feed the whole of Hampshire – well nearly! She and her team have now divided the plot into smaller beds and using a non-dig method are growing a larger variety of vegetables and cut flowers.

All this as well as maintaining the massive sweet pea collection, the orchard with a beautiful meadow and the grand old Grandfather oak – what a task!

All in all a most entertaining and inspiring evening – well worth the effort of stepping out on a very cold and frosty evening.

Bramdean House garden is open  under the NGS on Sundays 19 February and 25 June (13:00 – 15:30)  Visits also by arrangement March to September

Maggie very kindly donated her lecture fee to the charity Perennial.

Hosta Potpourri, by John Baker

Our first club night lecture of 2023 was given by our very own John Baker, who gave a very entertaining lecture about all things Hosta.

John went right back to the origins of the Hostas we grow in our gardens today – which originated in Manchuria, and from there spread to Korea, Russia and Japan.  They were originally classified as Hemerocallis, or Day Lilies – which explains their common name of Plantain Lilies.

Plant Hunters brought the Hosta back from Japan to Europe in 1790.  The Dutchman Philip von Siebold was the most famous of these hunters – and many hostas today bear his name – sieboldii or sieboldiana.

Hosta ‘June’ is the most popular, and award winning hosta today.  Many of our popular varieties come from crossing the species to provide the unusual leaf markings and varied leaf sizes that we love today.  The current range spreads from the giant ‘Empress Wu’ to the diminuative ‘Mouse Ears’

John couldn’t talk about Hostas without addressing the elephant in the room – Slugs and Snails.  He gave us recipes for garlic spray and told us how to use Epsom salts and Ammonia.  And his top tip was to mark February 14th in our calendars for the Valentine’s Day massacre.

John and his wife June have travelled widely to see hostas growing in the wild, and he showed them growing in swamps, forest floors and in the cracks of rocks near waterfalls.  They have made many international friends along the way – showing how plants and shared enthusiasms can bridge language barriers and cultural differences.

Through it all John’s knowledge, enthusiasm and passion for hostas shone through.  We all came away wondering where we could find space for at least one more in our own gardens.

How to garden the low carbon way, by Sally Nex

In December we were lucky enough to welcome Sally Nex to Grayshott Gardeners.  Sally started her career as a journalist. Ten years ago her eyes were opened to the fact that some of the ways we garden are wreaking destruction on our planet, without us even being aware of it.  She vowed to try and stop that by making changes to the way she gardens, and by encouraging others to be more aware and do the same.

Private UK gardens make up 1 million acres, with more plants per square meter than rainforest – so it really does matter what you do in your own little patch.  They support thousands of species of insects, and are hugely valuable in the ecosystem services they provide.  They conserve water in drought, they prevent flooding, they keep us cool and they clean the air.  Which is a good start for gardens.

But can we go further?  Sally definitely thinks so, and she outlined some of the ways we can garden in a low carbon way.

For example, have a think about the way you use summer bedding – which has probably been raised in peat, sprayed with insecticides, fed with chemicals and delivered in single use plastic.  Could you buy it in peat free compost and pulp trays?  Or raise your own from seed? Or plant perennials in pots instead? Or abandon pots altogether and plant in the ground where the roots will sequester carbon.

Nearly all of the carbon in our gardens is held in the soil – No Dig is the easiest thing to do to make sure we do not release it.  Adding compost to return organic matter to the soil is important too. Switching to peat free compost, using organic rather than synthetic fertilizers and being vigilant about plastic use are all easy steps for the average gardener to take.

Sally’s primary message was “Every Little Helps”.  Do what you can, stay informed and be aware of the impact your actions are having.  We are all tiny cogs in that 1 million acre wheel.  And it was billions of tiny actions that got us into this mess, so billions of tiny actions can get us out of it.