Category Archives: Club Lectures

Daisy Days, by Helen Picton

On 14th July 2021, Grayshott Gardeners virtually welcomed Helen Picton from Old Court Nurseries and the Picton Garden in Colwall, near Malvern. Helen comes from a long line of horticulturalists and is the third generation of her family to be involved in the breeding and cultivation of Michaelmas Daisies. Her talk was entitled ‘Daisy Days’.

Michaelmas Daisies are of the Asteraceae family; Helen explained that they are the second largest family of plants. Despite appearances, the head of a Michaelmas Daisy is made up of hundreds of tiny florets – which make up the centre of the bloom known as the disc floret – the part of the plant which is attractive to the insect pollinators. Gardeners are generally more interested in the petals (or ray florets) of the flower and in particular the range of colours.

The name Aster means star-like, and the plant has been known since ancient times. In earlier times it was called Starwort. From the 1920’s it became known as the Michaelmas Daisy; in recent years there has been a re-evaluation of the many different species from different parts of the world with new names now being attributed to the existing groups. There are five main groups: Aster Amellus and Associates (the first to be introduced into the U.K,), Symphyotrichum Novi Belgii (New York, the biggest group), Symphyotrichum Novae Anglicae (New England), Small Flowered Species & Cut Flower Hybrids and Other Species.

The heyday of the Michaelmas Daisy was in the large country estate gardens of late 19th century and early 20th century with the development of the more naturalistic approach to borders as extolled by such famous gardeners as William Robinson, Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Beckett. The founder of Old Court Nurseries, Ernest Ballard (who was in cider vinegar production and from a wealthy Herefordshire family), led the way in the breeding of new stronger colours and more complex flowers (from about 1907 onwards until his death in 1950) making Michaelmas Daisies freely available to the ordinary gardener. Post the Second World War, Helen’s grandfather – Percy Picton – took over as Nursery Manager and the 50’s and 60’s saw Michaelmas Daisies become hugely popular with numerous new varieties coming onto the market. By the 1970’s, however, they fell out of favour (as did many old herbaceous border favourites) and many cultivars were lost. Largely thanks to the work and dedication of two ladies from Bristol, Miss Isabel Allen and Miss Joy Huish, who began collecting in the 1940’s, many cultivars were saved and eventually the Michaelmas Daisy was recognised by the Plant Heritage Society as one of the first National Collections.

The most important requirements seemed to be to provide a rich, moisture retentive soil and to divide regularly. Helen said that in Grayshott, with its acidic, free-draining soil, probably the best Michaelmas Daisies to grow are from the New England group and the Small Flowered Species group.

Helen’s closing advice to her attentive audience was that there is no excuse for poor colour in autumn and her slides certainly demonstrated this – from good companion plants with other herbaceous perennials, good performance in containers and excellent cut flowers.

Why buy from abroad? by Iain Pentney

On 9th June Grayshott Gardeners gave a virtual welcome to Iain Pentney of Classiflora Imports, a wholesale nursery in North London which specialises in the import of hardy European specimen plants, trees, shrubs and topiary.  His lecture addressed the pros and cons of importing plants to Britain.

The disadvantages are perhaps more obvious – given the transport miles and their associated carbon emissions, and the potential for importing pests and diseases.  So why buy from abroad at all?  Iain took us through some of the benefits that we enjoy when we use plants that have been grown in Mediterranean regions.

The first, and perhaps biggest benefit is that we can “buy time”.  Plants mature much faster in a climate where winters are much shorter and growing seasons are much longer.  And plants need to have reached maturity to flower, when they become most desirable to gardeners.  If we choose climates where winters are as harsh as Britain then we know that the plants will be hardy in our gardens.  So mature, garden worthy plants can be raised in about half the time it would take if they were raised in the UK – and, as we all know, time is money. 

Another advantage of the Mediterranean climate is that it has two dormant seasons – one in the winter and one in midsummer, when it is too hot for plants to grow.  Since plants are best lifted in the dormant season, this means there are two windows for lifting, as opposed to one in Britain.

There are also many trees that are being displaced by development, or no longer produce a commercial crop – for example olive trees and grapevines.  These plants have ornamental value, and there is a growing market for them in Britain.

Iain also explained how the issue of importing pests and diseases is now managed, with many controls, passports and certificates. So lots of paperwork, but providing vital safeguards.

So next time we see an imported plant on sale in a Garden Centre,  we will understand why.  Our choices would be poorer (and so would our pockets) if the plant had not made that journey!

Beautiful English Gardens, by Andy McIndoe

With Covid restrictions gradually easing many of us are eager to start visiting beautiful gardens again, so it was very timely for Grayshott Gardeners to welcome Andy McIndoe to our zoom screens, to give us an inspirational tour of some of the most beautiful gardens England has to offer.

As Andy demonstrated, England has a wealth of beautiful gardens, with a huge variety of styles. Our temperate climate gives us the charms of four distinct seasons to enjoy, each with their own moments of magic.  Winter, which often used to be ignored by gardeners, is now a season which is celebrated by many gardens planted specifically for winter interest.  The colours and light of autumn, the unfurling excitement of spring and the extravagance of summer mean that all seasons have their attractions, and clever gardeners can make the most of all of them.

Andy began his tour at home, showing us areas of his own garden near Romsey, and explaining how he had developed the space.  He emphasised the importance of evaluating your garden from the point you see it most often – this is where your major decisions should be made.  In reality, most of us make decisions whilst wandering round the garden, not whilst looking at it from where we normally view it.

He then explored some of the classic English gardens like Hidcote, Great Dixter and Sissinghurst.  He observed that the passage of time is a fourth dimension for a garden; structure matures to give an atmosphere and weight that we see today, and their creators never saw.  When we admire these gardens we are enjoying someone else’s legacy.

Andy took us round Prairie gardens, wildflower meadows, rose gardens and plant lovers gardens, all beautifully illustrated with his own photographs.  His talk really celebrated the diversity of the thousands of gardens that welcome visitors in our country. 

However, he left us with the thought that the garden that you should enjoy the most is your own – if it appeals to you then you’ve got it right!

What have plants ever done for us? by Timothy Walker

On 14th April 2021 Grayshott Gardeners gave a virtual welcome to Timothy Walker who gave us a Zoom lecture exploring “What have plants ever done for us?”.  Timothy is a botanist, gardener, lecturer at Hertford College, Oxford, presenter and author, and gave us plenty of reasons to look at plants in a new light.

Timothy started by answering the question his lecture posed.

Q: What have plants ever done for us?


And he then went on to explain why.

Plants are unique in their ability to harness energy from the sun.  Their ability to photosynthesise is something science has not been able to replicate.  All the energy we use has been created by plants – either today, or over many millions of years.  A sobering thought.

Plants created soil, by their decay over millenia.  Plants are the green glue that ensures that the soil stays on the land.  The ability to cultivate plants played a key role in human evolution.  Civilisations were built around areas of cultivation, and plants gave us food, fibres for cloth, many medicines …… not to mention coffee and chocolate.

But 2 in 5 plants are currently threatened with extinction.  Given our complete dependence on them, this is a scary statistic.  So is it time that we turn the question on its head, and ask “What can we do for plants?”

Timothy believes there are three key principles:

  1. There is no technical obstacle to the conservation of any and every plant species
  2. Habitats can be restored and rehabilitated
  3. Gardeners and horticulturalists have a pivotal role to play

To illustrate how gardeners can put back things that have been destroyed, Timothy showed us the progress of projects in Oxford that have turned arable land back into flower rich meadows.  He also referenced National Plant Collections, that can preserve plants whose populations are in vulnerable areas, by propagating and distributing samples all around the world.  Gardens, with plants and ponds, bird boxes and hedges can support many mammals and invertebrates that would otherwise be threatened.

Gardeners have the skills to recognise what the problems are, and the knowledge to be able to make a difference.  So maybe the biggest question of the evening was “Will we gardeners rise to the challenge?”

Making the Best of What You Have, by Benjamin Pope

On 10th March 2021 Grayshott Gardeners held the latest in their series of Zoom lectures.  This time it was Ben Pope who brightened up our evening, with a virtual tour around the beautiful garden where he is Head Gardener, and some valuable lessons to help us make the most of our own spaces.  It certainly took our minds off the howling winds outside.

To set the scene, Ben showed us round the garden he curates.  It has a romantic style, but is careful to make sure it sits sympathetically in its Sussex landscape, whilst making the most of the borrowed views.  The periphery of the garden is less formally planted than the beds near the house, helping the garden to seep out into the countryside. 

Ben explained how much focus he and his team put on extending the season in the flower borders – using a combination of spring bulbs, herbaceous perennials and frothy annuals to make sure there is colour and interest from February to November.  The garden has many distinct areas, so to make it hang together they choose “signature” plants to repeat throughout the space to give a sense of coherence.  They also use topiary and hedges to cleverly link the architecture with the planting.

Ben then drew out some key principles that we can all use to make the most of our own gardens.  To start he urged us to take time to understand our own site and soil – and to appreciate the problems and opportunities that both bring.  And then to extend that to really knowing the plants we are going to use – not just when they are in flower, but how they behave before and after.  This knowledge provides a sound basis for creating harmonious plant partnerships.

Make maintenance a pleasure not a chore, by tackling a job before it becomes too big.  It really is true that “a stitch in time saves nine” in a garden.  And get ideas and inspiration from other people, visiting gardens and speaking to fellow gardeners (of course that’s what GG is so good for – when we can finally meet up again).

We all love getting produce from our gardens, but grow like an artist.  Mix up ornamentals with vegetables to give a lovely effect.  And finally take time – to stop and look, to take notes and to think.

And the most important lesson of the evening?  Mistakes are great lessons!  Don’t let the things that don’t work out make you afraid to have another go, putting your new found experience into practice.  That’s what will turn us all into great gardeners 😀

Creating Good Plant Combinations, by Amanda Patton

Amanda Patton

On one of the coldest nights of the year so far Grayshott Gardeners were treated to an inspiring zoom lecture by Amanda Patton – without having to step outside into the cold night air.

Amanda has a background in archaeological drawing and illustration.  Her early career did not involve gardens at all, until the fateful day she was invited to see the garden a friend had created.  It took her breath away, and her first thought was “I want to learn how to do that”.  And learn she did, now running a successful design practice of her own in West Sussex.

One of Amanda’s garden designs

Amanda brings an artist’s vision and ability to critique to the world of garden design.  She showed us many examples of gardens where the design was excellent, but also examples where the design did not work.  Whilst most of us can see and feel the difference between these two extremes, it can be really difficult to pinpoint what is working and what is not.  Amanda tried to unpick the elements for us following four key rules:

  1. One thing the same
    Try to link plants to their immediate neighbours by having one characteristic in common e.g. both could have the same green leaves, but in different leaf shapes, or pair up the same leaf shapes but in different colours.
  2. Rhythm and Repetition
    Rhythms can be used in different ways to create a calming or dynamic feel, and having a theme that you develop through a border will make all the difference.
  3. Layers
    Give your borders layers – vertical, horizontal and seasonal – to give cohesion and avoid a random collection of plants.
  4. Colour and Value
    Use the colour wheel to create harmonious or complementary combinations. And remember that colours have tones (value) too, so shades and tints can be used to great effect.

Amanda gave us many practical hints to take away too.  Make your borders as large as you can; note where your garden catches the sun and plant in front of it, to make the most of light illuminating key plants; and take pictures of your garden in black and white – removing the colour can help you see where you have form, and where it needs to be introduced.

It was a fascinating talk, that gave us much food for thought.   And whilst not all of us will be able to embark on wholesale redesign of our plots, at least next time we come home from the Garden Centre with that inevitable impulse buy, we now have tools to work out where to position it for maximum effect.

David Hurrion Zooms in on Pruning Practices

David Hurrion pruning Garrya

Our Zoom lecturer for January was David Hurrion, who came highly recommended after his interesting “World Tour” talk for Grayshott Gardeners in March 2020, our last lecture in the Village Hall. Conforming to Covid restrictions, he did not stray far from home this time, but offered a handy, practical and timely guide on the art of pruning to our Zoom audience of 80+ participants.

As well as writing, lecturing, editing, designing and judging (RHS Shows), David is also an excellent teacher: he managed to pin down the practice of pruning to two rules of thumb: hard pruning at the end of the dormant season for late spring and summer flowering plants, and summer pruning (to remove spent flowers) for everything else. Fortunately he did not leave it at that, there were plenty of examples, illustrated with photos, and a few exceptions to the rules too.

David went on to explain various techniques in order to achieve a specific purpose, whether to correct the shape of a plant, to encourage larger or more flowers or fruit, to extend a plant’s life, or to control pests and diseases, and more. A diagram of the effect of different hormones (sap) rising in the plant’s stem, and the result of clipping or lopping at different areas of the stem was especially illuminating, as was the difference between leaf and flower buds.

To complete his pruning lecture, David demonstrated the different types of secateurs and loppers, not forgetting how to keep them clean, and he ended his talk with a bonus tip: he had it on good authority that we can expect very cold and frosty weather over the next 2 weeks. You have been warned!

Pruning a Wisteria in Summer

David has a website at as well as a YouTube channel with topical tips for 2021.

Adam Pasco, Gardener for All Seasons

The speaker for our second Zoom lecture needed no introduction: Adam Pasco launched the BBC Gardeners’ World magazine in 1991 and edited it for 22 years, he currently edits the Waitrose magazine, and has worked alongside gardening icons Geoff Hamilton, Geoffrey Smith and Alan Titchmarsh; he also lectures, is a renowned photographer and runs his own media company,

Grayshott Gardeners certainly felt the benefit of Adam’s more than 40 years of experience in horticulture. His talk, entitled Creating a Garden for All Seasons covered 10 different ways of adding interest to a garden, illustrated with a selection of superb photographs from his own cottage-style garden: a magnificent Wedding Cake Tree (Cornus Controversa variegata) added for structural interest, various plants and combinations for long-time colour, (Narcissi got a specific mention) and different features for focal points such as the bench in a shady part of his garden.

Trees also got a mention owing to their various displays over the year. Adam encouraged us to grow something different (illustrated with a photo of his Australian Ptilotus ‘Joey’, featuring a mass of feathery pink cones, and is drought-resistant too) and reminded us not to forget scent (Nemesia ‘Wisley Vanilla’), planting for wildlife to encourage bees and hover flies, and finally, to choose a star plant for every month.

To help us with the latter, Adam proceeded to list suitable plants for every month of the year, illustrated with eye-catching, colourful photographs. He finished his talk with jobs to do in winter, motivating us to identify gaps and to consciously look for something to plug that gap. The evening ended with a Q and A session, leaving the audience of Grayshott Gardeners greatly inspired.

Sue W. is lining up a number of well-known captivating speakers , accompanied by superb photographs and more often than not unmissable tips, plus a chance to catch up with fellow-Grayshott Gardeners for our programme of online Zoom lectures to cover the COVID19 period. Information and a link to participate is included in the monthly Newsletter, or email

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.