Category Archives: Club Lectures

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!

Graham Gough – Grasses and Late Perennials

Graham’s October lecture gave a different aspect to autumn gardening, with his love of plants when the sun is lowering its arc, which enriches the colours of plants. He likened it to a ‘tarts parade’ of powerful colours that brighten the borders!

He advised dispersing clumps of colour throughout the garden so that it is not all seen in one hit. Groups of colours interspersed with a variety of grasses give a wonderful effect.  Of the many plants he recommended, and the slides were beautiful, his own favourites were Rudbeckias, Asters, Salvias, Limonium, Heuchera autumn bride, Helianthus, Sanguisorba korean snow, Fuchsia hawkeshead white, Persicara pendula, light blue Agapanthus (when in the border, needs to be mulched well to get through the winter) and many more.

He made a plea for not cutting back stems too early as seed heads can be really beautiful in winter especially when frosted, and provide food for the birds. Some of the best heads for late interest and contrast are:- Artichoke, Eupatorium, Veronicastrum, Phlomis, Echinacea and Panicum.  A garden is not just for spring and summer, and an element of autumn flowering should be included in all gardens for maximum interest.

Graham Gough is the owner of Marchants Hardy Plants, Sussex. For a list of Late Flowering Perennials recommended by Graham, click here. More information, as well as a complete catalogue of plants and grasses for sale, is available from the Marchants Hardy Plants website:


Woolbeding Gardens

On Wednesday, Johanna Crawford, Senior Gardener and standing in for Head Gardener Paul Gallivan, entertained us with captivating images of Woolbeding Gardens, situated near Midhurst and presently owned by the  National Trust.

Jo conducting a Herbaceous Borders Maintenance Workshop, photo Emma Haines.

Jo’s gardening career started 8 years ago as a complete novice with a notice in the newsagent’s, an armful of gardening books, a fork and trowel. 8 years of practical experience alongside studying for professional qualifications paid off well, as her passion for heritage gardening at Woolbeding clearly shines through.

Originally mentioned in the Doomsday Book, Woolbeding’s 26 acres of gardens, including the Grade I listed house (privately rented) and Saxon church, are set within the “greenest valley and prettiest river”. The gardens match and enhance the setting, and, following a suggested path, visitors are led through various “rooms” each with their own colour (vegetable, fountain, herb, pool  garden), past follies and intriguing sculptures (in memory of ancient and monumental trees), ornamental  and architectural greenhouses and an orangery fronting the pool. A ”ruined abbey” and a river walk reveal more hidden features.

But the gardens, meticulously maintained in keeping with the original planting but with design tweaks to always offer something new to visitors, are the main attraction and a tribute to the 6 members of garden staff who, aided by a number of volunteers, keep the beds and borders, the climbers and greenhouse plants, including orchids, looking magnificent.

Jo chatting with our patron Gordon Rae

Well-worth a visit (April to September, Thursdays and Fridays only, booking required, 0344 800 1995). More information on

(Click on photos to enlarge)

From Seed to Plate: Paolo Arrigo

Red white and green marked the theme of Grayshott Gardeners June Club Night: visitors were greeted with a glass of wine and a sumptuous array of Italian nibbles (topped with flags), and entertained by authentic Italian accordion tunes even before Paolo started his talk proper. As promised, we were disabused of any preconceived ideas: the main seed companies in the uk do not produce seeds, most are imported from South East Asia. Wild fennel, growing along Hadian’s wall, is not native to Britain but was brought here by Roman Soldiers who were partial to the aniseed-flavoured seeds. Via the Boer War, two World Wars and their effect on food growing in the UK, we arrived at the present state of vegetable production and supply in this country, and the conclusion that fruit and vegetables taste best when eaten in season.

Paolo at the Eden Project

This was the cue for a Grand Tour of Italy’s regions, towns even, which are each linked with a particular food or variety of vegetable. Not really surprising, as Italy’s climate varies from the Alps in the North to a Mediterranean climate in the South, and has the Apennine mountains running along its spine. Tips for growing vegetables came hard and fast, and the description of food cooked with them was mouthwatering. The final summing-up was done in one word: local.

Lucky for us, Paolo who was assisted by his mother (as appropriate for the oldest family-run seed company in the world) had brought along a wide selection of Seeds from Italy; Brexit notwithstanding, Grayshott at least won’t be lacking in delicious fresh vegetables from Italy next year.

Catalogue of seeds and other products, as well as further information on Franchi Seeds and their distributors Seeds of Italy available on their website

Hydrangeas by Sally Gregson

The May club night speaker was Sally Gregson, owner of Mill Cottage Plants, which specialises in Hydrangeas and Epimediums, mainly from Japan. She brought along a large selection of rare varieties, many of which were snapped up by members.

Sally Gregson

Sally was first introduced to the Japanese varieties by her daughter, who had moved to Japan; she explained how originally Japanese plants arrived in Europe through medical officer Franz von Siebold in the early 19 C. (Japan at that time was a country closed to most foreigners).

We admired the photographs of the many different varieties of hydrangeas, some of which do not even look like hydrangeas;  Sally offered tips for planting, pruning and propagation, and her suggestions for underplanting were particularly useful (hostas, bergenia and others).

A brief question-and-answer session ended this lively and interesting talk.

For more information on hydrangeas and epimediums, visits to the nursery and books written by Sally, see her website  and also

Steve Bradley zooms in on Summer in the Garden

With 22 years of teaching horticulture, and 40+ practical gardening books under his belt, Steve, or ‘Brad’ as he is known,  was never going to serve us up a long and lazy Summer. Instead, he provided us with a wide range of techniques and skills to make the most of summer-flowering plants, as well as fruit and vegetables, by preparing at the right time, and working with the plants, using their inbuilt defence systems and intrinsic growth and/or fruiting promotors.

Steve Bradley, ‘Brad’, at Keukenhof, Holland, 2017

Steve punctuated his talk with anecdotes, some relating to his collaboration with Peter Seabrook, and offered many  tips and techniques, always explaining the why and wherefores. Pelargonium cuttings, for instance, should be taken in Summer, when the plant hormones are active, rather than wait till Autumn.  An avid reader and collector of Victorian gardening books, he revealed that 19th C gardeners used to leave their cuttings briefly in a shady spot in the greenhouse over lunch, as the cut would seal itself and the plantlet’s hormones would flow to the wound and promote root formation – no rooting powder or gel required!

Steve’s eminently practical advice touched on bulbs, seed propagation, pruning, lawn aeration and watering, including getting children to eat fruit, and was illustrated by a series of enjoyable and clear slides. He finished by answering  some questions from the audience, who had turned out in large numbers to hear the gardening correspondent of The Sun. Although too late perhaps for the Spring Show on Saturday 14th April, we may expect even better than usual results for the Summer Show if we follow Brad’s suggestions!

Steve answering questions with his wife Val at the Loseley Show 2017