Meavy Garden Society Meetings 2016


Meavy Garden Society AGM 2016 held on 15th February 2016


Meavy Garden Society Meeting, 17th November 2016

"Winter Cheer" - Chris Burchall of Tale Valley Nursery, Cullompton

The evening’s speaker was Chris Birchall of Tale Valley Nursery near Cullompton who had gallantly braved flooded lanes to be with us. His talk, appropriately entitled “Winter Cheer”, introduced a plethora of trees, shrubs, and plants that can provide winter interest.

Chris several times drew attention to the interest provided in winter by sculptures and other features which need not be expensive. But he warned that in damp Devon it is probably better not to leave perennial seedheads in situ as they easily rot and get messy.

Evergreens offer permanent structure as well as leaf colour to the winter garden. Mistletoe is both evergreen and provides the famous sticky berries (not ripe however until February or March). Passion Flower in mild areas can bear a display of orange fruit in winter, while the Arbutus is decorated with last year’s fruit. Snowdrops can add flower colour as well, with different species and varieties in flower from November into spring. Many grasses look good in autumn and winter but usually become tatty by spring.

A number of shrubs are well known for flowering in the dark months: Viburnum Bodnantense “Dawn”, Garrya Eliptica with its grey catkins, Hamamelis, Sarcococca with its sweet scent, and Chaenomeles. Not so well known are the Australian Grevilleas. Winter flowerers such as Ericas and Hellebores were all honoured in turn as well as Camellias, especially the white flowered “Sasanquas”.

Chris mentioned many more plants in his comprehensive talk, all illustrated by his excellent slides and with tips on cultivation and winter protection if needed.

The talk had been preceded by a light buffet of delicious snacks and drinks kindly provided by the members of the Committee so that, (with Chris’ entertaining and instructive talk) members were glad that they had ventured out into the bad weather.


Meavy Garden Society Meeting, 17th October 2016

Medicine in the garden - Dr. Frances Howard

Members were treated to a very interesting talk from Dr. Frances Howard, retired paediatrician and a Fellow of the Linnean Society, on ‘Medicine in the Garden’.  This was her third visit to talk to us. Mr David Howard Pearce assisted with the projector.  Carl Linnaeus devised the present system of nomenclature of all plants and trees.

Frances gave us many nuggets of information and passed around some plant specimens to illustrate her talk which was accompanied by excellent pictures.

Many plants used medicinally finish with ‘wort’ meaning ‘worthy of being used’ i.e. figwort.  Medicinal plants often have ‘officinale’ added to their name.  This comes from the ‘herb store’ or ‘office of the monks’.  Near the river in Tavistock is a tall building that was the office of the monks of Tavistock Abbey.

Frances described some methods of preparation: ‘An infusion’– to steep in hot water (a tea); ‘Decoction’ - to simmer; ‘Tincture’ - to dissolve in alcohol.  Nicholas Culpeper 1616-1654 compiled all herbal plants in a book - The Complete Herbal.

Figwort was used for the treatment of piles; comfrey known as ‘Knit bone’ helps to fuse bones.  The leaves are poisonous!  The grated root is the useful part.  Boiled up leaves and roots can be used for bruises.

Rosemarinus officinalis (Rosemary) was, according to Culpeper, a ‘herb of great use in the pestilence’.  It is said to enhance memory, quicken the senses, relieve stress and stimulate hair growth. Rosemary is for remembrance and fidelity.  Anne of Cleves had a sprig in her wedding bouquet!

Gingko biloba the earliest known deciduous tree helps with age related memory loss.

Saffron – Crocus sativus comes from the three stamens and is very expensive.  It is said to stop cell division.

The Foxglove – ‘Digitalis purpurea’.  In the 18th century William Withering had noticed that a patient with dropsy had improved after taking digitalis.  He performed an early clinical trial and gave a talk to the Royal Society.  The top leaves of the plant were most effective.  It slows and strengthens the heartbeat, corrects an irregular pulse and stimulates the kidneys.  Dried leaves were used until 1974.

Feverfew reduces fever and was the ‘aspirin of the middle ages’, and is taken for migraine.  Chamomile is an anti-spasmodic and helps sleep.  Marigold can be used for nappy rash, and garlic is a strong antiseptic.  St John’s Wort which flowers on 24th June, the eve of St. John’s day, is used for depression.  And finally The Linden Lime for stress, panic and palpitations.  Bees feeding on the nectar get ‘woozy’!

‘He who sleeps under a Linden Tree wakes up in fairy land’. We had all been enchanted by Dr Howard’s talk. Derek Hall thanked her for a most delightful evening.


Meavy Garden Society Meeting, 19th September 2016

“Clematis” - Charlie Pridham of Roseland Nursery

At the September meeting a talk on Clematis was given by Charlie Pridham of Roseland House Garden and Nursery at Chasewater near Truro. Roseland has a National Collection of Clematis viticella and they have bred many new varieties.

Charlie began his talk with the vexed problem of pruning of the three groups. Early flowerers such as Montana and the evergreen Durandii should be left alone or cut back a little after flowering. The later large flowered varieties are tricky because they begin to form their buds very early and these must not be cut off. Easiest are their own type of late flowering varieties, which should be cut right back to within a foot of the ground in late autumn or early winter.

Clematis viticella is native to southern Europe and a whole swathe of Eastern Europe and central Asia, and so thrives in the British Isles. It has small flowers but in great quantities. Hybridisation began in the mid-19th century and there are now countless varieties. Viticella can be grown on trellis, fences, obelisks and other supports. They are also very useful for growing through early flowering shrubs to give them a second season of colour. Camellias, Weigelia and large Cotoneasters are ideal hosts.

Charlie showed many photos of various varieties, including some of his own breeding, and his wife, Liz, was happy to sell the plants they had brought along. This was a well presented lecture, beautifully illustrated, which left members anxious to grow some of these lovely plants. Derek Hall expressed our pleasure in an aptly worded vote of thanks.


Meavy Garden Society Meeting, 18th July 2016

Pruning - Popular Shrubs and how to prune them - Tim Ellis, Ellis Nurseries

We were pleased to welcome back for the third time in recent years, Tim Ellis, who talked of “Popular Shrubs and how to prune them”.  Whereas some speakers wow us with gorgeous photos of flowers and gardens, Tim’s talks are always very down-to-earth, instructive and highly entertaining.  He came armed not with a laptop, but a great sheaf of leafy boughs which he proceeded to prune on stage.

First, Tim discussed pruning tools, recommending by-pass action secateurs and loppers for a cleaner cut.  Although the very cheapest secateurs are best avoided and some are very expensive, anything between £5 and £10 should be adequate for the amateur gardener.  A narrow pruning saw is a good idea for thicker boughs, and particularly when removing old stems from between those to keep.  He advised us to wipe our pruning equipment with a sterilizing solution, such as Jeyes Fluid, between plants to prevent spreading possible diseases.

Why prune?  The first wood to be removed should be the three “D”s; Dead, Diseased, or Damaged branches.  Branches on a variegated shrub that have reverted to green, or any suckers should be removed.  Otherwise pruning promotes healthy growth and flowers, and controls size.  Tim advised against snipping pieces off the outside of a shrub, which eventually creates a “lollipop” shape = a ball on a stem, full of bare branches in the middle.  Always prune back to a growing point in the middle of the bush.

Tim divided shrubs into four categories.  The first, shrubs that are slow growing and needing little pruning, may be shaped by small snips.  Second are bigger shrubs that flower on the previous year’s growth.  These usually have one third their mature branches cut right back to within a few inches of the ground each year.  In this way size is regulated without a great loss of flowers.  This is a good technique for common shrubs such as Weigelia and Forsythia.  Group three plants flower on the new season’s growth and consist mainly of types of Buddleia but also hardy Fuchsias, Leycesteria and Perovskia.  Stems can be halved in November and then cut right back to a few inches of the ground at the end of the winter.  The fourth group is foliage shrubs like Cornus with its coloured stems, where only new growth is colourful.  These have to be sacrificed in February and cut down to six inches.

Finally, Tim dealt with evergreens such as Mahonia, Rhododendrons and Camellia.  These can be cut back during the growing season, again cutting into the centre of the bush. Lavender should be trimmed back after flowering, but not cutting back as far as the brown wood, which will not sprout again.

We all thought we had learnt a great deal from Tim’s illuminating talk and many of the plants he had brought for sale were eagerly snapped up.


Meavy Garden Society Meeting, 20th June 2016

Talk on Double Primroses - Caroline Stone

The speaker at our meeting was Caroline Stone who holds the National Collection of Double Primroses at her garden near Bridgewater. We were especially grateful for her stepping in at short notice when the scheduled speaker withdrew. Some members wondered if the topic of “Double Primroses” would be too specialised for general interest but Caroline proved to be an excellent speaker who illustrated her talk with beautiful pictures of her collection of over ninety varieties.

Double primroses have been known since the 16th century and are illustrated in Gerard’s Herball. One variety, Alba Plena, survives from that time. The next oldest is Quakers’ Bonnet dating from 1794. Double Primroses do appear in the wild and two Devon varieties occurred in this way from Ashburton, and an unnamed variety from Shapcott Barton near South Molton. Breeding started in the 19th century when several varieties appeared. Some of these are still available, such as Bon Accord purple, raised in Aberdeen, and Our Pat and Red Paddy which originated in 1897 from Northern Ireland.

The popularity of Double Primroses has varied, Marjorie Fish was very fond of them, but many varieties vanished in the second half of the 20th century. As late as the 1980’s Hopley’s listed 65 varieties in their catalogue, none of which seem to have survived. The plants are almost infertile and difficult to propagate but recently the Belarina series, bred in Cambridgeshire and micro-propagated largely for the Continental market, have proved popular. Some such as Amethyst Ice and Valentine are superb plants.

Double primroses have three requirements in cultivation: moist humus-rich soil, shade and regular division to prevent their roots from becoming too woody. Our West Devon climate is ideal for them.

Stephen Pine gave the vote of thanks and the audience warmly applauded a fascinating talk.


Meavy Garden Society Meeting, 16th May 2016

Talk on Carnivorous Plants - Dennis Balsdon

The members who attended our meeting on 16th May heard a very interesting talk from Dennis Balsdon who had come from Paignton. Dennis is a member of the Carnivorous Plant Society and has been interested in these plants for 30 years.

Charles Darwin conducted hundreds of experiments and wrote a four hundred page book ‘Insectivorous Plants’ in 1875.

A carnivorous plant has to have a means of attracting, trapping, eating and digesting - usually insects and other arthropods.

Dennis told us about many different carnivorous plants – Sundews (there are three species on Dartmoor), Venus Fly Trap, Butterworts (two species on Dartmoor), Bladderworts, Cobra Lily, Pitcher plants and Nepenthes.

All these plants have mechanisms to trap their prey. A sundew has tentacles on each leaf – nectar ensnares the victim – then bends in towards the leaf – the leaf wraps up around its victim. Acid enzymes work on the victim.

Many species live in bogs especially on sphagnum moss and they are widespread around the globe. They usually grow in low nutrient environments – usually wet, so need other protein for nitrates.

Plants such as the Pitcher Plants can accommodate thousands of bodies of insects, wasps and bees. A member suggested it was a pity they could not be used for garden slugs and snails!

For cultivation they like a 50/50 Irish moss peat/perlite or grit. Composted fine bark with wood shavings can be used, and also coir.

Mr Balsdon brought some beautifully healthy plants, often light yellowy green in colour, to show us and also some to sell. Some were handsome plants! He also showed excellent photographs, some were short videos showing the mechanism of the carnivorous plants trapping their victim. His talk was wide-ranging, showed deep knowledge and was often humorous.

Stephen Pine rounded off the evening with an appreciative vote of thanks.

Members had also recently enjoyed an outing by coach to Pinsla Garden near Bodmin and Trelissick Gardens on the River Fal.


Meavy Garden Society Meeting, 18th April 2016

Illustrated talk on Hostas - Peter Savage from Bowden’s Hostas

A large and enthusiastic audience greeted Peter Savage from the famous Bowdens nursery at Sticklepath, near Oakhampton. While his talk was entitled simply “Hostas”, Peter pointed out that Bowdens have in recent years taken over “Richards Hardy Ferns”, “The Bamboo Store” and “Jungle Giants” so that a large selection of, mainly, shade-loving plants is available.

Hostas originated from the Far East, i.e. China, Korea, and above all, Japan where most cultivated hostas come from. There are thought to be some 43 Species, with Hosta Ventricosa the most frequently grown. The American Hosta Society has a register of some 7,500 cultivars due to the hybridization work that has taken place.

Hostas range in size from miniatures only 6 inches high to giants with flower scapes up to six-foot tall and leaves to match. Small plants probably do best in pots and should be given some frost protection in winter – otherwise the genus is bone-hardy. Hostas are mostly shade–loving but few will flower in deep shade. Most like some sun, especially the variegated varieties which otherwise will not develop their full colour, while others are happy in full sun.

Slugs and snails are the main pest of Hostas and only slug pellets solve the problem. These should be scattered very sparingly, starting before the foliage appears – once you see holes it is too late! Bowdens have always used pellets but their display-garden teems with birds and wildlife so that, properly used, pellets seem to cause minimal harm. Some Hostas, especially those with tough thick leaves are not attractive to molluscs.

Peter varied his talk, illustrated with his own photos and some video clips, with information on the origin of the nursery and anecdotes about the trials and tribulations of preparing stands for Chelsea and other big shows. Also he generously provided a plant as the prize in an impromptu raffle. Janet Jones gave an aptly worded vote of thanks for an entertaining and varied talk.

Society Chairman, Annie Inman, drew attention to several forthcoming talks and walks locally, including the next meeting on Monday 16th of May in Meavy Parish Hall (PL20 6PJ), starting with refreshments at 7:00 pm then at 7:30 pm Dennis Balsden will talk of Carnivorous Plants.

Also there will be a stall selling members’ own plants.


Meavy Garden Society Meeting, 15th February 2016

Illustrated talk on the Isles of Scilly - Joice Reith

The initial meeting of the year began with the AGM when Chairman, Annie Inman, reported on a very successful previous year. The interesting talks had been well attended; the Spring Fun Show and Summer Flower Show had attracted a high number of excellent entries and visitors. Excursions to Forde Abbey in Dorset and the Hidden Valley Gardens near Fowey had been much enjoyed by all. She looked forward to another exceptionally varied programme of talks and excursions in 2016.

Martin Burt, treasurer, was able to report a healthy financial situation for the Society, thanks to most generous donations.

The President, Cyril Sparey, thanked the hard-working committee for their efforts on behalf of the members, and as all were happy to continue with their roles, their re-election was unanimously endorsed.

After the conclusion of this official part of the meeting Joice Reith, a long serving member, gave an illustrated talk on the Isles of Scilly, which she has visited on as many as fourteen occasions in the past. She showed many facets of the islands, starting with the medieval and later fortifications, such as Star Castle on Saint Mary’s and Cromwell’s Castle on Tresco. The islands are also rich in magnificent prehistoric monuments.

The island’s position in the Western Approaches makes them strategically important. As they are a potential hazard to shipping they can boast of several lighthouses and the famous 17th century red-stripped day mark on St Martin’s.

Birds and flowers are two of the main attractions today. The island of Annet is a bird sanctuary famous for Puffins. But rare birds can be found all over the islands, whilst everyday birds are surprisingly tame. Daffodils grown in tiny sheltered fields were one of the mainstays of the economy, but Tresco Abbey Gardens are now the main attraction for gardeners.

The gardens were begun by Augustus Smith who leased the islands in the 19th century. He was a philanthropist who also built a church and school, and insisted on compulsory education for all the island children; charging a halfpenny to attend but a whole penny to stay away! After planting a shelter belt of conifers he laid out the Sub-tropical gardens on a series of terraces.

Here grow in the open plants that will not survive the winter elseware in the country, especially such succulents as Aloes and Aeoniums, which achieve tremendous sizes and bloom prolifically.

This was a most interesting talk which probably reminded many of the members of the large audience, of enjoyable days on the islands.

The next Society meeting will be the Spring Fun Show on March 14th, in Meavy Parish Hall, starting at 7:00 pm, visitors are always welcome.


Meavy Garden Society Meetings 2015

Meavy Garden Society Meetings 2014