Meavy Garden Society Meetings
Meavy Garden Society AGM 2018 was held on Monday 19th February 2018
Meavy Garden Society Meeting, 19th November 2018
‘So You Think You Know Gladiolus!’ - Gill Hazell (Great Western Gladiolus)
The last meeting of 2018 began with Christmassy drinks and nibbles provided by members of the Committee. After this convivial start, society chairman Annie Inman introduced the speaker of the evening Gill Hazel, from Great Western Gladiolus in Wells. Her topic was “So you think you know Gladiolus!”
Gill explained that when she took over the firm there was quite a lot that she didn’t know about gladiolus and many of her subsequent insights she passed on to us.
There are over 150 species of gladiolus, most of which came from South Africa and are therefore frost-tender; they grow in the winter and flower in February and March so have to be nurtured in a greenhouse. Gill grows a lot of these and showed us many pictures of her own plants, which are graceful, about 18 inches high, bearing freesia-like flowers in beautiful colour combinations.
Species that come from the Mediterranean are rather hardier, especially, G. Italicus and G. Byzantinus, both often seen in the South-West.
Our garden gladioli are summer flowering hybrids. Most commercial gladioli come from Holland where they are hybridised and grown by the million. It takes four or five years to raise a flowering corm from seed and many new seedlings are discarded as “not good enough”. Gill’s company orders some 60,000 corms each year.
For show purposes, the plants are classed by flower size: the largest being 5½ inches, plus, across the diameter of the lowest flower, and the smallest 1½ inches. Then there are the delicate primulinus plants, where the top petal of each bloom nods forward like a hat; and the dwarf, nanus varieties. A flowering spike ready for showing should have one third of the flowers fully out, one third showing colour and the top third green.
When new corms are acquired, the outer skin should be removed and the corms set out to chit in a bright dry frost-free place, rather like potatoes. If more than one bud emerges from the top, only one should be kept or else the flowers will be poor.
Gladioli hate sitting in wet, heavy soil so a bed of sand or gravel for each corm is recommended, with some more over the top, before they are given some fertilizer and covered over, usually in April. Corms can be over-wintered if the dead flower spike is cut out and the leaves left to grow. The corm should be dried off and the usually numerous bulbils separated from the base. These can be grown on but take a number of years to flower.
This last talk of the year was one of the best; well organised, well delivered, informative and beautifully illustrated with Gill’s own photos, some showing spectacular gladioli fields in Holland and others stunning displays from shows and gardens.
Meavy Garden Society Meeting, 15th October 2018
‘Ferns’ - Peter Savage (Bowdens Hostas)
Our Chairman Annie Inman began proceedings by announcing that a team from the Society had taken part in the inter-Garden Society quiz at Bere Alston on October 10th and had for the first time managed to win! Meavy will host the quiz next year. She then introduced our speaker Peter Savage, of Bowdens Hostas. Bowdens have expanded their interests and now have collections of Ferns, Bamboos and Agapanthus in addition to Hostas.
Peter explained that Ferns are a very ancient family and are the most primitive vascular plants. The coal deposits of the Carboniferous period are now thought to consist largely of ferns; yet, modern ferns are still found on all continents, except Antarctica, and in many climates from sea level to five thousand feet. There are several distinct types of ferns: such as Horsetails or Equisetum, Maidenhairs, Spleenworts and Tree ferns. The reproduction of ferns is very complex, with two quite distinct alternating generations being required.
A craze for ferns developed in the mid-nineteenth century, this was partly due to the invention of the Wardian case, by Dr. Ward, to protect his plant specimens during long sea voyages. These enabled people to exhibit at home exotic ferns from far shores, in decorative containers, protected from the coal smoke and acid air of London. Also, the cases enabled commercially important plants such as tea and rubber to be spread to new countries.
Ferns were considered subjects suitable for ladies to examine and discuss, and the spread of the railways helped middle-class people to make “ferning” days out. Many areas close to railway stations remain almost denuded of all types of ferns! On large estates, huge ferneries were built and of the many magazines and books published, some are still available today. Ferns have three types: evergreen, deciduous and, winter i.e. those, which produce leaves late in the year, thrive in winter and lose their fronds in spring. There are few serious pests.
The First World War caused the end of the craze but recently interest has been growing and some of the big ferneries have been restored, for example at Hartland Abbey. Because of its damp climate, Devon is an epicentre for ferns, and Marwood Hill at Barnstaple has a fine collection. The development of DNA analysis has resulted in many of the names being changed to correct the family groupings.
ALL FERNS ARE NOW PROTECTED ACROSS THE WORLD.
Peter talked particularly of Tree Ferns. When well developed these appear to have a fern growing from the top of an almost dead tree trunk several feet high. In reality, the trunk is alive and if properly staked to keep the plant stable, anchor roots will be produced. Although fairly hardy, the growing top needs protection from wet and frost. One method is to pull the fronds up and over together, then fill the hollow with straw.
Small immature fern fronds before they unroll, known as “fiddleheads” because of similarity to fiddles, and shepherd’s crooks, are eaten widely across the world from several varieties of ferns, including Bracken. They need to be used fresh, well washed and are often roasted to ensure full cooking.
The risks from carcinogenic agents are not yet fully evaluated.
Having shown pictures of many different ferns in natural and horticultural surroundings, Peter finished by giving everyone a custard-cream biscuit. These, first produced in 1904, still carry the same decorative design of a stylised fern. As do, many modern-day objects made from materials such as tiles and cast iron. Although quite short on horticultural advice this was an entertaining and well-presented talk and I am sure we will all look a little more closely at the ferns around us.
Meavy Garden Society Meeting, 17th September 2018
‘Success and Failure with Alpines - How to Grow Them’ - Richard Horswood, from the Somerset branch of the Alpine Gardens Society
This evening’s speaker was Richard Horswood from the Somerset branch of the Alpine Gardens Society, his topic was “Successes and Failures with Alpines”.
Richard pointed out that the definition for an alpine was problematic and that the best was “a plant growing above the treeline”. Well-known names include succulents, sempervivum houseleeks, creeping phlox, and sedums. Not all alpines are small compact plants – the yellow gentian, which grows in mountainous areas all across Europe, reaches three feet. Whereas most alpines enjoy full sun, others prefer moist shade and grow naturally on the north side of rocks or in the shade of shrubs or tall grasses. Most alpines like moist free-draining soil but some are lime haters, like autumn-flowering gentians and dwarf rhododendrons, while others need some lime in the soil.
Nearly all the pictures Richard showed us were of stunningly beautiful plants blooming in his garden and he clearly has great success with many species.
What of the failures? He grows most of his plants from seeds. Sometimes they simply fail to germinate, or will sprout but then prove difficult to grow on. Many of his plants hated this year’s hot dry summer and there were heavy losses. Other plants flourish for a year or two but then fail for no apparent reason.
This man, who is clearly an expert, packed his interesting talk with information. He also brought plants for sale, nearly all unusual varieties raised by him and very reasonably priced. He encouraged us to join the Alpine Garden Society but unfortunately, the nearest branches are at Ashburton and Exeter.
Meavy Garden Society Meeting, 16th July 2018
Garden Butterflies and Moths - Roger Hooper from Cornwall Butterfly Conservation
The chair in July was taken by Brenda Burt to introduce as our speaker Roger Hooper from the Cornwall Butterfly Conservation, who gave us a beautifully illustrated lecture on garden butterflies and moths.
He began by explaining that Butterfly Conservation was founded in the 1990’s to counter the catastrophic decline in the populations of many butterflies, largely due to more intensive farming methods and the general tidying of the countryside.
Roger started by showing us some showy and well-known species; the Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral. These all have black, spiky caterpillars that feed on nettles. Some Red Admirals succeed in hibernating and appear early, whilst others migrate from Southern Europe to breed. The earliest butterfly seen by most is the Brimstone, which with its pale yellow wings probably gave the name “butterfly” to the whole category. The bright orange Comma, with its jagged wing outline is another common butterfly although it underwent a severe decline in the 20th century from which it has recovered.
Familiar butterflies of the high summer are the browns; Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper and Ringlet, all of which feed on grasses. Over-familiar are the large and small whites which require control as they are such a pest on food-crops.
The day-flying Humming-bird Hawk Moth brought us to the subject of moths, of which there are 1,500 species in Britain as opposed to some 60 species of Butterflies. Most moths are nocturnal and seldom seen; although subdued in colour some are superbly camouflaged when at rest. The hawkmoths are some of Britain’s largest insects with correspondingly huge caterpillars.
Roger finished his talk by returning to butterflies and some Devon and Cornwall rarities. The White Admiral is found in woodland in East Devon, the very rare Marsh Fritillary has colonies on Exmoor, Dartmoor, and the Lizard; whilst, the extremely rare High Brown Fritillary is found in the Tamar valley.
The subject matter of the talk attracted a number of guests and it is hoped they were as delighted by it as were the good number of Garden Society regulars.
Meavy Garden Society Meeting, 18th June 2018
Growing and Showing Fuchsias - Brian Carlson from Cullompton
The society Chairman, Annie Inman, began the June meeting by reporting on a very successful excursion to Tremenheere and Trengwainton gardens, both near Penzance. She then thanked David Winter, Kay Moore and Janet Jones for setting up and running the plant stall at Meavy Oak Fair, which took over £200.
The speaker was Brian Carlson from Cullompton, who gave a very impressive talk on growing and showing Fuchsias, something he has been doing since 1984. Most fuchsias come from Central and South America, where they were discovered in the 16thcentury. These, originally small-flowered species, sport and hybridize easily, so that there are now over 16,000 different varieties in several groups; upright, trailing, hardy, triphylla and others. They were named in honour of the 17th century German botanist Leonhardt Fuchs – hence the spelling of the name.
Hardy fuchsias grow well in most fertile garden soils. For fuchsias in pots, commercial composts are fine if fresh. To three measures of compost, he adds one of sharp sand and a generous handful of slow-release fertilizer.
Brian grows nearly all his plants from cuttings, which are best taken in September. He brought with him the wherewithal to demonstrate the process – a tray of compost, which must be moist but not wet, a 3 inch and a 4 inch pot and a mother plant. He cut four non-flowering stems below the second leaf under the tip; removed the lowest leaves and inserted the cutting in the compost. This was in an outer ring created by placing the smaller inside the larger pot and filling around it. This saves on compost and when you want to see if the cuttings have rooted you can lift out the centre pot to see. He advised against the use of rooting powder as cuttings root just as well without. However, you should always make sure you label the cuttings with perhaps white labels for upright, blue for trailers and green for hardy fuchsias.
Plants need to be kept just above freezing in winter – not too moist but not bone-dry either. For pests Brian recommended Roseclear and Fungus fighter. He warned that Provado Bug Killer is no longer systemic and is less effective.
Brian finished with a series of superb photos of his own and show plants, which showed the standard that may be achieved. This was an excellent talk, well planned and balanced, and superbly presented. Brian had brought with him a lot of fuchsias and pelargoniums (which he also grows) for sale and as they were all priced at just £1-00 there was quite a rugger scrum to buy them. Some members had brought in various plants for sale and these also were eagerly snapped up.
Meavy Garden Society Meeting, 21st May 2018
Growing and Showing Pelargoniums - Martin Pope from the Plymouth Pelargonium and Fuchsia Society
Our speaker this evening was Martin Pope from the Plymouth Pelargonium and Fuchsia Society, who talked to us on growing and showing pelargoniums.
Having spent much of his life in Berkshire, growing and showing regal pelargoniums, Martin moved down to Devon some twenty years ago, bringing his collection with him. He was disturbed to find that all but a few failed in the humid climate of the South West, so he decided to try breeding some that could, using the survivors from his original collection!
Wherever possible, Martin lets the bees pollinate his plants. He sows the resulting seeds and evaluates seedlings. He looks for a compact naturally bushy plant with healthy bright-green foliage and large, preferably frilly, flowers with good lasting power. Only 2 out of 100 make the grade but he has had several hybrids accepted nationally, all named after members of the family, including Archie the budgie.
After explaining his ways of taking cuttings and growing his plants, Martin detailed the rigorous regime followed by the serious showman. The plants must be pinched to shape 14 weeks before the show. Two months before the show he repots the plants to a pot-size larger to give them a boost. All flower buds should be removed up to three weeks before the show, as this encourages the plant to produce more.
Martin illustrated his talk with photos both of his own plants and also spectacular specimens from the benches of local and national shows. In so doing, he also illustrated other types of pelargoniums such as zonal, ivy-leaved, angel, stellar, scented-leaf and coloured-leaf.
This was very informative talk by a man who clearly knows his stuff and the plants he had brought for sale were quickly snapped up by the members.
Meavy Garden Society Meeting, 16th April 2018
Growing Vegetables (including points about showing) - Ricky Hoskins, a national judge and fellow of the National Vegetable Society
As the March meeting had had to be cancelled due to several inches of snow; we were especially grateful to our April speaker, for stepping in at short notice, to talk about growing and showing vegetables. Ricky Hoskins is very well qualified, being a national judge and a fellow of the National Vegetable Society. He has grown and shown vegetables, and also dahlias, gladioli and chrysanthemums, all his life.
Ricky started his talk with potatoes, which he grows three to a plastic dustbin that has had its base removed and placed on the soil. He fills it one third full with moss peat, horse manure and bone meal. He then scatters slug pellets around the tubers and tops up the bin with more compost. Growing potatoes in peat means they stay very clean.
Ricky enjoys growing giant Kelsae onions, which can easily reach 7 pounds in weight. He lifts these three weeks before the show date and covers the skin with talcum powder which dries it off and gives a good brown colour. He had brought a tray of seedlings for sale which were snapped up by the audience.
Carrots and parsnips Ricky sows in pipes drilled into a drum or dustbin and filled with a mixture of Irish peat, sand and fertilizer. He sows three seeds at the top of each pipe and on germination removes the two weakest seedlings leaving the strongest to grow on. Roots up to two and a half feet long can be produced this way. Plastic tubing is also placed around leeks to produce very long white stems, and Ricky showed photographs of some amazing examples on the show bench and grown, appropriately enough, in Wales. In the North East pot leeks are all the rage. These are short and fat with no more than six inches between the base and the leaves, or “flags”. They are literally grown in “pots” and a well-grown specimen is a magnificent sight. Ricky explained the complex process of producing the “grass”, the tiny leek bulbils from which show leeks are best grown.
He emphasised that for showing, the normal varieties of vegetables are often unsuitable. You have to buy the best quality varieties available, even if it means, say, that a single tomato seed costs 45p! He also stressed that it is a myth that large show vegetables are not good to eat; they are delicious, because they have been fed with all the best nutrients.
Ricky also showed us some of the magnificent gladioli and dahlias he had grown and shown in the past and gave us some tips on growing them. This was a jovial and interesting talk, interspersed with humorous comments, often at the expense of his long-suffering wife, and was much appreciated by the large audience.
Meavy Garden Society Meeting, 19th February 2018
Opening Sheepstor gardens to the public - Patrick Drennan talk on the preparations and pitfalls
After the AGM our speaker was Patrick Drennan, one of our members, who talked of the preparations and pitfalls in opening Sheepstor gardens to the public in aid of the village hall.
When he made the suggestion in order to raise funds, the Hall committee were at first very sceptical, thinking of problems such as security and insurance, but eventually Patrick received the go-ahead. It was agreed that the committee would organise refreshments and Patrick the gardeners. Many were very enthusiastic and they decided on the best time to open. In order to tackle security it was decided that the gardeners should stay in their gardens and let nobody into their houses. Children should be accompanied and all dogs on leads.
A letter was sent to all residents and after an analysis of the responses, a date was set and the ticket price decided to provide admittance to all gardens. Those opening their gardens were asked to supply a three-line description and these were printed on the back of the sheet showing a map of the village and the locations of the gardens. Publicity was organised as well as a raffle and various stalls as additional attractions.
Overall, the exercise proved to be very worthwhile. There was whole village participation and wider community involvement. The opening has since been repeated several times, approximately every two years, and Sheepstor gardens will be open again this year on 19th and 20th of May.
This was a well-presented, well-illustrated and informative talk with a touch of humour. All much appreciated by the members, many of whom have visited Sheepstor gardens in the past.